Born in Bloomsbury in 1804, Benjamin Disraeli entered parliament aged thirty-three, as Leader of the House was responsible for passing the Reform Act of 1867, which enfranchised a million more men and granted constituencies to unrepresented towns; he had three terms as Chancellor and two as Prime Minister: a short stay in number 10, for the same number of months, in 1868, the second, in 1874, lasting six years. The first of seventeen novels was published in 1826, his unfinished last published posthumously in 1881, the year of his death. There was also a play, some poetry and several non-fiction books. Dizzy, as he was known, was central in creating the modern Conservative Party, the, so-called, one-nation conservatism beloved of recent Tory PMs, including the present one (well, he is there today, Jan 26th): Boris Johnson, surely someone to whom the soubriquet ‘Dizzy’ would be appropriate.
Though Ditsy might better suit the current incompetent incumbent. And where to begin with those damned lies? The parties masquerading as work meetings – or were they work meetings masquerading as parties? Hell! It’s hard to tell; the expensive flat makeover – OTT wallpaper and furnishings masquerading as Interior Design, where a Lytle means a helluva lot; the pledge to build forty hospitals, on a budget not much bigger than Ms Lytle’s – OK, I’ll admit, that was a porky-pie. Couldn’t resist. Catching, this bullshitting, isn’t it. There were historic lies told about events at Hillsborough; lies told to his boss, Michael Howard, who sacked him; lies told to the Queen with regards to proroguing parliament – now, who but BJ would stoop that low. And now, ‘hot off the press’ the damnedest of all lies, lies involving prizing the lives of dogs above endangered Afghan people. There were lies to parliament, to our representatives, lies to we the people. Enough! Democracy is at stake. Look across the Atlantic to see what happens when serial lying gets out of hand. And that ditsy fake-blond’s fanatical followers have not gone away – nor, sadly, has he. Lying, these days, is a very dangerous game.
According to Dizzy’s biographer, Douglas Hurd, Disraeli could sometimes be careless with the truth. Although, I imagine, as diplomacy is part and parcel of politics, a tactful smattering of white lies is sometimes necessary. But lying-through-your-teeth is another matter. To the current occupant of that office of state (please note, it is still Jan 26th) fibbing is part and parcel of his own flabby persona. A persona with no backbone, no integrity and no respect for the office he has craved for so long. Quite literally, a persona non grata.
As one pandemic year rolled into another a befuddled Boris on the news brought a few moments of light relief. But despite the government’s gung-ho abandonment of mandatory safety measures – timed one suspects to take the heat off them – I imagine many scientists, NHS workers, and people like me, feel this latest move may be designed to mollify the masses. For although the title phrase of his piece is a dig at statisticians, I do check the data. And graphs, figures, in themselves, do not lie. I also hear the daily death toll read out night after night, and am convinced that infection figures need to be lower before all caution is thrown to the wind. Parties, birthday cakes, a suitcase of booze, these unfeeling acts of selfishness we joke about are bad enough, but they are not this government’s greatest crime. For me, the big one, the reason why this Prime Minister should go, now, why this government should not be returned to office, is its slowness in bringing in prevention measures combined with the speed with which it can lift them, and, it appears, its inability to value human life, thus allowing thousands, maybe tens of thousands of people to die unnecessarily. Think of that if you are planning to give them another chance to Level Up!
In his novel Sybil; or The Two Nations, tackling the gap between the wealthy elite and the working classes in this country, Disraeli wrote: Two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy, who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts and feelings as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets.
Aside from her first, Lord Melbourne, Dizzy was Queen Victoria’s favourite Prime Minister. On his death in 1881, the card on her wreath read: from his grateful and affectionate sovereign, and friend, Victoria R I. Below it was a quote from Proverbs: Kings love him that speaketh right.
Kings and Queens. Though I would be most surprised if our present queen had any affectionate thoughts for her current ‘Prime’ Minister. Perhaps she and I are both moaning to ourselves now? Another day, and he’s still there.
Sybil: or The Two Nations is available in an Oxford World’s Classic paperback edition, published by Oxford University Press, from your local independent book shop or at www.waterstones.com
I wrote several stories in the 2020 lockdown, Lunching Out (longlisted in the Fish Short Story Prize 2021) being one with links to this month’s blog. In this brief extract, its protagonist, Adrian O’Rourke, sheltering from the rain, has lunch in The Halfway House restaurant.
The dark woman had something of his mother when young about her. Both with their thick locks, as black as ebony. Such lustrous blackness that, as a small child, Adrian would ask to stroke it, so he might feel his soft palm gliding over its Black Beauty sheen.
Will you not let the boy do that, Eleanor! his father would command his mother. Go play with your toys boy. Not your mother’s hair! Why do I waste good money buying you a castle and toy soldiers if you go playing with your mother’s hair like some silly girl!
Adrian had had the misfortune to have inherited his father’s mousey-brown insipidness. There had been many times during the course of an amiable enough childhood – if one not without animus – finding himself despising his father’s use of coarse language, his father’s loudness, his father’s lumpen heaviness, and contrasting it with that of his jet-haired, soft-voiced, diminutive mother, when Adrian had wished he could conjure up a more suitable example of manhood, a Prince Charming who would sweep his mother off her size four feet and whisk her away from the Mr Potatohead she had mistakenly married – whisk her son away with her, too, of course.
Later, as a teenager, a shy, uncertain young man, Adrian wished he himself had benefitted from his mother’s good looks, imagining a dash of glamour might have given him greater courage to face the world more bravely. To face down his father.
It pained him to think of his white-haired mother now. Yet, at the same time, it pained him not to think of her. For her to leave him like that. To depart this world without him by her side. Without her small hand in his. Without him expressing his life-long love for her. She had been so sprightly, so fit, that a telegram from the Queen was a downright certainty. No! A telegram from the King, by then, surely; had she lived for another fourteen years. Had she not died at the youthful age of eighty-six. Had she not been one of that Wednesday’s tally of seven-hundred-and-twenty-one deaths. A figure fixed forever in Adrian’s mind. That mountain of heartache. That bottomless well of tears. Buckets and buckets of them. He was welling up now, thinking of it. How many months had it been?
Was there something about this place? he wondered, looking about him, filmy-eyed.
Check the Covid figures in your postcode on www.bbc.co.uk news.