More unusually, the thriller is about an Islamist attack on Britain. Whatever subtleties he offers the reader, Clyde is not frightened of saying that Islamists are an enemy. You should buy this book for that reason alone because very few writers are prepared to be as blunt.
One of the strangest features of mass culture over the past decade has been the near-total break between what thriller writers write and what spies do. Since 9/11, the fight against radical Islam has consumed the time of intelligence services and anti-terrorist police forces. Yet it barely features in spy fiction. The standard plot device remains the enemy within. The Bourne films were the most successful thrillers of the 2000s, and deservedly so. But it was not al Qaeda but corrupt and unscrupulous officers in the CIA, whom Bourne had to fight. In the recent Bond films, 007 is also up against a cabal of western conspirators rather than a plausible foe.
As soon as you see a government minister, or intelligence or police chief in television drama, meanwhile, you need only set your watch and count the minutes until the hero exposes him as the cancer at the heart of society.
On the edge of Rugeley stands Amazon’s largest distribution centre in Britain. Life for the workers who trudge around the 800,000 sq ft warehouse is not as bad as it was for the men who once worked in the pits of the Staffordshire coalfield, but that is not saying much. They must carry satnavs, which direct their movements round the stacks and flash warnings from managers to stop dawdling or chatting with colleagues. Britain being the way it is, they have no job security.
Trade unionists call the Amazon shed a “slave camp”. But whatever arguments they have with Amazon’s management, one point should be beyond dispute – Rugeley is in Britain. British customers send Amazon their money. British workers package their goods and send them off in vans along roads built and maintained by the British taxpayer. If workers steal – and before they can go home or visit the canteen, they must walk through airport-style security scanners to prove they have not – Amazon will call on the taxpayer-funded police to arrest them and the taxpayer-funded criminal justice system to prosecute them. Admittedly, Amazon’s buyers who supply the stock are based in Slough rather than Rugeley. But the last time I looked Slough was in Britain too.
Review of 5 Days in May by Andrew Adonis
Cool anger drives Andrew Adonis’s first-hand account of how Labour tried to stop the Liberal Democrats handing Britain over to a reactionary and incompetent Conservative administration. As a Blairite education and transport minister and a former member of the Social Democratic party, Adonis had spent his adult life believing a “progressive coalition” could unite the centre and left of British politics.
His five days in May 2010 negotiating on Labour’s behalf disabused him of that notion and much else besides.
“Clegg wouldn’t put the Tories in power, throwing over a British Liberal tradition going back a century and a half as a progressive anti-Tory party,” he thought as the electorate returned a hung parliament. When they heard that David Cameron was making Clegg a generous offer, Gordon Brown and much of the cabinet thought the “process would turn to our favour once the Tories and Lib Dems had rehearsed the extent of their differences”.
When you see rottenness in a system you must ask: does it come from one bad apple or does the whole barrel stink?
The rank smell emanating from the coalition is impossible to miss. At first sniff, it appears to come from the blazered figure of Iain Duncan Smith. It has taken me some time to identify its source, because appearances deceive. From his clipped hair to his polished shoes, Duncan Smith seems to be a man who has retained the values of the officer corps of the Scots Guards he once served.
When I heard that Niall Ferguson had said that JM Keynes advocated reckless economic policies because he was gay and childless, and hence had no concern for the future, I wrote: ‘If true, this represents Ferguson’s degeneration from historian to shock jock’.
The reports were true, but I was wrong. There has been no degeneration. Ferguson has always been this crass and crassly inaccurate.
We flatter ourselves when we boast of mastery of the ironic style. Unlike literal-minded Germans and Americans, we are not ashamed to live behind masks and speak in riddles. On the contrary, we delight in it and damn foreigners for their insistence on saying what they mean. They lack our sophistication. The delightfully quirky British sense of humour leaves them cold.
If we were harder on ourselves, we would notice that on the reverse side of the ironic coin are the smuttiness and evasiveness that always accompany self-censorship. We would wonder how we ended up in a country where fear of causing offence or crossing a powerful or litigious interest had become so ingrained the British could no longer speak plainly or read freely.
A plane crashes in the Sahara. Only a reporter and an editor survive. At first they hope that rescuers will see the smoke rising from the wreckage. But the fire dies, and no one comes. They are lost and alone under a merciless sun, and start walking.
For days, they march in horrendous heat. Their water runs out. Their skin peels. Their minds reel from sunstroke. Finally, they collapse — blistered and dehydrated — at the bottom of an enormous sand dune.
“Let’s curl up here and die,” gasps the editor.
“No!” cries the reporter. “We cannot give up. Let’s climb to the top of the dune and see if there’s any hope.”
They stagger up — two steps forward, one step back — and reach the top of the dune.
If you want to combat poverty, empower women. There are few uncontested arguments in social policy, but this is one of them. Give women control of their fertility and overpopulation and undereducation will fall. Give women financial independence and they will have the means to free themselves and their children from dangerous men.
Everyone accepts the proposition that, in general, mothers are more likely than fathers to spend money on children. Even the British government accepts it after a fashion. But religious bigotry, rightwing prejudice and bureaucratic convenience have made the coalition determined to forget what it already knows.
I don’t normally campaign. I’m not a joiner or a natural committee man. But the state of free speech in England pushed me into despair, and three years ago I started to do what little I could for the campaign for libel reform.
Britain was not a country where the natives could debate their grievances and foreigners could come to talk of oppression in their own lands. Our politicians and judges welcomed actions from corporations at home that were clearly designed to use the crushing power of money to intimidate critics into silence, and from Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs, Hollywood paedophiles, Islamist fanatics and Saudi petro-billionaires. A Russian newspaper contesting Putin’s mafia state or a Scandinavian newspaper investigating the Icelandic bankers’ Ponzi scheme, would be hit with a biased law and huge costs by the London courts. Even after the death of Robert Maxwell in the early 1990s revealed that the old fraud had used the libel law to suppress criticism of his criminal business enterprises, the establishment did nothing.
I duly filed a piece for the Observer saying that I and many other who opposed Mrs Thatcher felt uneasy about celebrating her death. Her supporters had a good case when they said that the protests were simultaneously childish and grotesque. But as soon as they censored, they lost the argument.
On cue, an email arrived from Russia Today, Putin’s English language propaganda station. Everyone who goes along with the denial of human rights in the West, the Leveson inquiry in Britain or any double-standard in a democracy should think hard about its implications.
“I am a producer on Russia Today TV network, a 24 hour news channel broadcasting in most parts of the world. We are talking today about BBC radio not playing the witch song (actually then it was changed to 5 seconds of it only) and are looking for guests with opinions and i came across your story and i thought it was wonderful and quite opinionated. So, i was wondering if there is a chance we could ask you to talk to us about your views LIVE today, in the evening. We are talking about freedom of speech, and i think this is what your article is about.”