David Hare’s 1993 play The Absence of War was in large part about the inability of the Labour Party to win elections. It’s a more interesting and enduring piece of writing than the critics generally took it to be, and I might return to it in future weblog entries. But I thought of it the other day. There’s a scene in the play where George Jones, the fictional leader of the Labour Party (played by John Thaw in the National Theatre’s production) is describing the Conservative Prime Minister, Charles Kendrick.
“I’ve watched him. ‘Massive troop movements’. That’s another favourite of his. He’ll comment on any war. Anywhere. However obscure. I think, why’s he making a statement about some piddling little country ten thousand miles away? And then he’ll say, ‘Overnight there have been massive troop movements.’ He loves them. (He laughs, happy.) After a while, you notice these things.”
It’s not too hard to spot when politicians and journalists are getting a similar frisson of pleasure out of their oh-so-brave words in the current crisis. W. yesterday said he wanted Bin Laden “dead or alive”, and TV reporters in Britain seem to get excited when they talk about secret top-level meetings of the “Cobra group”. I haven’t heard of any “massive troop movements”. But it can only be a matter of time.