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Well done Tricycle theatre, and watch out Nick Clegg

Posted on 18 July 2010 | 3:07am

To the Tricycle theatre in Kilburn last night to see no fewer than nine plays under the banner ‘Women, Power and Politics’.

It was the final night, so unless someone decides to invest in taking them to the West End or around the country, if you have not already been, you may have missed the boat. Pity, because what sounded like a very long haul in theory – more than six hours with a break for dinner – in practice turned out to be a really good night out.

The highlights for me were a very funny play, ‘Handbagged,’ on the relationship between the Queen and Mrs Thatcher (feature film potential I would venture), ‘Bloody Wimmin’ which looked back on the Greenham Common demos and a more modern version of protest at Blackheath, ‘The Panel’ which showed a group of men trying to decide on which woman had done the best interview for a job they were recruiting for, and ‘Acting Leader’ which featured Margaret Beckett’s attempt to follow John Smith as Labour leader.

Those four were, IMHO as we say in twitterland, excellent, the rest – covering the fight for Irish Home Rule, Elizabeth the First, pornography, student politics, and the gap between the life of an MP and the so-called underclass – were merely very good.

Oh, and in addition to the nine plays, there were acted out verbatim interviews dotted through the evening from women politicians as varied as Oona King, Shirley Williams, Edwina Currie, Jacqui Smith and a brilliantly captured (by Kika Markham) Anne Widdecombe.

And then, just when you thought they couldn’t pack any more in to one evening of political entertainment, along comes actor John Hollingworth with a Nick Clegg soliloquoy.

As I tweeted last night, in one of the plays, someone had a great line about Clegg, namely ‘he doesn’t run the country. He just looks like him.’

As Hollingworth started his ‘speech’, Fiona thought he was ‘doing’ Cameron, but the yellow tie made me realise we were into the DPM not the PM here.

As with a lot of what the real Clegg says, writing this the morning after the night before, I cannot remember much of what was said. But I do remember laughing, and I remember the audience laughing at this as much as at anything else the evening had to offer. It confirmed me in my view that as the comedians and satirists mourn the political passing of New Labour’s most satirised figures, amongst whom I would have to include myself, Clegg is being fattened up to help replace us.

What was terrific about Hollingworth’s speech was not just the vacuousness, nor the excellent capture of the many irritating speech mannerisms, but that one really could have imagined Clegg delivering every word, oblivious to the comic aspect.

And then this morning, I turn to the Observer review and find a two-page spread on how cartoonists have so far portrayed the DPM. ‘Nick Clegg as cartoon figure – it’s fun but does it really hurt?’ runs the headline.

The answer is yes, and the best is yet to come.

*** Buy Prelude to Power here at Amazon.

  • Caroline Johns

    Did you hear the radio 4 programme on the dramatisation of New Labour? Presumably not as you were out? You were in it a lot. You will have missed Stephen Frears admitting he made things up for the Queen and other films about Labour

  • Harold Mellor

    I don’t think Clegg is interesting enough to bother the Rory Bremners, the Thick of Its and all that. He can be a joke without being a comic figure. Glad you enjoyed the Tricycle

  • Gerry Iverson

    The arts are thriving in this country, and thanks in part to Mr Clegg’s support of the Tories, they won’t be thriving for long

  • Prettypolymath

    Spot on with your review of Women, Power and Politics AC. While I must declare an interest (Kika M is my mother-in-law) it’s a captivating and extremely timely piece and really deserves be extended. Would a new name appeal to a wider audience? Take note Nick Kent and any potential backers!

    The brilliance of Hollingsworth’s Clegg was that without altering his actual words he revealed the bluster and sheer ineptitude of the man. He repeatedly promises not only to change but “actively change” (pleonasm if ever I heard one…) things to make politics more representative of women. Yet so far, as we all know, he has done less than zero…

  • Sally

    Lampooning political figures has been going on as long as history itself. It’s a fine & excellent tradition in this country, something we should be very proud of.
    The best satire has a strong element of truth and taps into issues that resonate with the public. Sometimes it allows us to affectionately take the p**s & sometimes it highlights something more serious. Effective politicians can survive such attention and even be enhanced if the character trait lampooned is a positive one. I would argue that Malcolm Tucker has not done your career any real harm and possibly enhanced your reputation in some ways, Alastair?
    However it can have consequences if the only image we have is one of weakness. Interestingly most of the humour around Nick Clegg focusses on his subservient but adoring role to David C – not unlike Spitting Images portrayal of David Steel’s relationshop with David Owen in the 80s. This characterisation harmed David Steel considerable, although ironically there was probably little truth in the portrayal, whilst there is considerably more truth in this take on Nick Clegg’s behaviour.

  • Brian Hughes

    Alas, according to the makers of Spitting Image and many other satirists, being the butt of satire generally enhances a politician’s career. But it’s awfully nice to see that, in addition to Clegg, even the sainted Vince Cable is now being presented as a bumbling yes man.

    Opposition has some compensations, but not sufficient to make it a desirable long-term option imho (see, I can do modern as well).

    PS have you discovered the satirical delights of Newsjack on Radio Seven? It’s available as a podcast – see, modern again…

  • olli issakainen

    Have the Liberal Democrats betrayed their principles and supporters?
    Liberalism is the belief in the importance of liberty and equality. Most liberals support liberal democracy, human rights, capitalism and free trade. Liberalism encompasses classical liberalism and social liberalism.
    The ideology of the Liberal Democrats consists of social liberalism, social democracy and market liberalism. The Lib Dems are (or at least used to be) a centre-left party which favours welfare state and progressive taxation. But they also have wanted to cut public spending.
    And Vince Cable has said that the Lib Dems are not a centre-left party and that they have a liberal approach to economic policy, free-trade and open markets.
    Liberal democrats can be classified into social and market liberals. Social liberals advocate the welfare state plus higher taxation and public spending. They support civil liberties and human rights. Simon Hughes is one of them. Social liberal MPs form the Beveridge Group.
    Market liberal or libertarian wing believes in basic freedoms. But they criticize government´s ability to increase freedom. They support greater economic freedom. Some MPs of this group contributed to the Orange Book (2004). Leading market liberals include Vince Cable, David Laws and Nick Clegg.
    The Con-Lib coalition´s basis is centre-right, small-state liberalism. The agenda of the Lib Dems changed 1n 2007! Nick Clegg gave them a new direction. The new idea was to reduce the state and overall tax burden.
    The Lib Dems and the Tories may be natural allies in their small-state amd free-market thinking, but there are also differences. The Lib Dems are optimistic about human nature, whereas the Conservatives do not believe in the perfectibility of human condition. They deal with human nature as it is.
    Two recent books illustrate this dichotomy well.
    Matt Ridley´s book is The Rational Optimist. Mr Ridley believes in human progress and does not think that the future is disastrous. Humanity will always be better off despite books like Oswald Spengler´s Decline of the West. Mr Ridley´s work is a synthesis of Adam Smith and Charles Darwin. But will the doomsayers be proven wrong?
    Roger Scruton´s volume is called The Uses of Pessimism. He says that pessimism is useful. We do not need false hope. Left´s fallacy has been optimistic belief in progress.
    In reality human imperfection constrains planned, rational transformation of society. But Russian revolutionaires, Nazis, Islamic terrorists and EU bureaucrats did not understand this.
    So, have the Lib Dems betrayed their principles for power? Many people seem to think so. The support for the party is down to 15% in the polls. 48% of those who voted for them may not do so again.
    The Lib Dem leadership, of course, hopes that constitutional reform is worth of all this. Mr Clegg also believes that the Lib Dems are making a difference and that their policies are implemented. And he can always claim that due to the Lib Dems the worst horror of all – a minority Tory government – was avoided.
    But! There was no rationale for the early cuts. Rise in VAT was not unavoidable. Already at the 2008 party conference the Lib Dems wanted to cut public spending. It seems that their election manifesto written by Danny Alexander was not a true reflection of party´s intentions.
    We should not be surprised to see the Lib Dems now sharing the power with the Tories. They are not “useful idiots” in this coalition. And they may even achieve their goal of AV. But will there then be anyone left willing to vote for them?

  • Jacquie R

    Loved the plays at the Tricyle – for their writing, acting, analyses, history, humour and clever choreography. Particularly enjoyed Kika Markham’s very convincing, understated and funny portrayal of the Queen. Now that its Tricylcle run is over, I hope the production gets backing to move on and that this is just the beginning.

    On Women,Power and Politics and Nick Clegg …… Yes, he’s the perfect propagandist target at the heart of the coalition and the ridicule serves him right for being such a snake in the grass. On the other hand, he’s the chosen husband of the refreshingly independent and spirited Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, so perhaps he has some hidden virtues. (That wasn’t meant to be a serious point, but it actually is!)

    Finally, several articles in today’s Observer show how some of the most important coalition policies look very frail in practice and were ill thought out. Particularly recommend their engrossing though disturbing Secret Diary of a Civil Servant.

  • Keith Mitchell

    Surprised you didn’t mention the Mandelson cartoon, also in the Observer, of him on the loo wiping his arse on Labour Party toilet paper, with the caption ‘The Turd Man’… funny and true

  • Colin Morley

    I would love to know more about the portrayal of Margaret Beckett. For my money she is the most undermined and undervalued member of the front bench team. John Smith’s death was a real hammer blow for those of us who thought he should and could win the next election and Margaret stepped into the role of temporary leader with real dignity, brilliant oratory and (IMHO) leadership qualities. And what did the media pick up? The fact that she cannot be described as beautiful! If they and many of the Labour men had looked beyond the surface they would have discovered the truth of the old adage that beauty is only skin deep.

  • Patrick James

    I do think Nick Clegg deserves all the ridicule he is getting. I don’t normally think this about politicians, I certainly didn’t think that Gordon Brown deserved the appalling press treatment he had, nor did I think John Major deserved all that he got.

    However I do think Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems were dishonest in their election campaign. They gave very little indication that they were in fact a wing of the Conservative party and that all their stuff about them being centre left was just a pack of lies.

    So, Nick Clegg is DPM as a result of conning the electorate. Now that he is DPM all he does is reinforce the PM in his nutty and dangerous economic policies.

    I think that Nick Clegg will function as a magnet for anger at the government when these economic policies start to bite. He will in fact be deflecting anger towards himself that would have been expressed at Cameron.

    I’ve been trying to think of any possible ways for the Lib Dems to get out of this, but it is really hard to think of an escape route for them. They have committed themselves hook line and sinker to the Conservatives economic policies, so they can’t turn around and say they don’t agree with them after all when the time comes.

    I think the Lib Dems are an absolute gift for Cameron. They take all the flack and he will just ride them until they are finished.

  • Robert Jackson

    Most of us Labour supporters, I suppose, see our local politics in areas where the Labour party has a discernable presence.

    We forget that there are great tracts of rural and semi-rural Britain where council after council has only Conservative and Libdem representatives and where they fight each other hammer and tongs.

    With the right catalyst – the right local issue or scandal – the coalition could herald an overturning of rural politics.

    Nobody likes being painted into a corner. Electors are happy to leave socking great footprints as they walk out the door.

    Just a matter of finding the right issue.

  • Graham Jones

    What makes Clegg such a target, is that he has lied to the public in the most underhand way. If he had said at the election, that he would be happy with deep and unfair cuts, or that the NHS and the rebuilding of schools wasn’t important, then he would be entitled to say he was being honest with the public. But if he’d said that at the election, then Labour would have picked up a lot more votes, and would have held onto a lot more seats, with the Lib-dems finishing third – oh, that’s right, they finished third anyway, giving them no mandate.
    He deliberately painted himself as the alternative and credible candidate, when in fact, he was the biggest fraud to hit British politics. He is not a progressive, he is an old fashioned tory, who’s only ambition was to rub shoulders with the boy from Eton.
    He is now part of a deception, to gerrymander the boundaries of British politics, so that his cosy love-in with Dave can continue. Cameron enjoys having his fag around, even if he is a Lib-dem. He takes all the flak, while Cameron is portrayed by Sky News as the boy wonder.
    But there will soon be an established leader of the Labour party, which will complete the regrouping of the party. Once this happens, then the coalition will be under serious pressure, because people will see the alternative, whoever it may be. I sense that some Lib-den backbenchers are also biding their time, waiting to see what emerges from the Labour leadership. It’s the wrong time to bring down the government of the day, but not the wrong action.
    For the sake of the country, there has to be a progressive programme of government, before the country is ruined by the madness unfolding week-by-week. That can’t be achieved with a tory government, and it can’t be achieved with Nick Clegg as the leader of the Lib-dem’s.

  • s chapman

    Rod Liddle – Sunday Times;
    Not a huge fan of his but very right on the Mandelson book – lie after lie…and hard eveidence you in fact lied all day long about Blair and Brown – you said time after time in public and in private they got on fine and dandy….that was a big fat lie…you all lied,you and the 3 musketeers lol…all process no emphasis on policy and now you spend so much time dissing the Coalition and during the election about how important policy was – you played the spin game and now its all come back to haunt you all…

    A fairly high chance Labout out for a couple of elections hence…Mandelson can’t help himself but to stir it up – we have the Blair book,the Brown book to come and you yourself can’t help boring us to death about spin still – so the New/OLD/New Labour II melting pot keeps you out for ages…

  • Chris lancashire

    It really is brassing you off that two parties and two leaders can work well together. I suppose that, after witnessing Blair and Brown at each other’s throats on a daily basis, you naturally expected any two other senior politicians to behave in the same way.

    Well, for the rest of us in the normal population, it is really refreshing to have this new style cooperative politics. Well done Clegg.

  • Dave Roberts

    Hi Alastair. I thought that you might like to know that your RSS news feed is not being updated (the last update was for “Govt moving to sensible (Labour) policy on immigration”, nearly a month ago.)

  • Nicky

    @ Chris L: thanks for appointing yourself official spokesman of the ‘normal population’. Although I have to add that members of the ‘normal population’ that I know also seem to be wondering what the hell Cameron and Clegg are up to with their half-baked, half-arsed ‘Big Society’ idea. Most people agree that volunteering is a Good Thing, but not blatant exploitation to save money on what most civilised societies regard as essential services.

    And there’s no getting away from the fact that Clegg was presenting himself as something entirely different pre-Election.

  • Ali

    New style politics? Dont make me laugh.

    The dismantling of the NHS is simply a Tory dream from long ago and frankly a nightmare for the rest of us. Stopping the building programme for schools is a short sighted and dangerous policy both in terms of educating our children and for future jobs. these are just a few of the old style policies under the name of new style politics.

  • Gayle Court

    Just reading all this anti Campbell tosh. When are these idiots going to realise you left Numbe 10 as Communications Directors over seven years ago?