Tory Boyz?

31 August 2008

I’d heard a lot of good things about Tory Boyz before I went to see it last night and I can’t deny it is a good play. The acting and the performance (including some very cleverly choreographed scene changes) were particularly impressive and the funny well-written script was performed well by the National Youth Theatre.

The Play is essentially about a young Tory researcher, Sam, quietly gay. It links his struggle to express his sexuality with Ted Heath and the recently re-asked question, “have we already had our first gay prime minister?” – to succeed it’s necessary to suppress ones sexuality.

But it is difficult to connect with any of the play’s characters. It didn’t make me feel emotion for any of the characters – I neither despised nor particularly felt for any of them. I was neither repulsed by their views on politics or sexuality nor inspired by them. And, on the face of it, there were elements of the play that could have been wholly erased with little consequence allowing more time for the titled subject matter (there were far fewer of the Tory boyz than I expected).

Following the play I decided to look up a couple of reviews and articles. The play was developed after the director of the National Youth Theatre asked playwright James Graham to write a play about Ted Heath. This goes some way to explaining the large cast and multiple story-line strands which – I imagine – a play not in this context may trim. The play is also seen as quite an accurate portrayal of the way parliamentary offices work. Like Michael Billington in the Guardian, however, I’m not sure I agree with the premise – the need to hide sexuality to succeed in politics.

Perhaps I’m to blame for the faults I found. I was expecting something which confirms my perception of gay Tories, from the ones I’ve met. And they’re not quite as quietly contemplative as Sam. A play specifically about gay boyz in the Tory party would have been quite different to this if it was based in reality. As I imagine it would in any political party. But this wasn’t the premise of the play.

Right-wing sympathising theatre is rare. I think I was expecting something which showed the spectrum of gay Tories as I know them, reaffirming my opinions of the lines in the play that “If it is wrong, I can guarantee that somewhere there is a Tory doing it . . .” – but it didn’t. And while Sam’s explanation of why a working class, northern gay man can be Tory is eloquent and thoughtful it didn’t make me sympathise with him any more. But maybe that was the point. Maybe the fact that it didn’t conform to my expectations and prejudices is exactly what the play’s all about. In an interview with the Pink Paper, playwright James Graham said:

‘When I was commissioned to write the play, everyone assumed that it would be a satire. I’m from an ex-mining town near Manchester. I saw my community dismantled in the early 1990s, but I still came to this play with an open mind. Everyone assumed that I would draw the conclusion in the play that the part hasn’t changed since the 1970s. Actually, it’s more interesting than that. It’s boring to just bash the Tories, that’s been done. It’s far more interesting to challenge the liberal perception of conservatives.’

…and, while, from my experience I’m not sure my liberal perceptions are as unfounded as Tory Boyz would suggest, I’d expected to be more enraged, but maybe that means Graham succeeded. Maybe somewhere in my mind it did challenge my liberal perceptions.

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Northern Scum

15 August 2008

I haven’t finished reading the Policy Exchange’s latest gem, Cities Unlimited. This is the report this week which – despite the PX being “the tories favourite thinktank” – David Cameron called insane. It’s the report that, and I’m paraphrasing here, said “let them move south” like Marie Antoinette said “let them eat cake” – ignorant of reality.

It’s a shame I haven’t finished reading it yet – I’m sure I’ll have more to say about it when I do. The idea that, because “northern” towns and cities have had money poured into them and are still not doing as well as thriving places in the south we should help more people move south to work and live, is an interesting one. It’s based on pure geographic principles (our northern cities are in the wrong place – no more is cotton and shipping an economic driving force), but a rather ignorant and arrogant suggestion nonetheless.

But for a rather intelligent academic with a supposedly switched-on political mind, it’s a rather odd assertion to make. They say:

The reality turns out to be pretty stark. Margaret Thatcher famously declared that “you can’t buck the market”, we find that you can’t buck geography either. Cities such as Liverpool and Hull, for example, were perfectly placed for economic success in 1875 when Britain was a maritime nation, and imports, exports and even trade within Britain often went by sea. But today air, road and rail transport dominate, and suddenly places like Reading and Milton Keynes – awful locations in 1875 for business – beat our coastal cities hands down. No amount of regeneration spending can alter that basic reality.

It’s a rather stupid assertion to say that just because northern cities haven’t grown as fast as more advantageously-places southern ones means we shouldn’t seek to regenerate them (actually they don’t say this per se, but surely they should realise how it comes across). It would be much better, not to benchmark them about how they’ve improved in comparison to the south, but against how much they wouldn’t have improved if regeneration money hadn’t been ploughed in! But their craziest suggestions appear to be reserved for the south, and here I am talking as a town planner.

“We must stop reserving land in the south-east for low productivity industrial use” – I have some sympathy with this argument. But it’s overly simplistic. What about industrial land which is needed here – warehousing (where will our goods come from to get the the many more shops we’ll need?), recycling (we need to have space for this – not ship it all north) and the grotty uses people rely on (even now people have difficult finding a mechanic or car breakers yard in London) are just some examples.

Slightly more crazy is the idea that – assuming by the time you reach the outskirts of London you’re driving at 70 miles per hour, it would only add a minute of congestion onto your journey to expand London by a mile abd you’d have space for 400,000 houses. What about the services people need, what about public transport, what about green space, what about types of homes people (without cars? god forbid!) may want to live in? Is this a child’s approach to urban geography?

John Prescott (Labour’s newest and rather prolific blogger), however, has some interesting words on the “abandon the north” theory, and I’ll leave the last words of this post to him:

It reminds me of what my mother had to do. Daughter of a welsh mining family, she had to work in service in the wealthy homes of the Wirral when she wanted to stay with her family in north Wales.

The same policy was echoed later by Norman Tebbit in the Thatcher regime when he said “get on your bike and look for work.” And that was against the background of over 2 million unemployed. This gave us the highest level of unemployment in the cities they talk about, like Liverpool, Hull and Bradford. And what was their answer then? In Liverpool it was for Heseltine to take a bus-load of bankers up to the city and establish what they called Garden Festivals. Go there now, the Garden festival has been demolished, the city is rebuilt, public services improved and a new confidence, particularly as Europe’s capital of culture.

England’s cities are now better placed than at any time since the end of the 19th century to become motors of national advance. The years of decline and decay have been overcome.


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