Author: Helen Dale

The Divided Kingdom

A Review of  National Populism: The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy by Roger Eatwell and Matthew Goodwin, Pelican (October 25, 2018), 336 pages. While reading National Populism: The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy, I got the impression authors Roger Eatwell and Matthew Goodwin were betting men. They point out—in the first few pages—had you bet £100 on Leave winning the 2016 Referendum on the day of the vote, June 23, you’d have won £300 in the morning and £900 in the evening. That betting markets tacked against Leave during the course of polling gives one a sense of the groupthink among much of the UK’s commentariat—something Goodwin, in particular, doesn’t share, even though he voted Remain. I suppose I should confess to being a betting woman. The day before Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered, I put AUD$100 on Leave. After her murder, however, I changed my mind. Like some of the pollsters, I thought a single, terrible event would change the course of an entire political campaign, something that’s actually quite rare—although I didn’t know it …

The UK Labour Party and the System of Diversity

A review of The Tribe: The Liberal Left and the System of Diversity, by Ben Cobley, Imprint Academic, (July 9, 2018) 250 pages.  In February this year, I joined Artists for Brexit. AfB is an umbrella organisation for creatives who either voted Leave or who voted Remain but nonetheless want the best from Brexit for the arts. Its membership ranks were nothing short of a revelation to me. Until joining Artists for Brexit, I’d never met a left-wing Leaver. Of course, anyone looking at a map of the United Kingdom after the vote could see how vast swathes of Labour’s heartland had joined hands with the Shires to vote Leave. I genuinely did not know what mattered to leftie Leavers, something sadly indicative of the social divisions Brexit exposed. So I made a point of finding out, both within AfB’s membership as well as more widely. My suggestion — made somewhat glibly — to some that they ‘just vote Tory’ often generated a stream of unprintable invective. No-bloody-way-were-leftie-Leavers-just-voting-Tory-thank-you-very-much. Of all the ‘leftie Leavers’ I met, none was …

My Unpopular Opinion: There Are Too Many Mediocre Artists

Every now and again, a friend of mine holds a ‘what’s your unpopular opinion?’ discussion in a club we jointly run. Everyone takes turns to say something not so much outrageous or contrarian (debates are seldom about politics) but bitter – as in ‘bitter truth’. People argue, say, that colonialism is a good idea (when done by the British, of course), or that sometimes historic buildings and artefacts are more important than people (and should by preference be preserved in wartime), or that corporal punishment is probably not such a bad idea for certain sorts of crimes (and criminals). He imposes the Chatham House rule so people aren’t set upon afterwards by mobs of offendotrons trying to get them sacked for wrongthink. Well, I’ve decided to go public with one of my unpopular opinions. There are too many artists, too many people who want to be artists, most of them aren’t very good, and schools should focus on inculcating self-discipline rather than dopey ‘all must have prizes’ creativity. Most people are only ever going to …

What if the Industrial Revolution Happened to Rome?

My novel Kingdom of the Wicked — Rules took me 13 years to write. It has been a long time between drinks. Rules isn’t all of it, either. Book II, Order, comes out in March, so apologies for the cliffhanger. However, rest assured I haven’t gone all George R.R. ­Martin on you. Everything is ­written, with only final editorial to complete. I’m aware many people neither expected nor wanted me to write anything after The Hand That Signed the Paper. To those who wanted me to shut up and go away, I’m here to tell you while I went away (I have become one of those irritating expatriate British-Australians), I have no intention of shutting up. Two years after The Hand That Signed the Paper was published in 1994, I began to research and write a historical novel set during the reign of the Roman emperor Vespasian. A local television station even flew me to Italy, allowing me the time and resources to do further research, in exchange for appearing on one of its programs. There was one problem: the book I started to …

Cultural Appropriation Isn’t Real

Just over 20 years ago, my first novel, The Hand that Signed the Paper won the Miles Franklin Award, Australia’s premier literary prize. This is an anniversary edition of sorts—although not quite. Had Ligature published it in 2015, it would have appeared while I was working as Senator David Leyonhjelm’s Senior Adviser, and provided an unwelcome distraction from my day-job (as well as a vector for more abusive letters and phone calls to make their way to David’s Sydney Electoral Office; both of us already got enough of those). However, my publisher explained that it wasn’t ideal to have a Miles Franklin Award winner out-of-print. I was unaware of the extent to which schools and universities were relying on second-hand copies. Worse, there was no electronic version available. I was effectively squatting on my own copyright. When the book first came out, I pretended to be someone I’m not: Helen Demidenko, from a Ukrainian family with links to the Nazis. In hindsight, trolling the literary establishment (and I mean trolling in the original sense — …

The Changeling — A Review of ‘In Full Colour’ by Rachel Doležal

A review of In Full Color by Rachel Doležal. BenBella Books, Dallas, Texas (April 2017) 282pages. When I was a girl, my mother said wanting something too much often led to its opposite. It could mean I’d get something almost – but not completely – unrelated to what I desired, even something I hated. If this happened, she would say and that’s what the fairies sent you. The fairies sent things and took them away all the time among my Irish kin, none more distressingly than changelings, where newborn natural children were stolen and replaced with fairy children. Fairy changelings were not like their parents, were greedy, and always unwanted. Changeling stories – present in Ireland, Scotland, Germany, Scandinavia, and among the Igbo people of Nigeria – seldom show the fairy child growing up to be loved and accepted by its human family. Usually it is killed, but only after being beaten, dunked in the river, or left on a hot stovetop. Its parents complain about its ravenous hunger, its odd appearance, its sickliness, its …

The Runaway Executive

When I was a pupil barrister in Rockhampton, the Director of Public Prosecutions had their offices in the courthouse, and my pupil master didn’t like it. ‘It looks bad,’ he said, ‘to have the executive sharing an address with the judiciary’. The DPP could see judges in chambers and file documents by the simple expedient of climbing a flight of stairs. They even drew on the same resources. From time-to-time I’d run into one at the photocopiers thereabouts. ‘Everyone else has to march up East Street in the heat,’ he’d go on, ‘or make arrangements with my pupil’ (that pupil was me). ‘Why shouldn’t they?’ Although – like all young lawyers – I’d studied the separation of powers at university, my pupil-master’s disquiet was an early lesson in its practical application. Giving the State any sort of leg-up in a fight against the People – even if only a sweaty walk up a long street – doesn’t just look bad. It is bad. It’s bad because we tend to forget – in the peaceful and …

Attack of the Offendotrons: Tyranny of the Flash Mob

It’s impossible to ignore the story of Greig Tonkins, the Taronga Park zookeeper who punched a giant roo to save his dog. However, the aftermath — where animal activists and offendotrons of various stripes mobbed him and tried to get him sacked, ultimately necessitating police involvement — was, if anything, more extraordinary. These days, it seems people will be sacked from their job — with their life and that of their family ruined — if they do something a big enough and loud enough mob doesn’t like. Somehow, we’ve decided it’s reasonable to consign people to unemployment and poverty over trivialities: how a zookeeper spends his weekends, dressing in bad taste, donations to a charity considered non-U in certain parts. Maybe it’s because tarring and feathering is illegal. We seem to have forgotten that employees are allowed to be ‘ordinary members of the public’ — people are not automatons and not the property of their employers. One of the union movement’s achievements was preventing employers from policing their employees’ extracurricular activities, as long as those activities were legal. Granted, there are …