Giving a platform
A confession: I never really wanted to be a writer. Writing is laborious, full of lengthy periods of often crippling solitude, full of internal wrestling over arguments, facts and how they are all framed. Don't get me wrong – this is no plea for sympathy, and there are plenty of jobs that are genuinely monotonous and poorly remunerated for it. But if you love human company – which I do – then the best part of the process is discussing ideas and being challenged by others, rather than attempting to paint a computer screen with your internal monologue.
The reason I ended up writing was because I wanted to find a more effective way of giving a platform to ideas, causes and people that are otherwise airbrushed out of existence. There are better writers out there, and I'm constantly trying to improve, finding ways of being accessible without being condescending, of taking readers seriously without being tedious and dry.
That's why I wrote a book like The Establishment. It strikes me that there is a suffocating political consensus in this country that most leading figures happily subscribe to, and that is reflected in the political writing of the day. Political writers may be seen as broadly centre-left or centre-right. But, as a rule, they accept the underlying assumptions of the status quo. Sure, they quibble over nuances and details, but when it comes to how society is structured, they are largely content.
For those sorts of writers, someone like myself is seen as an eccentric, the champion of discredited views that should long since have been buried.
Making people angry
But here is my other motive. I've long been frustrated by the failure of those who critique the existing order to reach a broad audience. On the one hand, there are the rather theoretical tomes that appeal to the academically minded. Then there are those books only read by the diminished community of diehard leftists. Writing those sorts of books from a radical perspective seems self-defeating to me.
Some radical elements are suspicious of people like me: gaining a public platform seems, to some, to hint at self-aggrandising or careerist motives, or to reek of complicity with the Establishment. But for me the point is to encourage those outside the political bubble to be angry at how things are, and bring a sense of hope that things can be different.
A writer's role in all of this is limited and modest, of course. Change comes from ordinary people – for want of a better term – organising together and using their collective strength to overwhelm those with power.
No one has voted for a writer. They do not speak for anyone but themselves. A political writer who seriously wants to challenge the existing order has to engage with and learn from people struggling to change society: those who make personal sacrifices for it and yet receive so little recognition.
Failing to do so leaves a political writer isolated, out of touch, pontificating about issues in which she or he has no stake.