David Hare's In the Absence of War (1994)

Submitted by dalcassian on 24 January, 2017 - 9:19 Author: Sean Matgamna

DAVID HARE'S play is about the tragedy of Neil
Kinnock and those who followed him from the
left of the Labour Party to its Blair-hatching right
in search of electoral success.

At first blush the only tragedy associated with
the story of Neil Kinnock would seem to be the
tragedy of a labour movement that allowed this turncoat
one-time left-winger to be its political leader.

Hare’s Labour leader is a bungler, a lightweight
fellow without much substance to him. When, dur-
ing the General Election campaign, the vain, name-
dropping David Dimbleby-style TV interviewer
mauls him on the screen and delivers as knock-out
punch the rhetorical question: “Surely you are simply
not up to the job?" (of prime minister) you feel
compelled to agree wit him.

This guy seems not to stand for anything very
much except the desire for office; but he seems to
have wandered into the wrong division, to be
seriously out of his class. He doesn't have anything
much to say.

Somewhere along the way, something has hap-
pened to him. He lacks something essential. As his
smooth bourgeois, disloyal Shadow Chancellor
tells him to his face. "You can't cut it. George, can
you?"

You begin to feel sorry for him, and embarrassed,
as he is contemned and mocked and baited,
like a tethered bull, by the Tory media

Why is he like this? How did he get to be the
leader of the Labour Party?

With the election campaign in desperate straits,
it is decided that George will be his "old self" at a
party rally. He will "speak from the heart"; he will
voice his old indignation at the iniquities of capital-
ist society, speak for the voiceless victims of capitalism
as he used to before he let himself be crippled by
the desire to ingratiate himself with the bosses and
their media. He has nothing to lose now. Let the hostile
media make of it what they like.

George tries to "be himself' and finds that he cannot
do it anymore: he is not “himself” anymore.

The mask has displaced the face. The false accent
has displaced the old voice. Floundering George
has to read a prepared routine text.

That scene transforms everything. This fellow
who shuffles around in politics like the person with
the blindfold in blind man's buff has made himself
like that. He has cut out of himself the things that gave
sense and purpose to his life and distinction to his party.
He has decreed, to himself and others, that ”the
dreaming has to stop”.

To make his party electable he has made it hard to
distinguish from the Tory Party – except for their
power, wealth, slickness, and everything that makes
the Tories the natural parry of government for
British capitalism.

Seeking electability at any price he has fostered
inconsequentialitv. He has mutilated himself
— irreparably. He has cut out his own tongue and
heart. Like the real Neil Kinnock his fictional self
sacrificed everything to office and yet failed
to win even that.

It is a tragic story. The implied condemnation is
all the more deadly for the sympathy and pitying
contempt which David Hare gets us to feel for this
character.

Neil and Glynis Kinnock are off now enjoying the
fleshpots of Europe when, in an old-fashioned
tragedy involving honourable people, they would
have hanged themselves from the railings outside
Labour Party Headquarters. Instead, Kinnock
probably thinks he saved the Labour Parry.

David Hare, though he says none of this directly,
has got the real measure of this pathetic man, and the
tragedy of the Labour movement in which such a man
could became a central figure.