I certainly wasn’t expecting to be woken up in the morning by a member of the group telling me that I should leave that very moment, because the group was threatening physical violence against me.
This was the point where I began to wonder if there wasn’t another story underneath the public one, the one about ‘gategate’ and the cultlike behaviour of a group of activists under the purview of a bumptious and irascible politician.
I was thinking of the sort of story that Barbara Vine would do, or Ian McEwen back in his early days before he discovered that he had Things to Tell Us, or maybe Paul Bowles and his cool outlines of complex and painful expatriate fates. The sort of story where a jaunt to teach Rwandan teachers English is merely the early bonding stage in a more serious venture, one which binds its participants together forever through mutual guilty knowledge. One that sees more people go out on a journey than come back. One that sees the survivors look distracted while talking vaguely about what Africa had ‘taught’ them and what they ‘learned’ while they were there. One where this learning consists of the knowledge that while they would deliberately not look at their former tripmates should they see them on the street, they could phone each other up at three in the morning with urgent requests.
Things clearly did not take that turn here and there is nothing to really indicate that they could have, apart from my overactive imagination and the knowledge of how difficult it is to generate cohesion in party politics in a post-ideological age. I’m not sure it is a post-ideological age. But political parties insist that it is and so it is reasonable to assume that they act according to this belief and have found other ways to bind their members together. Does everybody come back when they all go off on trips together? Or is someone missing on return, someone a bit awkward, perhaps, who just didn’t ‘get it’. ‘He was fine one minute and then…’ ‘we warned her about the riptide…’ ‘the truck just came careering round the bend’… ‘it’s the custom to bury people immediately over there…’