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I have always been a floating voter. At the last election I voted Labour, despite Jeremy Corbyn, on the basis that our local MP (Jim Fitzpatrick) does a good job for our constituency. I can’t see, logically, how it could make sense to choose a political party for life. There would be no point in democracy if people simply voted like their parents, according to their ‘faction’. But for John O’Farrell it is not like that; he has always voted Labour, he would be ‘uncomfortable’ wearing ‘tory-looking’ lace-up shoes. I was interested enough to read a book from a guy who felt like this, to understand ‘Why?’
The result was revealing and depressing. For Mr O’Farrell, politics is tribal and he is open about ‘identifying with the left’ and ‘being married to the Labour party,’ in an emotional and visceral way. This is revealing, but what was depressing is that he literally admits to being motivated largely by hate - ‘Hating the Tories’. He describes Edward Heath as the ‘hate figure of his youth who imposed the three-day week.’ [Mr Heath introduced the 3-day week because the UK did not have enough electricity to run normally while its coal-miners were on strike. This was not some capitalist plot to stop workers earning for 5-days a week.]
But Mr O’Farrell lost me completely when he suggested that had Nigel Farage died in the plane crash that only injured him, Joe Cox might not have been murdered. He also repeats his admission (already published in a previous book) that when the IRA failed to assassinate Mrs Thatcher in a bomb attack on her hotel in Brighton, his immediate reaction was, ‘Shame they missed.’ He manages to imply that his own father is a suspect racist for saying that ‘At least with the IRA you knew what they wanted, compared to the modern (Islamic – can’t say that word) breed of terrorist.’ Now, as O’Farrell, a middle-class scriptwriter, writing comedies for the BBC and gags for Gordon Brown, mellows and comes towards 60 years of age, he waves away the excesses of his youth and says hatred is not a good basis for politics. Still, he doesn’t question the policies of Jeremy Corbyn – scrapping student tuition fees and all the other giveaways in the latest manifesto seem great to him. One can only feel relieved that on the several occasions when O'Farrell stood for elected office he was roundly rejected by the British public.
Did I enjoy the book? I think I learned something, understood more deeply the observation that the ‘hard left’ is actually very like the ‘hard right’ (I’ve just read ‘Fire and Fury’ on Trump). It is scary, but political tribalism is driven by hatred. I will stay a floating voter.
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