Centre for British Politics

Fiction and British Politics

Conference Report

On 11 December 2009, Nottingham University's Centre for British Politics held a conference at the British Academy that drew together politicians, writers and academics to explore the interaction of British politics and fiction.

Labour politicians Joe Ashton ( Grass Roots ) and Chris Mullin ( A Very British Coup ) explained why they had felt it worth their while to write novels about politics, both of which coincidentally depicted the defeat of their principled socialist protagonists. If money was a consideration, so was the desire to explore political issues through fiction and for new kinds of audiences. Alistair Beaton ( The Trial of Tony Blair ), Maurice Gran ( The New Statesman ), James Graham ( Toryboyz ) and Tony Saint ( Margaret Thatcher. The Long Walk to Finchley) discussed their motives for writing about politics, indicating that even those working in comedy have their own perspectives and concerns they want to express. Indeed, during the closing roundtable Lawrence Marks, co-creator of Alan B'Stard, revealed that this character – who epitomized the Tory ‘sleaze’ of the 1990s - grew out of his experience as a journalist researching the Thorpe case . The difficulty of getting works deemed ‘political’ through the television commissioning process was also something of a common experience.

The academics present explored some of the more theoretical issues posed by looking at fictions about politics, drawing together the concerns of political thought, history, literature and film studies as well cultural studies. They also looked at specific examples of fictions about politics from Henry VI, the Sherlock Holmes stories, the interwar novels of Winifred Holtby and the Labour MP Ellen Wilkinson, through to the more recent examples such as The Amazing Mrs Pritchard.  While the likes of Yes Minister and The Thick of It were inevitably discussed at length during the day, it became clear that there are many fictions about politics - such as the obscure Old Mother Riley MP (1939) that remain to be properly analysed. Given the increasing stress on how political ideas are constructed the possible role played by such fictions in shaping how we see politics is something that clearly requires further exploration.

The conference generated considerable media interest: organizer Professor Steven Fielding was interviewed on The Week at Westminster while PM and Politics UK on the World Service talked to some of those who spoke on the day. For those who missed it, the conference website contains video interviews  with some of the speakers to give a flavour of the day, and a special edition of Parliamentary Affairs will be published in 2011.

This report is also published in the March edition of Political Studies News (page 8)


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