‘Once you’ve been through the doors of perception, once you’ve understood socialism in your body, well, you can never go back’
21st century politics has thrown up grotesque imagery with a regularity not seen since the age of the Borgias – from Donald Trump’s piss-stained Moscow hotel bed, through Theresa May disporting herself in wheat fields, to young David Cameron nervously inserting himself into a disembodied pig’s head for the amusement of his Bullingdon compatriots. But I’m not sure that anything has made me shudder so much inside as the image, conjured up by Spitzenprodukte/Huw Lemmy in Red Tory, of Tom Watson bearing down on the body of the novel’s protagonist with ‘the weight of a thousand burnished gods’.
Red Tory: My Corbyn Chemsex Hell is a riotous satire on the extremes of what we must now refer to as ‘the discourse’. Notionally set in the months immediately following Ed Miliband’s defeat in the 2015 General Election, Red Tory inhabits a world where falafel-hurling Corbynite mobs besiege diners in McDonalds, Cultural Marxists attempt to brainwash the masses, and Antifa spark a second summer of love with group sex and synthetic drugs. Essentially the novel asks the question ‘What would the world be like if it really was as Prison Paul describes it?’ Along the way, it captures some of the joyful, anarchic energy that built up around the figure of the ‘absolute boy’, and which has been steadily chipped away at by the right wing of the Labour Party ever since.
In his 2018 book Authentocrats, Joe Kennedy identified a trend which reached its apotheosis in Owen Smith’s failed/farcical Labour leadership bid, in which figures of the political centre asserted a flattened version of northern, white, male working class experience in an attempt to discipline the flighty notions of Corbynism, like collective public ownership of utilities. In authentocrat discourse, politicians would demonstrate their integrity by pretending never to have heard of cappuccinos, while poverty tourist journalists like John Harris would visit places like Worksop searching for racists whose complaints they could frame as ‘legitimate concerns’, and amplify in The Guardian.
The cultural theorist and proponent of Acid Corbynism, Jeremy Gilbert, establishes the genesis of this mentality in the Blairite wing of the party, stuck in a perpetual 1997 and convinced that ‘wearing smart blue suits, never saying anything the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) wouldn’t be enthused by, never admitting to being interested in anything more radical than EastEnders’ is the one true way to achieve electoral success. Despite being profoundly disingenuous, authentocracy has gained significant traction amongst media figures desperate to counteract the organic popularity of Corbyn’s Labour, particularly among younger voters.
It’s a truism that you should never wrestle a pig, because you both get covered in shit but only the pig enjoys it. Tackling media authentocrats on their own terms is both impossible and exhausting. So how can the left fight back? Red Tory gives some clues. In his essay ‘Towards a Deranged Realism’, the novelist James Miller argues that traditional notions of literary realism are insufficient to tackle ‘this dislocation, this abandonment of the acceptable, this inversion of values, the flip and crumble of history, the sense that society is vulnerable, bound by force and fear as much as the bonds of common interest and shared experience’. Deranged Realism posits a break with the mindset of the centre, and embracing the radically surreal and subversive. Red Tory develops this, fusing literary derangement with the euphoria of 2017 and the phenomenon of ‘Cans Corbynism’ to create a narrative which ridicules the Labour Sensibles whilst completely bypassing the centreground they wish to dominate.
Red Tory is a bildungsroman, charting the central character’s development from the Sensible centre-left to fully-fledged radical, via drug-fuelled sex parties, falafel riots, culture wars, kidnapping and Tory honeytraps.
Rather than examining the figure of Corbyn himself, Lemmy explores the sense of new possibility which was generated by Corbyn’s election as leader, and came to a head during the 2017 general election campaign. Red Tory is a bildungsroman, charting the central character’s development from the Sensible centre-left to fully-fledged radical, via drug-fuelled sex parties, falafel riots, culture wars, kidnapping and Tory honeytraps.
The novel’s protagonist, Tom, is a minor Labour functionary. His milieu is the epitome of the modern centre: ‘the men were young, all young. And confident, achievers, professional. Not all white. They’d had their share of blackouts and breakdowns on train platforms whilst sending their last texts, of night bus assaults, of poor decisions and of humiliations in the Student Union bar. They’d been interns, they knew but had never been sex workers, they’d gone viral once or twice‘. His politics are guided by the twin beacons of West Wing box sets and Liz Kendall.
We first encounter Tom as he reminisces about school, yearning for its ‘natural intellectual flow, the satisfying models it offered, the sureties of rational thought… So different from the contested, brisk and angry scraps that made up his everyday world’. We see him at dinner parties, where friends swap platitudes and praise David Cameron as ‘a radical reformer, grasping the nettle to create a new Britain in a way a tired Left never could’. At one of these parties, he encounters Otto, a kind but prickly German anarchist, who hints at a world which exists just beyond his Oxbridge horizons.
Two things happen shortly after Tom’s first encounter with Otto: he begins having intense sexual dreams – and Jeremy Corbyn’s voice begins to appear in them. At first, Dream Corbyn is nothing more than a ‘new and unwelcome addition to his sleep’, but as Jeremy continues to manifest, Tom becomes aware of a shift in his subconscious, in his vision of the world: ‘Nothing significant in his waking life had changed. He continued to rise up the Party, he continued to progress in his career. He continued to enjoy an increasing visibility within his friendship group, and at gay parties, for his humour and cocktails and his divisive and unrestrained Tony Blair stanning… but a disconcerting shift sat below, starting to creep out during comedowns, a little monster pulling at his toes from beneath the bed. He had begun to think of them as his ‘weird erections’. Possibly this psychic confusion is what leads his to respond to Grindr messages inviting him to chem sex parties…
Through the seemingly endless hedonism of these parties (‘dick and holes and cum for hours and hours, all weekend‘), Tom comes somewhere close to experiencing the jouissance offered by Cans Corbynism. Just as Corbynism exposed rifts in the Labour Party, chemsex has a similarly divisive impact within the gay community. Tom’s peers are concerned about the new scene: ‘were we undoing all the good work of the past decade, showing the straight people we were as normal as them, as deserving?‘ Echoing the Sensibles’ critique of the Labour Left, Tom’s friends see the chemsex scene as an infantile disorder: ‘We’re stuck in eternal adolescence and that’s why straight people don’t take us seriously. The only gains we have made are when we advocated for adulthood – marriage, serving one’s country‘. As the co-host of the Bad Gays podcast, Huw Lemmy is well placed to tackle the divisions in the LGBTQIA+ community, building on arguments around class and politics which have recently crystallised around Pride.
Following his immersion in the chem sex scene, Tom experiences the rise of Corbyn as a fever dream. Snatches of reality intrude on his rare moments of sobriety, but newspaper headlines are indistinguishable from hallucinations: ‘I read them over and over but I can’t figure out what they’re actually about, all the words are just about the Prime Minister sticking his dick in a pig… I dreamed that Jeremy Corbyn got elected as leader of the Labour Party. And then the next day it was all still happening. Like I thought I was on a comedown and stopped but then he was leader? Is this happening… Or is it my brain chemistry?‘
The two strands of Tom’s narrative come together in a sub plot which sees secretive Antifa operatives working on a wonder drug which will kickstart a new summer of love, and convert the masses to Left politics, creating ‘a social movement which is chemically orientated towards Cultural Marxism‘. Rumours spread in the media that Corbynistas are using chemsex parties to recruit centrists, seducing them when their inhibitions are lowered. How else could anyone explain the appeal of social democracy to millennials? Shadowy alt-right groups are also organising, attempting to contaminate the socialist wonder-drug, foster paranoia and turn people away from the Left. Unwittingly, Tom has found himself in the midst of a literal culture war.
Meanwhile, in the outside world, society is fracturing, as gangs of croissant-brandishing Leftists march through the streets, with banners reading ‘no more gammon, we demand quinoa’ and ‘Islington or death’. With his vision of moderate progress within the bounds of law shattered, Tom is left confused and vulnerable on his first encounter with the mob: ‘He hadn’t had time to process it – the violence, the rage, the political naivety and hubris of the Corbynista gang intent on overthrowing the established politics of sanity‘. However, his exposure to the Antifa drug begins to affect his perception. Attending a rally, ostensibly as a spy for anti-Corbyn plotters, he finds that ‘the mass of people around felt empowering, no matter how delusional he felt they were‘. The drug has ‘freed [him] from the restrictions of his background, of his role in the party, of his sense of self‘, finally leading his to ask the question that no Guardian columnist ever asks: ‘What if I’ve been making assumptions about the political make-up of the country based solely on the make-up of my group of friends?‘
Red Tory is a scabrous and scandalous satire, which feel entirely appropriate to these through-the-looking glass times. Although primarily written as a piece of left-wing agitprop, Lemmy has a literary eye for detail (a line about the ‘piss-gold sun’ sums up his eye for the seedy and corrupted), adept at blending pastiche with serious social critique. His deranged form of realism effectively captures the chasm between the world as it is, and the world as it is presented in the discourse, his mutant vision of Acid Corbynism predicated on the incomprehension of media commentators when presented with the phenomenon in 2017. Dealing more with the avatar of Jeremy Corbyn ‘the absolute boy’ than the politician himself, and gleefully rejecting notions of authenticity and narrative realism, Red Tory revels in the darkest recesses of our political id. To misquote another story about a nice gay boy gone wrong, Red Tory might just be the novel the age was searching for, and is afraid it’s found.
Huw Lemmey is a writer and author. He writes on culture, politics and sexuality, and is the author of the novel, Chubz. He has written for Architectural Review, Guardian, Tribune, Art Monthly, the New Humanist, Rhizome, and L’Uomo Vogue, amongst others. @huwlemmey
Thom Cuell is a force that cannot be defined, gracefully balanced between alpha strengths and feminine vulnerabilities. Attempts to classify this ambiguous state of seduction simply because there lies no explanation to the phenomenon of this androgynous prowess. Savage and delicate at once, this very fine line plays tricks on the mind. Mysteriously one soul possesses all that is alluring in man and woman, a genre all its own. @TheWorkshyFop