Hands up who takes Laurence Fox seriously | David Mitchell


When I’m being an actor, I am sometimes called upon to remove my wedding ring. It seems that I come across plausibly as unmarried. Somehow I can portray isolated and loveless figures without putting much strain on the audience’s suspension of disbelief. The trouble is that, when I do remove it, its clear imprint remains on my pudgy finger. So, from the wrist down, I don’t look like an unmarried man. I look like a tubby and faithless affair-seeker haunting the bar of a suburban Marriott.

This worries me because I wasn’t absolutely the most transformative of actors in the first place, so the last thing I need is the fatness and lack of plasticity of my fingers to halve the number of roles I’m in the running for. Under current economic conditions, I really need to be able to play the unattractive loner and the overweight, aspirant adulterer. Perhaps I should develop a sort of flesh-coloured adhesive putty to fill in the groove left by the ring. And, actually, if I got the recipe just right, maybe I could then market it to all the plump swordsmen out there, looking to pocket their promises alongside their wedding bands without having to put their fingers on a diet.

I was reminded of this issue by the news that the actor Laurence Fox has had the words “Freedom” and “Space” tattooed in posh, curly writing on his hands. He announced this development with a photo he posted on Instagram and very smart it looks. But what is he going to do, I wondered, in the relatively likely event of his being called upon to play a character who doesn’t have “Freedom” and “Space” written on their hands?

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I mean, he’ll be a shoo-in to play himself in the film of his life – or rather a shoo-in to play “old Laurence Fox” because obviously “young Laurence Fox” didn’t have the tattoos. But, for other roles – Superman, James Bond, Henry V, Mr Banks from Mary Poppins, Hitler – it’s not going to look quite right. And he’s naive if he thinks hand makeup is going to solve it – it’s not that effective and it gets everywhere.

Then again, perhaps this is Fox’s way of signalling that he’s moving away from thespianism, because the other announcement he made last week was that he’s launching a political party. I’m still not sure the tattoos are going to enhance his credibility, mind you. Perhaps he thinks that the comparative immovability of intradermal ink will imply a permanence to his political principles that mainstream politicians, with all their compromises and U-turns, so often lack. It’s nothing new, though: the same thinking lay behind Ed Miliband’s decision, during the 2015 election campaign, to get six fairly vague policy priorities literally carved on to a huge stone tablet. Unfortunately, the photo of him eating a bacon sandwich proved more durable.

Fox’s provisionally named Reclaim party is officially launching later this month and has apparently already secured more than £5m of funding. It’s slightly difficult, from the small amount of blurb it’s generated so far, to work out exactly what it stands for. My prejudice from my previous knowledge of Fox and his appearance on Question Time was that it would all be a bit “But what about racism against white people?” mixed with some “Hey, who wants to hear me play guitar?!” That whole Steve Hilton-style of right wing where they sit on the floor and wear leather bracelets. It’s almost enough to make you yearn for Jacob Rees-Mogg.

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However, according to “figures close to Reclaim”, the party isn’t aligned with either the right or the left, so maybe I’m being unfair. And Fox’s statement on the party’s website starts unremarkably enough: “Over many years it has become clear that our politicians have lost touch with the people they represent and govern.” Everyone says that, including politicians themselves, who say it about each other – which, I suppose, now that he’s a party leader, is all Laurence Fox is doing.

Then it gets more confusing: “Moreover, our public institutions now work to an agenda beyond their main purpose.” What’s he talking about? The British Museum cafe? The fact that you can sometimes get acupuncture on the NHS? BBC local radio stations? Then there’s a lot of guff about Britain: “respectful inclusion”, “innate values”, “the want and need to call this island home”, “custodians of our shared heritage”, “reclamation of our values”, etc. But nothing specific about VAT or HS2. He ends: “This is now my endeavour.” I think he means Lewis.

Elsewhere, the party’s three key aims are expressed marginally more clearly as: to protect “freedoms of speech, expression, thought, association and academic inquiry”; “to reform publicly funded … institutions to ensure that they deliver on their primary purpose, free from political bias or agendas” (yes, he definitely means the BBC); and “to preserve and celebrate our shared national history, cultural inheritance and global contribution”.

The problem with these aims is that they completely contradict each other. The party says it wants freedom of speech but, by implication, Gary Lineker’s exercising of that freedom on social media shouldn’t be allowed because he’s employed by a public institution that should be “free from political bias”. When does the freedom to express yourself end and inappropriate “political bias” begin? Does anyone who takes a job with a publicly funded body forfeit freedom of expression?

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And how can we “celebrate our shared national history” in a way that’s “free from political bias or agendas”? Asserting that British history is to be celebrated is itself an agenda. It’s taking what happened and putting a positive spin on it. Anyone who claims that all the facts of British history are self-evidently wonderful and glorious is a dangerous and delusional nationalist.

Is that what Laurence Fox is? Or will he just say any old shit because he wants attention? In order to trust actors who’ve gone into politics, I reckon you need to be certain they could still be professional entertainers if they wanted. Like Glenda Jackson and Clint Eastwood, rather than Ronald Reagan and Rustie Lee. Otherwise you can’t be sure their political fervour doesn’t come from an urge that could be sated with greater social responsibility by doing Strictly.



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