Friday, 21 July 1989


Paul Anderson, review of Fallen Angel and the Devil Concubine (Graduate Theatre Company, Almeida), Tribune, 21 July 1989

The Jamaican Graduate Theatre Company's offering for the London International Festival of Theatre tells the story of two destitute women, one white and one black, thrown together in a tumbledown, one-time colonial mansion in Kingston of which each claims to be the rightful owner. Lettie (Carol Lewis), the black woman, says she was left the house by the woman for whom she worked for 43 years; Katie (Honor Ford. Smith) says that the house was left her by her father.

As the play progresses, with both actresses putting in excellent performances, it becomes increasingly clear that both Lettie and Katie are hiding something. And in the final act each discovers the other's secret.

Lettie was disgraced after mothering an illegitimate child; Katie was disowned by her family because she eloped with a black man. Both have constructed myths about their pasts to protect themselves against a hostile world. Neither has a convincing legal claim to the house.
This is a didactic piece, pointing to the common experiences of womanhood and poverty that transcend racial and other prejudices, but it is not dire agitprop.

The characters are subtly observed and the dialogue (much of it in patois) fast and funny. And, like nearly everything else in LIFT, it's very different from anything now being done in the British theatre. Well worth catching.

Friday, 14 July 1989


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 14 July 1989

Peter Tatchell (Tribune, July 7) suggests a Labour-Green electoral pact "to establish a radical consensus rather than a centrist one" in British politics. "Both parties should consider an electoral agreement involving a single Labour or Green candidate, fighting on apolitical programme of environmental protection and social justice, plus proportional representation," he writes.

His proposal is almost certain to be dismissed by the powers-that-be in the Labour Party and, in the end, I suppose I agree with them. The massive Green vote in the European elections does not necessarily prove that the Green Party has arrived as a major force in British politics: 15 per cent in the Euroelections is not the same thing as a string of by-election victories.

And even if the Greens are here to stay, there are good reasons against a pact. Most important, there is no evidence to suggest that any sort of electoral pact actually works in a first-past-the-post electoral system – while there are good grounds for believing that Green voters would not vote Labour and that Labour voters would not vote Green if either were deprived of their first-choice candidate.

But I must admit that I've had to force myself to remember these arguments, because a pact with the Greens does look very attractive. Indeed there have been times in the past few weeks when I've even considered joining the Greens. That is not just because I've spent a great deal of the past decade working in the peace movement and now find the Labour policy review position on defence and foreign policy to be an opportunist mess. My disillusionment is not a matter of a "single issue". It has as much to do with the whole tenor of the programme that has emerged from the policy review.

Despite a few concessions to the radical democratic environmentalist politics that have been central to the libertarian left inside and outside the Labour Party for more than a decade, it is for the most part a restatement of the sort of centrist technocratic social democratic values and policies that characterised the Wilson and Callaghan governments. The declining faith of the British electorate in the wonders of every aspect of economic "progress", increasingly shared by ordinary Labour Party members, seems largely to have passed the Labour leadership by.

Labour is now promising a plethora of environmental regulations to control pollution and food safety, measures to conserve energy and encouragement for public transport. But the greening visible in the policy review report is only a small  qualification to its enthusiastic embrace of the "white heat of technological revolution" and its implicit acceptance that nothing need be done about Britain's permanent state.

Nuclear power generation will continue into the foreseeable future; there are no serious plans for reducing dependence on the private motor car; developing renewable energy sources will not be a priority. "Sustainable growth" doesn't get a mention in either economic or foreign policy. There's little on solving the housing crisis or rejuvenating the inner cities.

Decentralisation of democratic power and proportional representation are not on the agenda. With unilateralism gone, there's nothing that challenges the unaccountable power of the militaryrindustrial complex.

And so I could go on. I'm no hard leftist. I've no nostalgic yearning for the "nationalise everything" paternalist centralism of the Fabians and Stalinists of the thirties. Nor have I any sympathy with the Leninist workerist politics peddled by the 57 varieties of Trot or the Campaign Group's idea that all we need is a Labour government "with socialist policies" and plenty of will-power.

Forced to choose, I'd rather have centrist technocratic social  democracy than a Leninist dictatorship, "Tony Benn in Number 10" or five more years of Margaret Thatcher.

The problem is that I don't want that to be the choice, but increasingly feel powerless to temper the dominant trend in Labour politics. The intention of the leadership is clearly to push the policy review unamended through party conference this autumn, and opposition is likely to be muted, largely because a big row at this stage would do serious damage to Labour's chances of being elected to government.

Plenty of other people in the Labour Party feel the same way. Some will remain Labour Party members but put their energies into one of the environmental pressure groups. Others will undoubtedly jump ship to the Greens. I'm not joining them, and will be arguing (albeit unenthusiastically) for staying with Labour. Apart from the purely electoralist argument against joining the Greens or even voting for them, there's much in their programme (not least their advocacy of a negative-growth siege economy) that is unappealing and unrealistic, even if on balance their stance is a lot more attractive than Labour's policy review. Nevertheless, if the Labour leadership doesn't wake up on Green politics, I've got a feeling that the argument for staying with Labour will be a lot less persuasive.