:: Article

The Albion Plan: Boris, Farage and the pure ethno-state

By James Miller.

Spitzenprodukte, Red Tory: My Corbyn Chemsex Hell (Montez Press, 2019)

We live in bewildering and frightening times. Any writer trying to make sense of the present by exploring the distorted nature of Trump’s America or Brexit Britain is confronted by the fact that the intensifications and derangements of our political, social and techno-reality have also unsettled novelistic conventions. Normal rules no longer apply. With so much of our politics now unfolding as dismal spectacle of reactionary populist dysfunction and self-destructive ideology, can satire still bite? One interesting attempt is Red Tory: My Corbyn Chemsex Hell (Montez Press) by Spitzenprodukte/Huw Lemmey. Set just after the Tory victory in 2015, the novel’s main protagonist is Tom, a Blairite policy wonk who gets sucked into a much more radical queer world view via chemsex orgies and his infatuation with Otto, a German anarchist: “The more sex he had, the more distant he felt from the Party – from his side of the Party, from the centrist daddies… the closer he felt to the boys, to the binmen, to the shifting lights at night.” The resulting novel is a curious mix of love story, political satire and deranged sexual rampage. In places it’s also a very, very funny, particularly when sending up Tom’s complacent “centrist” position via his idealisation of mediocre politician Liz Kendall: “a magnificent spectacle of patriotic British womanhood, legs wide apart as she stood in front of a Chieftain tank.”

In a recent interview with Vice, Lemmey was upfront about his satirical intent: “The satirical conceit of Red Tory is little more than this — what if the newspapers’ descriptions of the political scene in the UK were reality? What if those people who joined the Labour Party as it tacked left were all bloodthirsty communists? What if falafel and cappuccino were elite foodstuffs only eaten by bourgeois metropolitan liberals? To take them at their word was the only choice in adopting “satire.”” By inhabiting and inflating the caricatures of tabloid Britain, Lemmey draws attention to the absurdity of our political-media discourse, its disconnection from lived and felt experiences of being in the world. Tom’s chemical-sexual adventure is set against a number of key events: Corbyn’s election as Labour leader, the revelations of Cameron’s “pig-fucking”, Farage sailing his Brexit flotilla up the Thames, a pervasive sense of centrist and fascist conspiracy. So implausible are these spectacles that Tom spends much of his time wondering if they’re the hallucinogenic fall-out from his partying.

However, the satire is weakened by the introduction of a needless McGuffin – a revolutionary new drug, MMT that “pulls away your Britishness and fills you with hope and promises that lie innate within your body” and “The Albion Plan,” a fascist plan to reverse-engineer it’s effects “and in turn create great hallucinogenic visions of the pure ethno-state” as the evil Dr Laing explains to his co-conspirators. In a sense, there’s no need for the novel to be this explicit in its allegorical comment. By privileging psychedelic and psycho-sexual experience in this way, the novel puts its faith in the emancipation of libidinal energies, ideas not so dissimilar from those first promoted by counter-cultural thinkers like Wilhelm Reich and Herbert Marcuse. Or, as Otto describes it, the drug will have the effect of “all humans, working to negate themselves as individuals through the communistic act of orgasm.” It’s an oddly utopian turn – does anyone really still think sex and drugs can save us? If only!

In the end, the drug plot (with a preposterous secret ingredient) and the Farage-fascist conspiracy feel unnecessary; obviously, it’s all quite tongue-in-cheek, following through on Lemmey’s treatment of reality as tabloid spectacle. But there is a more thrilling experimental novel lurking underneath that doesn’t need this apparatus to make its point. Red Tory is at its most fun, and most subversive, when describing how Tom is abandoned to surreal and allegorical sexual hallucinations: “The assfucking pig was now so tall his trotters, raised above his head, ripped down the halogen chandelier, bringing shards of the ceiling with it” being one example of the wild imagination at play, exploring a complex of power dynamics and the momentary transcendence or reconfiguration of individual subjectivity. There is also a superb description of Tom experiencing a similarly radicalising loss of self while attending a political demo. Collective acts are not depicted enough in contemporary fiction and it is in these moments, dramatizing the shift from individual to group subjectivity, where this novel really stands out. The result is a bold and unusual attempt to capture the crazed ideo-sexual spectacle of contemporary politics.


James Miller is the author of the novels UnAmerican Activities (Dodo Ink 2017), Sunshine State (Little, Brown 2010) and Lost Boys (Little, Brown 2008). He is senior lecturer in Creative Writing and English Literature at Kingston University.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Sunday, August 4th, 2019.