Edinburgh Book Festival: Harsh reality is catching up with Jeremy Corbyn

Ex-MP Chris Mullin's book A Very British Coup seems to foretell Jeremy Corbyn's rise. Picture: PA
Ex-MP Chris Mullin's book A Very British Coup seems to foretell Jeremy Corbyn's rise. Picture: PA
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Publishers are a canny lot, so it’s no surprise that Chris Mullin’s are already hyping A Very British Coup, his 1982 thriller about a media/MI5/Establishment plot to bring down a newly elected left-wing Labour PM as “the novel that foretold the rise of Jeremy Corbyn”.

Mullin, a long-term leftie himself – he even led the leadership campaign for Corbyn’s mentor Tony Benn – was as surprised as anyone else by JC’s spectacular rise. He had always found Corbyn likeable enough, though he had so few supporters in the parliamentary party that the last one needed – the 35th – to enable him to stand for in the leadership only voted as Big Ben chimed the deadline. You couldn’t, as he said, make it up.

Already, he said, media attempts to hobble Corbyn are going full tilt – the story about him laying a wreath at a terrorist’s grave in Tunis just the latest example: in fact, it was for victims of a 1985 Israeli bombing attack that Mrs Thatcher herself condemned. All the same, he admitted, Labour’s delay in signing up to an agreed definition of the Holocaust allows the canard that Corbyn is anti-Semitic to persist.

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A more serious charge is that, though “being on every picket line, signing up for every protest” Corbyn has never had to deal with the harsh realities of choice. “He really is a believer in the magic money tree,” Mullin said, adding that the party’s manifesto commitments couldn’t possibly be financed by taxing the rich alone. Basic rates of income tax – now 6 per cent lower than when Mrs Thatcher left power – would have to rise. “We have to accept that we can no longer have American levels of tax and European levels of social services.”

Though he downplayed any fears that Momentum was becoming a dominant force within the party and reckoned that there was “no chance” of it splitting, this was hardly the ringing endorsement Corbyn might have been hoping for ahead of his Book Festival appearance last night. “One thing you could ask him,” Mullin suggested, “would be whether he has changed his mind on anything since the 1970s.”

But maybe even domestic politics sometimes need to be put into the shade. Mullin’s follow-up novel to A Very British Coup is with his publishers now. In its first sentence, it refers to the first novel’s turbulent left-wing PM. “Harry Perkins,” it will read, “was buried on the day that America declared war on China.”

How do you write about addiction when it wrecks – or indeed ends – the life of a loved one? The question was at the heart of an engrossing session yesterday morning with billionaire philanthropist Sigrid Rausing and novelist and songwriter Louisa Young. Both had seen this at first hand, in Rausing’s case accompanied by a global media frenzy when the body of her heroin-addict brother’s equally addicted wife was found in their London home. The subject of Young’s memoir is Robert Lockhart, the charismatic and hugely gifted composer. He was the love of her life before he ruined his own through the alcoholism that finally killed him aged 52.

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There are, apparently, one and a half million of us whose lives are overshadowed by addiction. They will know far more than I ever will about the roller-coaster of despair, hope, anger and love this must entail. I would, however, find it hard to imagine that it could ever be delineated as devastatingly as in Young’s You Left Early. Rausing’s book Mayhem is perhaps less open, but is no less brave.

In the past three decades, Tom Devine pointed out, a “silent revolution” has been going on in Scotland. For the first time in centuries, Scotland has become a net importer rather than exporter of people – and a good job too, he said, at least as far as our economy is concerned.

The biggest group of immigrants – 477,000 at the last count – are the English, whose contribution to Scottish public life he extolled at length. “If you think that is controversial,” said chair Magnus Linklater, “you should read what he has to say about the Clearances.” That book is due out in October – but you have been warned.