Friday, 14 June 2013

No Love for Johnnie

What images are conjured up by that sort of title? For me, it's 1950s kitchen-sink drama. I'm half right: Wilfred Fienburgh's novel was published in 1959, shortly after the left-wing Labour MP's death in a car crash, aged 38. They say 'write about what you know', and this tale of Johnnie Byrne, socialist firebrand MP alienated by his party's rightwing leadership must surely be a thinly-disguised biographical tale. Mind you, from this summary it's a shame more Labour MPs didn't read it in the dark days of New Labour. I'm currently reading Bob Marshall-Andrew's caustic, outspoken memoir of his 13 years as a despised civil liberties-defending MP, hated by Blair and the rest of the leadership. I wonder if he's read No Love For Johnnie?

I haven't started reading it yet, but I'm looking forward to it. Who could resist a novel reviewed as 'the most utterly cynical book on any subject that has ever been written'?

Fienburgh was one of those almost extinct species: an MP who'd worked with his hands. He was a manual labourer whose (unspecified) war service gained him an MBE and an entrée to political life, first as a researcher and eventually as a London MP. Very much a figure of his time, he quickly developed a sideline in TV and newspaper appearances and apparently enjoyed what we'll euphemistically call a rounded social life. He was also a progressive socialist thinker and progressive author of political tracts and manifestos. Yet No Love For Johnnie (later filmed) seems to express the disillusionment felt by many on the serious left about parliamentary politics and the Labour Party in particular. 

The syndicalists always said that the workers' representatives will always lose sight of their interests once they get to London, don a fine suit and dine out with the opposition. Certainly the Labour Party as an institution has very rarely, if ever, come close to being a socialist party. 1945 was a high point, and the oft-slated 1983 Manifesto (once called the 'longest suicide note in history') looked pretty good, but it's always been too boxed-in by fear of the Mail, Tories and global business. Which is why we're in the state we are…

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