25 September 2019
The play’s the thing.
by J R Thomas
Who would attempt to make a film dealing with contemporary politics? Remember those great movies (and TV shows) about fictional political happenings in Westminster or Washington; The Manchurian Candidate, Primary Colours, House of Cards (both versions), The Ides of March? All were well made films that used believable scenarios and plots we could follow. Even if, as we made the midnight cocoa and let the cat in, we would say to each other “Ridiculous, politics is not like that”.
But we are wrong; even if it were Dave that excited our late night cynicism, let alone Being There, there is no movie maker alive who could begin to do justice to modern politics. Well, perhaps Quinton Tarantino, but we have not quite got to the point where we want a Django Unchained resolution.
So, budding film makers, write a film-script based on the following brief synopses:
One. An iron German Chancellor announces she will resign – in three years time. But then subtly destroys the careers of all possible rivals.
Or second, at the party conference of a rising political party, the newly elected party leader announces the party will ignore the results of a recent referendum, should it take power.
Try three. At another conference, of the second most powerful party in the land, a majority vote calls for a campaign to achieve something hugely unpopular with many party members. The leadership argue on the platform and overturn the result of the vote. A senior figure in the party calls publicly for an election, forgetting, apparently, that the party leadership turned down the opportunity of an election ten days before.
Four, then: A sixteen year old schoolgirl sails by wildly expensive catamaran to New York where she addresses the United Nations in the naivest and rudest terms, accusing all governments of destroying her dreams (detail of dreams unspecified). Working title: “The Empress’s New Clothes”. No need to cast her parents, they never appear.
Five: The party of government, with a wafer thin majority, is brought down by a small group of senior former ministers in pursuit of a policy… No, no, that one is too unbelievable.
Six: Eleven unelected elderly upper middle class judges… No, that won’t work either.
We live in interesting times, as Trotsky is supposed to have said shortly before his unfortunate meeting with the ice axe. For many they are becoming not just interesting but alarming, often, ridiculous. We have always known that there are two wings of the Tory Party and that they hate each other, but the thing that enabled many electors to hold their noses and vote Conservative was that at least the butchery was done quietly and behind the curtain. The spectacle of recently ex-cabinet ministers publicly bad mouthing colleagues in schoolboy (and schoolgirl) strategies for each other’s destruction is bizarre; though perhaps not quite as almost-impossible-to-believe as a former Tory premier leaping to the Supreme Court to criticise his successor for doing the very thing he did to maintain his hold on power. What a pity, you might think, that the Court did not make its judgement retrospective.
In normal times this unedifying behaviour would put voters off the Conservatives for at least two elections. But who else could you vote for? The LibDems? Maybe, neither lib nor dem, but certainly honest. It takes bollocks, to use their own word, to not even ask the people if they have changed their minds on Brexit. Or Labour? For sure, the Brexit elements of the Labour programme remain shrouded in the shifting mists of time, a strategy for survival that perhaps makes a lot more sense than others recently proposed, but that may not prevent the Labour Brexitting heartlands of the north peeling off to vote Tory, or Brexit Party. Especially those tax-paying voters looking at a shopping bill that will need an extra £90bn in instant taxes to pay for it. Or, the Brexit Party, which may or not enter an electoral pact with the Tories or not, or with Mr Gove, or not.
Boris’s strategy remains to be the party of Leave come election day, which must happen sooner or even sooner. He will lose the Hammond inclined types, some of the smart seats in London, Sir John Major. But he will, he and Mr Cummings calculate, gain a large swathe of votes in provincial and rural England (not including the east Cotswolds and Huntingdon). Disaffected Labour voters in the north should flock to the blue banner, as will disaffected LibDems in the west. (Note to Jo Swinson: before dumping the referendum result look at the figures for those who voted to Leave in LibDem constituencies; that may turn out more relevant than the electorates view in May on who is best at emptying the recycling bins.) But the fly in Boris’s ointment remains Mr Farage and his Brexit Party. The Prime Minister understandably does not want a Brexit coalition and thinks he can win on his own. Mr Farage probably does not want one either, if only in remembrance of what happened to the LibDems when they ticked that option. But a Brexit Party tie up might stop the Corbyn juggernaut, even with its loose axle and three flat tyres. That presumably is the Gove calculation.
At the moment the election strategy is going reasonably Mr Johnston’s way. He remains popular in the party (the Conservative Party in the country, we should perhaps clarify), and his presentation as the only man who will stand up for Britain is going rather well. Insults in Luxembourg and love-ins with D. Trump may not impress the quality press, but the voters seem to like it. The Judges versus the People may play well: “I don’t agree with this but of course we Conservatives always obey the law”. The LibDems did not even need to have their elephant trap dug for them; they dug it themselves and then jumped in. Labour looked as though it too was digging furiously and would do the same, thus splitting the Remain vote neatly down the middle. Alas for Boris, Mr Corbyn was not born yesterday and has so far held off those in his party who apparently were.
Which brings us to the other risk in the Cumming/Johnston approach. It all depends on keeping the election as a single issue. In or Out is the only question the voters must be allowed to answer. But it is rare indeed that an election can be kept so tightly drawn. In fact, there has not been such a cause since the Protection/Free Trade bouts of the C19th. The LibDems too would like to keep it to a single issue, in the hope of gathering all the Remain votes, and that Leave voters will split their support. But Labour do not want an election to be about Brexit at all; they have got their enormously expensive list of goodies ready to attract special interest groups – shorter working hours (not so daft as pummelled in the press, it’s a reduction of 3 hours per week – from 35 to 32), nationalisation of every corporate that annoys anybody, workers on company boards (it works in Europe), abolish Eton, and lower the voting age to 16 (just think Greta, you’d be old enough to vote in the UK).
Is there any wonder cinema admissions are falling so fast? You could not make this stuff up, and yet our leaders are, on a daily basis. Just lay in lots of popcorn, it’s going to be a long autumn.