Sunday, July 3, 2016

Boris, Brexit & Bollox: John Lawton’s view of the UK’s EU Referendum Result

I still have very mixed feelings about the result of the recent EU Referendum, and I’m prepared to listen to all sides of the argument. One of the most eloquent opinions has come from John Lawton. I’ll let him speak for himself.

John Lawton and familiar
On occasion, perhaps frequent occasions, in the course of that strange phenomenon ‘bookchat’ I am asked about the purpose or theme of my writing. If feeling calm, collected (never known what that means in this context ... what is one supposed to have collected? answers on several postcards please) I reply that I write romances, that my thesis is the failure of love … in a word heartbreak. My least understood book, Sweet Sunday, is just that, a tale of devastating heartbreak, inseparable from the book’s politics (hence the scope to be misunderstood). I am nothing if not a political creature. If feeling combative (and let me assure Mr. Ripley that that is far from being the curmudgeon he has dubbed me) I reply ‘I set out to destroy England when I was seven … the books are straws in the wind of that battle.’

A cynic might feel glee at the way England has destroyed itself without my assistance in the last week. We are … how shall I put it? … fucked.

But the destruction I sought was not this mindless, selfish, headlong rush into financial ruin. I was aiming at its culture … and I fear Brexit will only worsen the culture. We were, as I perceived it in the 1950s, a class-bound nation of uptight, violent, child-abusing, xenophobes. Wogs began at Calais. Lodging houses still displayed signs reading, No Niggers, No Irish, No Dogs. (My grandmother played hell with my father for reviving Irish Names in the family by christening one of my brothers Francis. It would 'drag us back to the bog'.) Violence was so often the first resort in any argument and only the Irish priesthood outdid us in the child abuse Olympics. I spent most of my childhood, it seems, knocked about by adults, bastards who could hit you so hard they drew blood, who had the odd idea that knowledge could be beaten into children.

Hence, I grew up hating English adults. They were the Nazis they spent twenty years telling us about … while warning us all the time about the perils of non-conformity … this begat two slogans that still make sense …

1. Never trust anyone over 30. (I don’t.)

2. We are the people our parents warned us about. (I most certainly am.)

If I have to kill anyone … and what crime writer doesn’t want to? … let it be … an English schoolmaster, that man of a thousand cock-eyed aphorisms that passed for knowledge, that man whose dick rose up as he clobbered you, that man in a cheap two-piece suit that never saw dry-cleaning from one year to the next. I laughed out loud reading The Female Eunuch circa 1970 when Germaine Greer wrote ‘never put your head in an Englishman’s lap, you’ll gag on the miasma of stale piss’. An apt image … we are still run by men in suits, government in the piss miasma. There are more old Etonians in the cabinet than at any time since the era of Harold Macmillan almost sixty years ago. Class-bound and xenophobic still.

Harold MacMillan and JFK
One old Etonian dropped out of the suit-race today, declined to step further into the piss-miasma. Perhaps Boris is not as thick as I thought? He has recognised that the job of Prime Minister is a poisoned chalice and prefers to let some other idiot swig it. Who in their right mind would want to be in charge of the break-up of the UK? (The Scots will surely leave now?) I found it hard to believe that he was ever as Euro-sceptic as he has professed in the last few months. He never fails to cite his Turkish origins … even if he rarely mentions that he is also a US citizen. He will stand outside it all, deflecting blame, denying his blatant and self-centred opportunism, as the tide of xenophobia rises, as the EU laws that protect the less-than-fortunate are rolled back and England becomes a Conservative fiefdom for rest of the century … I even have a name for the new country … Torytania … and the 1950s come back in all their pre-Beatle misery.

In 1963 we needed a cultural revolution and we got it.

We need one now.

Yesterday I flicked on the radio, and heard continuity say that they had a report from Alan Whicker, on the Somme. I turned up the volume thinking “I thought he was dead,” but it turned out to be my old pal Allan Little (one of me books is dedicated to him, I forget which), a man whose calm (possibly collected) manner has always made me look manic … and he ended a report on the 100th anniversary of the first day of the Somme (20,000 British dead in a single morning) looking at a tombstone, e pluribus unum, saying … “this the strongest illustration of what European countries can do to one another.” He didn’t need point out the connection to what my fellow-countrymen have just done. It spoke volumes unuttered.

graveyard for the fallen of the Battle of the Somme
John Osborne may have died a crusty old Tory, but it’s surely time to reprint his 1961 essay, the one that began … "This is a letter of hate. It is for you, my countrymen. I mean those men of my country who have defiled it. The men with manic fingers leading the sightless, feeble, betrayed body of my country to its death. You are its murderers, and there's little left in my own brain but the thoughts of murder for you."

'Sightless, feeble, betrayed' … yep, that’s England.

John Lawton worked for Channel 4 for many years, and, among many others, produced Harold Pinter’s ‘O Superman’, the least-watched most-argued-over programme of the 90s.

He has written seven novels in his Troy series, two Joe Wilderness novels, the standalone Sweet Sunday, a couple of short stories and the occasional essay. He writes very slowly and almost entirely on the hoof in the USA or Italy, but professes to be a resident of a tiny village in the Derbyshire Peak District. He admires the work of Barbara Gowdy, TC Boyle, Oliver Bleeck, Franz Schubert and Clara Schumann – and is passionate about the playing of Maria João Pires. He has no known hobbies, belongs to no organisations and hates being photographed.



  1. You know John, you make me very pleased that I had the totally crap, poor deprived working class background that I had. My teachers adored me, they encouraged me, I did my O grade and higher Biology in the same year locked in a cupboard because there was no class room. Kids in my primary school arrived in plastic sandals, soaked through with snow. And it was fine. As Billy Connolly said, nobody turned up and told us we were poor. So we didn't know.
    It was great.
    Was it the public school system or was it just you? I could say that every time I've met you I want to slap you but that would be too rude!!!!