Tag Archives: Margaret Thatcher

“No turning back”, Theresa May calls snap UK General Election, 8 June

Theresa May calls snap General Election, 8 June 2017

The lady’s not for turning” became a catchphrase of Margaret Thatcher, then Prime Minister, in her 10 October 1980 speech to the Conservative Party Conference. Theresa May, who said on 30 June 2016 “There should be no General Election until 2020“, and again 3 weeks ago on 20 March, has just called a snap election on 8 June, just 7 weeks away. May is a shrewd political player but clearly not one to be trusted after half-a-dozen times she said “no” to an early election, this is her u-turn, her moment of political triumph or tragedy.

From Remain to Leave, from a 2020 election to a 2017 election, from the Fixed-term Parliament Act to PM’s whim. This Prime Minister is for turning.

Theresa May - "Better off in the European Union"
Theresa May – “Better off in the European Union”

Markets have reacted to uncertainty as usual with the FTSE-100 down nearly 2.5% but the Pound also jumping over 1.5% against the Dollar.

Polls and Psephology

Psephologists and pollsters suggest she is odds-on favourite for an increased majority and mandate. Polls suggest a 15-20% point lead over Labour, a collapsed UKIP campaign as they’ve no longer Brexit to call for and many UKIPpers returning to the Tory fold as May goes for Hard Brexit or broke. 

Be in no doubt this election is to crush Brexit (and any internal Tory) opposition – the very opposition she said at Easter didn’t exist because the country was united behind Brexit:

“a sense that people are coming together and uniting behind the opportunities that lie ahead” – Theresa May, Easter message

Hijacking a religious festival for a political message? Will she stop at nothing?

Theresa May Brexit 12 point plan speech
Theresa May Brexit 12 point plan speech

Falsely describing the country as united but Parliament, as divided, is disingenuous and erasing of the 48%, of the tens and hundreds of thousands who continue to turn out for pro-EU/anti-Brexit rallies.

“At this moment of enormous national significance there should be unity here in Westminster, but instead there is division. The country is coming together, but Westminster is not.” – Theresa May, Election call [full speech text | video]

She is referring to the SNP, LibDems, Labour and even the Lords, vowing to fight any bad deal with the EU. Surely, their opposition is in all our interests, even Leave voters, as nobody wants a bad deal. Again, it’s suspect since Article 50 was passed by Parliament, despite the narrow 52% EU Referendum majority and MPs being denied a free vote. Meantime, an election is the one surefire thing to divide the country afresh!

Hard Brexit?

Whilst some may want an end to Leave-Remain bickering, some are opposed to a “hard” Brexit and may also vote against giving Theresa May a carte blanche to withdraw from the EU so drastically. 

“Britain is leaving the European Union and there can be no turning back.” – Theresa May, Election call [full speech text | video]

A Second Referendum?

Inadvertently perhaps, Theresa May has just called a second EU Referendum:

“So I have a simple challenge to the opposition parties, you have criticised the Government’s vision for Brexit, you have challenged our objectives, you have threatened to block the legislation we put before Parliament – This is your moment to show you mean it.” – Theresa May, Election call [full speech text | video]

Single Issue Politics

Despite Audre Lorde saying, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives”, nevertheless, this may well be a single issue election. 

Remainers will be tempted to vote LibDem, even many students with memories of betrayal over student loans or concerns about Tim Farron’s evangelical Christian faith and opposition to abortion and gay sex – that said, he has been quoted as saying he will follow party policy on the matter. 

For the SNP, too, it will be about Brexit and a Scottish second independence referendum, because of it. 

The LibDems – who gained 1000 new members an hour after May’s announcement, and Tim Farron are trending on Twitter, Labour are not. Labour MP Alan Johnson is trending, but that’s because, along with others, he is standing down.

Strategic Voting

Perhaps it is time for strategic voting as June will be seen as an ironclad Brexit mandate and a 5-year window to negotiate with EU pre- and post-Brexit. Labour are down but also voting for the early election. Greens and LibDems are slowly rising in support and membership since the EU Referendum. LibDem marginals winning back seats from Tories in pro-Remain areas are the likely possible cause of an upset. As a past Labour voter, conceited statements that the choice is between the Tories and Labour ignore the possibility of a third pro-EU force emerging, backing Greens and/or LibDems or independent candidates. Anyone with an EU partner, like myself and many friends, will be thinking this. We’ve had 40 years of integrating EU people, policies and partners into our society, and they remain a headline issue in this forthcoming election campaign.

Betting odds on the next leaders to replace the current batch are Labour: 4-1 Keir Starmer, 6-1 Clive Lewis, LibDems: 4-1 Norman Lamb, Tories: 4-1 Boris Johnson. Odds on the next PM: Theresa May 1-10 and on Corbyn 7-1. Tim Farron was 50-1 now 25-1. 7-4 odds on Labour losing 50 seats and LibDems gaining 10-20. Either way, doesn’t look good. Plan A is still strategic voting for the best opposition party/candidate in each locale. (Ladbrokes | Paddy Power | OddsChecker)

LibDem Remain win 2017 election
LibDem Remain win 2017 election?

An unscientific poll in a Facebook 48% group has 75% of them voting LibDem. If that were translated to the 16 million national Remain vote it would equate to over 12 million votes – more that the Conservative Party at the 2015 election. Who knows what that would look like, perhaps with the Tories 50 seats short of a majority or even the LibDems 50 short?

“So, tomorrow, let the House of Commons vote for an election, let everybody put forward their proposals for Brexit and their programmes for Government, and let us remove the risk of uncertainty and instability and continue to give the country the strong and stable leadership it demands.” – Theresa May, Election call [full speech text | video]

Snap General Election 8 June 2017 not 2020
Snap General Election 8 June 2017 not 2020

Political Dystopia as UK living in Groundhog Day & Back to the Future era

UK Political Groundhog Day

Can you believe it? Nigel Farage is back in charge of UKIP, again – for the fourth time. We also have Maggie ‘Theresa May‘ Thatcher redivivus in charge of the Conservative Party (MT/TM same initials!). Jeremy Corbyn is also the second leader Labour has had in a year. OK, so the previous one was also Jeremy Corbyn! I feel like I’m living in political Groundhog Day.

Theresa May Margaret Thatcher Number 10 Composite
Theresa May Margaret Thatcher Number 10 Composite

UKIP’s fourth-time-around leader

UKIP saving the Pound
UKIP saving the Pound, one cent devaluation at a time!

Admittedly, or allegedly, only a temporary reversion, but after Diane James’ 18-day stint as leader, Nigel Farage has returned to the helm of UKIP.

“UKIP without a leader is more electable than Labour with one” – Nigel Farage

Neil Hamilton as an alternative UKIP leader, currently leader in the Welsh Assembly, would be a “horror story” say Farage and Hamilton in a comical show of unplanned unity.

Financial Markets and Economic Prospects

GBP v USD 2016 post-Referendum Exchange Rate
GBP v USD 2016 post-Referendum Exchange Rate

And whilst the FTSE-100 reaches new heights for the multinational wealthy with shares and global reach, the Pound is crashing towards Sterling parity with the Dollar ($1.27) and ignominy with the Euro (€1.13).

Back to the Future over the EU

John Major launched his fatal Back to Basics political message and policies in 1993, but Theresa May’s message feels more like back to the 80s or even the 70s – before 1973 when we joined the EU. Now we are leaving it. When we joined, Britain was keen to avoid creating a rift between pro and anti-Europeans:

“Above all we should avoid creating a new, semi-permanent rift in British society, between pro and anti Europeans.” – The Guardian, 1 Jan 1973

Post-Referendum and with Brexit’s Article 50 due to initiate by March 2017, we have created exactly that with a very divided and divisive 48% Remainers and 52% Leavers society.

Currency falling backwards and downwards

DeLorean Back to the Future DMC Car
DeLorean Back to the Future DMC-12 Car

The Pound has only been this low once before in 60 years, back in 1985, when Back to the Future was released and the already defunct DeLorean (1983) was ironically the posited future of flying cars and time machines. In fact, without any irony at all, DeLorean or rather the new DMC is making fresh models of the DMC-12 car this year!

Recreating the Past rather than a Future

We seem to be recreating the past, rather than an inclusive or “brighter future” for all of Theresa May’s talk about injustice and inequality – because it’s selective inequality she’ll help, and selective education she’ll promote. And if, we can’t trust Nigel Farage to actually resign, Boris Johnson to keep on message for longer than 4 days (Theresa May’s joke at the Tory Party Conference, 5 October 2016), how can we trust that “Brexit means Brexit” or hope that it doesn’t. We seem to be living in the past, having chosen to withdraw from European cooperation and community, back to tariffs and protectionism, back to a low Pound, xenophobic racism and divisions, and peddling failed political slogans that could have been ripped from 1970s/80s politics and posters – indeed during the Leave EU campaign some were. Theresa May, in her speech, ridiculed ‘citizens of the world’, as many Remainers describe themselves, as citizens of nowhere, even if it was in the context of criticising global corporations:

“If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what the very word ‘citizenship’ means.” – Theresa May, Conservative Party Conference 2016 (speech in full)

This reminds me of George Orwell’s dystopian idea of citizenship in 1984! As for me, I’m a #proudcitizenoftheworld:

As was discussed today on TalkRADIO, for which I was interviewed, we are in dangerous territory here, using jingoistic language to appease the right whilst seemingly stealing centreground policies, but only for the few who are hard-working British citizens, not the “low skilled immigrants”. Immigrant wealth-creators are welcome but not “wealth consumers“, said Liam Fox at a fringe event. So that’s no more asylum seekers or refugees then?

Theresa May also turned the tables, saying that now Labour is the “supporting voices of hate…the nasty party”. Yet her language is more reminiscent of UKIP’s xenophobia than any kind of utopian equality. Even The Times said of her speech that “The Tory conference was largely immigration policy by Ukip.” It’s a scary future not a bright future we are being presented with.

Miriam Gonzalez Durantez BBC Radio 4 Today Guest Editor on Food & Feminism

Miriam Gonzalez Durantez – guest editor on BBC Radio 4 Today programme

BBC Radio 4 Today guest editor for a day, senior international lawyer and secret food blogger, Miriam González Durántez took charge of the programme’s direction and interviews. Intelligent and disarmingly charming González discussed politics, women, role models, immigration, extremism, high heels, and food with Jamie Oliver and Bake Off champion Nadiya Hussain, and interviewed Richard Branson, Theresa May, James Blunt among others, whilst sidestepping Justin Webb’s sexism. Barely minutes after the interview some people were criticising her interviews as “embarrassing“.

Only last week she wrote for the Financial Times on Spain’s recent election impasse, and political and judicial corruption there:

“The message is clear: voters do not want a focus on personalities or parties, they want a focus on cleaning up politics. Whoever becomes prime minister is almost irrelevant since he is likely to have to pack his (no chance of hers, alas) bags before long.” – Miriam González Durántez, Financial Times

González is an inspiring woman who also promotes the Inspiring Women Campaign since 2013 which talks with girls in state schools about future paths.

As El Mundo reported, it is the first time a Spaniard has guest edited the programme since the idea was introduced back in 2003. 

La abogada Miriam González es la primera persona española que ha sido invitada a codirigir un día el programa Today de la BBC Radio 4.

Miriam Gonzalez Durantez Guest Editor BBC Radio 4 Today
Miriam Gonzalez Durantez Guest Editor on BBC Radio 4 Today programme

 

Spanish Food

González turns out to have been the secret author of a cookery blogMum and Sons“. She has some excellent mayonnaise cheats and a delicious guacamole  recipe.

“I’m Spanish we talk about food all the time… at breakfast we talk about what’s for lunch, at lunch what’s for dinner!” (2h48m)

Having lived in Spain for two years and being complete obsessed by food, I must have had a secret Spanish heart transplant.

British Freedom

She mentioned on the programme about her love of British freedom as she’s discussed before in the Guardian:

“The very first five minutes when I came to live here, I felt a freedom that I had never felt before in my life, a freedom to be myself.”

 

Women and Islamic State Extremism

González challenged Radio 4 to investigate and find out why over 60 British women and teens have travelled to Syria to possibly join Islamic State. Interviews include the Unity of Faiths Foundation which fights radicalisation through football, member of the Youth Parliament and an Ambassador for TUFF FC, Umra Butt, and director at anti-extremism Connect Justice, Laura Zahra McDonald.

“Facing racism and Islamophobic slurs…it’s the only place they feel accepted, it’s about belonging and fitting in…how can we empower people to belong…” (2h33m)

 

Smart and Beautiful

She used the opportunity as Today programme guest editor to challenge both gender roles, stereotypes and interview male and female role models. She also called on James Blunt to rewrite “You’re Beautiful” as “You are Smart” (1h45m). Blunt apologised for his “ridiculous accent” but not for being seen as sensitive or gay.

“…not very macho…effeminate and gay…not an insult…to call me gay is a compliment, and I’d like to be considered an honorary gay man, I’m totally at ease with myself.” James Blunt

Everyday Sexism

Ever the diplomat, she chose not to slam much of the inherent everyday sexism of BBC male interviewer Justin Webb who introduced her as Nick Clegg’s wife – a dubious honour not used to introduce anyone else’s marital status or partner. Twitter of course, took him to task:

 

“Who’s in charge in your household?” (2h54m50s) “You’re the wife of Nick Clegg – it is a fact, you don’t rile from that?” (2h56m50s) “You want Theresa May to be in charge of the Tories, you are willing her” (2h59m15s

 

Home Secretary Theresa May Interview

Sharing a love of shoes, González says to May:

“I think better in high heels” (2h20m)

On whether Theresa May would lead a BrExit “No Campaign”, May dodges the question, González challenges “That’s not really an answer to my question”, May replies, “I’m a politician, Miriam”, González reiterates “I’m a lawyer, I have to insist”, then deflects with laughter. (2h25m45s

 

An Embarrassing or Endearing Interviewer?

Despite a debate this morning on whether her interview with May was “embarrassing” González appears genuine, is obviously intelligent yet uses endearing humour – which may appear self and female-patronising at times, but which seems to be a ploy to disarm and choose which “square centimetre” battles to fight. Wanting to see change, she says, means choosing your battles wisely. Not every successful woman needs to be a Theresa May-Margaret Thatcher battleaxe, woman can make it by being themselves, not by being men.

Austerity/Labour isn’t working; How to measure a Healthy Economy & Society

Getting Britain back to work? It’s not working!

The language of austerity and recovery (the Tory version or Labour’s “austerity-light”) has all been about working to pay off the deficit, whereas the reality of much of it was about cutting public sector jobs and the benefits of those out of work. The language of Ukip has been about preventing others coming here to work, or labelling migrants as “benefit/health tourists”. According to many international bodies the UK has done well – economically, but socially we are falling apart. Socially and in microeconomics terms, rather than the surface macroeconomic recovery, the Coalition isn’t working, also “Labour Isn’t Working“, the political opposition has been ineffectual.

Measuring the Health of a Nation

Labour Party, The Doctor Can't See You Now General election poster 2015
Labour: The Doctor Can’t See You Now General election poster 2015

In health service resources terms we are 28th out of 30 OECD nations, 19th in terms of our actual health. The health of society should not be measured in mere economic terms. Education, welfare, mental health, attitudes to those that are different, migrants, or asylum seekers, are often a better guide to how we are really doing as a society. When a million people are using foodbanks, something is clearly wrong.

Working Families

Britain isn't eating poster Church Action on Poverty 2013
“Britain isn’t eating” Church Action on Poverty 2013

The language of Labour and Conservatives this election has all been about “hard working families“, with Ukip adding British-only workers to that, but then even Labour wanted to push for British jobs first. On paper, the unemployment rate is almost back to its 5.3% pre-crisis figure along with a massive shift away from public sector towards the private sector. After 5 years of austerity certain types of jobs are growing (self-employment, small business, zero hours contracts – 700k/2.3% of workers), but those without are being left behind – something Cameron promised not to do.

“I want to, if I’m elected, take the whole country with me. I don’t want to leave anyone behind. The test of a good society is you look after the elderly, the frail, the vulnerable, the poorest in our society. And that test is even more important in difficult times, when difficult decisions have to be taken, than it is in better times.” – David Cameron on the Andrew Marr Show, just before the 2010 General Election

Whether disabled, unskilled, mentally ill, being a carer, or struggling with some other difficulty that makes the 9-5 “Arbeit macht frei” ethic not appropriate or possible for all, many are being abandoned, and forgotten. The very purpose of the modern state, the welfare state, even something once quoted but not fulfilled by David Cameron, is to care for the weakest and neediest in society – without scapegoating them as sick scroungers.

Ed Miliband and the #EdStone

Ed Miliband Pledge Promises Stone EdStone
Ed Miliband – Six Pledge/Promises Stone #EdStone

Even Ed Miliband in his Cecil B. DeMille Mosaic stone Tablets announcement this weekend put the economy as the number #1 priority and “higher living standards for working families” as number #2, apeing UKIP and the Tories at number #4 is “Controls on Immigration“.

What no welfare?

Nowhere among Labour’s 6 priorities were people in need, on welfare, even mentioned. For welfare to remain a “dirty” word even with a so-called socialist party shows how times have swung and the extent to which a party will spin and abandon its principles in order to regain power.

Austerity isn't working UK Uncut poster 2012
Austerity isn’t working UK Uncut poster 2012

“Cuts” has been the message of austerity and debt reduction. But those cuts have fallen on the neediest in society, those on disability or welfare, not those most able to pay, or indeed – such as the banks, most responsible for the economic collapse in the first place. In 2012 UK Uncut protested the March budget with a “queue” outside Downing Street and an “Austerity Isn’t Working” poster campaign mimicing the 1978/9 Saatchi poster done for Margaret Thatcher and the Tories.

The verdict of a successful government is not just something measured in economic terms but also in moral and social ones.

Arbeit macht frei

Diefenbach’s 1873 novel “Arbeit macht frei” about a man who “is a gambler and fraudster who, through regular employment, succeeds in regaining the path of virtue” or as another commentator put it “a way for sinful people to be absolved of their transgressions through labor” is the origin of the cruel phrase that was taken on by Nazis and put over the gates of the concentration camps. Diefenbach was a Christian pastor and nationalist and echoed the Victorian work ethic that many so-called reformers in Britain held to in the 19th century.

David Cameron’s Easter message interview with a Christian magazine summed up Christianity as about “hard work and responsibility“, not Christ’s work on the Cross, meaning that, soteriologically, everything was actually already done for mankind.

Jesus said that the “truth would set you free”, the truth seems to be the thing furthest from modern politicians, with all their spin and question-dodging. No wonder 35% of the electorate don’t vote.

Less about Economic Wealth what about Mental Health?

The real hard truth is that “Britain isn’t working”. Inequality is increasing. Our communities are fractured and our countryside fracked. Those not in work are being punitively capped and cut until they can take it no more.

The irony of a government forcing state-funded CBT onto the unemployed yet unable to deliver self-requested CBT via mental health services for those that want to work is clearly lost on the Big Brother worker state. Hundreds of therapists, counsellors, and mental health experts, have written to outline their fears about the emotional and psychological toxicity of austerity and how it is being carried out. Suicides have increased over the last 5 years, especially amongst men.

Big Society or Broken Society?

Is the Big Society broken? Does society even exist or matter? Thatcher’s “there’s no such thing as society” is falsely interpreted though under a Tory-LibDem watch has been almost a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“There is no such thing as society. There is living tapestry of men and women and people and the beauty of that tapestry and the quality of our lives will depend upon how much each of us is prepared to take responsibility for ourselves and each of us prepared to turn round and help by our own efforts those who are unfortunate.” – Margaret Thatcher, 1987

Labour isn't working Conservative's Saatchi poster 1978/79
Labour isn’t working Conservative’s Saatchi poster 1978/79

Saatchi and Saatchi designed the 1978 poster that helped Thatcher win the 1979 election with the tagline “Labour [Still] Isn’t Working“. The Labour Party has spoofed the self same poster nearly 4 decades later. It is time to think outside the box not just rattle and rebrand it.

The truth is society is more broken than 5 years ago even if the economy may be on the mend. Austerity has been toxic. Our health, transport, housing, and education sectors have declined after being starved of resources or sold off to the private sector. Now it is society that needs rebuilding, not the economy. That is the true measure of recovery.

Post-Election Update

Labour isn't working BOB cartoon Daily Telegraph 9 May 2015
Labour isn’t working BOB cartoon Daily Telegraph 9 May 2015

With the Conservatives returned to power, not just coalition but a slim but workable majority, and achieving a rare (once in a century) feat of increasing their vote share, how much did their victory owe to spin and emphasis on the economy not those in need? Are the democratic majority simply selfish? The majority view does not mean it is the right view – ethically, morally, socially. In the meantime the 37 year-old poster image is still doing the rounds with Daily Telegraph cartoonist BOB re-posting “Labour isn’t working” with a queue of unemployed Labour MPs snaking back from the dole office.

The legacy of Sue Townsend, social commentator, book-lover, author of Adrian Mole and his Secret Diary

Adrian Mole Secret Diary Sue Townsend book cover montage
A montage of just some of the Secret Diary of Adrian Mole book covers over 30 years by Sue Townsend

Sue Townsend (1946-2014), creator of Adrian Mole, aged 13¾, has died of a stroke, aged 68. Despite failing her 11-plus exam, leaving school at 15, and being a three-child single mother by 23, she went on to write 17 books, 11 plays and receive half-a-dozen awards including two honorary doctorates. She shared the Freedom of Leicester, where she was born and based the Adrian Mole books, with Leicester-raised singer Engelbert Humperdinck. Her humble writing roots were not dissimilar to JK Rowling’s and she wrote for 20 years before being published. The first volume of Adrian Mole’s Diary was written was working 3 jobs and living on Leicester’s Saffron Lane estate.

Stephen Mangan, who played the television role of Adrian Mole in 2001, said on hearing of her passing, “Greatly upset to hear that Sue Townsend has died. One of the warmest, funniest and wisest people I ever met.”

A Portuguese edition of the Secret Diary of Adrian Mole
A Portuguese edition of the Secret Diary of Adrian Mole

The Adrian Mole books described the growing pains and internal worries of a teenage boy, his loves and woes, such as glue sniffing and ending up with model aeroplane stuck to his nose! Her first book, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾ became one of the bestselling books of the 1980s in which it was also set.

Within a decade the first book had sold in excess of 2 million copies. To date some 20 million+ copies of the books have sold, as it has spawned numerous sequels and translations, making both Sue Townsend and Adrian Mole famous.

“Perhaps when I am famous and my diary is discovered people will understand the torment of being a 13 3/4 year old undiscovered intellectual.”

Indeed, that is how Adrian saw himself, an aspiring yet unrecognised intellectual with the following catch or caveat:

“I have a problem. I am an intellectual, but at the same time I am not very clever.”

This was evidenced by his confusing “Pride and Prejudice” with “Prejudice or Pride” and not getting the association of Pandora and Box – a tenth unpublished Adrian Mole novel was to have been titled “Pandora’s Box”. Similarly he confused the genders of Evelyn Waugh and George Eliot. His mother found his poetry funny rather than deep, because “she was not an intellectual”.

“Now I know I am an intellectual. I saw Malcolm Muggeridge on the television last night, and I understood nearly every word. It all adds up. A bad home, poor diet, not liking punk. I think I will join the library and see what happens.”

Books offer both the ticket and journey out of dead-end life circumstances. Townsend saw a life littered with literature and books as an opportunity for economic, mental, and social escape.

“To unlock the heavy outer door and to walk into the hushed interior, with the morning light spilling from the high windows on to the waiting books, gave her such pleasure that she would have worked for nothing.” – Sue Townsend, The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year

Sue Townsend, Rebuilding Coventry
Sue Townsend, Rebuilding Coventry

In “Rebuilding Coventry“, a 1988 Townsend novel about Coventry Dakin, a woman on the run in London after killing her neighbour with an action man – he was in turn killing his wife at the time, she again writes of her novels characters’ love of books:

“I’ve always loved books. I’m passionate about them. I think books are sexy. They are smooth and solid and contain delightful surprises. They smell good. They fit into a handbag and can be carried around and opened at will. They don’t change. They are what they are and nothing else. One day I want to own a lot of books and have them near to me in my house, so that I can stroll to my bookshelves and choose what I fancy. I want a harem. I shall keep my favourites by my bed.” – Sue Townsend, Rebuilding Coventry

One obituary, in the Telegraph, describes her self-taught literary Damascene journey: “the internal, secret world of books increasingly played a central part in her existence. Having started on Richmal Crompton’s Just William, she quickly graduated to Jane Eyre, and from there to Dostoevsky. ‘Jane Eyre was the first book I read right through, non-stop,’ she said. ‘It was winter, freezing cold, and I remember seeing this thin light outside and realising it was dawn. I got dressed reading, walked to school reading and finished it in the cloakroom at lunchtime. It was riveting.’ She devoured ‘all the Russians, then the French, then the Americans. I remember getting in trouble for reading The Grapes of Wrath under my desk in a boring lesson.'”

Whilst Adrian Mole’s father read Playboy he read Charles Dickens by torchlight and wanted to escape his housing estate existence and find true love with Pandora. His were the trials of a teenage boy, intellectually and sexually thwarted, at one and same time. “Somehow,” writes David Walliams, “Townsend understood what is was to be an adolescent boy better than any adolescent boy.”

“I have realised I have never seen a dead body or a real female nipple. This is what comes of living in a cul-de-sac.”

Her novels featured wry humour, social commentary on class and economic inequalities, and an independent feminism and socialism. The working classes were seen as separate to the pro-Royal “Marks and Spencer set”.

“Well, there are people and people, aren’t there? It was hardly the Marks and Spencer set, was it? Tattooed grandfathers, single parents, Alsatians, delinquents and maladjusted children. Hardly a discriminating public was it?” – Sue Townsend, Bazaar and Rummage [Gwenda speaking]  (see more on this)

Germaine Greer, The Female Eunuch
Germaine Greer, The Female Eunuch

Although she is most famous for creating a teenage boy and all his adolescent angst, it was her female characters that most reflected her own ideals. For instance, Pauline Mole, Adrian’s mother reads Germaine Greer’s “The Female Eunuch“, cuts her hair short, goes on an assertiveness course, camps out at Greenham Common and seeks to become an independent woman. Similarly, love of Adrian’s life, Pandora, wants to be a free woman yet also a feminist mum, saying:

“I should like to have one child when I am forty-six years of age. The child will be a girl. She will be beautiful and immensely gifted. Her name will be Liberty.” – Sue Townsend, True Confessions of Adrian Albert Mole

Sue Townsend, Ghost Children
Sue Townsend, Ghost Children

In 1987’s “Ghost Children” Townsend explored heavier themes of abortion, body-image, abuse, bereavement, reconciliation and redemption – quite a departure from her usual fare but no less observationally sharp.

Her books appealed to boys and girls, and adults, alike and captured a snapshot of over three decades of British social and political life from Thatcher to Blair (see the satirical “Number Ten“). The Falklands, Old and New Labour, Tony Benn, old-school Communist OAP Bert, even the break up of the SDP all featured. Adrian espoused mixed political beliefs between his desire to get a paper round so that he could afford to go private to sort out his acne and his confusion over the cult and personality of Mrs Thatcher:

“I’m not sure how I will vote. Sometimes I think Mrs Thatcher is a nice kind sort of woman. Then the next day I see her on television and she frightens me rigid. She has got eyes like a psychotic killer, but a voice like a gentle person. It is a bit confusing.”

Tony Blair did not get off lightly in the books either:

“Glenn has been excluded from school, for calling Tony Blair a twat.”

Adrian’s obsession with Tony Blair is described in excerpts from Adrian’s middle-aged diary and his description of Blair surrounding himself, not with “Blair’s Babes” but rather, “Alpha Males” such as Margaret Beckett!

“I am not a trained psychologist but I am wise beyond my 40 years and think that I have discovered why Mr Blair was so keen to become a war leader and to swagger alongside George Bush. He thought it would give him another pair of testicles and would promote him to Alpha Maleness.”

She had planned to write one or two more Adrian Mole novels, the 10th and 11th, to cover the Coalition years of the current Government.

Read more reader suggested memorable quotes from Adrian Mole in the comments section of this Guardian piece.

Sue Townsend, The Woman Who Went to Bed for Year, Sue Townsend
Sue Townsend, The Woman Who Went to Bed for Year

Her last published novel in 2012, “The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year“, described as “a funny and touching novel about what happens when someone stops being the person everyone wants them to be.” Reviews said it was “deeper and darker than comedy” (Sunday Times) and “Bursting with witty social commentary as well as humour” (Women’s Weekly). It is a witty and wry observation on life that will be missed.

Sue Townsend, will undoubtedly be missed, despite her few critics and doubters – as evidenced in some comment threads, but most especially for her warmth, generosity and a style of satire, so eminently British, that is paradoxically both sharp and soft on its targets. She was never vicious and left enough humanity in each character she penned or real people she had her creations criticise for each reader to be left to make up their own minds. Take just a sampling of some of the endearing praise on this theme that the media has printed over the last few days:

“…a political fantasy where the Queen is invited to move to a council estate after the creation of the British republic. It’s a gentle approach, but no less powerful for that. Her humour allows you to rise above the politicians and the divisiveness. No one ever got hurt or beaten up because of a Sue Townsend novel, but their conscience was raised nonetheless.” – Bob and Roberta Smith

“A lot of modern comedy is based on cruelty and snobbery, but she found decency and even heroism in Adrian’s delusions of genius, his pointless adoration of Pandora, and his loyalty to Bert Baxter.” – Frank Cottrell Boyce

“While her satire was sharp and scabrous, she treated her characters with a warmth that made them stay with us over the years…warm, satirical style” – Luke Wright

“So funny, without ever being cruel or mocking.” – Isy Suttie

“There was also a kindness in her writing. She treated her characters – and her readers – with such humanity. Always funny, always inclusive, and never cruel.” – Leviathan212 

“She was loved by generations of readers, not only because she made them laugh out loud, but because her view of the world, its inhabitants and their frailties was so generous, life-affirming and unique.” – Tom Weldon, chief executive of her publisher Penguin Random House UK

“However, what I love most about this book is that unlike a lot of modern comedy (and yes, I am partly to blame), Townsend’s writing is full of warmth.” – David Walliams (who wrote the foreword to the 30th Anniversary edition of the Secret Diary)

“Sue Townsend did social satire without contempt and cruelty.” – Linda Grant

Remembered, but never to be forgotten. Sue Townsend – through Adrian Mole, will keep a place of affection in readers’ hearts as strong as JK Rowling and Harry Potter.

The Adrian Mole series
  • The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾ (1982)
  • The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole (1984)
  • The True Confessions of Adrian Albert Mole (1989)
  • Adrian Mole From Minor to Major (1991) including Adrian Mole and the Small Amphibians
  • Adrian Mole: The Wilderness Years (1993)
  • Adrian Mole: The Cappuccino Years (1999)
  • Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction (2004)
  • The Lost Diaries of Adrian Mole, 1999–2001 (2008)
  • Adrian Mole: The Prostrate Years (2009)
Other books
  • Rebuilding Coventry (1988)
  • Mr Bevan’s Dream: Why Britain Needs Its Welfare State (1989) [non-fiction]
  • The Queen and I (1992)
  • Ghost Children (1997)
  • The Public Confessions of a Middle-Aged Woman (2001) [non-fiction]
  • Number Ten (2002)
  • Queen Camilla (2006)
  • The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year (2012)

This article first appeared here.