The Tory mayoral carry on

With Boris on the boards the London political scene now has a production to grasp the popular imagin

So one of the longest productions in the Westminster Playhouse is finally closing after more than a year.

Yes Carry On Conservative Candidate is finally coming to a triumphal conclusion having played to largely indifferent houses over the last fifteen months. The cast has featured several household names but none lasted more than a few days until the arrival of Boris in the lead role just as the curtain was about to fall.

The production has outlasted its author, Francis Maude. He wrote the confused script having ignored all advise from those who knew their London audience and saw a serious piece of political drama turn into complete farce.

Sadly no Carry On production has succeeded without Sid James but Steve Norris this time has resolutely kept in the wings having signed a more lucrative engagement at the Jarvis travelling railway theatre.

Other leading men resisted all blandishments to appear in the production. Michael Portillo (Kenneth Williams), has made clear his days of serious political theatre are over. He now contents himself instead with a regular outing on a Thursday night when his hilarious catchphrase 'Ohhhh Diane' echoes around the BBC studio at Millbank. How we titter.

Lord John Stevens (Former star of “Carry on up the Yard”) who was approached no less than four times made it plain that he was not interested and anyway had earned £8 million from his guest appearances in such productions as “Death of a Princess” and the long running “Footballers bungs”. A suggestion that Greg 'Roland Rat' Dyke should appear in a blue and yellow costume was dropped after coach parties from the suburbs made it clear they would cancel their block bookings.

There was a supporting cast most of whom were recruited from the Borough Repertory Companies. Lurline Champagnie was plucked from the chorus line of Harrow Rep where she has worked away for twenty years for one last attempt at stardom.

Warwick Lightfoot, an intellectual economist found that his rather dry style barely set Kensington Music Hall alight and making him utterly unsuitable for a West End transfer.

Victoria Borwick another Kensington veteran and previous auditioner, and always the winner of the best make up and costumes award, found herself condemned to the never ending Conservative Coffee morning Circuit.

Andrew Boff found his comedic style was as out of date as a routine from Stan Boardman and anyway probably more suited to the touring production of Carry on Camping.

Several cast members from South East London have struggled to get repeat bookings over the years at Bromley Butlins never mind the Town Hall and a late cast addition said to be a very Senior Alderman of the City of London Corporation is rumoured to have misunderstood and thought he was putting his name forward to be Lord Mayor of London: sorry the jewellery budget for this production does not run to a diamond badge!

So as the script is written for the sequel provisionally entitled “Clash of the Titans”, the London political scene now has a production to grasp the popular imagination.

Johnson and Livingstone must be the only two UK Politicians whose surnames are superfluous. I suspect Box Office records will be broken on this one and that next May there may well be a new name in lights on London South bank as the younger performer replaces the old veteran whose act is now seen by many as rather passé. Never mind Ken you can join Messrs Blair and Prescott, those bill toppers of yesteryear, on the much more lucrative the after dinner circuit.

Brian Coleman was first elected to the London Assembly in June 2000. Widely outspoken he is best known for his groundbreaking policy of removing traffic calming measures
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In the 1980s, I went to a rally where Labour Party speakers shared the stage with men in balaclavas

The links between the Labour left and Irish republicanism are worth investigating.

A spat between Jeremy Corbyn’s henchfolk and Conor McGinn, the MP for St Helens North, caught my ear the other evening. McGinn was a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, and he obligingly revisited the brouhaha for the listeners at home. Apparently, following an interview in May, in which McGinn called for Corbyn to “reach out beyond his comfort zone”, he was first threatened obliquely with the sack, then asked for a retraction (which he refused to give) and finally learned – from someone in the whips’ office – that his party leader was considering phoning up McGinn’s father to whip the errant whipper-in into line. On the programme, McGinn said: “The modus operandi that he [Corbyn] and the people around him were trying to do [sic], involving my family, was to isolate and ostracise me from them and from the community I am very proud to come from – which is an Irish nationalist community in south Armagh.”

Needless to say, the Labour leader’s office has continued to deny any such thing, but while we may nurture some suspicions about his behaviour, McGinn was also indulging in a little airbrushing when he described south Armagh as an “Irish ­nationalist community”. In the most recent elections, Newry and Armagh returned three Sinn Fein members to the Northern Ireland Assembly (as against one Social Democratic and Labour Party member) and one Sinn Fein MP to Westminster. When I last looked, Sinn Fein was still a republican, rather than a nationalist, party – something that McGinn should only be too well aware of, as the paternal hand that was putatively to have been lain on him belongs to Pat McGinn, the former Sinn Fein mayor of Newry and Armagh.

According to the Irish News, a “close friend” of the McGinns poured this cold water on the mini-conflagration: “Anybody who knows the McGinn family knows that Pat is very proud of Conor and that they remain very close.” The friend went on to opine: “He [Pat McGinn] found the whole notion of Corbyn phoning him totally ridiculous – as if Pat is going to criticise his son to save Jeremy Corbyn’s face. They would laugh about it were it not so sinister.”

“Sinister” does seem the mot juste. McGinn, Jr grew up in Bessbrook during the Troubles. I visited the village in the early 1990s on assignment. The skies were full of the chattering of British army Chinooks, and there were fake road signs in the hedgerows bearing pictograms of rifles and captioned: “Sniper at work”. South Armagh had been known for years as “bandit country”. There were army watchtowers standing sentinel in the dinky, green fields and checkpoints everywhere, manned by some of the thousands of the troops who had been deployed to fight what was, in effect, a low-level counter-insurgency war. Nationalist community, my foot.

What lies beneath the Corbyn-McGinn spat is the queered problematics of the ­relationship between the far left wing of the Labour Party and physical-force Irish republicanism. I also recall, during the hunger strikes of the early 1980s, going to a “Smash the H-Blocks” rally in Kilburn, north London, at which Labour Party speakers shared the stage with representatives from Sinn Fein, some of whom wore balaclavas and dark glasses to evade the telephoto lenses of the Met’s anti-terrorist squad.

The shape-shifting relationship between the “political wing” of the IRA and the men with sniper rifles in the south Armagh bocage was always of the essence of the conflict, allowing both sides a convenient fiction around which to posture publicly and privately negotiate. In choosing to appear on platforms with people who might or might not be terrorists, Labour leftists also sprinkled a little of their stardust on themselves: the “stardust” being the implication that they, too, under the right circumstances, might be capable of violence in pursuit of their political ends.

On the far right of British politics, Her Majesty’s Government and its apparatus are referred to derisively as “state”. There were various attempts in the 1970s and 1980s by far-right groupuscules to link up with the Ulster Freedom Fighters and other loyalist paramilitary organisations in their battle against “state”. All foundered on the obvious incompetence of the fascists. The situation on the far left was different. The socialist credentials of Sinn Fein/IRA were too threadbare for genuine expressions of solidarity, but there was a sort of tacit confidence-and-supply arrangement between these factions. The Labour far left provided the republicans with the confidence that, should an appropriately radical government be elected to Westminster, “state” would withdraw from Northern Ireland. What the republicans did for the mainland militants was to cloak them in their penumbra of darkness: without needing to call down on themselves the armed might of “state”, they could imply that they were willing to take it on, should the opportunity arise.

I don’t for a second believe that Corbyn was summoning up these ghosts of the insurrectionary dead when he either did or did not threaten to phone McGinn, Sr. But his supporters need to ask themselves what they’re getting into. Their leader, if he was to have remained true to the positions that he has espoused over many years, should have refused to sit as privy counsellor upon assuming his party office, and refused all the other mummery associated with the monarchical “state”. That he didn’t do so was surely a strategic decision. Such a position would make him utterly unelectable.

The snipers may not be at work in south Armagh just now – but there are rifles out there that could yet be dug up. I wouldn’t be surprised if some in Sinn Fein knew where they are, but one thing’s for certain: Corbyn hasn’t got a clue, bloody or otherwise. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser