David Aaronovitch: Going to hell in a handcart

'Littlejohn has been well reviewed, but his book is ­ in effect ­ a 400-page recruiting pamphlet for the British National Party'
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The Independent Online

Garry Bushell is a columnist, a TV critic, an occasional presenter of very late-night telly programmes, a member of Mensa, and ­ now ­ a novelist. This (my thanks to the Daily Star for this first excerpt from Bushell's Face) is how he opens. "Harry Tyler steered his dark blue G-reg Granada smoothly into a lay-by, got out and walked to a telephone box. Needless to say the handset had been ripped off." If it was needless to say then why did he walk up to it? Because he's almost as much of an idiot as his creator, who ­ a bit later ­ has his hero (Johnny "Too Handsome" Baker) in a clinch with a blonde. "In the back of the cab," we learn, "he slipped a hand down the inside of her stockinged leg and met no resistance." You've got to laugh.

The highlight of day one of the serialisation, however, was an encounter at traffic lights between Johnny, his friend Pyro Joe, and some unwelcome visitors, "Kosovan refugees... with their squeegees." When the Kosovans fail to take no for an answer, they pay for their obduracy. "Johnny was out of the car in a heartbeat, pushing the Kosovan away. He let the Kosovan drop to the floor and put his right boot on his head. 'Oh, excuse me mate,'" said Johnny, "'am I standing on your head?'"

I only mention Bushell, who is a dreadful writer, because this week also saw the launch of a book by his fellow Sun columnist and rival, the much-lionised and awarded Richard Littlejohn. And in Littlejohn's novel, To Hell in a Handcart, there is a remarkably similar event. Littlejohn's hero is a former copper who shoots dead a criminal bogus asylum-seeker from Romania who is on his property. His action is made easily understandable, following ­ as it does ­ on a series of terrifying attacks on the former cop and his family, first by knife-wielding squeegee merchants and then by travellers from the local illegal encampment.

The squeegees appear on page 18, thus: "There must have been ten or a dozen, swarthy, olive-skinned young men with gold teeth in designer clothes, women in shawls and headscarves with babies in arms thrusting their hands towards the car. 'Money, money, give me money, English. Hungry. Help. Give. My baby starving.'"

They smash his car windows and try to stab him. He escapes and talks things over with cousin, Roy, who tells him that, "the local council had spent a fortune housing them [gypsies by the context], yet his sister had been on the waiting-list for 12 years," (page 44). Meanwhile (page 61) Ilie, the man who is to die, has chosen this country because, as the narrator puts it: "Britain had a reputation throughout Eastern Europe for being a soft touch." When he had arrived with others in Kent, "The women had immediately started begging outside a fast-food outlet. The men banged on car windows at petrol pumps demanding money. The children descended on a convenience store and stole everything they could carry."

Ilie goes to a hostel in Tottenham. "All rooms had satellite television and small refrigerators like hotel mini-bars... There was a snooker room... a brand new tennis court and a five-a-side football pitch. Ilie was amazed at the generosity of the British. He received free board and lodging, clothing coupons and £117.50 a week in cash which he supplemented with the proceeds of begging and petty crime," (page 82).

He isn't the only one. On page 131 the other main character, a radio chat-show host, needs some money from his local cash point. On the way he passes a store where, "from a steel trolley stained with pigeon-shit a Kosovan asylum-seeker was selling botulism on a bap to a Japanese tourist for £2.50". Then, as he gets his money out he is accosted by a girl with "a thick East European accent". He's then robbed by a gang of asylum-seekers. When his phone-in starts on page 138 (preceded by a news-flash about drug-dealing Kosovan asylum-seekers fighting a pitched battle in Swindon) the radio host is more sympathetic to the caller (page 139), who has just been robbed by a woman ("gyppo like") with a baby and an accomplice.

Got it? Not yet you haven't. Near the hero's quiet country home (reached on page 155) "the village cricket pitch had been colonized by travellers six months ago. They'd already looted the pavilion and burned it down". On the next page it is revealed that, "since the pikeys arrived there had been a spate of burglaries in the surrounding district".

The pikeys then rob Mickey (the hero's) house, crap on the carpets and kill his Siamese. Which leads Mickey to expostulate (page 165), "don't give me multi-fucking culturalism. The only culture these fucking pikeys have is thieving". As things get more fraught, asylum seekers are revealed on the radio (page 203) to be receiving artificial insemination on the NHS, and the radio host is inundated with calls. He worries that some of them are far-right. Then he consoles himself that, "you can pick your enemies but you can't always pick your friends".

The giveaway is on page 213. We are back in the luxury hostel, where Ilie is doing some gusset-ripping and, as he ejaculates, he screams. "It would have woken the dead," writes Littlejohn, "let alone the family of Somalis in the next bedroom." Five Somalis in one bedroom? Hold on, I thought this was Shangri-la for asylum-seekers. So shouldn't that be, at most, two Somalis? But that's not funny enough, is it? What's funny is poking fun at the tendency of some exotic folk to cram themselves into bedrooms.

We move to the denouement. Ilie goes robbing and is shot by the hero, who looks down at the body and says to himself: "Gyppo certainly. But more East European than pikey." Good heavens! A Henry Higgins of racial characteristics! Here's one hero that doesn't need to measure noses to know where his enemy comes from.

Littlejohn has been well reviewed. The historian, Andrew Roberts, wrote in the Mail that the book "would make a wonderful movie. As if any film producer were brave enough". And the novelist, Frederick Forsyth, in The Sun, argued that "at one level To Hell In A Handcart is funny, just a good story... At [another] level it is a parable of our times."

So let me, Freddy old boy, add a third level. That's the level at which this book is ­ in effect ­ a 400-page recruiting pamphlet for the British National Party. It's an old trick, but a valid one: just take the book and substitute the word "Jew" for "asylum-seeker", "kike" or "yid" for "pikey" or "gyppo", "hook-nosed" for "swarthy" or "dark-haired" (you can keep East-European for the accent). And I wonder what Irina, the Kosovan girl in my eldest daughter's class, would make of this book? Or Mohammed, the Somali boy, who is a friend of my middle daughter's? Why, they might ask, are they hated so much?

Littlejohn may not be racist, but his book is. And here's another quote. "As Richard Littlejohn puts it: 'We are all going to hell in a handcart.'" The quote was written on the Spearhead website, edited by John Tyndall, Hitler lover and founding father of the BNP. In this world you have to learn to choose your friends.