Coming to America

Article excerpt

According to time-honored tradition, shortly before every British election, Andrew Lloyd Webber announces that, in the event of a Labour victory, he'd have to consider leaving the country. Equally traditionally, this announcement is immediately followed by a 15-point poll leap for Labour

You can't blame Andrew: a left-wing dramatist is someone who writes left-wing drama, but a right-wing dramatist is someone successful enough to worry about marginal rates of income tax-98 percent under the last Labour government. Down at the other end of the spectrum, if you want a pithy summation of the British arts establishment's position on the last eighteen years, try Adrian Mitchell's Love Songs of World War III. A decade ago, at London's National Theatre, the soi-disant poet gleefully cajoled his middle-class audience into singing along with "F-- k-Off Friday," a spirited number about the ravages of unemployment under the Thatcher terror which nevertheless concluded on an optimistic note: "I can't wait for that great day when / F-- k-Off Friday comes to Number Ten."

That great day came-and how-to lo Downing Street on Friday, May 2, when John Major hurriedly packed his bags and Tony Blair moved in. Since then the new prime minister has achieved approval ratings of (according to one poll) 94 percent. If, like many Britons, you're wondering who on earth those churlishly ungrateful 6 percent holdouts are, the answer would seem to be that they're some of the left's starriest supporters. While Andrew Lloyd Webber personally called Mr. Blair to reassure him that he'd be staying on, it's the fellows who most eagerly awaited "F--k-Off Friday" who now can't wait to f-- k off. In October, the novelists Martin Amis and Salman Rushdie both declared that they're coming to live in New York.

For eighteen long, lonely years, Amis and Rushdie were in the forefront of the liberation struggle against Thatcherism, leading the battle from the ramparts of every BBC talk show. To Rushdie, Britain was a "police state" and Mrs. Thatcher was "Mrs. Torture." Admittedly, this was before the late Ayatollah Khomeini put a bounty on his head and demonstrated the rather more extravagant reach of superior police states. The Iranian fatwa forced Rushdie into hiding-though, in a unique variation on traditional witness protection programs, he was the first man in history forced into hiding out on television arts shows. Night after night, there he was, on some BBC sofa or other, sitting alongside his pal Amis, as the host commiserated on the author's inability "to lead a normal life."

Both Amis and Rushdie voted for New Labour, but, after a few brief months in liberated London, both are itching to be on their way. Amis has said he misses Thatcher, pines for the days of the Falklands War, finds Britain too provincial, and reckons that no novelist can survive in a culture where the most dramatic event of the past fifteen years was the "poll tax riots"-a few inner-city disturbances against increased municipal taxes. To escape "middle-class boredom," he's moving to what he calls the city of the twenty-first century, New York-"land of my dreams and my longing," as Amis's hero John Self says in Money. Like some star-struck hick, he's taking his tap-shoes and heading for the big town: start spreading the news, he's leaving today, he wants to be a part of it...

One can never underestimate the allure of the New World for the impressionable Briton. As the assorted prostitutes, performance artists, transsexuals, and HIVpositive drug addicts sing in Rent, the favorite rock opera of Killer Brit "nanny" Louise Woodward: "You're living in A-meri-ca! At the end of the mil-len-ni-um! Leave your conscience at the tone!"

The chance to live in A-me-ri-ca at the end of the mil-len-ni-um is not one to be passed up, though you'd have thought the fate of Miss Woodward at the hands of a Massachusetts jury might have given Amis pause. I don't wish to exaggerate the similarities. …