REVIEW: John O'Farrell gives his LitFest audience a side-splitting take on politics - with some deft lefts and rights to its ample chin

Written by Sara Spratt on .


John O'Farrell (photo copyright Ben Phillips - with thanks)John O'Farrell (photo copyright Ben Phillips - with thanks)A packed Marlborough Town Hall welcomed John O’Farrell on the Saturday afternoon (September 30) of LitFerst 2017 to discuss his new book Things Can Only Get Worse


Taking the reader through the twenty year rollercoaster of being a Labour supporter - from Blair’s victory in 1997 to the recent snap election - the book follows on from Things Can Only Get Better, John O'Farrell’s best-selling memoir of some dismal times as a Labour activist during the Thatcher and Major years.   

John O'Farrell gave us a self-deprecating and very funny view of life as seen from the lower rungs of Labour politics.  From standing against Theresa May in Maidenhead (that well known bastion of socialism) in 2001, with the ignominy of his mum phoning up the local radio station to say she supported everything said by John O’Farrell, to his recent decision as to whether he, an ardent remainer, could vote for arch brexiteer and Labour candidate, Kate Hoey.    

Amongst the laughter he created by the stories about writing for Spitting Image and Have I Got News For You (John gallantly taking the blame for Brexit as HIGNFY was the first to give Boris exposure to the general public and set him on his path to being Mayor), there were some thought provoking points.  

Having successfully campaigned for the establishment of a local secondary school in Lambeth, O'Farrell became its Chair of Governors for 12 years.  In this role he learnt first that when in power, as opposed to the idealism of opposition, there is a need to compromise to get things done.  And secondly he learnt the pointlessness of hating the Tories instead of politely disagreeing - after all, when has hate built a school?  

A tale about helping a Maidenhead resident get new glasses demonstrated the importance of recognizing the small things that MPs do for their constituents every day and his forceful point that in politics winning little victories for ordinary people is perhaps what it is really all about.

John O'Farrell clearly loves being an author and prefers writing books, with the more intimate relationship they give him with the reader, to his previous script writing work.

He talked about his concern for the future of bookshops.  His description of asking an assistant in WH Smith where Jane Eyre was and being told “I don’t think she works here any more”, acting as a hilarious illustration of the continuing need for ‘proper’ bookshops.  

The talk concluded with an interesting question session and brought reflections on the difficulties of writing satire in a world where reality is increasingly unbelievable and the unhelpful adversarial way in which politics is currently discussed in the media.

What is the connection between Theresa May, the Magnet Leisure Centre in Maidenhead and Boogie Nights?  Did he vote for Kate Hoey?  What did Neil Kinnock advise him when he asked if he could vote for another party?   You will have to buy the book to find out!