[Fiction – 2006]
The brooding shadow of that magnificently Machiavellian creation Francis Urquhart seems to hang over all of Michael Dobbs subsequent fiction, with nothing he has written since the House of Cards trilogy coming close to matching it. Despite that, this novel is still a great page-turning read.
With Ginny Edge, the central character of First Lady Dobbs returns to those corridors of power within Westminster once more. This time though we see it all through the wife of an MP, rather than the MP himself. This allows Dobbs a slight distancing from the machinations of the politicians themselves.
Dobbs never bothers that much with ideology, political theories, philosophy, or any of the dubious reasons politicians usually give in interviews for why they are doing what they do. For Dobbs, as we always suspected, for the politicians it is all about, power, ambition, corruption, backstabbing and political manoeuvring between so-called colleagues for momentary advantage rather than the great seep of historical events.
To Dobbs it seems that not only, as the old adage has it, does power corrupt, power also – in David Brin’s famous quote – ‘attracts the corruptible.’ Furthermore, the innocent are never entirely safe from this corruptibility. Ginny, a more or less innocent at the start of the novel is altered the closer she gets to power, as is her husband to a lesser degree. Even the novel’s only real innocent, the Somali refugee, Ajok – in what at first appears a sort of tacked–on social conscience sub-plot – is used quite blatantly by others to further their own particular purposes, often at her expense.
It is interesting that Dobbs doesn’t – as far as I can recall – ever mention which party is which, Edge is in the opposition party, probably the Conservatives, and the government party is – we assume – the Labour party because of its involvement in the Iraq war, but this is never made explicit. It is as though Dobbs – like the rest of us – now sees the parties as more or less interchangeable, without any great ideological divide between them, unlike back in the heyday of Urquhart. These days too, we don’t seem to get the great characters in politics, that Urquhart was meant to represent, now that the party machines work so hard to eradicate anything human from the personality-free androids and clones they put up as candidates.
It is a relief in these times when so many readers apparently want characters they ‘can identify with’ and other such puerile imbecilities, to have Dobbs’s nasty people running amok in the corridors of power like this, and to even get away with it to a greater or lesser extent on occasions. The only disconcerting note about this great read is that one cannot escape the feeling that deep down we do really know that this is no fiction. That we know the people who would wish to rule our lives are really – at least – this nasty, self-serving, egotistical, power-mad, venial and corrupt, but we still allow them to get away with it all, whilst claiming they are the servants of the people. But, as the history of every revolution has shown, any attempt to replace it with something better will only make it a great deal worse. So, all we can really do is keep an eye on those in power and expose them when they get up to no good, which is why it is not only good, but perhaps essential, that there are people like Dobbs around to open it all up for us.