Timing is everything in politics. Growth in the economy. A few weeks from another Tory triumph, or another patchy coalition? Scriptwriter James Graham looks backwards to what happened five-years ago, when the Conservatives formed a coalition government with the Liberals. For me it’s a case of who do I hate the most.
In Ten Days that Shook the World, American socialist and journalist John Reed chronicled the rise of the Bolsheviks to power in Russia. Here we have five days of farce and melodrama in which public school boys David Cameron (Mark Dexter) makes googly eyes at Nick Clegg (Bertie [Wooster] Carvel) and woos him with talk of a partnership of equals, with a similar background and views. He bathes in a steam of money, rips his shirt off for the viewers and says ‘Damn it Nick, look at my portfolio. We could be so happy together.’
Standing outside this duo is two people. The bearish Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve) waiting for a chance, waiting for a dance. It’s an arranged marriage. Gordon even has the audacity to return to number 10 Downing Street, even though his Labour Party polled less seats than the Tories. In a phone call Gordon pleads with Nick that the Tory’s polled less the 30% of the popular vote. 70% didn’t want them in power. They didn’t have a popular mandate, but really Nick, it’s up to you to do the right thing. He also has to remind the supercilious civil servant who runs the place that he is still –technically- Prime minister. Inside a briefing room his team find they have already been erased from history, their computer files deleted and their encrypted codes no longer work.
Looking over their shoulders is the patron saint of politicians Winston Churchill, who manages to be both a Liberal and Conservative politician that led a coalition government to Great Britain’s greatest victory, (prior to the 1966 World Cup win). Churchill featured in the last 1926 government of Ramsay McDonald between Labour and Liberal. David is shown on a stair vacillating (a politician’s equivalent of masturbation) about going all the way with young Nicky, below a giant portrait of Winston. And fresh-faced Nick is initially shown after the debates shown on live council telly, and cited publicly, as the most popular politician since Churchill. Adoring crowds gather to cheer his every pronouncement. (Boris Johnson, the future Tory leader, has of course written a biography of the great man).
Poor old Gordon, jilted and pushed around, has to watch on live TV David and Nicky dancing. Peter Mandelson (Mark Gatiss) is the most sympathetic of a cast of unsympathetic characters. He has to rein the old bear in and remind him that in real politics there’s still a chance. Prod him not to say too much in impassioned and earnest late-night phone calls.
Nicky squirms in the old bear’s presence. When Gordon in an act of daring and self-sacrifice steps aside and promises Nicky he can choose a new Labour beau from the catalogue, there is a moment when it might all happen. History might have been changed. Mark Gatiss might have been the new Churchill and the bubble economics of inflated house prices and helping rich people get richer at the expense of everyone else might not have been quite so dramatic. Nicky isn’t sure. He can’t make his mind up. Will her? Or won’t he?
Step in Paddy Ashdown with a Churchillian speech, most often seen coming out of the side of the mouth of Burgess Meredith in Rocky movies. Cue music. If you want it now Nicky. You worked for it. You worked damned hard for it. You got to go out and get it. I will Paddy. I’ll do it for you. Freeze-frame: Nicky Deputy Prime Minister on the podium with a cheering crowd below him.