Monday, 6 December 2010

A strange change from Major to minor (poet)

The poetry of John Major, eh. Now there’s a tantalising prospect. What next? The love songs of Edward Heath?
A few days ago, Sir John gave a lecture at Churchill College, Cambridge. Thanking his hosts for accepting the donation of his papers, he added:
“Those that I’ve held back – personal notes, contemporary thoughts, partial diaries, even poems – will follow in due course. I hope that, taken together, these will add to knowledge, and be of use to historians.”
Can poems help historians? “Poets find the things that last,” according to Holderlin, so there’s always a possibility that Sir John will do for Black Wednesday and the ERM debacle what Homer did for the Trojan War.
However, the auguries aren’t good, given the clues we have to the style of Major’s poetic opera, which seems to belong to the Wisden School. Here’s the start of a piece he auctioned last year for charity:
“The mellow sound of bat on ball
The wherewithal to enthral
On feather bed or fiery track
Talent far above the pack
All on display at a glance
As Colin Cowdrey took his stance.
His style was gentle, full of grace
Delicate as Flemish lace...”

Moving on quickly (as one surely must), it’s the secret poetry of Gordon Brown that I’d most like a squint at. I imagine it forged after the style of a saturnine and embittered William McGonagall:
“It was in the year two thousand and seven, just ere the start of July
That that two-faced back-stabbing bastard Blair was forced to Number Ten to say ‘goodbye’...
Then thought we ripe the time to bask in Brownite sun
But little knew, with Blairite traitors skulking the back-benches round, that our woes had only just begun.
Cruelly drummed from office, now will I begin to repair my unfairly-trashèd reputation
With my new book, ‘Beyond the Crash: Overcoming the first Crisis of Globalisation’...”

According to The Times, in “Beyond the Crash &c,” Brown mounts “a stout defence of the economic policy that led to Labour being labelled deficit-deniers,” and it’s fascinating that his 1990’s doppelganger, John Major, used his speech at Churchill College to try something similar, declaring:
“On the day I became Prime Minister, interest rates were 14%, unemployment was soaring, the economy was collapsing, inflation was 9.7% and the tax burden 36.3%. When I left Office, interest rates were 6%, unemployment was falling, the economy was growing healthily, inflation was 2.6% and the tax burden 36.6%. No other Government had passed on such a sound legacy.”
Poor tepid Sir John, poor torrid Gordon. Both took office after a party rebellion, and both were destined to be belittled and eclipsed in the shadows of their predecessors. Of course, the story isn’t without its melodic inversions: John Major was Richard Cromwell to Margaret Thatcher’s Oliver, and slipped to the throne between the legs of giants. Gordon Brown was Oliver Cromwell to Tony Blair’s Charles I, and strode to the throne over the prostrate bodies of rivals whom he’d bullied or bribed to stand aside.
Hauntingly, when I think about British politics over the past thirty or so years, I do seem to see in its Tory-Labour-Tory cycles a repeated re-enactment of the stages of the English civil war of the 17th century: rebellion, regicide, revolution, commonwealth, tyranny, rebellion.
T S Eliot remarked somewhere that “the civil war in England never really ended.” It’ll be interesting to see how the Coalition collapses, as it surely must. Perhaps when Sir John, in the same Cambridge speech, urged David Cameron and Nick Clegg to plot a course for their alliance which went beyond the next election, he was also trying to persuade them to find a way to break out of the cycle. What would that make them? William and Mary, I suppose.

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