Taking things personally

Trevor Nunn's paranoia knows no bounds. In his interview with Johann Hari (Interview, 22 October) he accuses me of "virulently" attacking Nicholas Nickleby: I simply asked, as did others, whether it was part of the RSC's brief to stage adaptations of Victorian novels when there were so many foreign classics awaiting discovery.

It also seems to me a matter of legitimate concern that, in the case of Oklahoma!, My Fair Lady and South Pacific, the National Theatre is being used as a heavily subsidised launchpad for commercially exploitable musicals. In the 12 months following March 2001, incidentally, musicals will have occupied 32 playing weeks in the Olivier and Lyttelton Theatres. That strikes me as excessive.

When Nunn has done good work at the National, as with Troilus and Cressida, Summerfold and The Relapse, I have flung my cap in the air. When the programme has looked unbalanced, I have candidly said so. What I cannot fathom about Trevor Nunn is that, unlike his distinguished predecessors, he seems to regard all criticism as a sign of personal enmity.

Michael Billington
London W4

This article first appeared in the 05 November 2001 issue of the New Statesman, The rise and rise of President Blair

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No, David Cameron’s speech was not “left wing”

Come on, guys.

There is a strange journalistic phenomenon that occurs when a party leader makes a speech. It is a blend of groupthink, relief, utter certainty, and online backslapping. It happened particularly quickly after David Cameron’s speech to Tory party conference today. A few pundits decided that – because he mentioned, like, diversity and social mobility – this was a centre-left speech. A leftwing speech, even. Or at least a clear grab for the liberal centre ground. And so that’s what everyone now believes. The analysis is decided. The commentary is written. Thank God for that.

Really? It’s quite easy, even as one of those nasty, wicked Tories, to mention that you actually don’t much like racism, and point out that you’d quite like poor children to get jobs, without moving onto Labour's "territory". Which normal person is in favour of discriminating against someone on the basis of race, or blocking opportunity on the basis of class? Of course he’s against that. He’s a politician operating in a liberal democracy. And this isn’t Ukip conference.

Looking at the whole package, it was actually quite a rightwing speech. It was a paean to defence – championing drones, protecting Britain from the evils of the world, and getting all excited about “launching the biggest aircraft carriers in our history”.

It was a festival of flagwaving guff about the British “character”, a celebration of shoehorning our history chronologically onto the curriculum, looking towards a “Greater Britain”, asking for more “national pride”. There was even a Bake Off pun.

He also deployed the illiberal device of inculcating a divide-and-rule fear of the “shadow of extremism – hanging over every single one of us”, informing us that children in UK madrassas are having their “heads filled with poison and their hearts filled with hate”, and saying Britain shouldn’t be “overwhelmed” with refugees, before quickly changing the subject to ousting Assad. How unashamedly centrist, of you, Mr Prime Minister.

Benefit cuts and a reduction of tax credits will mean the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm for “equality of opportunity, as opposed to equality of outcome” will be just that – with the outcome pretty bleak for those who end up losing any opportunity that comes with state support. And his excitement about diversity in his cabinet rings a little hollow the day following a tubthumping anti-immigration speech from his Home Secretary.

If this year's Tory conference wins the party votes, it’ll be because of its conservative commitment – not lefty love bombing.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.