Things Can Only Get Worse?

Sophie Francis‑Cansfield finds the conclusion of John O’Farrell’s sequel a welcome relief

John O’Farrell’s latest book Things Can Only Get Worse?, a follow up to his 1998 bestseller Things Can Only Get Better, provides an often painfully humorous review of elections over the last two decades.

There are definitely moments that we want to recall – like the tingling sense of hope we once had when Barack Obama was elected and the huge relief at not being wiped out in 2017. Frustratingly, however, there seem to be many more (particularly as a Labour party member) that you just want to forget – there are the poor decisions, multiple failed coups, continually trying to ‘widen the debate’ during leadership elections, the ‘Edstone’, high-fiving boobs … The list just seems to go on (and on).

But beyond the commentary of the recent political rollercoaster, O’Farrell speaks to those of us in the party who put in the hours of effort and hard-work that elections involve. The envelope stuffing, the hours of dooknocking and phone banking; the less dramatic or glamorous bits that you do not see on the West Wing or political dramas. Though, unlike O’Farrell, not all of us get to campaign in areas like Clapham and Battersea.

O’Farrell is able to reflect on the behaviour that party members on occasions exhibit: from the self-indulgence and lack of compromise to the discomfort displayed while Labour was in power. There were moments I struggled with the lightness of his critique. You cannot deny how much we achieved in power. Screw the unease of members, we need another Labour government; I feel I am stating the obvious but you cannot truly help people unless you win an election. And when it comes to the senior ranks of the party, O’Farrell seems to fairly put blame on both sides for some of our failures over the last twenty years.

To lighten the mood of endless drama, O’Farrell rightly comments on a number of occasions that as a party we know how to take the mick out of ourselves (as do the Tories). One such moment includes suggesting the battle between the two Milibands as a film plot: ‘brotherly love and rivalry at the top of British politics called “Miliband vs Miliband” and Michael Sheen will play both parts’.

Despite the ugly parts, the sad parts, and the frustrating ‘how did that possibly happen’ parts, O’Farrell confirms to us in his book that there are reasons we all stick with it. We are dedicated to the bigger picture that is the Labour party … despite not always wanting to put our leader’s faces on election literature.

‘So did things get better? … Yes! Definitely! Labour in power was infinitely better than what had come before and what was to follow.’ For someone who did not become political until the final years of the last Labour government and who did not read O’Farrell’s first book, there was no small relief to have this reaffirmed in his final chapter.

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Sophie Francis-Cansfield is a parliamentary researcher

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Things Can Only Get Worse? 19 Masochistic Years In The Life Of A Labour Supporter by John O’Farrell

Doubleday | 320pp | £16.99

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