Friday, 1 May 2015

How would James Bond vote in the General Election?

It's official – James Bond has entered politics. Ian Fleming's creation is evoked during the current British general election campaign.


First, Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour Party, was asked by Magic Radio hosts Nick Snaith and Aileen O'Sullivan who should play the next James Bond. He suggested Rosamund Pike. Then it was the turn of Ukip leader Nigel Farage, who told Magic Radio that “you have to be faithful to Ian Fleming... it has to be male, it has to be a rogue of some description”. Later, the same hosts asked Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats, who would be his choice for a Bond villain. Katie Hopkins, controversial broadcaster and Apprentice alumnus, came the reply.


That today's politicians are asked such questions and are happy to discuss them is testament to the continued cultural significance of James Bond. But one question not asked by the radio hosts that might have elicited a more interesting response is “who would James Bond vote for?”

Flicking through the original novels doesn't bring up much in the way of an answer, and overall Bond appears to have little interest in politics. The books do contain some clues about Bond's persuasion, however, and we can also turn to other writings of Ian Fleming for ideas.

As with a lot of people today, Bond doesn't have a good word to say about politicians. “'Our politicians may be a feather pated bunch,'” he tells Tiger Tanaka in You Only Live Twice, “'but I expect yours are too.'” In The Spy Who Loved Me, he agrees with Vivienne Michel, who suggests that “'they ought to hand the world over to the younger people who haven't got the idea of war stuck in their subconscious.'” (This is ironic, given that, following the botched Suez campaign, Fleming temporarily gave up his Jamaican home, Goldeneye, to prime minister Anthony Eden, who was the epitome of an old politician with war in mind.) 

What about the issues? On defence, Bond would no doubt be keen for Britain to renew Trident, its independent nuclear deterrent, in its current form. After all, he spoke gushingly to M about Sir Hugo Drax's development of the Moonraker atomic rocket programme, or, as Bond puts it, “'the immediate answer to anyone who tried to atom-bomb London.'” But whether Bond would be pressing for a rise in defence spending above NATO's recommended minimum level of 2% of national GDP is not certain. In On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Bond listens eagerly to M's stories of the Navy, but senses that this “great navy” of M's time “would never be seen again”. Perhaps, then, Bond is pragmatic about Britain's changing priorities and place in the world.

On the domestic front, the only issue which seems to bother James Bond is the Welfare State. In Thunderball, on his way to the health farm, Shrublands, Bond paints a mental picture of his taxi-driver, a young, self-confident Tommy Steele wannabe. “He was born into the buyers' market of the Welfare State,” considers Bond. “For him life is easy and meaningless.” Similarly, in You Only Live Twice, Bond suggests to Tiger Tanaka that “'our Welfare State politics may have made expect too much for free.'” Perhaps, then, Bond would be sympathetic to any plans that would reduce the Welfare budget.

James Bond's views on the Welfare State reflect Fleming's own. “Certain features of the Welfare State,” he wrote in 1959, “have turned the majority of us into petty criminals, liars and work-dodgers.” So far, so Tory.

Or perhaps not. Fleming's words were published in the Spectator in an article entitled, 'If I were Prime Minister', which outlined a few of his prospective policies. And some of these are surprisingly modern and progressive. “Tax-dodging in all its forms would have my attention”, and in this regard, Fleming wished to abolish all “forms of fiscal chicanery.” He also proposed “a minimum wage in every industry” (something that would be introduced by the Labour government in 1998), and, to incentivise workers, “rapidly mounting merit bonuses for real work in either quantity or quality.” As for his green credentials, Fleming even considered the issue of clean energy. He recognised that the internal combustion engine is an inefficient and polluting “steam age contraption,” and considered the idea of converting central London in the first instance, and then the entire country, to electric transport.

These and other policies in Ian Fleming's manifesto may have been to a large extent tongue-in-cheek, but they nevertheless reflect his political position more or less in the centre ground, and even left of centre. Intriguingly, this is precisely where Fleming himself put Bond's politics. In an interview for Playboy magazine published in 1964, Fleming told the interviewer that "what politics [Bond] has are just a little bit left of centre." 

Fleming stated at the beginning of his article in The Spectator that he “prefers the name of the Liberal Party,” though he votes Conservative. While to a large extent Bond shares his tastes, ideosyncracies and beliefs with those of his creator, I'm not sure that this would necessarily extend to his voting habits. If we were to read in the novels that James Bond claimed support for the Liberal Party, or even the Labour Party, I wouldn't be surprised.

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