In 2020 the United Kingdom elects its own Donald Trump.
Bob Grant, former football hooligan, now the charismatic leader of the Britain’s Great party, has swept to power on a populist tide. With his itchy finger hovering over the nuclear trigger, Bob presides over a brave new Britain where armed drones fill the skies, ex-bankers and foreigners are vilified, and the Millwall football chant ‘No one likes us, we don’t care’ has become an unofficial national anthem.
Meanwhile, Bob’s under-achieving, Guardian-reading brother Zack gets a tap on the shoulder from a shady Whitehall mandarin. A daring plot is afoot to defy the will of the people and unseat the increasingly unstable PM. Can Zack stop his brother before he launches a nuclear strike on Belgium? And just what is ACERBIC, Britain’s most closely-guarded military secret?
A darkly comic political thriller, Time of Lies is also a terrifyingly believable portrait of an alternative Britain. It couldn’t happen here… could it?
“TIME OF LIES” by Douglas Board
In 2020 the UK elects its own Donald Trump as Prime Minister – Bob Grant, uneducated Bermondsey geezer and self-made millionaire. The election slogan of Bob’s BG party is ‘Britain’s Great! End of!’.
Zack, a Guardian-reading out-of-work actor, can’t believe that his brother Bob has his finger on Britain’s nuclear trigger. Meanwhile Patrick Smath, the Eton-educated permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence, is wetting himself and having to tell Bob Britain’s most closely-guarded secret for the last 25 years.
‘Time of Lies’ is about the mutual ignorance and contempt between ruling class and ruled. This contempt is mirrored between the two brothers. In this extract in Bermondsey we’re at one of the points where their paths diverge. Jack Grant goes to university to become Zack Parris, the Guardian-reading actor, while Bob will soon figure out how to make his first million. Jack tells the story.
Saturday morning. May 1997, the dawn of cool Britannia. Sellotaped to my bedroom mirror is the question, What is revealed, and concealed, about the character of Macbeth by the scene in which we first meet him? I’m cramming for my English and history re-takes at an FE/FF college. FE as in ‘further education’, FF as in ‘fixing failures’. They’re fixing me so I don’t mind. Drama at uni will be my way out of an estate where all the blocks are named after Shakespeare’s plays. The confusion between the two parts of Henry IV is massive.
I try to get out of my bedroom but legs block the way. Bob is propped against the hall radiator with a can of Tennents Super clutched precariously in his fist. A dead one lies by his side on the weather-beaten carpet. Early showers of 9% lager, clearing later, some risk of cigarette ash after dark ‒ that’s the kind of weather the carpet has seen over the years.
This must be Bob’s first night at home since he went to live on that boat two years ago. That didn’t last nine months. Still, the money he nicked got him a flat-share.
Ma got in about three this morning. Getting her key in the lock takes ten minutes, but she does insist on banging a bottle of Château Shit against the door-knocker at the same time. That’s her out ‒ as in ‘unconscious’ ‒ till lunchtime. I didn’t hear Bob let himself in after three, so he might be half-sober.
‘Jack,’ he says, waving dregs of lager in my direction. He adjusts his limb position so I can get out of the bedroom.
Will getting to the bathroom be worth the bother if he’s thrown up in the sink? Thanks to the half-sober bit, the bathroom’s fine. I pick ma’s polyester dressing gown off the bathroom floor and wear it into the kitchen. In England the answer is always the kettle and a bacon sarnie. Like hell am I going to the corner shop to get Bob breakfast, though, if that’s why he’s come round. I assert this vigorously but of course I do. Twenty minutes later his three strips of bacon lie fraternally alongside mine, deliquescing white gunk into the pan.
Bob starts fishing for £50 from the emergency stash that he knows I keep. Well, someone has to ‒ and someone has to keep moving it around to stop ma finding it. I tell him to eff off, who’s the one who keeps bending my ear about how much money he’s making? But he’s fishing out of habit, not need. Money isn’t the reason he’s come round.
‘You definitely going, Jack?’ he says.
‘To the University of the—’
‘—Elephant and Castle.’ I voice Bob’s sarcasm for him. ‘You found your way out; this is mine.’
‘More classrooms and no money is out?’
The fact that it makes no sense to him may be the reason why I’m doing it, but I don’t say so. Instead I serve up on the kitchen table. Bob’s left arm reaches for ketchup, exposing his scar. ‘I’m hoping you haven’t got any more of those,’ I say, pointing.
‘No,’ he replies. His eyes light up at an unopened two litres of Coke in the fridge. He pours himself some. ‘Do you want to know how I really got that?’
Do I look like I give a shit? But he’s going to tell me. This is the reason he has come round: I’m to see one more time his certificates from the University of Life.
About the author
Douglas Board is the author of the campus satire MBA (Lightning Books, 2015), which asked why so much of the business world is Managed By Arseholes. Time of Lies, his second novel, is a timely exploration of the collapse of democracy.
Born in Hong Kong, he has degrees from Cambridge and Harvard and worked for the UK Treasury and then as a headhunter. He has also had a distinguished career in public life, serving as treasurer of the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund and chairing the British Refugee Council.
As well as writing fiction, he is the author of two applied research books on leadership, which was the subject of his doctorate. He is currently a senior visiting fellow at the Cass Business School in London. He and his wife Tricia Sibbons live in London and Johannesburg.