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February 22, 2007

Even in its drama when the BBC has a go at New Labour it only seems to be able to do this from the Left, finds Harry Phibbs: Party Animals on BBC Two

Posted by Harry Phibbs

Party Animals
BBC Two, Wednesdays, 9pm

Drama series with a theme of intense political power struggles appear to be all the rage at the moment. This latest offering from the BBC attempts to offer variety by focusing on the second division. The back room players: the research assistants, lobbyists, journalists toiling and networking and plotting in the background.

What a ghastly crew they are. All so preoccupied with getting on themselves and transfixed with power worship of those who have already got on. In a predictable nod to the ratings they all go around sleeping with each other and someone dies in a car crash. This means the BBC can feel worthy about "reaching" an audience that would not normally be interested in politics.

So the main thrust of this series is to confirm all the lazy cynical stereotypes. The reality of the people portrayed may be pretty unattractive but the unremitting dreary awfulness of the characters in this drama renders it implausible.

None of them seem to have a sense of humour. None of the Conservatives seem genuinely interested in ideas or policies - apart from as a game to catch out the Government.

What is so pitiful about this is that I think there was a genuine effort to be fair politically but the script writers just can't get it into their heads that Conservatives have come, through a process of honest and intelligent thought, to a different conclusion about the world to themselves.

So whenever a pang of conscience crops up it is one of the Labour characters heroically battling against poverty or vivisection on bears. Conservative machinations feature prominently but are all about career advancement. Old Conservatives are portrayed as reactionary and if not racist then at least with racist associates. New Conservatives are portrayed as snobbish, amoral and smarmy.

The hero is the Labour researcher Danny Foster. His father was prominent in the anti-apartheid movement and young Danny remembers handing out peanuts to Oliver Tambo and Trevor Huddleston.

Is it merely coincidence that there isn't a young Tory researcher recollecting handing out peanuts to Vladimir Bukovsky? Or portrayed in heroic terms battling against public money being wasted? Or to expose Islamic fundamentalist terrorists? Or some scandalous behaviour by social workers? Or a human rights violation in Cuba? Or any number of moral struggles they might believe in just as passionately as those taken up by their Labour opposite numbers?

The principal Conservative character is Ashika Chandiramani who as an Asian woman is portrayed as exploiting her status to seek to become an MP. The implication is that she is not really a Conservative (how could she be as an Asian woman). Certainly she never comes out with distinctively Conservative views. She joined the Conservatives to promote her career. They exploit her to present a new image and she exploits them. Her dealings with grassroots Conservatives represent a constant racist undercurrent. No doubt this is a sincere belief of what the script writers imagine the Conservative Party to be like.

Party Animals' main consultant was Martin Bright who is the Political Editor of the New Statesman and this shows.

This is not to deny that Bright may have Conservative friends but he probably can't cope with those who voice Conservative opinions. So he would only really understand the power networkers.

It is similar with the main script writer Ben Richards who no doubt frequents the same Islington dinner parties as Bright. A Guardian article by Richards confirms that he is a critic of New Labour from the Left, the overwhelming BBC orthodoxy.

Richards laments that for New Labour:

everything has been contaminated by Iraq and the relationship with Bush.
Richards says:
All the New Labour fanatics I have known have had a Gradgrindian commitment to facts and data. Arguing with them was sometimes like hurling ping pong balls at a giant wind machine. It was about rapid rebuttal, and to do that you had to demonstrate a degree of wit and dexterity.
Sure he will have spent plenty of time arguing with New Labour supporters but rather as a family row. One somehow doesn't think he would have been arguing against them from a Conservative perspective.

Harry Phibbs is a journalist.

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