With the nation swept away on a tide of Cleggmania, it is tempting to think that real life really is stranger than fiction. But for those who cannot get enough politics from the election campaign the arts are doing their bit to help fill the gap."The honeymoon period is over Rab. We want results"
Roman Polanski’s new film based on Robert Harris’ novel, The Ghost is currently on release whilst Posh and Stiffed are playing the theatres. The latest edition of The Review Show sought to place these and other recent political fictions in context and explain their attitude.
The focus was almost solely on New Labour and Tony Blair and this led to the conclusion that, in the words of Toby Young, since 1997 the once ‘illusioned had become disillusioned’.
It’s hard to deny that New Labour have been at the sharp end of the satirists’ and playwrights’ pens over recent years. But even before Blair took office, BBC 2 screened Guy Jenkin’s comedy Crossing the Floor, the story of a Tory Home Secretary who sought to further his career by deserting and beleaguered Government and joining a renewed Labour Party.
The Labour Party are shown as craven in their attempt to take on this Tory turncoat and we learn that the Labour leader is ‘young, charismatic, handsome and only slightly demented.’ Tory/New Labour cross-dressing and media-driven mad leaders might seem commonplace today but were in fact seen as hackneyed even in 1996.
A review in the Independent bemoaned, ‘its cast of sleazy Tories and sleek New Labour spin-doctors (the baddies here) is so over-familiar that one can only hope for a surprise Lib Dem victory to give us some fresh targets.’ Fourteen years on, the reviewer’s wishes may be about to come true.
Indeed, take a step back from the 1990s and you notice that disillusionment and ideological strife have always been at the heart of fictional depictions of the left and its struggles with parliamentary socialism whether in the prime time ITV drama Bill Brand or pre-war novels such as Company Parade and Clash.
Apart from documenting these struggles, political fiction has also been a useful reflection on (and indeed is sometimes used as a tool for) an immanent critique that has a grand place within parts of the British left: ready to see betrayal and compromise on behalf of the leadership around every corner.
Not long after Blair’s election, the 100th anniversary of Nye Bevan’s birth was marked by Trevor Griffiths’ TV play Food for Ravens. As well as marking the man’s life it was clearly seen as an early warning about the principles New Labour was abandoning Bevan often plays this role.
But go back over sixty years and the same thing – this time deploying another totemic figure in Labour Party mythology, Ramsey MacDonald, thinly disguised as Hamer Shawcross – can be seen at work in the Boulting Brothers’ film adaptation of Howard Spring’s novel Fame is the Spur.
The film critic Raymond Durgnat wrote that the film was a direct attack on the Labour Government of the time but released in 1947 - and taking account of production time - this doesn’t quite seem right. Rather the film is better read as another precursory salvo, warning how Labour Governments will always let you down.
The last word should be left to Rab C. Nesbitt’s pal Jamsie Cotter. Raising a toast to the scenes on the TV of Blair entering Downing Street for the first time he’s reminded that his Giro hasn’t arrived, ‘Aye, I blame that bastard Labour Government…The honeymoon period is over Rab. We want results.’