Jun 262013

I’ve just read Peter Watt’s book “Inside Out”.  I read it in just two sittings.  It’s been quite a while since I last read a book in such a short period of time.  It’s not a long book; round about the same as my favourite Fitzgerald book in length.  It’s a good read because it makes you see something you thought you knew in a different way.  Probably a completely different way.

Peter Watt has been ghost-written in this tale; but no ghost-writer was ever so true to the necessary mechanics of a story as Isabel Oakeshott.  There were no laborious diaries to rely on and the buccaneering flavour of what often plumbs the abyss of personal tragedy is accentuated by such an absence of unnecessary detail.

It reads a bit like a Jeffrey Archer bestseller – and I mean this kindly: in its exhortingly page-turning style, you cannot fail to breathe the roller-coaster atmosphere that a “good versus evil” politics of the tribe inevitably engineers.

I have never met Mr Watt but I do feel, in his manifest self-awareness, in his sometimes painful appreciation of his own foibles, he earns himself the moral right to pass judgement on others who obviously did him a severe disservice.

I am late to his “Inside Out” Labour Party – the book itself was published in 2010 – but through the awful narrative which describes the arc of destruction which the need to generate party-funding on a rolling basis clearly generates, I understand better the actions of people like Tony Blair – accumulating the millions they unhappily do, once out of the financial holes they previously sensed.  What drives men and women to work to guarantee their economic independence to such an obscene degree?  Perhaps the kind of situations Watt lived for two terribly rough-and-tumble years.

And yet, to his credit, he appears to have recovered a massive attachment to a life of sense and sensibility.  It is not right to call it a tragedy, after all – in this piece of literature, the good guy redeems himself a thousandfold.  Family, as well as a certain detachment from tribal Labour, allows him to acquire an even keel, even as the ship of an amoral state collapsed around him.  That he didn’t go down the route of vengeful politicking – unless, of course, you count this book as an example of his game – is also to his credit, underlining as it does the importance of human relationships in politics.

And this last matter is what I think I will take away with me.  Politics is a helter-skelter where the best politicians do invent it as they go along.  Yet the very best of them all – the ones who really hit the heights, the ones condemned to ultimate injury and deception – are not only off-the-cuff imagineers of the kind of dreams we would all like to believe, they are also firmly attached to ideas and opinions which only history will ever be able to decide if they finally lead to ennoblement or infamy.

What I like about “Inside Out” is that it tells a terrible tale of a terrible party machine from the point of view of someone who refuses to abandon it.  And he even likes to ensure we perceive the evil which spews forth is far more due to an ingrained dysfunctionality of structures than the people themselves.

I begin to wonder if Mr Watt mightn’t deserve – mightn’t even be harbouring thoughts of – a return to a more active role in this tribalism that is the British body politic.  But whilst the rest of us might gain, he himself – he and his loved ones – would certainly suffer the consequences.

I really wouldn’t wish it on him – or them – again.

I once came close to real despair in my own working-life, mainly due to the half-lies and half-truths of a highly dysfunctional man.  I can appreciate myself, therefore, from very particular experience, what dysfunctionality can achieve; what it can lead to; what it can break.

So for me, this book has connected on two very important levels: ten years ago, when I distrusted my own perceptions and felt the evil breath of helter-skelter.  And now, when distrust of what I see and sense is just about the last thing which occurs to me to feel.

In the end, when I put this short book down and reflect, I realise I truly like the man who allows himself to be portrayed in this way.

Fitzgerald’s book wrote it better, of course – but, even so, the words were never more precisely, nor appropriately, said.

For all of us, that is:

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter – tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms further … And one fine morning –

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

To sum up, “Inside Out” has its layers of anger, its layers of pain, its layers of betrayal – its layers of traditional tribalism.  But it also has a melancholy acceptance that some things can only be survived, not vanquished.

To not be bitter – or, at least, to know how to contain any remnants of bitterness – is a mighty achievement indeed.

Difficult enough in the disconnected lives of us serfs; almost impossible in stratospheric politics.

Fancy telling us your secret, Peter?  Bottle it, brand it – and you never know, there’s a new politics on the horizon.

Even, dare I say, a new Labour!

Sep 182011

During the time I was studying to be an editor, great emphasis was placed on the importance of the front cover of a book.  Less so, perhaps, in these digital days – we aren’t seduced any more by the colours, the stamped titles on the sleeve, the weight of the book or the smell of the paper itself.

In fact, the technology doesn’t allow us to be.

But front covers, even so, continue to tell their story – as we search online for a connection that manages to make that final sale.

There are two books out there at the moment which I’m currently considering whether to invest in.  They are competitors too.  Reviews can be found for “The Purple Book” here and “What next for Labour?” here.  And the criteria which I’m using to weigh up the final decision include technology, cost, perceived inclusiveness and ideological approach – and therefore their covers, too.

I generally buy my books from Amazon – and, lately, via the Kindle.  But, even so, I tend to hunt them out and read up on them first – using my PC and broadband as in the olden days.  Thus it is that further investigation led me to these two pictures – here and here respectively – of the front covers of the books in question.

There is little I can say about the cover of “The Purple Book”.  I believe it’s mainly written by people from Progress (a self-denominated “[…] New Labour pressure group which aims to promote a radical and progressive politics for the 21st century”) – and if not written by them, certainly sanctioned by this so-called party-within-a-party.  As Peter Watt says in his review of the second book I’m focussing on today:

I strongly recommend that people buy and read it. But there is a downside to The Purple Book: that it will, inevitably, be seen as being partisan. Because of course it is. Speaking as a fully signed up member of progress, I am completely comfortable with the direction of its partisanship. But the Labour party is a coalition (I know that this is a bit of a dirty word, but I think we may well have to get used to it) and there will be many therefore who dismiss The Purple Book simply because it is from the progress stable.

So what does the cover of the “The Purple Book” say to you?  Corporately impeccable surely; efficiently managerial too – this could, in fact, easily be an in-house publication from any multinational company out there.  From what Peter Watt says, this might not have been the intention – but, certainly, if you’re wandering randomly around a bookshop of bricks and mortar, this cover has a kingly version of New Labour written all over it.

I could never deal with purple as it’s always represented absolute power to me.

Obviously, then, if I’d been the editor of this book, and even keeping in mind Progress’s colours and public image, this would not have been the cover I would have chosen.  It says very few things – and the things it does say are wrong.

But then neither would I have chosen the cover for the second book, “What next for Labour?”.  A short time ago I had the opportunity to exchange a couple of tweets with one of its editors – and unhappily seemed to get him on the back foot, which really wasn’t my intention.  But one of his responses I really do have to take issue with – and it relates to the importance or not of a front cover:

@eiohel it is inside what matters and as has been said it has many women who have contributed inc 2 pieces on women, feminism and poverty

And I do understand how important the content of a book is; and I do understand how the cover is simply a frame.  But I also do most strongly feel that a frame is never simply a frame – and if we’re truly interested in selling our wares, the choices we make when we fashion that frame will, for better or for worse, also fashion our sales.  As well as the life, understanding and historical location our baby will enjoy from its public in the future.

So if you titled a book – most wisely in my opinion – “What next for Labour?”, what then would you be expecting to see on the cover?  Things relating to the past or things relating to the future?  Things relating to the 20th century or things relating to the 21st?  Leaders and pyramids or flat hierarchies and people?  Broadcast communication from the top to the bottom or networked dialogue of all in society?

Some of the latter, it has to be said, is to be found with the inclusion of what is presumably a computer screen.  But the rest of the image, at least to my mind, shows historical leaders who represent the past crouched around a very end-of-20th century way of accessing the virtual world which now commands our lives.

If the objective of the imagery used is to tell us that Ed Miliband is a bridge between the past and the future, then “What next for Labour?” is not the future but a reluctant present.

A reluctant present which is, currently, becoming a very miserable place to be.

In the meantime, whilst those of us who know Labour’s history – and even care enough to remember it – may dwell in its past with great intellectual and emotional enthusiasm, to the casual reader this book cover serves no purpose whatsoever: it signposts no young men, women nor children at all – nor indicates how they might explicitly form part of what’s on the horizon.

Which will I end up reading?  Probably “What next for Labour?”.  At least it has a Kindle version – even if at eight quid a throw it’s at the pricey end of digital downloads.  I’ll be able to search and easily highlight; flag up to my Facebook followers its wisdoms; carry it around with me wherever I go; and, alongside everything else I’ve got on the boil, drop in and drop out of its content whenever.

But if I do read “What next for Labour?”, it won’t be because of the cover.

The cover is to a book what the eyes are to a lover.  It’s the only way you can seduce a reader who has a million alternatives to choose from.

Remember that, dear political editors.  And try and do better next time.