ONE of the UK’s most influential playwrights Sir David Hare has said politics has been “diminished” by the loss of “radical” politicians such as John Smith and Robin Cook, who he described as “giants” who pushed Westminster to the left after being sent there by Scotland.
Hare, speaking to Scotland on Sunday at the start of the revival of his state of the nation play, The Absence Of War, said the party no longer had figures of such stature.
The Absence Of War chronicles a Labour leader’s doomed election campaign in the early 1990s – with echoes of Neil Kinnock’s defeat in 1992.
Hare said that Smith, Kinnock’s shadow chancellor in 1992, who then led the party when the play first opened in late 1993 just before his death in May 1994, was part of a generation of radical Scottish politicians who had protected the rest of the UK from “cruel accountants in the Home Counties” and curbed the excesses of the Tories in the 1980s and 1990s.
Hare, who has Scottish roots, with his mother hailing from Paisley, said the revival of The Absence Of War was partly intended to “stir memories” of politicians like Smith, widely viewed as one of the founding fathers of devolution.
He talked about the show’s attempt to chronicle what he said was the “heroism” of Labour politicians such as Smith and Gordon Brown “at his best”, who Hare said had left a lasting legacy by pursuing the redistribution of wealth.
Hare, who was granted behind-the-scenes access to Labour’s campaign in 1992, also singled out the late Robin Cook, a key decision-maker in Kinnock’s election strategy team along with Smith.
He said: “They seem like giants. Cook you might say is the only politician to come out well of the last 15 years or so. I hope there’s something of that heroism in the play. I don’t see much evidence of that now and it’s diminished our politics.”
The Absence Of War, stars Reece Dinsdale as party leader George Jones – a man plagued by a hostile media and beset by divisions in his party, including a rift with his shadow chancellor over tax plans with echoes of the clash between Kinnock and Smith in 1992.
Hare said: “Obviously I’m trying to stir memories of those people I admired and of their resilience and humour in defeat.
“I want Scotland to be part of the UK and have the effect of the Scottish progressive instinct, which led to radical Scottish politicians like Robin Cook, John Smith and Brown – at his best – being sent to Westminster.
“Without their influence the rest of us in the UK would be dominated by cruel accountants in the Home Counties.”
Hare added: “Brown was a radical chancellor and a good traditional Labour chancellor, who achieved a lot with the redistribution of wealth.”