Monday, June 25, 2007

History of an alternate universe UK Prime Minister

As Tony Blair's reign draws to a close I find myself thinking of another UK Labour Prime Minister.

Harry Perkins.

Never heard of him? Well he exists only in A Very British Coup, a novel by a former Labour cabinet minister and an excellent British TV miniseries.
Harry Perkins is the anti-Blair. Where Blair moved Labour sharply to the right and championed a relationship with the US President that can only be described as obsequious, Harry Perkins, a third generation steel worker, trade unionist and socialist leads a left wing Britain out of Margaret Thatcher's worst nightmares.

His administration is elected on a program of social spending, public ownership, nuclear disarmament and kicking American military bases out of Britain. The program gets him elected with a huge majority and Perkins begins to radically transform British society. It seems an unimaginable legislative program from a Labour PM after ten years of Blair.

Perkins is Chavez without the authoritarian tendencies and the scarier rhetoric - but he has the same predatory right wing media using propaganda to make him look scary.

There's even a Tony Blair-ish character in Wainwright, the token Labour right winger on the cabinet who enters a conspiracy to overthrow Perkins with British Secret Service, a Murdoch/Maxwell analogue right wing media baron and the American government. The assembled British and American elites resort to bugging, blackmail, and other skulduggery to try to bring Perkins down. This by the way written by Chris Mullin, who was a cabinet member in Harold Wilson's Labour government, and Mullin wrote Coup before former MI5 Assistant Director Peter Wright revealed in Spycatcher that pretty much exactly these tactics were used against Wilson in the 70's.

The miniseries is compelling and suspenseful TV, if very much a product of it's times, and it's worth seeing.
In the end, A Very British Coup is perhaps best seen not as a conspiracy thriller, but as a political fantasy: a story of politicians, not plotting amongst themselves, but trying to do the best for their country and its working-class population, in a world increasingly hostile to the will of the people.

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