Tomorrow's Men: by Michael Shea

In the near future Britain has descended into chaos and civil war. There is government, of a kind, attempting to police the violence as the ideological struggle between left and right is finally played out on the streets with bombs and guns. The US, ever mindful of Britain's strategic position on the edge of Europe, despatches special envoy Max Gregory, ex-Brit and head of distinguished think-tank, the Gregory Institute, to act as American adviser to a weakened Prime Minister, with hopes he may eventually become Pro-Consul. Gregory has a hard time in Britain - he cannot even meet with the leaders of the various factions, much less negotiate with them. All factions seem to be under the spell of retaliatory violence. Gregory falls in with maverick reporter Dan Lateman, who feeds him conspiracy theories which seem curiously prescient - it appears that once espionage reaches a certain pitch, all investigative journalism becomes a conspiracy theory. Together they acquire evidence that much of the violence on the streets is not that of left and right factions, but is rather the false flag operation of a third party. Gregory at first suspects the Soviet Union, but through his institute acquires further evidence that the culprit is in fact the US, in the form of a leaked CIA report into North Sea oil capacity, which is much greater than previously thought. Britain is suddenly the most oil-rich nation outside of the Gulf states. As both an American envoy and ex-Brit, Gregory's loyalties are torn - until the US State Department decides he knows too much and is now expendable, as are his loved ones. And so the emergent neo-con policies usually reserved for the far-flung are to be played out to their conclusion in Britain - unless Gregory and Lateman can find a way to expose the false flag operations to the factions of left and right, and unite them under the old, old banner - my enemy's enemy is my friend...

Tomorrow's Men is a very bleak, if satisfying, novel. It is fascinating to compare its plot to the tragedies currently playing out in the Middle-East, and Shea's extrapolations from US Cold War operations in the 70s are well-judged, especially in his view that Airstrip One is a very expendable part of the American empire and would face the full force of black ops and scorched earth if required. It is not that it is an overtly anti-American novel - it simply puts Britain in the firing line and takes it from there. The end of the novel is suitably distressing and reminds me greatly of the early 80s BBC TV series, Spyship.

Tomorrow's Men was first published in 1982 by Weidenfield and Nicholson. I'm not sure whether it had a paperback imprint immediately following that, but it seems to have been reprinted in 2001 under the title Breaking Point. Shea's earlier novels were written under the pen-name of Michael Sinclair - Tomorrow's Men was the first novel he chose to publish under his own name. It is difficult to see why he made this decision, unless as some kind of statement - because his day-job was as no less than Press Secretary to Queen Elizabeth II. In 1986 Shea became embroiled in a minor controversy when a leak from the Palace suggested that the Queen was 'dismayed' by Margaret Thatcher's divisive social policies. After a brief investigation, the source of the leak was traced to Shea, and he left the Queen's service the following year - the two events are said not to be connected. It is ironic that the controversy centred around the source of the leak rather than the veracity of its content - considering her conspicuous silence at the nation-shattering actions of Britain's current coalition, I'm sure that HMQ does not give a flying fuck about divisive social policies. It is my own theory, having read Tomorrow's Men, that Shea was a man of conscience (and a Scot to boot) and that he struck at Thatcher's regime with the only weapon he had in his possession - headed notepaper.

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