A Very British Coup is a cultural-historical curiosity.

Chris Mullin
 A VERY BRITISH COUP was first published in 1982 and it shows. Over thirty years later the novel's premise, that of a socialist Labour government coming to power in Britain, is a political impossibility. In 2015 the British Labour Party is a party whose shadow secretary for work and pensions, Rachel Reeves (an ex banker), recently declared that her party did not represent the jobless and promised further attacks on what remains of the welfare state.

Her leader, Ed Miliband, remained silent. His silence suggests that he agrees with Reeves that the poor and unemployed are not worthy of political representation.

The British Labour Party, like our own Labour Party, long ago abandoned any kind of even nominal commitment to its social democratic principles. Eduard Bernstein's evolutionary road to socialism, like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, has proved to be a fantasy. This is not just an opinion, this is an historical fact. Those who continue to deny it are usually just trying to justify their own personal surrender to the forces of the right.

But if you can put aside political reality for a time, then A Very British Coup (which was made into a three part drama series in 1988 and republished as Secret State in 2012) is an interesting, if flawed, fictional account of what a socialist government might encounter as it attempts to navigate itself through the institutions of the state.

 In the novel Prime Minister Harry Perkins and his cabinet embark on a programme to break up media monopolies, nationalise industry, declare military neutrality and make radical steps towards democratic accountability.

In response, the corporate media wage a campaign of vilification against his government and the despots of capitalism and their allies in the surveillance state collude to ensure that the socialist threat to the status quo is extinguished.

Chris Mullin, a former Labour minister, betrays his social democratic views in his depiction of politics as a battle between competing forces atop the commanding heights of the British political system. The most significant political actor, the actor that can bring abut real change, is a merely a bit player while the good, the bad and the ugly slug it out in the bourgeois political arena.

The British working class would be the central character in any revolutionary drama but in A Very British Coup it is mostly just an onlooker as events unfold.

Chris Mullin's novel might be a piece of nostalgia for those who still hanker for the days before social democracy surrendered to neoliberalism but that's about it. In the end A Very British Coup stands as a cultural-historical curiosity: a little time capsule of Labour's failed and abandoned social democratic ambitions.


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