Idealistic young radical Brian Harper meets experienced politico and good-time bisexual Maria Rafferty at a Labour Students meeting in Manchester in 1987, and together they embark on an exploration of Mancunian night-and-day-life. Committed both to politics and to each other, they jointly fall under the spell of Blairite conspirator Terry Gallagher. Thanks to his influence, Rafferty goes off to work for the Mirror before developing a career as an all-purpose rent-a-gob, including a spell as a bikini-clad cultural commentator on Live TV, “a blonde with a firm manner and an extensive vocabulary.” Brian, meanwhile, initially overjoyed to be offered a job as a Labour Party organizer in the North-West, finds Illeshall, the constituency to which he has been assigned, both more and less than he had bargained for, a place where aesthetic aspiration can find an outlet only in the purchase of a new kitchen. Rafferty’s charmed life in media London, consulting an “aromatherapist to the stars” and the like, is not the alternative he is looking for, and his life drifts while his good looks enable him to entangle himself with a series of women – Jo in her Union Jack hotpants, Judy who wants him to put up shelves, Ami the kickboxing scholar of Chick Lit - who fail to fit the Rafferty-shaped hole in his heart.
Preaching a doctrine of modernization and flexibility, Brian is himself unable to adapt to the exigencies of his position: “I’ve found the interesting people here, and they’re boring!” When he is confronted with the prospect of both his father and Rafferty taking mortally ill, at the same time as he is falling out with most of his old friends over the Iraq War, Brian undergoes a profound psychological crisis, and in his distress drinks himself into hospital. After an apparent recovery, his symptoms re-surface when he gets sexually entangled with his MP boss’s daughter, Hermione.
Having escaped to London, Brian bumps into an old flame from Manchester, Juliet Neilson, who once taught him a thing or two about conservatism and is now a Tory mover and shaker, on their “A-List of the brown and the breasted.” Juliet fixes him an opportunity with a notionally non-partisan lobbying company promoting educational privatization. Has Brian got himself back on track, or is he at risk of succumbing to metropolitan temptation? And what is Rafferty up to?
When John Somerville Beaumont, an architect not yet to be found in the annals of Wikipedia, built Manchester University Students Union - a freestanding rectangular block of red brick with a facade of grey concrete which might have served one of the more routine divisions of a secret police for headquarters - he wasnt mucking about, and he didn't mind if you knew it. Much the same went, a few decades later, for the leather-jacketed Marxist-Leninist engaged in ad hoc enforcement of ideological discipline with the help of one of the building’s second-floor windows. From it, he was dangling a scrawny youth who, with considerable presence of mind, was threatening legal action in emphatic Lancashire tones.
Bewildered, but at least on the correct side of the glass, sat Brian Harper, over whose left shoulder most of the young man had left the building, first a gaping, whitened, soundless face, then saggy light blue polo shirt and jeans. It remained to be seen whether greying trainers, available for Brian’s inspection some 18 inches northwest of his nose, would follow. Having chosen to sit right at the back of the room the better to surveil proceedings, it seemed the thick of things, indifferent to his wishes, had sought him out just the same. He had previously sounded impressive to himself as he expressed doubts as to whether student politics was serious enough to be worth bothering with, but all of a sudden at this, his first meeting of Manchester University Labour Club, it was looking as though they might be a matter of life and death.
Not before time, a female voice cut through the confusion.
‘Sean!! Put Alan down!!’
Started from his befuddlement, Brian rose and turned and wrestled himself a half-share of Alan, which proved enough to prevail over the slackening hold of Alan’s putative defenestrator.
‘Alan! What do you expect if you will be so silly?’
Brian allowed himself a full glance at the source of the voice, despite the roomful of faces looking in his general direction. A statuesque woman with golden blonde hair and large dark eyes, she had her arm round the shoulders of a shorter girl.
‘And you shouldn’t go around scaring young women. Look at poor Colleen!’
- the young woman whose long dark hair she was now stroking –
‘…and in any case, what on earth do you know about Ireland?’
Pausing for a moment to accept a proffered can of Diet Coke, take a sip, and hand it back with a ‘Thanks, hon,’ she proceeded to restore order.
‘Alan, you sit down there’ – she pointed at a seat in the corner next to Brian – ‘and Sean, you come and sit here, next to me.’
Sean needed no second asking, but Alan replied, in a voice of complaint,
His resistance lasted no longer than it took him to register the admonitory look that was its reward. He slumped into the chair next to Brian. Brian had received one piece of paternal advice about university - as he and his father drove through the streets of East Manchester and his father remarked, in a tone which suggested he was reassuring himself rather than his son, ‘Well, you can still tell it’s England, can’t you?’ – and that had been: ‘Don’t get into arguments about Ireland, whatever anyone says to you.’ Now he was further discomfited.
‘’Ere mate’ – the fellow called Alan had leant slightly toward him – ‘what do you reckon to the girl at the front? Do you think she’s horny?’
Brian, who blushed easily, supposed that he was doing so as he spoke, but managed an ‘I suppose’ before his new companion made a musing sound and remarked,
‘I suppose I just haven’t objectified her enough yet. She might keep me off the boys, though.’
Brian was all at once mustering the courage to aver that you shouldn’t objectify women, trying to square this with the fact that his interlocutor seemed to be homosexual, and taking in the commanding countenance – aquiline nose, haughty cheekbones - of the woman his new friend informed him was
‘Maria Rafferty. Big lesbian. The one woman I want ‘ere I don’t reckon I can ‘ave.’
Finally Brian managed to remonstrate: ‘You can’t call someone a lesbian just because they don’t want to have sex with you!’
Quite a good start, I think. After 3 months I need 150 backers and £4,000, and we've already got 55 backers and over £1,000. I think I read somewhere that successful projects tend to be 20% of the way there after the first month. Well, half that time and just over a third of the backers and 25% of the requisite.
Still, 150 backers is a BIG ask - much harder than getting 150 buyers…
These people are helping to fund New Times.