It is well worth catching up with the remarkable drama ‘Reg’ first screened by the BBC. This review in the Guardian gives a fair flavour:
It was one of the best TV plays I’ve seen for years. I may be biased since I find Tony Blair more loathsome than Margaret Thatcher. At least she was honest about her intentions and did not seek to make line her pockets on Blair’s prodigious scale, one that renders words like ‘greedhead’ inadequate. So a programme about a campaign to unseat Blair held special interest.
The script did not make clear who, apart from unnamed Labour MPs, initiated the attempt to kick out Blair. Apparently, former ‘Monty Python’ actor Terry Jones was one of the first possible candidates (https://newint.org/…/2015/05/07/reg-keys-against-tony-blair/). Given that Keys was the main character and that Tim Roth gave such a comnpelling portrayal of him, such absences were not too critical.
The drama did spotlight the celebrities such as Frederick Forsyth and Martin Bell who came to help Keys. Missing were those Labour and trade unionists who backed him. It must have cost them dearly in terms of personal friendships. That said, there is only so much a play can cover without losing coherence and focus.
Apart from the Keys family, the main character was former Labour MP Bob Clay who acted as the election agent and campaign organiser for Keys. This gave the play added appeal since we used to share a house with Clay in the late 1970s (when he was known as ‘Rob’, a bit less proletarian than ‘Bob’). The representation of Rob-Bob in the play accorded with my experiences of him.
Bob Clay had been the organiser for a quasi-Trotskyist grouplet called the International Socialists on Teesside. At that time, I was also a member of the IS but here in Newcastle. We and others such as Roger Protz (later of CAMRA fame) were expelled for opposing the sudden change to a Leninist-style organisation [For political necrophiliacs, this sorry story is entertainingly, if bitterly, told here: https://www.marxists.org/archive/higgins/…/locust/chap13.htm].
Bob had shown himself to be a very gifted organiser with a keen eye for what needed to be done and how it might be best accomplished. This came across strongly in the “Reg’ play. What does not come across (and it was irrelevant to the story anyway) were the common downsides to such skills.
Such people are often prone to sudden whims regarding what they convince themselves are great opportunities. Once their minds are made up, it is extremely hard to change them. Worse and particularly true of Bob’s case, they tend to see the world in binary terms: you are either totally in agreement with what they are doing or you are an enemy. To that extent, they can become wreckers, causing harmful, rancorous and often actually quite unnecessary divisions. Any organisation appointing full- or part-time organisers really does need to be on its guard about what they might get.
The depressing thing about the Reg Keys story was that he only came fourth in the General Election. Sedgefield had plenty of people who did not like Blair for one reason or another. But such is the mind-numbing effect of ‘Labourism’ that such people still turn up as sheep to vote for Blair and his ilk.
Bob is apparently now a Labour councillor in Swansea. Presumably he is singing that tired old song of changing the Labour Party from the inside. It has been tried umpteen times and each time the effort came to nothing. In some ways, the ‘Labour Left’ is like the Bourbon Kings of France of whom it was said that they learned nothing and forgot nothing. But, with Momentum, people are trying yet again, It is the Labour of Sisyphus. It also hinders the emergence of a genuinely radical and relevant politics for our times.