Monday, March 07, 2011

Powerplays: Trevor Griffiths in Television by Mike Poole and John Wyver (BFI Books 1984)

Although utterly unconvinced by his father’s attempt to make shabby pragmatism in office seem heroic, William none the less decides to defer to him on the grounds that he is ill and that he is, after all, his father. But buoyed up by his own rhetoric, Waite insists that they continue, and like any family row - and Griffiths clearly intends us to see the broad coalition that is the Labour Party as an unhappy ‘family’ - the confrontation proceeds to get more and more bitter. William, played with a dishevelled intensity by jack Shepherd, immediately resumes his attack, condemning the seemingly fatal desire of Labour leaders to ‘prove the papers wrong’, to show that they are ‘responsible’ men. And being ‘responsible’ generally amounts, of course, to not rocking the boat. Thus, ‘in the likes of MacDonald and Snowden the capitalist system found two of its ablest and most orthodox defenders in this century’. Pursuing a line of argument that suggests a fairly close acquaintance with Parliamentary Socialism, Ralph Miliband’s classic study of Labourism (which had been reissued in [973 with an appended postscript on the Wilson years), William continues by accusing successive Labour leaderships of a purely rhetorical commitment to socialism that has very little to do with what in practice they set out to achieve in government:

. . . the rhetoric you never lost. So that you can describe the Attlee legislation as a .social revolution as though what happened during that time was what socialism is all about. A real social revolution would have committed you to the destruction of capitalism and the social order formed and maintained by it . . . It wasn’t a social revolution you achieved, it was a- as it turned out- minimal social adjustment. You drew a section of the working class into the grammar schools, and allowed the public schools to continue training upper and middle~class elites . . . You created a national health service and allowed doctors to practise privately. You created municipal housing and left the building industry in the hands of the capitalists. You nationalised ailing industries and services and allowed the strong to be run privately, for private profit. (Pause) You didn’t create a new social order, you merely humanised an old one.

In a typically dialectical piece of writing, Grifhths allows Waite to come back with some accusations of his own: such as that his son’s socialism is the product ofa theoretical ‘ivory tower’, remote from anything resembling a political base. ‘You read your Marx and your Trotsky’ he tells him, ‘and you get your slide rule out and do a couple of simple calculations and you have your blueprint. Revolution. Total change. Overnight. Bang. Especially bang. You have to have your bit of theatre as well, don’t you? Reality isn’t like that. Reality is . . . taking people with you, Arguing with people who disagree, passionately.'

1 comment:

Darren said...

Quoted from pages 66-67.

A lengthy piece, but it's a good one.