Friday, April 16, 2010

Harry Potter is a Socialist

The UK election has barely entered its second week and already I'm losing the will to live. The big news this week was the nation's first ever televised debate between the three party leaders. I was out, thankfully, celebrating my wife's birthday, but the consensus was that Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, the least popular of the three main parties, 'won'. This could make things interesting if it leads to a surge in Lib Dem support at the expense of the incumbent Labour party or the wannabe Conservatives, and makes the intriguing prospect of a hung parliament more likely. However, Clegg's moment in the limelight will almost certainly mean the Conservatives, with most to lose from a Lib Dem surge, will employ their friends in the press - the British press is overwhelmingly supportive of the Tories - to trash Mr Clegg and his policies with glee. Much guff is spouted about avoiding negative campaigning, but we all know it works and buckets of crap are about to be poured over Mr Clegg and his party, much it most likely untrue, from both Conservative and Labour.

By far the most interesting intervention in the campaign so far came from a fellow writer.  JK Rowling wrote a piece for The Times deriding the Tories and backing Labour. J.K is a multi-millionaire and has already been dismissed as a champagne socialist by the Tory press, along with a slew of other unflattering comments (funnily enough when the Harry Potter books began to sell in their hundreds of thousands, I remember articles in the same Tory newspapers proclaiming how the values and virtues enshrined in the novels underlined the Conservative world view).

Ms Rowling's support for Labour and her dislike for the Tories stems from her time as a struggling author and single parent in the early 1990s, under the last Conservative government, who believed single mothers to be the root of all evil, essentially feckless, lazy people who jumped to the top of the state housing queue by having kids, who then grew up to be feral drug-taking serial killers or something. Understandably, as a single mother who has gone to make something of her life, she still resents the slur.

But it's not just the stigma she resents. While she rebuilt her life after the end of her marriage, a phase she describes as 'rock bottom,' teaching part-time, living in rented accommodation, she lived on benefits. They were 'there to break the fall.' The same benefits that the Tories have said they will cut should they gain power, under the name of fiscal prudence, and hand responsibility for to various unnamed charities. Had JK Rowling not been supported by benefits she wouldn't have been able to write the first Harry Potter novel and plan five more. Eleven months later she was able to buy a house on the proceeds of the US rights to the first book and was no longer a burden to the state.

However, she says will remain forever indebted to the British welfare state for its support. And fair play to her for sticking around the UK and not, as she puts it, 'scarpering to the West Indies' with her millions. This in a week when I read that dear old Sarah Palin, a fellow author technically, has a list of exorbitant demands that people booking her to speak must meet. A contract rescued from a dustbin at California State University, which has hired her to give a talk - Why? Don't students suffer enough? - revealed that  she must be flown there first class or in a private plane (must be a Lear 60 or larger), must stay in a suite a deluxe hotel with two other single rooms for her exclusive use, have all meals 'and incidentals' provided for, as well a laptop with high-speed Internet. Oh and my personal favourite detail, unopened water bottles with bendy straws beside each of them. It's welcoming to read J.K's relative modesty and learn that enormous wealth and celebrity need not always corrupt (though, in the name of research, I would be very interested in finding out whether the wealth bit corrupted me. For the record, I don't mind straight straws. Hell, I'll even swig straight from the bottle.)

The article made me wonder how many other authors out there are reliant on the Welfare State to help prop them up during times of financial and artistic difficulty. The average amount an author earns from books in the UK is £9000. To give you an idea how measly this is, the average wage is £24,000. Of course, many authors have day jobs that pay the mortgage and keep body and soul together, but for those who don't then benefits are a lifeline. I'm not a huge fan of the Harry Potter books but I'd readily agree that it would be a shame if they never existed, given the amount of kids who have fallen in love with reading after coming under their spell. There must be countless authors with great books inside them who have had to pack it in or lost faith because of financial hardship. So here's to the British Welfare State, friend of authors budding and successful. Long may it last.


  1. You had Margaret Thatcher; we had her evil twin, Ronald Reagan, whose administration declared ketchup a vegetable, thus satisfying the guideline that there be a vegetable in school lunches. Given that Ronald Reagan was an actor, schooled to memorize and repeat with meaning and emotion words written by someone else, it seems that Margaret was the brains behind that operation.

    JK Rowling has to be admired for not forgetting where she came from and how she got to where she is. She may have relied on the Welfare State but she has talent and imagination and she worked hard to achieve her success.

    I would have enjoyed your article more had you not included the picture of the other woman who does not have any talent,is without an iota of intellectual curiosity, and whose very existence raises my blood pressure to the stratosphere.

    Sarah wrote a book, too. Although classified as non-fiction, it probably isn't. Sarah was given an advance of 1.25 million dollars, with further payments of 2.6 million dollars and 5 million dollars. The book was due to be published in the spring of 2010 but Sarah, unlike other authors apparently, was dutiful and conscientious and got the book done early. It was published in November, 2009. Within two weeks of publication, it had sold a million copies.

    That her book has been such a success says nothing about Sarah who is not so stupid that she doesn't realize that she has to take the money and run before her fan base catches on to her real identity as a helium balloon. It does say a lot about the people who bought the book, a group who has chosen to remain willfully stupid by getting all their "news" from Fox News, a Rupert Murdoch addition to culture.

    Talented and creative people such as you, Dan, deserve to be sponsored so that you can do what you do so well. Shakespeare had a sponsor; granted it cut into his independence (RICHARD III being the most egregious example) but if he had stayed with the tragedies and the comedies, he wouldn't have had to sell his soul in order to keep his head.

    I doubt that sponsorship would be so dangerous now.


  2. Hi Dan: Can the States arrange for a swap of Rowling for Palin? Stan

  3. Oh, Stan, if only. The US would get a creative genius and England would get Sarah, a woman who could not name a newspaper she read on a daily basis nor one of the Founding Fathers who wrote the Constitution she is always going on about (Washington and Jefferson shouldn't be an intellectual stretch for any American).

    Are any of the member countries of Great Britain thinking about secession? Her husband, Todd, was a long-standing member of an Alaskan secessionist group before Sarah hit the big the time. The First Dude, as Sarah dubbed him, gave up his membership when it was pointed out that it wouldn't look good if the VP's consort wanted to leave the union. If you took Sarah, you'd get Todd, an intellectual bonus.

    Our ties with England are too strong, our friendship of such long-standing that the US would never inflict such pain upon our greatest ally. Would Bill do that to Tony?

    Sarah is our cross to bear. JK Rowling is a national treasure, Sarah is a national aberration. Besides, if she moved to England she wouldn't be able to see Russia from her house.

    1. Thomas Jefferson was Minister to France when the US Constitution was written and had no direct input into the US Constitution. George Washington was there at the Constitutional Convention but maintained order and reportedly did not offer any significant input. James Madison, George Wyeth (Jefferson's teacher), and Alexander Hamilton would have been good choices for a Founding Father who helped write the US Constitution.


  4. Stan - no chance, though I suspect certain sections of our press and TV would love her.

    beth - thanks (and apologies for the pic of la Palin - I knew that might cause a few problems. And I agree, Rupert Murdoch has much, much to answer for. A more corrosive, poisonous influence on our culture you'd be hard pushed to find.)

    I share your views about Mrs Thatch and Ronnie. She still casts an enormous, toxic shadow over British politics. I would argue the rapacious, naked greed that caused the financial problems of the past few years have a direct link to the shameless, often wreckless pursuit of profit she encouraged. Here, we are all Thatcher's children. Sadly there are some in some very important places who are still in the old battleaxe's thrall (the aforementioned Mr Murdoch for example) Including, even more sadly, the Labour Government, who have adopted many of her policies and ideas, coated in a social democratic veneer. One senior Labour minister famously said a few years back: 'We are intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.' Look where that attitude got us.

    My point about the welfare state is not that it should provide people with a cushy number they can leech from for life, but a safety net to catch those who, for whatever reason, hit rock bottom, and need a helping hand to be able to reach their potential. In JK's case it did that with bells on and as such should be preserved and cherished.