by Will Brett
Nabokov’s incestuous lovers Ada and Van have a scheme for appreciating the good things in life. When something lovely happens, it is known to them as a ‘real thing’. When three ‘real things’ happen at the same time, they call it a ‘tower’ and revere it above all else. One morning on a balcony, Van observes Ada eating honey on bread. “Real thing?” he asks. “Tower,” she replies. He understands that the honey is one real thing; she tells him that a wasp, whose “body was throbbing”, is the second; but what is the third? “She said nothing. She licked her spread fingers, still looking at him. Van, getting no answer, left the balcony. Softly her tower crumbled in the sweet silent sun.”
Political alliances are fragile, beautiful things, made up of several parts. And if one of those parts is removed, the tower will crumble in the sweet silent sun.
The compromises required to form one of these alliances are always vast. Take three of them: the United Kingdom, the European Union and the Labour Party. The UK brought together warring nations locked in mutual antipathy. The EU is a pan-continental response to the largest slaughter in history, requiring eternal enemies to come together at last. And the Labour Party, formed in response to mass industrial hardship, required delicate negotiations between trade unionists (of both the closed-shop and radical kind), intellectual Fabians and radical socialists.