Enough is Enough, or The Emergency Government by Mark Lawson

Last days of a Labour PM
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The Independent Culture

In Britain, we are suspicious of the notion that people in the public eye might be good at - wait for it - more than one thing. Yet Mark Lawson, the Philosopher-King of Newsnight Review, has produced the best fictional riff on the Thatcher years so far (Bloody Margaret) and a tight, elliptical thriller about the pre-Hutton BBC (Going Out Live), in addition to his debut, Idlewild, a beautiful political phantasmagoria about JFK and Marilyn.

In Britain, we are suspicious of the notion that people in the public eye might be good at - wait for it - more than one thing. Yet Mark Lawson, the Philosopher-King of Newsnight Review, has produced the best fictional riff on the Thatcher years so far (Bloody Margaret) and a tight, elliptical thriller about the pre-Hutton BBC (Going Out Live), in addition to his debut, Idlewild, a beautiful political phantasmagoria about JFK and Marilyn.

With Enough is Enough, Lawson has melded the best of these works into a mosaic-novel about the last days of Harold Wilson. His mind failing, his political authority haemorrhaging, his paranoia triumphant, the Prime Minister looks out over a London that seems to be spiralling beyond democratic control. Rogue MI5 agents are convinced that "Henry Worthington" (Wilson's code-name) is a Kremlin mole. The PM's pregnant secretary is blackmailing him ("one phone-call to the Daily Mail and it's all over") while Wilson's doctor offers to "dispose of her" with a discreet injection. Some of Britain's most senior dignitaries, from the press tycoon Cecil King to that old Windsor-licker Lord Mountbatten, consider mounting a coup. Wilson confides to his friend Barbara Castle: "Every year, when I watch them out on Horse Guards Parade, practising the Trooping of the Colour, I imagine them turning and marching on Downing Street."

Although Lawson stresses that his interpretation of events is fictional, the fat bibliography is a reminder that these events happened only a generation ago. The unifying theme is the long journalistic quest for a British Watergate: Wilson, Jeremy Thorpe, the coup-that-never-was, and, as the novel screeches to a halt, the deaths of Diana and Dr David Kelly.

Fiction set in the past usually says more about the period in which it was written than the period in which it is set. This novel about the twilight of a thrice-elected Labour leader is also about... the twilight of a thrice-elected Labour leader. When Hugh Cudlipp, the legendary Mirror editor, says of Wilson, "The key to his success in politics is that he isn't actually very political. He believes what he needs to believe at any given time and has - or had - the gift of getting people to think he genuinely thinks it," it is hard not to think of Tony Blair.

Enough is Enough should become the set-text for the dying days of the Blair administration, a jagged reminder of where Labour Prime Ministers go to die.

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