Reflections on the Tories in light of Moliere's play

This article appeared in the Independant

5 January 2010

Go to the theatre to see what a Tory future would be like

'The Misanthrope' mocks the faux morality of the sun king's court

Want to peep into a Tory future-land? Forget the pundits, columnists, Compassites, Progressites, and Fabianites. Instead buy a theatre or film ticket and all will be revealed.
Some of the best political commentary is on offer now in London's theatres. Start with The Misanthrope which is pulling in crowds wanting to see Keira Knightley on stage. Molière's play caused political ructions in the 17th century as it mocked the faux morality and hypocrisy of the court of the sun king, Louis XIV. Martin Crimp has updated it and mocks the courtiers around the sun king in waiting, that scion of old English money and landed gentry, David Cameron.

The hero Alceste asks the question about a party leader: "Why is his touchy-feely party's quite so cosy with a bloated member of the European ultra-right?" and tells the audience, "Immediately some aide from Central Office calls. "It's smear," she goes. "Withdraw your comment or we'll have your balls."

Fictional drama? Ask the editors and reporters who tried to tell the truth about Cameron's link-up with weird nationalist populist politicians in east Europe. One regional editor was called up six times by Tory spin doctors trying to keep out the news of the protest of the Tory MEP Edward McMillan-Scott against what he called the Hague-Cameron alliance with extremists. The scandal has gone largely unreported by the BBC and major papers even if it has led the Tories to vote against climate change policies in the European Parliament or to be in the same voting block as homophobe European right-wingers protesting against gay rights.

At the time the liberal foreign affairs commentator Timothy Garton Ash wrote that Cameron preferred to make an alliance with fascists rather than federalists. Leaving to one side the hypberpolic alliteration, Garton Ash has a point. It is underlined by the National Theatre's production of Our Class which has been playing to packed crowds.

This play tells the story of the massacre of Jews by Poles at Jedwabne in 1941. The leader of the Conservative MEPs in their new grouping is a right-wing Polish politician called Michal Kaminski. He has refused to apologise for the Polish involvement in this massacre until he says "Jews apologise for killing Poles". It is the ugliest statement to come out of an east European politician in recent years and it is to Cameron's eternal shame that he refuses to acknowledge the mistake he made when he broke relations with centre-right Conservatives in Europe like Angela Merkel or Nicholas Sarkozy to enter into an alliance with homophobe nationalists from Warsaw, admirers of the Waffen SS from Vilnius, or climate change-denying politicians from Prague.
Having seen Our Class, go and catch Stephen Poliakoff's film Glorious 39 with its fine British acting from Julie Christie to David Tennant. The film captures the isolationist Toryism with its open contempt for European democratic values that pervaded elements of the Conservative Party in the late 1930s and even up to Churchill and Attlee rallying the nation to defeat fascism in 1940.
Anyone who sits in the Commons and listens to William Hague ranting against Europe or watch his Europhobe frontbench team as well as most Tory backbenchers express contempt for Europe can get a whiff of what Churchill had to fight against in the 1930s.
But come back to The Misanthrope. Who on earth can this be?
"His smile's a metre wide - he's using every means

He can: his grin, his grief, his wife's downmarket-fashion

To fox the voters with his toxic spray-on band of fake compassion:

He loves the poor - we're all in this together -

He'll save the unemployed - He cleverly adopts a flat bland mask of pity

And never mentions once his shit-rich banking cronies in the City."

To be fair, "We're all in this together" is George Osborne's phrase not his leader's but the point is made.

Normally it is only after one or two terms of a Tory government that playwrights and directors unleash their energy to mock the Conservatives. Today we can see the future before it happens for the price of a theatre or movie ticket. There will be no excuse that we weren't warned.