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June 05, 2006

"He gave her the dry smile that had women panting over him in five continents" - Myles Harris asks, who exactly is would be Tory candidate Louise Bagshawe talking about? Sparkles - Louise Bagshawe

Posted by Myles Harris

Sparkles
by Louise Bagshawe
London: Headline Review, 2006
Hardback, £12.99

The views expressed here are those of Myles Harris, not those of the Social Affairs Unit, its Trustees, Advisors or Director.

Dave Cameron has created an "A" list of "modern" candidates to stand for the Conservatives in key seats at the next election. These "modern" candidates are going to be parachuted into constituencies where ugly old white men or strident women with Mrs Thatcher hairdos have put themselves forward as local candidates.

Dave's advisers think old white men - that is men who are not gay or under thirty five - helped lose the party the last two elections. They remind voters of the Tories' dark past when the doors were shut to mass migration, criminals were locked up in unprecedented numbers, the working classes were allowed to buy their own council houses, there was job stability and Parliament refused to hand its law making powers to Brussels.

Nobody wants to see ugly old people on their TV screens, especially if, as some of them do, they keep banging on about Europe or immigration. TV is for beautiful people like Posh n'Becks. People who don't say uncomfortable things or ask awkward questions.

But Dave will need young people to vote for his A-listers. Young people don't vote because they don't see any connection between politicians and the things they want: money, clothes, big houses, cars and a good dentist. The only moral value in 21st century Britain is the whiteness of your teeth.

Enter Louise Bagshawe.

Louise Bagshawe is on Dave's "A" list. She looks good on TV and has done the things that the Dave thinks will attract younger people into the voting booth. She has good teeth. She is young, blond, female, educated (she read English at Oxford), rich, and a practising Catholic who has returned to the faith (a big voting plus for older serious voters worried about Britain's moral decline).

Louise Bagshawe has been a successful pop music promoter and now writes "airport" novels. "Airport" novels are books semi-literate people read when they are on holiday in places where you can't get Sky in your hotel room. On her 22nd birthday she signed a book deal with the publishers Orion. She has sold two million books.

I have spent the last two days reading her latest book. It is called Sparkles and has a light pink cover and shows a smiling young woman holding out her hands to catch a stream of diamonds. It is toe curlingly suburban, a book for literate chavs, and tells the story of a dynastic struggle between jewellery stores in France and lingers over the pursuit of money, clothes, family name and diamonds. It takes the reader into a laughably bogus corporate jungle in which alpha males beat their chests from the highest branches of the money tree at well endowed females who squeal their economic appreciation. (Economic not sexual – as Ms Bagshawe, having returned to her Catholic upbringing, has written out steamy sex scenes from all her books). A line reads:

He gave her the dry smile that had women panting over him on five continents.
Cynical and exploitative, it will fly off supermarket shelves.

Books like this are read on the tube by shop assistants with aching feet. In the same way that Dave promises to spirit you away from all that is ugly in modern Britain - the dirty streets, the knife culture, the threat of war, the feeling that there is no government - but doesn't actually explain how he is going to do that, Sparkles offers to magic you away from economic reality. It takes the reader away from what is for many the reality of working in today's Britain: bullying bosses, unpleasant customers, and tiny pay packets.

In Sparkles a chiselled jawed Prince Charming whisks you away in his Porsche to a chateau in France where even the footmen wear Armani, and titled French mother-in-laws dripping with jewels stare venomously at you and warn you off their sons. But it is you, the heroine, the poor little shop girl, who inherits the jewels, the chateau and the son. Of course shop girls never inhabit French Chateaux, just as Dave's vacuous policies will not solve Britain's real problems.

What has prompted Ms Bagshawe with her degree in English from Oxford to write tripe like Sparkles? She must have some idea of the value of good literature, and if you possess knowledge which improves people's lives you should share it. Sparkles it seems is written only to make lots of money, the equivalent of a doctor feeding his patients with Mars bars because they taste nice. Reading it I wondered if she was laughing at her readers.

She most certainly appears to be doing so in her biopic published in the Sunday Times - I can't believe I'm a Tory (14th May 2006). It is a cunningly contrived sales pitch and, I suspect, has the paw marks of Cameron's PR team all over it. The trouble with David Cameron is that despite the public school manner he, like Tony Blair, looks like a slightly dodgy estate agent. There is an earnest smoothness about his manner, a little bit too much sincerity, that causes a voice in the back of your head to whisper "Untrustworthy". Both Dave and Tony are really chavs with public school accents.

In support of Dave's chav policies, Ms Bagshawe's biopic has something for everybody. Do you like pop music? Ms B liked Sharon Osborne and David Geffen and worked for MTV. But if you hate pop music, don't worry, she was brought up a Conservative and keeps a picture of Mrs Thatcher pinned on her monitor with Blu Tak as she writes her best selling novels. You might think she will have difficulties in getting those who voted for Mr Blair to vote for her. Not at all. We all make mistakes and she is honest enough to own up to voting for the sweaty palmed trickster herself. Ms Bagshawe gushes:

I never stopped being a Conservative – but I thought Blair was one too, but I had been taken in by the packaging…
(It takes a packager to know a packager.) And if you were deceived by the permissive revolution of the eighties, so was Ms B. She returned to her Catholic roots just as, (by chance) Christianity started to become a fashion item in 2001. Being a Catholic meant no more steamy sex scenes in her novels. But this did not prove a problem. They sold just as well, even better. So you see you can be very rich and not permissive - bless.

Is she worried about being parachuted into a constituency as a priority candidate? Not at all, she says. She would move there immediately. It would become the place where they would raise her children. I don't think this will be much of a sacrifice as Dave won't want to waste his flaxen haired Rhine Maidens in the human wardrobes of Peckham or the tower blocks of Bermondsey. They will contest the leafy suburbs at election time but their real stamping ground will be the media.

Just as the truth comes out of the mouths of babes and innocents there is a paragraph in Sparkles which sums up the whole sorry mess – the lust for money and status of modern young voters who the Conservatives are trying to woo.

An evil female temptress tries to seduce the titled, tragically widowed Hugh de Montfort. He has a perfect, "supremely muscular" body:

Montfort would be incredibly grateful. She had to be sure that gratitude translated itself into dollars. She opened the door. His suite was every bit as sumptuous as she had expected. I want to be rich, Judy thought. I want to be able to stay in places like this, and go first class, and wear important jewels. People made it, all the time. This guy had, why not her?
It could almost be from Dave's manifesto. It could almost be Dave.

Myles Harris is a doctor and a journalist living in London. He has worked in England, Australia, Papua New Guinea, Canada and Africa. He has written for The Spectator, Daily Telegraph, The Independent, Evening Standard and Daily Mail. He is the author of Breakfast in Hell (Simon & Schuster New York, Picador London), an account of his work as a doctor in a relief camp during the Ethiopian famine of 1984.


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Louise Bagshawe says:

I can't believe I'm a Tory
Quite right, nor can we.

Posted by: Tory Hack at June 5, 2006 04:12 PM
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