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May 11, 2007

Littlejohn's Britain is the perfect book to remember Blair by, argues Harry Phibbs: Littlejohn's Britain - Richard Littlejohn

Posted by Harry Phibbs

Littlejohn's Britain
by Richard Littlejohn
London: Hutchinson, 2007
Hardback, 12.99

As Tony Blair prepares to leave the stage he should finally have come to terms with unpopularity. The change has been gradual but cumulatively massive. I remember at the time of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales thinking what a ghastly phoney Blair is. There he stood reciting lines written for him by his republican side-kick Alastair Campbell about Diana as the "People's Princess". This is the same Campbell who only a few years earlier had heaped abuse on Diana via the pages of the Mirror and Today newspapers. Surely, I thought, the sensible British people will spot how ghastly Blair is? Er no, his popularity soared.

But I wasn't quote alone in sneering and snarling from day one. Among those leading the resistance in those dark days was Richard Littlejohn, pounding away in the Sun. Certainly there was plenty of humour and personal abuse and spoof lyrics to pop songs but there is a deeply serious aspect to Littlejohn's work. It is not the he is especially partisan - he is too contemptuous of politicians in general for that to be feasible. But he is without question an ideologue - a fierce patriot, a defender of tradition, a lover of liberty. Littlejohn shows a willingness to recognise who are our friends and enemies in the world. In a way what is impressive about the ambition of New Labour's early media strategy is that they even attempted to bring Littlejohn into the fold.

Here he describes how the new Labour leader's pitch was made at a dinner party at Alastair Campbell's home:

Alastair's wife prepared fish pie, and although Ally had foresworn the booze following his nervous breakdown a few years earlier, there was plenty of chilled Chablis on tap - which the rest of us (or at least Baz, Charlie and me) took full advantage of. After a convivial couple of hours of small talk and laughter, things started to get serious over the cheese course.

Here was the big pitch. Tony fixed me in the eye and began to explain why Britain needed a Labour government. Only Labour could tackle welfarism, he explained. It had to come from the Left because the Tories were so discredited and distrusted. Didn't I agree?

Oh, absolutely, Tone. Any more Chablis, Ally?

Did I have any thoughts? Blair wanted to know. He was fascinated to hear my take on the world.

At this point Littlejohn, who was seated next to Cherie, suggested "making an example" of Liverpool - a city overcome with crime and welfare dependency. Why not forcibly disperse the scousers and put in some Hong Kong Chinese instead? Littlejohn was joking, or half joking, and was unaware at the time that Cherie came from Liverpool. But what struck him at the time was how desperate Blair was to avoid any disagreement. Blair replied:
Um, well, I hear what you say. Interesting.
As Littlejohn concluded:
Why did he sit there grinning and nodding instead of saying something like: "Look, I know you're only joking, Rich, but I think I should point out that, er, actually, ha, ha, Cherie's from Liverpool . . ."?

Blair would rather risk a night in the spare bedroom than stop in full flow a half-pissed hack whom he hoped to impress. I think that was the night I worked Blair out.

But this book is not entirely, or even principally about Blair himself. Rather it concerns the wider national malaise that Blair's rule has represented.

For example in local government we have such outrages as Derby Council failing to empty the dustbins properly and then having the audacity to try to scupper the efforts of one enterprising resident who set up a firm offering a charged-for refuse collection service in addition to the deficient municipal one. Or Eastbourne Council fining people where seagulls have torn open the rubbish because there aren't enough dustbins available to put the black sacks in.

On Iraq, Littlejohn was a supporter of toppling Saddam but quite reasonably has joined the critics on the lack of planning for what to put in place afterwards. But while they hadn't really sorted out restoring the rule of law or ensuring the supply of water and electricity one aspect of life there had received some serious thought from New Labour. The British Government spent 152,000 sending two "gender and diversity" equality advisors to Iraq.

As Littlejohn reflects:

Nothing could be more calculated to get up the noses of Muslims than being lectured to by some hatchet faced harridan from Islington.
In a chapter on the police, Littlejohn notes how someone was arrested for describing a horse as gay. Meanwhile the author Lynette Burrows was interviewed under caution after a broadcast where she declared that gays were unsuitable to adopt children. By contrast little effort is now undertaken to catch escaped prisoners. Since 1997 a staggering 400 have escaped from Leyhill in Gloucestshire alone. Littlejohn suspects the emasculation of the police force into a branch of the social services was not just something that happened but a matter of determined targeting.

This book is categorised as Humour. Perhaps this made Guardianista publishing executives less nervous about including it. Sure there are some clever parodies and one can see how Littlejohn has developed a mass following. But while there was the odd laugh it mostly ended up making me feel angry. I suspect this was secretly the idea. Now I need to calm down. I had better go and find a P. G. Wodehouse.

Harry Phibbs is a journalist.

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