One night at the end of July, two literary and political titans met at Cecil Sharp House to celebrate the publication of a new political thriller called Kompromat.
The author is Stanley Johnson, famous father of famous son Boris; and the interviewer, or referee, was our local Jon Snow, hotfoot from finishing his evening stint on Channel 4 News.
The first thing you need to know is what ‘Kompromat’ means: it’s a Russian term, meaning ‘compromising material’, i.e. edited videos and other such media used to blackmail and discredit individuals, especially politicians; and such is the stuff of this page-turning romp through the recent events around Brexit and its impact on world politics.
Stanley hastened to assure us that none of it should be taken as true; it’s a ‘fake book’ in the spirit of ‘fake news’, so it should all be taken with a large handful of salt – and assurances from the publisher’s lawyers that it’s outrageous enough not to be libellous…
The reader is provided with a list of Dramatis Personae with their fake names, and there’s a great temptation to fill in the real names as you decode them – Nancy Ginsberg is the probing Laura Kuenssberg, and Jack Varese turns out to be Leonardo DiCaprio; easier guesses are the former chancellor Tom Milbourne, and centrally President Igor Popov, who is given an active role in Stanley’s other passion, tiger conservation.
So what are the major targets of the satire, apart from the badinage? Within the close circle around the Referendum decision, we are led to question how sincere any of the politicians were in their commitment to Remain or Leave – even the former prime minister himself. But in the wider world, it is suggested that both Russia and America have imperialist reasons to welcome a disintegrating Europe, and only China might have reason to value a strong economic force with which to continue trading and investment.
The audience leapt in with impassioned views on Brexit, Russia and tigers. And the 200-strong attendance also meant a healthy contribution to Primrose Hill Library funds.
But what is sure, without any doubt, is that every cabinet member will be securing a copy for their poolside ‒ or Alpine ‒ hols, to check out how they feature in the satire. It will be mandatory reading for the parliamentary recess!
Article by Brenda Stones