Yes, Prime Minister at Chichester Festival Theatre review Jim Hacker David Haig Sir Humphrey Appleby Henry Goodman“I’m not so sure about a hung parliament – hanging would be too good for them,” quips Sir Humphrey Appleby, and there are plenty more puns where that came from.

Yes, Prime Minister has returned and politicians across the country will sleep much less easily as a result. During the 1980s, the BBC TV series was a roaring success; over five series (including three of the original incarnation Yes, Minister) it won over the most unlikely of fans, including Margaret Thatcher and Tony Benn.

Paul Eddington played the endearingly incompetent Jim Hacker MP, who was given to grand public gestures and Churchillian declamations, whilst Nigel Hawthorne provided the perfect accompaniment as the devious Cabinet Secretary Sir Humphrey who sought to rein in Hacker’s idealistic tendencies.

Three decades on and the show’s co-writers (Sir Anthony Jay and Jonathan Lynn) have added edginess and controversial views to their already bursting arsenal of political irreverence and acidic public sector satire. After the sad deaths of Eddington and Hawthorne, the creators have moved to cast David Haig (The Thin Blue Line, Four Weddings and a Funeral) and Henry Goodman (The Damned United, Notting Hill) in the main roles. Haig’s turn as Hacker manages to combine statesman-like cunning with bumbling ineptitude, but sadly misses the loveable vulnerability that Eddington brought to the role. Goodman takes Sir Humphrey’s Machiavellian deception to a whole new level, whilst keeping the basic justification that what the PM doesn’t know can’t hurt him.

The plot nonchalantly juggles various hot-potato topics, including Middle Eastern oil imports, illegal immigrants and teenage prostitution. The section most likely to cause offence amongst liberal theatrical types, however, is the flippant treatment of climate change as the ultimate panacea for politicians looking to distract attention from their current failings. Referring to his proposed green reforms, Hacker boasts “even if it doesn’t make any difference, no-one will know for at least 50 years.”

It is in the second half, though, that the heady blend of intellectual farce and quick-fire wordplay starts to drag a little. With escalating volumes of spirits ingested, Hacker becomes increasingly desperate and absurd in his behaviour, and you suddenly become aware that this is new territory for the franchise. At no point are subtle concepts such as sympathy or compassion entertained which, whilst unsurprising, is a little disappointing as the play edges past the two hour mark.

Despite its discreet shortcomings, the return of Yes, Prime Minister is almost perfect in its timeliness. With the political uncertainty of a Hung Parliament a ripe topic for satire, this production will run and run. A West End transfer is surely inevitable. Indeed, it wouldn’t be surprising to see this show outlast the Lib-Con coalition it so superbly lampoons.

Yes, Prime Minister is on at the Chichester Festival Theatre until 5th June www.cft.org.uk

Article first published by Open Magazine

Just when I thought the G20 protests would get swept under the rug, the events of this week have re-stoked the fires of dissent and unrest. The alarming second post-mortem on Ian Tomlinson revealed that the 47-year-old newspaper seller died of internal hemorrhaging not, as was previously thought, a heart attack. Reports suggest that the officer involved could face the charge of manslaughter, so this is definitely one to keep an eye on.

This seems to have garnered genuine public interest and the Evening Standard’s splash yesterday ‘What Have You Got To Hide?’ pours further scorn on the tactics of the Metropolitan Police. It seems this one is not ready for a rug sweeping just yet.

Nicola Fisher does seem to be milking her altercation for all it’s worth and her decision to hire Max Clifford does raise serious doubts about her real motives (as if you need reminding, this is the man who juiced the last days of Jade Goody). Hugo Rifkind acerbically dissects Fisher’s anti-capitalist credentials in a typically witty column for The Times.

But the really impressive footage to arise this weekend comes from Climate Camp in the City. At 9 minutes 50 seconds, this professionally-edited documentary pushes the upper time limit of YouTube, but it is well worth a watch as it wonderfully encapsulates the mood at Climate Camp and exposes some disgraceful police behaviour to break up the protest after dark.

For those of you who don’t have 10 minutes to spare, the highlights are:

4:50 – An officer is clearly seen smacking a protester across the head with his shield.
7:49 – An officer punches a protestor in the face.


Whilst I can partially sympathise with the police who must have had one of the hardest days of their careers, the assaults shown here are simply indefensible. In my last post, I called for a bigger stick to beat the police with. I think the protesters have found it.

The Metropolitan police haven’t seen the back of this one yet.

My view

My view

As I’m sat here in the darkness I’m wondering if this is all worth it. An hour without lights seemed hard enough, but I felt compelled to go the extra mile and forgo all electrical appliances. All that’s left is me and my guitar. Sounds romantic, but it’s too dark to see the frets and my Biffy Clyro impression sounds lousy. I can hear clearly that my neighbour is watching Matrix Revolutions. Seems I’m in this alone.

Last night, in case you missed it, was more than just the beginning of British Summer Time. At 8.30pm WWF’s annual Earth Hour began – an idea which struck me with its simplicity and symbolic power last year, but I never got around to contributing to it. With G20 protests bringing alive the spirit of activism, it felt right to do something personal to try and change the world.

Only to the world I probably looked like a lone nutter. The first few minutes were bizarre – I anticipated 8.30 with mild trepidation as I wondered if I would go through with it or just lame out. As it happened, Earth Hour inconsiderately began half way through my dinner, so I started the hour fumbling with my curry like a diner at Dans Le Noir? After a couple of minutes, however night vision came surprisingly easily. I opened my curtains to let in some natural light. Instead of moonlight, my room was lit up by the distant yellow glow of a million other Londoners happily ignoring this hippy protest.

Newcastle glows with electrical power

Newcastle at night; glowing with electrical power

Symbolic gestures weren’t too scarce (The London Eye, The BT Tower and The Coca-Cola Lights at Piccadilly Circus were all blacked out), but looking out over central London it seemed like few had taken it on themselves to join in.

In truth, I got used to the darkness. It was oddly relaxing not to be hammering away at my laptop or flipping through channels trying in vain to find an episode of Top Gear that I haven’t already seen. Half an hour in I received an encouraging text from my fellow eco-nut and darkness dweller Abby Edge. “I’ve still got my laptop on,” she admitted, “does that count?” I felt proud of my puritanical effort.

I strummed another chord trying to remember some Bob Dylan. Whilst my guitar work leaves a lot to be desired, that is probably more down to a lack of practise than a lack of light. In the end I got so engrossed in my practice that I happily played on in darkness for an extra four minutes at the end of the hour.

What the G20 protests this week show us is that for politicians to really make difficult decisions on the economy or the environment, they need the public pressure. Marching on the city is a great start, but for individual actions to make a difference it’s going to take long-term commitment as well as widespread co-operation. If we don’t then blackouts might not be voluntary in the future.

The good news, I can report, is that Britain is on course for meeting its Kyoto target for 2012. But now is not the time to get complacent. Far from it – now is the time to get active.

By all accounts, WWF seems to be praising Earth Hour 2009 as a huge success. Total figures of CO2 saved have not yet been calculated, but the symbolic power of plunging landmarks into darkness will surely have a worldwide impact.

Getting down to work

Getting down to work

A week on from Obama’s inauguration, and he sure is quick getting to work on the unenviable task of cleaning up the biggest mess America has found itself in since the ’30s.

Closing Guantanamo Bay on Day One was obviously a key symbolic victory for liberty and the concept of a fair trial, and his early diplomatic phone calls show his commitment to pursuing peace in the Middle East.

But today we hear the news which, for me at least, is the biggest step forward for this new administration. Obama and his team are ready to take on a global villain called Robert who has been wreaking havoc in Africa.

I watched intently last March as the spectre of Mugabe seemed to wane, before he heartlessly overthrew the election result and drove his opponent Morgan Tsvangirai out of the country. Now it seems the UN is finally readying itself to step in, taking the lead from Obama’s UN Ambassador Susan Rice.

This policy decision is all the more admirable considering the aforementioned American mess – you would have thought Obama would be content with juggling a collapsing economy, motor industry and two contentious foreign conflicts. I guess he just likes a challenge.

This move for me marks the biggest difference between the Bush years and the fledgling Obama era. Instead of simply consulting the UN just in case they agreed before firing gung-ho into Iraq, it looks like though Obama is keen to get everyone (or at least the majority) onside before getting serious about Zimbabwe. Seems international diplomacy isn’t dead after all…

p.s. For those who prefer their commentary on international politics to be more well-read and erudite, please have a look at this blog by my good friend Charlotte.

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After the Deripaska fiasco, you would’ve thought George Osborne would just lie low for a few weeks and keep his name out of the press.
Quite the opposite

How are we going to dig our way out of this one?

How are we going to dig our way out of this one?

Now I don’t know a great deal about politics or economics, but it didn’t take me long to realise that Osborne made a massive blunder in predicting a run on the pound. Whilst the credit crunch begins its slow and painful transformation into a full-blown recession, what we need right now is confidence coming from the top in order to begin to turn things around.
It may be the Conservatives’ role to criticise Labour’s every move, but shattering public confidence in the stability of sterling is just plain irresponsible. There are plenty of other ways to criticise Labour at the moment, and Osborne’s leader seems to be doing pretty damn well in reaction to the case of Baby P.
Osborne is, of course, obliged to be critical about the economy, but his actions have grave implications for the whole financial system. It seems he has an ‘if I’m going down, I’m taking you down with me’ mentality. And yet he refuses to apologise, and may even lose his post as a result.
There are some times where ‘telling the truth’ can do more damage than good, and you would expect a prominent politician to be aware of that. This may be the time for a novice, but it’s certainly not the time for a maverick. Just ask John McCain.
I’d be interested to know if anyone can defend his behaviour this week.

UPDATE:

So it seems Boris Johnson disagrees with me:

George Osborne is paid to warn of such risks, and he is absolutely right to do so.

In this highly predictable piece he effectively spouts the typical Tory line, but since he can no longer sit in the Commons and berate Brown face-to-face, he has to find a new medium for his partisan accusations. Mayor Johnson’s biased ramblings aside, I think it’s a bit cheap of the Telegraph to print this. Trying to snare in readers with a big name opinion piece by any chance?

Can you smell what Barack is cooking?

Can you smell what Barack is cooking?

This has been the week that Obamamania reached fever pitch, and let me say first off, I’m very glad that he won. Barack Obama will make a much better president of the USA than John McCain, and with his powerful majority in congress, he is in a position to bring about big changes in American foreign, economic and environmental policy.

But let’s not get carried away. A great number of reports marked this as an historic event, a momentous occasion, a new dawn (if you would believe the words of the great man himself). This seems a bit sensationalist to me. Of course having a black man in the white house is a landmark victory for the civil rights movement, but from here on in the rhetoric from Team Barack will change. Let’s not forget just how serious the global economic problems are, or the fact that the Middle East is as unstable as it’s ever been. Obama’s rhetoric in his campaign was fantastically well-aimed at cultivating an aura of hope and excitement around his policies. Now he must force all of America to lower its expectations, or we will all be severely disappointed when we find out that he can’t actually walk on water.

This has all been said before this week, and much more cogently, by Martin Samuel and Matthew Parris at the Times. What I think I can bring to the table however, is the question of Obama making history.

It’s easy for us to look at this week and be pretty damn chuffed that the Americans have elected the first black man to run their country. But, as Orwell once put it, history is written by the winners, and this holds true even in these modern times. At my delightfully backward-thinking Private school where I toiled away for seven of my teenage years, we were taught that nothing can be considered history until 50 years have passed. We need this distance and perspective to accurately and objectively judge the actions of political leaders. Anything more recent, we were told, was just Politics. Whilst this may be a step too far, I think we need more than four days to judge an event to be historical. We need about four years.

The tenure of Barack Obama as President of the USA will be judged on results and not origins. The true measure of his success will be gauged in four years time. If he can bring about the changes he promises, then America stands to become a much better place. Furthermore if he can win a second term in office then he will have a great opportunity to shape the future of America. Until then it is important that we are cautiously optimistic. Piling any hyperbolic expectation on his shoulders will only make it even harder for him to really get a grip on his new job.

With nine days still to go before the American Presidential election, many are already calling this a one-horse race.
On Roy Greenslade’s Media Guardian blog today, he highlights that Alaska’s biggest newspaper title, The Anchorage Daily News, has ditched Sarah Palin and formally endorsed Barack Obama as the best man for the job.
Yet, Roy also points out that Alaska is still seen as a Republican stronghold, so maybe this will make little difference on November 5th. Do local newspaper’s editorial stances really hold that much sway over their areas?
Newspaper endorsements aside, can anyone really see Obama losing from such a strong position?
Not the BBC.
Today they published 5 expert projections, all predicting an Obama win.
Ben Macintyre from The Times suggests the Tom Bradley effect could come into play, but many discredit this idea, calling it outdated.
For my part, I’m looking forward to a historic election result, but can’t rule out the off-chance that Americans will side with an experienced conservative in these times of high economic crisis.

You can’t move in the journalistic world at the moment without being faced with worrying questions about the credit crunch, but no-one seems to have any definite answers. It’s particularly daunting for someone such as me, who has no formal economic education, so I readily bow to those who know their FTSEs from their Dow Jones’s.

Take to the streets!

Take to the streets!

The Times’ daily columnists have been doing a great job of making the credit crunch more comprehensible, and today the BBC chimed in with this helpful article.

But I am quite surprised that no-one has risked taking a Marxist view of the situation, even ironically. I consider myself to be a closet Lefty, fairly convinced by Marx’s ideas, but not educated or confident enough to walk down Farringdon Road waving a Red Flag, burning £10 notes.

No matter what your political stance, it must seem unusual that as the capitalist system falters majorly, there is a great dearth of left-wing criticism. Nonetheless, I found this article from the Guardian particularly interesting.

Unquantified though it may be, I think it’s wonderfully ironic that the Germans (who are stereotypically aligned with fascism) should look to their estranged son Karl for guidance during this time of severe economic turmoil. Perhaps I should look to the Guardian more often to indulge my quasi-Marxist tendencies…

Now Playing: Frank Turner – Love, Ire & Song

UPDATE 13/11/08: Don’t despair, some would argue you can even benefit from the credit crunch. David Christopher blogs that a reduction in house prices can only be good for those hoping to get on the property ladder for the first time.

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