To lose one prime minister

Pakistan’s military are doing their damndest to prevent a civilian government reaching an unprecedented full-term.

On many levels the Zardari government, now less than a year away from full-term, has been doing quite well - with no will to solve the energy crisis but passing significant legislation that protects democracy, as opposed to military rule, in Pakistan.

The literal reporting by the international press of Pakistan’s prime ministerial woes – Yousuf Raza Gilani, after the longest PM-ship ever in Pakistan’s history was forced to stand down for refusing to write to the Swiss authorities over corruption charges relating to Zardari, his initial replacement Makhdoom Shahabuddin was blown straight out of the water when a judge ordered his arrest on illegal drug imports, but Raja Pervaiz Ashraf has now been appointed – has done nothing to tell the real story. 

For that you will have to read Mohammed Hanif in the Guardian, about the only voice of clarity available to UK readers. 

To lose one prime minister may be regarded as a misfortune but to have two headed off  looks like the military have been up to their old tricks. Caretaker governments were the stuff of military intervention after they had despatched civilian governments in what Musharraf called in his memoirs “that dreadful decade of democracy”. This is not quite a caretaker government, but as Hanif describes, the military are behind a revitalised supreme court that in the last six months has been in the business of attacking the Zardari government, while leaving military wrong-doings, such as questions over the assassination of Salmaan Taseer, governor of Punjab, and of Shahbaz Bhatti, Christian minister for minorities, and the death of journalist Saleem Shahzad, on the back burner.

In mid-June the judicial commission tasked with looking into Memogate, the “documentation” provided by nude wrestling adjudicator  Mansoor Ijaz that the Zardari government through its civilian ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani had tried to move against the military upheld Ijaz’s spurious claims.

It is not a coincidence that a week before the commission was due to announce its findings Asma Jahangir, Pakistan’s leading human rights barrister, chief counsel for Husain Haqqani and contributor to the New Statesman, was made aware of a plan to assassinate her.

The background to memogate is here, Mansoor Ijaz’s track record of contributions to the Financial Times here.

Pakistan’s leading liberal daily, Tribune, ran the following editorial in mid-June:

It is in the nature of those [the military] opposed to civilian rule to change the subject from their misdeeds. In this case, the distraction was memogate and the scapegoat was Husain Haqqani.

Twittersphere followed up: “Shame on a country which declares its doctors, diplomats, poets and scholars as traitors, and garlands jihadist killers and eulogises them”. “Husain Haqqani is not a traitor he is a patriotic Pakistani. Real traitors are those acquit jihadis and penalise liberals”.

That, at present and until it does its proper job and brings the military under the rule of law too, looks like the supreme court. 

 

Yousuf Raza Gilani, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan who was ousted in April 2012. Photo: Getty Images
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Britain's diversity crisis starts with its writers. Here's why

What happens on the casting couch draws the headline, but the problem starts on the page, says James Graham. 

I’m a playwright and screenwriter, which – pertinent to the issues we’ll be discussing in this enquiry – still feels weird to say. I get embarrassed, still, saying that, in a taxi or hairdressers. I don’t know why I still carry that insecurity about saying I’m a writer, but I do, because it sounds like I’m lying, even in my own head.

Obviously I’m completely biased, and probably overstating the influence and importance of my own profession, but I think so many of the problems surrounding lack of representation in the performing arts start with writers.

If we aren’t encouraging and generating writers from certain communities, classes or backgrounds to tell their stories, to write those roles, then there’s not going to be a demand for actors from those communities to play them. For casting agents or drama schools to prioritise getting diverse actors on stage. We need to create those plays and TV dramas –like the ones that I grew up with. I didn’t have any access to much theatre until I was fifteen, but I did have Boys From the Black Stuff, and I did have Cracker, and I did have Band of Gold. I think the loss of those regional producing bodies – Central, Granada – now all completely centralised into London, means that we just tell less of those stories. I remember a TV show called Boon – anyone? – which was set in Nottingham, and I would see on the TV streets I’d walked down, and think, Oh my God, that actor is walking down a street I’ve walked down. That sounds like it’s insignificant. If you’re from a town that is deprived, that feels ignored, it isn’t.

I was very lucky that at my school (which was, at the time, the largest comprehensive school in the country), from the headmaster down to the drama teachers, everyone just believed that working class kids should do plays. Be in plays, read plays, perform plays to the community. Both inside the curriculum of the school day, and outside it – drama teachers dedicating their time to staying behind. Our head of drama identified a group of us who clearly had a passion for it. We weren’t likely thesps. One lad’s entire family were made unemployed when the pit closed. Many lived on the big council estate. My parents and step-parents worked respectively in warehouses, the local council, or as the local window cleaner (incidentally, my first real job. Which I was terrible at).

Our drama teacher was encouraged and determined enough to launch the first ever Drama A-Level in our school. Based on that, about 10 or 12 of us got the confidence – or arrogance – to take our own show to the Edinburgh Festival. We were 16 or 17, and the first people in our community to ever go to visit the festival. We did a play up there, and after that, a psychological unlocking happened, where I thought: maybe I could do a degree in drama (it was the first time I had ever thought to do so) at university (the first in my family to go. Well, joint-first. My twin sister went on the same day, but I walked into my digs first).

I enrolled in drama at Hull University. A high proportion of my peers were middle class. A higher proportion from London or the South East. They talked often about institutions I had never heard of. They were talking about the National Theatre: I didn’t know we had a national theatre that my parents had been paying tax for that I had never been to. Many had performed with the (again, apparently) ‘National’ Youth Theatre, also in London. Paul Roseby, also on this panel, has made such leaps forward in getting the NYT producing in regional venues, and making auditions possible for people across the UK, but unfortunately, at the time, that wasn’t the case for me – and I was the ideal candidate to be in the National Youth Theatre.

I started writing because I had the confidence after I read texts by people like Jim Cartwright, Alan Bennett, John Godber, Alan Ayckbourn: Northern writers, working class writers that made me think it wasn’t just something that other people do.

After returning home, and working at local theatres, I moved down to London. I had to. The major new writing producers are there. All the TV companies are there. The agents are there. I was lucky to find support in a pub fringe theatre – though the economics meant there was no money to commission, so I wrote plays for free for about four years, that would get produced, and reviewed in the national press, while I worked various jobs in the day and slept for a time on a mate's floor. The first person to ever pay to commission me to write a play was Paul Roseby of the National Youth Theatre. I’m now very lucky to be earning a living doing something I love. In a way, compared to actors, or directors, it’s easier for writers who don’t come from a background that can sustain them, financially, in those early years. Your hours can be more flexible. Yes, it was annoying to miss rehearsals because I had a shift in a call centre, but it was still possible to do it. If you’re an actor or director, you’re fully committed. And if you’re doing that for nothing, there starts to be cut-off point for those from backgrounds who can’t.

I’m sure that local and regional theatres are the key to drawing in talent from less privileged backgrounds. But the range of national arts journalism that cover work outside London has been so significantly reduced. In our little echo chamber a few weeks ago, we theatre types talked about Lyn Gardner at the Guardian. Her coverage has been cut, which is very directly going to affect her ability to cover theatre shows outside of London – and so the self-fulfilling cycle of artists leaving their communities to work exclusively in London takes another, inevitable, turn.

I am culpable in this cycle. I have never done a play at the Nottingham Playhouse, my local producing house growing up – why? Because I’ve never submitted one, because I know that it will get less national press attention. So I just open it in London instead. That’s terrible of me. And I should just bite the bullet and say it doesn’t matter about the attention it gets, I should just go and do a story for my community. And if I, and others, started doing that more, maybe they will come.

I also want to blame myself for not contributing back to the state schools that I come from. I really really enjoy going to do writing workshops with kids in schools, but I would say 90 per cent of those that I get invited to are private schools, or boarding schools, or in the South of England. Either because they’re the ones that ask me, because they’re the ones who come and see my shows in London and see me afterwards backstage, or because they have the confidence to email my agent, or they have the budget to pay for my train ticket. Either way, I should do more. It would have helped the younger me so much to meet a real person, from my background, doing what I wanted to do.

I don’t know how to facilitate that. I take inspiration from Act for Change, creating a grassroots organisation. I know that there is a wealth of industry professionals like me who would, if there was a joined-up structure in place that got us out there into less privileged communities, we would on a regular basis go to schools who don’t get to meet industry professionals and don’t unlock that cultural and psychological block that working class kids have that says, that is not for me, that is something that other people do, I would dedicate so much of my time to it. That’s just one idea of hopefully better ones from other people that might come out of this enquiry.

James Graham is a playwright and screenwriter. This piece is adapted from evidence given by James Graham at an inquiry, Acting Up – Breaking the Class Ceiling in the Performing Arts, looking into the problem of a lack of diversity and a class divide in acting in the UK, led by MPs Gloria De Piero and Tracy Brabin.