The UK general election, set to take place on 12th December, is another chance for the country to press reset on the trauma of the past three years that has led to the deadlock in parliament and over Brexit. It is also an opportunity to think again about what the future of the United Kingdom might look like, and perhaps our last hope for a generation to swing it in our direction.
But it is also a Hobson’s choice—ostensibly between two political parties, both of which offer the possibility of Brexit without engaging with the causes of it, both led by deeply compromised individuals, at the head of chronically divided organisations. As literary agent Jonny Geller has tweeted, it has become a choice “between a man who works with and supports racists & bigots and a man who works with and supports bigots & racists”. If we thought the Brexit deadline of 31st October was going to be a horror show, Friday the 13th could yet be the real shocker.
For the publishing sector it may feel like business as usual. If the past half-decade has taught us anything, it is that disruption is actually good for books: it sets writers writing, and readers reading. The more devilish the world, the more necessary are the books, from the two Booker winners, The Testaments and Girl, Woman, Other—both of which speak to us about today—to the number one Mrs Hinch, whose holistic and anxiety-reducing approach to cleaning feels both timely and appropriate.
On the business side, our bookish demands are not much different from yesteryear (or 2017 for those with short memories): renewed investment in libraries and schools, the protection of copyright (vital in a post-Brexit age), the ending of VAT on digital books, a resolution of the pernicious business rates tax on high street shops, and the targeting of those tax-avoiding global giants that so dominate the content and entertainment industries. Higher education should also figure prominently, both in terms of investment in research but also figuring out how we continue to welcome overseas students. We also cannot ignore the environment, and the impact any proposed solutions could have on printing and distribution.
At the last election, The Bookseller’s own polls of the trade showed a dramatic shift over the seven-week cycle, as the industry was won over by Labour at the expense of both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, each of whom ran poor campaigns. This time around, there is a clear opportunity for the smaller parties, including the SNP and Plaid Cymru, to influence not just the result, but also the make-up of the next government, if voters return a hung parliament again. The mistake these parties could make is to assume that this is a one-issue election, dominated by those who wish to Brexit and those who do not—or, in Scotland and Wales, by those who wish to exit the UK.
The dilemma is much broader. It is about who can articulate a vision for an open and progressive country prepared to meet the challenges of today’s world without denying the realities of where we are. A reader would be nice too.