DJ Taylor: All-singing, all dancing coalition gets a flyer – as did Dwain Chambers

Two brands of Toryism are afoot, but which will stay the course? Meanwhile '1984' is set for some showbiz razzmatazz, and athletics on the BBC runs out of steam
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The Independent Online

With the House of Commons now off on its summer recess, some doubt seems to attend the achievements of the coalition's first three months of existence.

On the one hand, newspapers are desperately raking through Westminster rubbish bins in search of hard evidence of impending fracture. On the other, there is more or less general agreement that David Cameron looks born to the job and, as The Times used to say of ministerial hopefuls in the Baldwin era, has comported himself in a statesmanlike manner.

The Lib Dems' motives in keeping the whole thing going are unguessable but cannot, surely, be ascribed simply to a wish to occupy a sixth of the cabinet table at whatever philosophical cost. The really curious thing about the current arrangements is the variety of brands of modern Conservatism on display.

One brand clearly believes that humankind is a frail and hollow vessel, awash with unappeasable whims that it is a government's job to subdue. Hence the proposed repeal of the last government's licensing laws and the end of 24-hour drinking, and the threatened abolition of Asbos for being insufficiently punitive by the Home Secretary, Theresa May.

Another brand sticks firmly to the set the people free line which maintains that the one great obstacle to the living of a civilised life is that the state doesn't give its citizens enough choice, that people would behave better if they weren't lectured to and the responsibility for their actions were left to them. Thus the abandonment of schemes for food labelling and the end of the alleged, or even non-existent, "war on the motorist".

The drawback to "setting the people free" is that even the most diehard Tory libertarian will be uneasily aware that substantial parts of the population are incapable of benefiting from that freedom. What is the point of giving "choice" in education to children who cannot read, urging the acquisition of "skills for the technological age" on people who have never had a job and the advantages of the Big Society for people whose idea of communality is 20 minutes queuing in the kebab shop?

Of all the Government's current projects, the idea of academy schools is probably the one least likely to solve the problem its inception acknowledges. An academy is starting up a couple of miles away. Its incoming principal made extravagant pronouncements about its future success at exactly the same time as a friend relayed the GCSE options available to her 14-year-old daughter, in which brainy intellectual subjects such as fashion and IT predominated and modern languages were a distant option.

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, would be much better off ensuring that all children were taught proper subjects properly than allowing a few thousand middle-class parents to take part in an interesting educational experiment.


Great amusement was expressed across the message boards earlier in the week when it was revealed that Sir Elton John and Lee Hall, award-winning creators of the musical version of Billy Elliot, intend to turn George Orwell's 1945 novella Animal Farm into what one report called "an all-singing, all-dancing production for the stage". Sir Elton's publicist confirmed his client's interest in bringing the book to the West End, while warning that "this is months or years off – nothing is certain at the moment". Twitterati, meanwhile, flocked to suggest possible song titles. These included "I'm still Stalin" and "Don't go braking [sic] my cart".

Purists will probably wonder what Orwell would have thought of this. In fact, he was surprisingly keen on what is now rather grandly known as the trans-medial venture. Early in 1946, for example, he wrote to tell his agent that he had attended a meeting with a representative of MGM and talked up Animal Farm as "a book which might possibly make a film". In the same letter Orwell suggests that "it would make a Disney film, or better still a puppet film, but that needs intelligent direction and fabulous sums of money".

It was the same with his old friend Anthony Powell who, late in life, when a friend declared that an ancient play he had written would make a splendid vehicle for Andrew Lloyd Webber, straightaway instructed his agent to get busy. Beneath even the flintiest creative exterior there generally lurks a hankering for big audiences and filthy lucre.


As football draws ever closer, pre-season manoeuvrings have provided their usual hilarious insight into how the modern game gets run. The biggest problem, so far as one can judge from the football correspondents, is the difficulty Premiership managers have in getting in touch with their star players and ascertaining their intentions.

Doubts about whether the Manchester United defender Nemanja Vidic would be back at Old Trafford – even Sir Alex Ferguson seemed not to have the faintest idea – were eventually resolved when it was revealed that he had signed a new contract.

The incoming Liverpool boss, Roy Hodgson, has been having the most vexing time with Javier Mascherano, who declined to return his text messages and finally informed him, last Monday, that he wants to leave the club, with a £25m move to Internazionale the most likely destiny. Over the future of Fernando Torres there hangs an almighty question mark, although the ever-optimistic Hodgson has revealed that "he has told me he is looking forward to Monday, getting back to work and playing for us next season".

Only Sol Campbell, newly married and apparently settling for Newcastle because his wife lives locally, looks like a free agent exercising a free agent's elemental right.

There must be millions of football fans who wonder why certain elementary principles of the law of contract don't apply to football. It is, of course, hardly worth pointing out that the game's mobility problem could be solved at a stroke if the leading clubs announced that they intended to enforce all contractual obligations, but the chances of this happening are on a par with newly promoted Blackpool's prospects of winning the Premiership.

It is the same with the publishing row recently sparked by the creation of his own e-book empire by the literary agent Andrew Wylie. A united front on the part of the UK's publishers could have seen off Wylie 20 years ago, but here, alas, is another industry eternally seduced by the lure of short-term gain.


One of the best summers I ever remember was far-off 1981. Toxteth might have been burning and Brixton ruinously aflame, but it was the time of Ian Botham's exploits in the Headingley Test and Sebastian Coe's serial assaults on the world middle-distance records. To watch the European Athletics Championships taking place in Barcelona, as I have been all week with my 10-year-old son, is to be conscious of a terrific falling off from those halcyon days.

It is not just that the moral atmosphere has changed, that we had the clean-cut young Corinthian Lord Coe (as he now is) while the modern age has to make do with that gnarled old doper Dwain Chambers, lately back from suspension, loping in a spavined fifth in the men's 100 metres.

What has also degenerated is the BBC coverage: the interminable pre-race interviews, in which athletes go on about how chuffed they are to be there; the gabbling experts; the yet more superfluous post-race interviews when the runners, collapsed brokenly at the trackside, mutter (gasp) that they gave it all they've got and (groan) that it's back to the drawing board for next season. Meanwhile, of course, the BBC is talking up the 2012 Olympics as if it were some kind of spiritual visitation. With 103 weeks to go, this athletics fan is already bored stiff.


As an aficionado of the literary spat, I was highly amused by the inflammatory remarks dropped in The Guardian by Gabriel Josipovici on the subject of contemporary British literature. According to Professor Josipovici, such modern literary titans as Salman Rushdie, Julian Barnes and Ian McEwan are like "prep-school boys showing off", while the English novel, having failed to pick up the modernist baton from a previous generation, is now "profoundly disappointing".

I sped to the bookshelves in search of examples of Josipovici's own fiction, but could only come up with a short story contributed to a 1984 PEN anthology in which various disembodied talking heads discuss the invention of a game ("What sort of a game?"; "I don't know, there must be lots of games", etc). At the bottom of this intervention, you infer, lies an acknowledgment that the kind of fiction peddled by Professor Josipovici and his colleagues – spiky, experimental, left-field – back in the Sixties and Seventies has not, by and large, found favour with either critics or readers. But then nearly all literary criticism, from Leavis down, is largely a matter of voting for your party.