The most bracing book review I have read in ages was contributed by the former New Statesman (and Independent on Sunday) editor Peter Wilby to The Guardian last week.
One of the great unwritten laws of Fleet Street is that caps should be doffed in the presence of the recently dead, but Mr Wilby, in noticing An Unfinished Life, Dennis Kavanagh's festschrift in honour of the late Philip Gould, practically threw his cap on the floor and trampled on it in his efforts to disparage the Labour strategist's achievements. Why was his final illness and death thought so newsworthy, Wilby wondered, before going on to reprise Anthony Seldon's description of him as "a political advertising man", criticise him for coining such Blairite rallying cries as "renewal" and "the future not the past", complain that he never gave Labour "the tools to change the political culture", and conclude that he was wrong to import to a socialist party "the language of populist neoliberalism".
Mr Wilby is an unrepentant old lefty, a veteran of the grand old days of gradualism, and can be excused this kind of thing, although a moment's quiet reflection might have encouraged him to elide the bit about Gould's oesophageal cancer being a metaphor for New Labour's demise.
On the other hand, the idée fixe of the Blairite betrayal, the happy thought that practically every political initiative of the period 1997-2007 was a kind of disguised Conservatism, ethically compromised and opportunistically carried through, has been gaining ground for many a year, both inside politics and, more importantly, beyond it. I interviewed the late John Peel shortly before his death. The questions, to which Peel had offered routine replies, were petering to a halt when suddenly he gripped the wheel of the car he was driving and remarked, apropos of nothing, that "I was at the Labour victory night party in 1997, and let me tell you that it's been betrayal from Day One."
If all this accumulated resentment is something that Ed Miliband has not yet come to terms with, then neither, perhaps, has he quite grasped that his real challenge – despite the opinion poll leads – is not somehow to re-animate the Blair Project, but detach that part of the electorate who voted for the coalition on what was essentially a false prospectus. After all, if the lower middle classes could be made to realise that 21st-century Conservatism is hostile to nearly all their economic, social and moral interests, then Mr Miliband's victory will be won at a stroke.
Q: Over which artistic debut were the following encomia recently pronounced? "Youthful energy and enthusiasm …" (The Daily Telegraph); "a very promising start" (The Guardian); "self-deprecating humour … easy charm … unlikely to need further lectures" (The Independent)? A talented new concert pianist? A ground-breaking tyro novelist?
Oddly enough, the subject of these salutations is none other than 28-year-old Nick Grimshaw, parachuted last week on to the Radio 1 Breakfast Show as a replacement for the retiring Chris Moyles. For the record, Mr Grimshaw marked his arrival by regaling listeners with Kanye West and Jay-Z's rap duet "Paris" and unveiled a pre-recorded chat with the teen heartthrob Justin Bieber.
Call me an old Leavisite, but there must be better uses for valuable newsprint than earnest symposia about Mr Grimshaw's ability to pronounce the current "yoof" clarion cry "What g'wan". It is not just that what Mr Grimshaw purveys, like Tony Blackburn and Dave Lee Travis before him, is essentially tat, but that the slotting of it into some wider pop-cultural pattern presumes a universality that isn't actually there.
Not only do hardly any readers of the broadsheets know, or care, who Mr Grimshaw is, but, more important, inter-generational propriety demands that they shouldn't find out. My children – none of whom, incidentally, would be seen dead listening to the Radio 1 Breakfast Show – already have enough trouble with their father asking for the Foo Fighters to be relayed to him down the mobile from the Reading Festival. Oh, for the days when, if David Bowie's name strayed into the supper-table conversation, one's mother would innocently enquire "Is he a pop music person?"
As stacked copies of J K Rowling's The Casual Vacancy rise towards the ceilings of every supermarket in the UK, it seems a good moment for my annual lament about the imbecility of the British book trade. Here is an item that hundreds of thousands of people want to buy. Why not sell it to them at a proper price – rather than the £9 currently advertised by Amazon – so that the nation's retailers can make some badly needed money out of it?
And why not devise a retail mechanism that could allow it to be sold by small independent bookshops at some profit to themselves rather than by supermarkets using it as a loss-leader to entice punters to the baked-bean shelf?
The standard argument in favour of massively discounted books is that they are "democratic" and allow purchase by people who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford them. But the ultimate effect of the Rowling phenomenon is to concentrate resources on a handful of bestsellers, thereby stymieing new talent and restricting real choice. In fact, the circumstances surrounding the publication of The Casual Vacancy are about as genuinely democratic as mechanics of the US electoral system.
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