Well done Greg Hands for attempting to get to the bottom of why guidebooks are so left-wing (on Centre Right and the Today programme). However, I think this is just the tip of a much larger observation: that Labour-voting literary and travel writers have written … well … left-wing books. This has long been so. However, I don’t think its anti-Conservative as such but anti-British. At some point, Britain stopped being in fashion. And publishers love fashions!
It was not at a surprise to me then last year when my poetry collection, Starry Dandelion Night, was published by an Austrian publisher – one of the finest contemporary publishers of English poetry. I knew this because British academics/writers and our publishing industry have all but given up on their own. It happens in all forms of publishing. But looking to the future, I wonder if the Conservatives can change anything underpinning this because British literary culture seems so inherently and irreversibly leftist, by which I mean, anti-British.
It may appear to sound idealistic but a change of Government does in the long term change literature as we know it. Writers living under recent post-war Governments (both Labour and Conservative) have fallen towards a severe multicultural-urbanisation trend in literature, which is difficult to abide by. In fact, the UK literary industry (both state-funded and private) has long been (mis)managed by leftists; a facet which I do not see changing over the next few years. If I have to pick up one more copy of Brick Lane, or worse still, any piece of fiction about a lost immigrant boy/girl who comes to London alone I am afraid I will have to give up going into Waterstones ever again (and most probably sit at home reading Ian McEwan). It is a shame because there are a lot of good writers out there who are cast out as offbeat because they write about British life or their everyday experience in this country – and I’m afraid “being British” is just not in fashion!
If truth be told, I have been reading contemporary offbeat French novels (Houellebecq, Darrieussecq, Echenoz) for some time because I cannot stand reading anything from the shelves of “British” publishers who insist that they must continue as usual, to print essentially non-British literature or multicultural novels recreating a barely recognizable, badly described country. It has put ideologies before the individual – the greatest literary sin. An authentic writer, in my opinion, does not make such sacrifices in their trade, whereas many British writers have failed their readers. They have written of the ideology and fitted the character and individuals into the coherent ideology as if they were secondary. And yes, before you think it, people do buy it – but people also buy cannabis, cocaine or twisted porn, but that doesn’t make it okay.
To be clear: the current generations of leftist writers producing mindless drivel of cultural pap have put many more people off reading than they have attracted. I don’t agree with the overall statistics of growing and increasingly engaged readerships and I think we have ultimately put quantity before quality. Certainly, literary taste is subjective but the crock of nonsense being churned out by the UK publishing industry every year leaves me annoyed. It is sad because I do care about what I read and I think we should care about how this translates to what is being taught to children in schools (in selections for a syllabus).
The same applies to poetry. I write and read poetry whenever I can. The problem in poetry, however, is perhaps more minor and is the fault not so much of the publisher (who are left relatively powerless) but of the writers in the false absorption of traditions. A bad combination of American experimentalism and AHRC funded academic cliques have turned into support for incomprehensible rot even though they rarely have a genuine connection with the traditions they espouse; this is different from a number of British poets who can remain semi-independent from the obsession with intellectual traditions in this country and end up producing some good work, including Pauline Stainer, Geoffrey Hill and possibly David Constantine. But the ideology is ever-present.
It is not necessarily about what a Conservative Government should bring about or fund in the literary sphere (although Jeremy Hunt MP has some good ideas on culture under the Conservatives), but the kind of literary culture that by free spontaneity and association will assemble under the Conservatives.