A debate about the Literature of New Labour

There certainly has been much literature produced about the Thatcher years, whether it be ‘Money’ ‘My beautiful launderette’ or ‘What a carve up’ but the question pertinent to the debate entitled ‘The literature of New Labour’ was whether the same can be said about the Blair/Brown period? The debate took place in the prestigious Somerset House, in Strand; and saw some eminent guests talk about the topic, including the writers: Blake Morrison, John O’Farrell as well as the academics Robert Hampson and Shahidha Bari. 

The event, hosted by Jonathon Derbyshire, the Culture editor of the new statesman, was an engaging, intellectual and thought provoking one. Many books were discussed during the evening, the first being- Gordon Burn’s ‘Born yesterday’ which tackles much of the news and media talking-points in 2007, including the appearance of Gordon Brown and departure of Tony Blair, the disappearance of Madeline MacCann, the floods and the aftermath of the terror attacks. Robert Hampson raised some key points in relation to this book, he suggested that one of the main issues the book addresses is the idea of what is real and what is invented. This theme of reality vs intervention interlinks the whole Iraq saga, and the alleged ‘weapons of mass destruction’ which were never found. This then stimulated further discussion as to whether Blair’s legacy has been permanently ruined, and will the majority of literary novels in the future highlight the former prime minister’s faults? John O’Farrell, the author, broadcaster and comedy scriptwriter, then brought to attention the book ‘Absolute friends’ which denotes themes such as British imperialism and indirectly purports reasons for the invasion of Iraq.

John O’Farrell, no doubt a supporter of Labour, in particularly a New labour supporter, argued that there is a screen perception [of Blair & Brown] but this doesn’t necessarily correlate with reality. People don’t want to read that politicians are normal, but want to read that they are all villainous- the truth is boring and dull, O’Farrell explained. The politics of the new labour years, can be summed up as managerial, there weren’t minor strikes, poll tax rises, and there were hardly any major conflicts or clash of ideologies, the same however, cannot be said about the 1980’s in which Thatcher ruled.

Blake Morrision on the other hand, considered that much more literature has been produced in relation to new labour, as compared to the Thatcher period. For example, Ian McEwan’s ‘Saturday’ which takes place during a large demonstration against the Iraq war in 2003, Jonathan Coe’s ‘The close circle’ which tackles many of the problems Blair faced, and Robert Harris’ novel ‘The ghost’ which somewhat demonises Blair, but modestly missed out his own novel ‘South of the river’ which was set after the labour landslide in 1997.

It seems likely that there will be a flood of new publications, screen plays, dramas and comedies within years to come about New Labour. And once the spending cuts have been fully inculcated into our society and we can see the effects, this will, according to Shahidha Bari and John O’Farrell, create a surge of riveting publications on the Brown years, and the effects that his decisions had on the economy. It is indeed hard for a contemporary novelist to tackle modern history, and this could account for the lack of literature produced on new labour in recent years. It could also be argued that, there hasn’t been sufficient conflict and rifts to produce the literature. However, the English novelist Alan Hollinghurst, didn’t publish his great novel ‘The Line of beauty’ which covered some of the most intricate details of the Thatcher period, until 10-15 years after her departure as PM. Therefore, if one does not take the stance of Blake Morrison, who believes that there have been many literary pieces on new labour, then it is fair to assume that within the next decade or so, there will be many great literary works on the Blair/Brown years, or even Ed Miliband.

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