Friday's book: Purple Homicide: Fear and Loathing on Knutsford Heath, John Sweeney (Bloomsbury pounds 9.99)

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
John Sweeney's account of the freakshow in Tatton last spring is a glorious read. Savagely funny, passionately engaged and painfully acute, it relates in nail-chewing detail the raddled chaos of Martin Bell's election campaign, presents a compelling portrait of the Hamiltons on the rack, and shows vividly every facet of the media in full cry. As a bonus, it comes copiously illustrated by Martin Rowson, whose work's grotesque vigour is perfectly suited to this parade of the bizarre. Rowson is Ralph Steadman to Sweeney's Hunter S Thompson

In the febrile Cheshire environment Bell, says Sweeney, seemed "a category mistake", a fish in the wrong kind of water. His team, reeling under a torrent of threatening letters from lawyers, had help from both Labour and Liberals but were nonetheless tackling an impossible task. Neil Hamilton, in a slew of arrogant self-deception with the ferociously faithful Christine by his side, had a notional majority of 22,000. How could he lose?

Around these main players swirled a riotous troupe of lunatics. Tommy Sex (Man in Leotard with Dancing Girls) had his fringe campaign derailed when his shadow Chancellor, one Frank Pontoon, blew their funds on the 2.15 at Newmarket. Miss Moneypenny (Tweetie Pie on acid) was a seven-foot transvestite from whom Bell - he who stood up to the Serbs - fled in baffled fright. Lord Biro Against Scallywag Tories dubbed the Hamiltons "Liealot and the Dragon". Swarming over these paragons of the democratic process are the hacks - snakes, veloceraptors, piranhas, ack-acking photographers. If it weren't so serious, it would be hysterical.

Sweeney has some disturbing material on Hamilton's flirtations with the Far Right, never mind his greed and deception. Tatton was, in many ways, a focal site in the country's decisive rejection of all that had turned rancid in Conservatism.

Sweeney's book captures not just one constituency's rebellion, but the whole sense of exasperated revulsion that led to Labour's landslide. Lurching wild-eyed through joy, rage and shame, it's enthralling stuff.

Comments