Conned, well conned

Boris Johnson? Nigel Farage? Jacob Rees Mogg?

Who can we really blame for the Brexit farago?

The answer came to me in one of my occasional political dwams, in a revelation adding fuel to the assertion that tragedy and comedy are close bedfellows.

The real villain behind the piece is none other than James Bond!

The more I though about this, the more sense it made.

If we start by looking at Ian Fleming, Bond’s creator and alter ego.

He was the son of a banker, Eton educated, worked for Naval intelligence, and mostly obtained his later employment through contacts or nepotism, rendering his ability  in any given post more or less irrelevant. He had relationships with the Harmsworths/Rothermeres of Daily Mail notoriety, eventually, after a long affair, marrying Viscount Rothermere’s ex-wife after he divorced her because of that affair. His leading role with Kemsley newspapers came with an annual three month holiday in the winter, which he spent in the West Indies.

Not  surprisingly, Bond was cast in the same mold, and, if we look back at the general attitudes of the novels, a pattern emerges.

Despite the fact that the sun was setting fast on the British Empire for most of Bond’s existence as 007, the subplot was that Britain had world influence and if you wanted a job doing properly, you needed to use a Brit. Bond has a friendly “special relationship” with Felix Leiter of the CIA – but despite the American’s greater resources, generally it’s Bond who helps him out of difficult situations. Foreigners are generally bad guys – often German, increasingly Russian, and finally, and vaguely, with the arrival of SPECTRE, basically “everybody else”.

Bond’s appeal is that he knows how to dress, what to drink and eat, and is perfectly at home in “elite” company. Spending silly money on everything from cars to shirts to suits, shoes and cuff links is seen as admirable, and also a positive image of British affluence.

Though Bond is “On Her Majesty’ Secret Service”, he is plainly out for himself most of the time, and when things go wrong, he is forgiven because he is so charming, witty, and urbane. He gets out of seemingly terminal situations not because of his own ability, but mostly because of gadgets supplied by the much more intelligent “Q”.

Women, foreigners, and anyone he perceives as inferior are basically treated, at best,  with callous indifference. He’s involved in “the Bond Project” but quite happy to dress it up in a Union flag, if that eases his path, or makes it more acceptable to those to whom he is accountable.

Looking at the current UK government, you might be forgiven for recognising quite a few of these traits – though you might feel they are more sanguine about taking risks for other people rather than themselves.

The real point, however, lies in the fact that the Bond books were phenomenally popular, and that popularity increased with the films as the sixties and seventies moved forward.

Their popularity was generally put down to  a certain mix of sex and adventure, and, in the films, the increasing use of special effects and gadgetry.

However, there was an added ingredient which was generally overlooked, or, at least, downplayed.

Bond’s world was a place where Britain still ruled the waves and somehow had the respect and affection of its former imperial subjects; it was seen as a major power and frequently was the bulwark between total war and peace. In a sense, it was as if the war had never stopped: foreigners were still to be kept in their place and, if not downright hostile,  couldn’t really be trusted, there were Communists under every bed, and occasionally in them, and if you had money, power, good looks, and the support of the Establishment (however grudgingly) you could get away with just about anything. A grin, a wink, and a knowing smile were all you needed to get by. If only they’d sent 007 to Suez!

On a personal level, Bond and political correctness were complete strangers – he could say and do what he wanted with complete impunity, especially when it came to the women in his life. He was, in effect, the complete Bullingdon Club member.

The grand gesture, the power of wealth, knowing the right people, and making a show: all became a substitute for hard work and graft and a genuine concern for one’s neighbours, other than in a grand political sense. Bond would have been quite happy with the  phrase: “There is no such thing as society” – he may well have had it embroidered in to his expensive hand made shirts!

And, it’s the fact that this made the books so popular which suggests so many people in Britain believed in his world, or at least desperately wanted to, or needed to, and, apparently, still do. Bond offered the kind of freedom, adventure, influence and excitement to which the vast majority of Britons, nor their state, could never aspire. If he was a vicarious character for them, the world in which he operated was a vicarious universe for them.

It was a world in which it was perfectly acceptable to quote “the war” as the best of times, and to define your country’s strengths and values by the damage it could do to others. It was a world which others were rapidly abandoning, but one to which the UK State seems to have become increasingly and delusionally wedded as time has moved on. My mother frequently spoke about the blackout, the May Blitz, and spending her twenties sleeping in an Anderson shelter – but I never once heard the phrase: ‘the best days of my life’.

Most folk, of course, recognised the books for what they were: entertaining hokum to pass away the time in an airport. For some, though, it brought on a wistfulness for imagined times of international glory, and for other, the elite, it must have seemed a pretty fair reflection of a world they recognised. It was a vainglorious vision of a past that had never properly existed, the few elements that had, being well gone, long before Roger Moore raised his eyebrow. There’s nothing wrong with having a Golden Age – but there is something odd about inventing one and continuing to pretend it exists. The self image of the British State is as out of touch with the reality as the elite who peddle it as a means of retaining their privileges.

Ian Fleming tapped into the escapist wishes of his readers, just as the Brexiteers tapped into the escapist wishes of the voters.

The people whose mindset was that  James Bond’s world was true parallel those who want the post Brexit world to match their similar aspirations.

The name is conned, well conned.

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Published by seánmcp

Former deputy headteacher; Edinburgh born Leitrim man; family man; writer, photographer and sports fan: cricket, football, GAA, athletics. Education & Welfare Officer at Hibernian FC; follow Hibs, Southport FC, Leitrim GAA, Dunedin Connollys GAA, Drumkeerin GAA, Cricket Scotland and Scottish Wildcats.

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