At last a woman, not just a Conservative

Related Topics
WHEN Edwina Currie was still a parliamentary sprite she made one of the most memorable incisions into the always ambiguous identity of the Tory lady. 'I'm not a woman, I'm a Conservative,' she said in her triumphalist way when I interviewed her for a book on Conservative women, The Iron Ladies.

During the sobering interregnum between then and now, Currie has changed. Her novel, A Parliamentary Affair, published this week, is a monument to her metamorphosis.

For her, as for the other lonely women on the Conservative benches, coming out as a woman was a crisis. Currie conquered that dilemma: self- denial was a condition of her success. In the Eighties her audacity and vanity disguised the degree to which her gender was cauterised. She felt no pain.

Or so it seemed. But those were the days before she was shafted. She was coarse, often candid, sometimes courageous. None of that landed her in trouble when her jibes were directed at the exploitable classes, to whom she always extended a royal 'we'. After all, she claimed to have come from the base, common and popular. Self-made and successful, she was a confident advocate of Thatcherism's project to make Britain over.

But when her argument with society extended to an argument with her government, this bold woman had to be punished. She was braver than her boss, Kenneth Clarke, during the great row about salmonella, when she was probably more right than wrong. That was the end of her career with her own generation of Tory cads. Chastened, she sought revenge.

Yet she has not settled scores and has not caused a scandal. Her revenge is her novel, in the idiom of the sex- and-shopping bonkbuster. Her target is not an individual but a system. As a portrait of her party, her chosen genre is more disquieting than her colleagues' memoirs because it discloses more than Cabinet secrets. It reveals the death of politics in the place that prides itself as the Mother of Democracies.

I had expected, dear reader, to join you in a light-hearted scamper around Currie's confection. The surprise, however, is that the politics is a better read than the sex. This is despite the debut of masturbating woman MP, on page 68. Do the literati among our boy politicians own up to onanism?

Yet this is not an erotic book. To be honest, any book that uses words like 'every fibre of her being' and 'spent' when talking about semen deserves to be pulped. But something more serious is at stake than formulaic writing. The House of Commons could be a corporation. Power is what excites these men. Politics is only the public context and the constraint that adds adrenalin to the dangerous liaisons. The heroine herself, Elaine Stalker, becomes prey in the polygamy that is how corporate man organises his sex life.

Currie was never one to empathise with the exploited. But some of her best characters here are people in pain: closet queers and politicians' wives. The high-flyer herself suffers the same fate as the political wife - endlessly waiting, deferring her public gratification for the private pleasures of brief encounters which leave the reader with an exhaustion that comes not from excitement but from anxiety. Oh God, those ridiculous affairs in which the frisson comes not from orgasmic grandeur but from risk, fright, longing and loss.

The politics disappears in this book. As it did in life. Crass values, corruption of thought, megalomania describe this picture of Britain's ruling party in which the sex provides the clue to the political practice. That is the book's triumph - it is not a romp, it is a tragedy. Its climax is a salutary sex scene in which Stalker's lover, a contender for the premiership, gets what he's always wanted, his woman spreadeagled across his ministerial desk, her face flattened, no eye to meet his eye, taking her from behind. She hated it. He loved it. She never told him.

Always one to risk saying the unsayable, Currie has done it again in A Parliamentary Affair. Now she is taking her politics to somewhere that seems more serious, to Europe. She seems to have recovered herself, the horrible House has finally made a woman of her and, if asked now, she might say: 'I'm not a Conservative, I'm a woman.'

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

i Editor's Letter: Take a moment to imagine you're Ed Miliband...

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff

Letters: No vote poses difficult questions – so why rush?

Independent Voices
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits