The rich, thick soup of democracy

THIS ENGLAND by Pete Davies Little, Brown pounds 16.99

In 1984, Pete Davies wrote his first novel, The Last Election. "I imagined that the book took place in the mid-Nineties and I predicted, among other things, rave culture, wall-to-wall sport on multi-channel TV, a top football division full of Scandinavians, and a political culture of raging imbecility driven entirely by PR men." Another novel (Dollarville) later, and he has just witnessed Tony Blair's Three Lions chant to the 1996 Labour Party Conference: "Labour's coming home / Seventeen years of hurt / Never stopped us dreaming / Labour's coming home" (exit, pursued by Cherie, D-Ream, and a gigantic Union Jack). "Well, not wanting to crow here - but look where we were now, eh?" as Pete Davies says.

The subject of this book is the 1997 general election campaign in middle England, as it unfolded around the Calder Valley in West Yorkshire. "This England, at this island's centre, is a place like the Calder Valley - 210 miles from London, 210 miles from Cardiff, 210 miles from Glasgow - where three-quarters of the people own their houses, where virtually all of them are white ... " The plot has its denouement, of course, on 1 May, 1997; but it opens a good year earlier, with the launch of Labour's Road to the Manifesto, which, as Davies notices, just so happened to come in the week immediately following the end of Euro `96.

The protagonists of the Calder Valley drama are sketched as vividly as if we had them right there in the living-room in front of us, on a trendy television documentary fly-on-the-wall. The sitting MP, Sir Donald Thompson, is a genial old Tory, "a kind of roly-poly Candide", who genuinely believes that low-paid outworking women are delighted to be receiving wages of pounds 2 an hour. His opponent, Christine McCafferty (Lab), is 50 years old, a former local councillor who weeps as she leaves her job at the Well Woman Centre, and who never once puts a foot wrong. Fatally for his portrayal in this book, Stephen Pearson, the LibDem man, suggests that voters "rat" on his party. "Voters, eh? Rats ... and it's time, I think, to pass on from this unedifying fellow ..." But even Pearson gets off lightly in comparison to the Green and Referendum candidates - "pleasant nitwits with bees in their bonnets" - and the goatee-bearded BNP lad, immortalised as a "paranoid racist jerk". "Such is the rich soup of democracy," Davies sighs, in a you-are-awful way; such it is indeed. And Davies likes his soup thoroughly stirred up.

This England is not at all a serious analytical work. Davies starts his book as a Labour supporter and ends it as an ecstatic Labour triumphalist (though he wouldn't be the only one, would he? The Labour landslide is a bit like the French Resistance after Liberation in that way). The Labbies he meets are without exception hard-working, competent, good-natured, GSOH, and physically attractive to boot. The Connies, on the other hand, are not so, and are ribaldly mocked for their every failing and mistake. In places, the mood of schadenfreudig hilarity slips into something a bit meaner, I think, than Davies intends. "How about scraping [sic] Parking Meters (Labour Council)?" an orthographically challenged voter writes in to Chris McCafferty. "I'd take this person more seriously if they could spell," the author pusillanimously jibes.

As a football writer of some standing - he is previously the author of All Played Out, a much-admired avant la lettre Hornbyssey around the 1990 World Cup - Davies right at the beginning of his book makes an interesting link. "Reality: football does not house the homeless or make jobs for the unemployed, it does not fight crime or make our food safe. Politicians are supposed to do these things - but after 17 years of the Tories ... who'll pay attention to that when the football's on?" As his book proceeds, however, Davies rather loses the thread of this half-promised critique. Once victory starts being scented, Davies is right down there and brawling on the Labour terraces, along with everyone else. This ambivalence prompts an interesting question. Politics and football are our culture's two great levellers and social mixers. Why exactly is it so rhetorically important that one be seen to keep them apart?

Despite such problems, however, Davies is a lovely writer to read. His tone is acute, and affectionate, and sometimes elegiac, in a genuinely moving way. His book moves rhythmically and has a surprising emotional depth to it, like one of those old John Grierson documentary films. His material would have made a wonderful Cutting Edge programme, edited fast and transmitted within a week of 1 May. It makes for a pretty good book also, although the more time-consuming literary process means that inevitably, its spots of over-excitability already seem a bit half-baked.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Arts and Entertainment
Sergeant pfeffer: Beatles in 1963
booksA song-by-song survey of the Beatles’ lyrics
Arts and Entertainment
music'I didn't even know who I was'
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl was left in a conundrum with too much talent and too few seats during the six-chair challenge stage
tvReview: It was tension central at boot camp as the ex-Girls Aloud singer whittled down the hopefuls
Arts and Entertainment
Kalen Hollomon's Anna Wintour collage

art
Arts and Entertainment

TV Grace Dent on TV
Arts and Entertainment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

music
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer is believed to be playing a zombie wife in Patient Zero

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Gatiss says Benedict Cumberbatch oozes sex appeal with his 'Byronic looks' and Sherlock coat
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Clothing items bearing the badge have become popular among music aficionados
musicAuthorities rule 'clenched fist' logo cannot be copyrighted
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson will star in Seth MacFarlane's highly-anticipated Ted 2

film
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in 'Gone Girl'

film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
    Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

    Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

    Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
    Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

    Education, education, education

    TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
    It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

    It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

    So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
    This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

    Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

    Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
    We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

    Inside the E15 'occupation'

    We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
    Witches: A history of misogyny

    Witches: A history of misogyny

    The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
    Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
    'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style