The Fallout, by Andrew Anthony

Revenge of the late liberal
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

In this memoir, Andrew Anthony sets out to address the question of the colour of one's skin. He says that his mother, one of the most selfless persons he has ever known, didn't think black people were bad; she simply felt they were out of place in England. His father insisted that his children never use the word "nigger". He preferred to call a black man a "spade".

In the opening chapter of The Fallout – a grim title for a memoir – the author describes his shock when he hears the news about the attack on the Twin Towers. His wife, a journalist, is in New York, shadowing Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, on a tour of the city. She has planned to visit the World Trade Center with the Duchess. Her husband desperately tries to get in touch with her until, at last, he is told by her office that she is OK. This is the turning-point in the life of a man who once regarded himself as a liberal. We hear his criticisms of the London Review of Books, Noam Chomsky and Tony Benn. It bothers him that some intelligent people read the LRB and that Chomsky is an influential thinker.

Then the author describes his childhood, growing up on a housing estate in Kentish Town. He goes to Haverstock School and feels ashamed that his family is working-class when he meets boys who live in stuccoed houses in Primrose Hill. No one in his family has ever travelled abroad. After leaving school, Anthony works on building sites before he is employed by Harrods to make up cardboard boxes in the basement. He is the only white person doing such "mindless" work in the store's subterranean vaults.

Anthony takes a degree in politics and history at SOAS, London, and then goes to Nicaragua for a few months. He had previously thought university education was only for middle-class people. After coming back from Central America, he works for an IT magazine. His girlfriend leaves him for a man who has his own flat and a car. Anthony gets into trouble at work for stealing tickets before entering into a fake marriage with a Turkish air hostess to raise £1,000.

The author describes the Fifties, when the spirit of London was "Anglo-Saxon". He despises the fact that in the Seventies it was cool to be black. His mother is horrified to see new people moving into the estate, "some of whom do not speak English". He doesn't think that Britain has benefited from ruling over one-fourth of mankind in the 20th century.

Anthony believes that to be a liberal is to be middle-class. He considers himself middle-class after publishing a book on football and writing for The Observer. As an undercover journalist, he worked for a minicab firm in London. The other drivers were from Iran and Afghanistan and resentful of Britain. He wrongly refers to them as "Afghanistanis"; whether out of contempt or ignorance is uncertain.

On the subject of withdrawing US and British troops from Iraq, Anthony says it is no more assured to be the best means of establishing peace than pulling a knife out of a stab victim is necessary in staunching a haemorrhage. This analogy sums up the chilly and cynical views of an author who invokes his liberal past in order for us to subscribe to his new beliefs.

The chapters are entitled Shock, Shame, Anger, Denial and Guilt – as if lifted from a textbook on popular psychology. The word "albeit" crops up throughout. The author's disillusionment with multiculturalism begins well before 9/11, when he reads a report on the future of cultural diversity in Britain compiled by men and women who are liberal in their outlook. It may sit well with Andrew Anthony to pronounce the death of multicultural society, but for those of us who have come here from other countries, multiculturalism cannot and must not fail.

Iqbal Ahmed's books 'Empire of the Mind' and 'Sorrows of the Moon' are published by Constable

Jonathan Cape £14.99 (311pp) £13.50 (free p&p) from 0870 079 8897