What You Can Get Away With » Being pro-politics is not the same as being pro-politician

Lib Dem Voice have produced a remake of the old ‘where is the British West Wing?’ posts of a few years ago by asking ‘where is the British Borgen?

(The answer to that question is ‘waiting for someone to forget the poor ratings previous dramas about politicians got or for someone to come up with a good story’, by the way)

However, the part that struck me (from Alistair Campbell’s tweet that kicked it off and used repeatedly in the following discussions) is the idea that there aren’t ‘pro-politics’ dramas on British TV. The problem with that belief is that there are lots of incredibly political dramas on British TV, it’s just that they’re not about politicians. Campbell et al believe that ‘politics’ solely relates to ‘what we do’ – usually white men in suits arguing with each other – whereas politics actually covers a much wider range of interactions between people and power.

For instance, Jimmy McGovern’s stories are usually intensely political, showing what effect the system and its policies can have on people, but they rarely feature actual politicians. Spooks – particularly in the early series – often addressed the fundamental political issue of where the balance between liberty and security should be struck, and how dangerous it can be to give the state too much power. Even Holby City and Casualty have regularly shown the effects of changes to NHS policy over the years.

‘Political drama’ does not have to mean ‘drama about politicians’ – indeed, making it about politicians can get in the way of making a political point. The old adage of storytelling and scriptwriting is ‘show, don’t tell’, and a political drama needs to show the effects of the policies it’s looking at. Those effects aren’t normally felt within the corridors of the power (except sometimes changing who gets to walk them) but they are felt outside Whitehall and Parliament. Great storytelling is about great characters and the way they deal with the world around them, and the story of someone dealing with the consequences of a political decision and how it affects their life is normally a much more interesting story to watch than the debates that led up to that policy being enacted.

Politicians forget that they’re just a part of the political process and that their little bubble of process isn’t the entirety of it. Britain has a long and fine tradition of drama that’s pro-politics, and doesn’t flinch from showing the effects policy has on people’s lives. To ignore that, and imagine that politics is only important when it’s about politicians is another reflection of how the practice and the reality of politics are becoming completely separated in this country.

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