A few months ago, I read and reviewed One Man Crusade by Steven Suttie. I loved it. I was a complete emotional wreck when I finished it and I have since told anyone who would listen what an absolutely amazing book it is and have tried to encourage them to read it. I also made it my Book of the Month in May. So, it was only a matter of time before I read his début novel The Clitheroe Prime Minister. I suppose I had high expectations given how much I enjoyed One Man Crusade and I wasn’t disappointed in the least.
The tag line for The Clitheroe Prime Minister is “What if a beer guzzling welder from up north was PM?” and that really is enough to set up the premise of the novel. The plot follows Jim Arkwright, said beer guzzling welder from up north, who is a relatively successful local businessman who has a loving wife and three children and is putting the world to rights with his pals in the pub when he puts on an impromptu show for his friends, adopting the Prime Minister’s accent and giving the locals his amusing version of what he thinks should be the Prime Minister’s agenda. Little does Jim know that he is being filmed by some local skateboard journalists who have enjoyed Jim’s political speech and as it finds its way onto YouTube and Facebook, Jim unwittingly becomes an overnight celebrity, much to his bemusement, and he is dubbed the “Clitheroe Prime Minister”. Jim seems to be saying what the British public is thinking and he can back his arguments up with enough knowledge of society’s ailments to be a plausible leader. He is able to point out the flaws in society and with the politicians themselves. His brutal honesty of what is wrong with today’s society in comparison with the truth-bending politicians and their self-serving policies immediately resonates with the members of the public who feel that the country is on its knees and they come out in force to show their support as he dominates every media outlet in the country.
Much of what Suttie references in this novel is true of a large chunk of British society and is certainly resonant of today’s political outlook among a lot of working class citizens. Through Jim Arkwright, Suttie describes how we live in a materialistic society, living our lives through social media. Jim argues that there is no sense of community and no real consequences for those who flout the rules. He highlights that there is high unemployment, astronomical taxes and low wages. However, not only does Jim point out the errors of today’s society but he comes up with such plausible solutions, the government has no option but to take note, after a number of political figures are left reeling following a verbal stand-off with Jim.
Of course, the situation that Jim finds himself in would never happen in real life, despite the fact that radical change is certainly needed in the current political climate. We only have to look at the current Labour leader debacle, where there are accusations being thrown around that thousands of Tory’s have joined the Labour party to try to sway the voting, presumably wanting someone elected who they feel will be easy to beat in the next elections, to realise that there is widespread corruption in the current political system. However, this is a book review, not a discussion on politics, so let’s get back to the book.
Suttie has purposely made Jim and his family and friends very funny characters who are extremely likeable whilst making the politicians rude and selfish. I have seen reviews that have described this book as “stereotypical” and I agree to a point, but that is how it should be, so that the reader wholeheartedly supports Jim and his supporters. The situation Jim finds himself in is unprecedented but it unites most of the county in looking for a political overhaul, and at a time where the political leaders are fighting battles on many fronts, in and out of the novel, Jim is a beacon of hope for what Britain could be like when someone who can see the country’s flaws, and knows how to fix them, is in charge. I wouldn’t necessarily agree with all of Jim’s policies but he certainly has the right idea and I particularly like the £5000 each to spend on British-made goods idea. I could spend £5000 in 12 hours very easily! The novel also shows the power of money throughout the media and ultimately, although indirectly, this is Jim’s downfall, though he never really believes he will become Prime Minister anyway. At the end of the book, the one thought the reader is left with is that a loving family is more important than anything else, and despite the ups and downs of life, if you have a family who you can rely on to cheer you up during the bad times and who you can share your happy times with, then you are rich.
Considering The Clitheroe Prime Minister and One Man Crusade together, it seems that Steven Suttie is an expert in reading society’s inadequacies, the causes of those inadequacies and how things could be changed for the better. I loved both books, both beautifully written, witty and clever. While The Clitheroe Prime Minister has a completely different tone to One Man Crusade, which was an emotional roller coaster tackling highly emotive topics, the truth that emanates from these two novels is what makes them so effective. The Clitheroe Prime Minister, although serious with regard to the political “hot potatoes” that are discussed, is funny and uplifting, showing the people of Clitheroe to be down-to-earth, hard-working citizens. Suttie himself described this to me as his “Marmite” book so I think it probably does depend on the reader’s political leanings as to whether you will enjoy this book or not, although this shouldn’t be the case. Suttie does not place Jim as a supporter of any political party, just as someone who wants a better life for his friends and family and if this narrative was a political manifesto, I think that it would have a lot of backing from quite a few British citizens. Although some of the “policies” are a little unrealistic, some politicians would do well to look to this book for ideas on how to improve the country’s financial, political and social problems. I’d vote for Jim in a heartbeat!