A Westminster story – realism versus idealism in coalition and love

In 2015, I was developing a play inspired by the Greek tragedy of Antigone. I was captivated by the famous scene where Antigone’s Uncle Creon tries to stop her sacrificing her life by arguing reason, compromise and a realistic view of the world. She, however, does not relent and her idealistic principles lead to her death. I both admired her brave commitment to her unique moral compass and was equally frustrated by her lack of ability to compromise and save her life. This led me to wonder; what would a modern day ‘Antigone’ look like?

A coalition government seemed like the perfect context for this character and the question; when is it right to stand up for our principles at any cost and when is it smarter to compromise? In my view, the Lib Dems were brutally and unfairly punished in 2015. Perhaps their compromises could have been smarter, but does that mean their whole collaborative approach was at fault?

So ‘A Westminster Story’ follows a love story between a free spirited Scottish musician and a Lib Dem politician in a fictional Lib Dem/Tory coalition. The issue of realism verses idealism is broadened to relationships; is there such a thing as a soul mate or are all relationships a compromise and exercise in collaboration?

I would love to hear your opinions on these issues and your response to the play. If you come to see it, do get in touch with your response, or write your responses here on Liberal Democrat Voice.

Here are the details:

Synopsis:

A liberal politician wrestles with his conscience; should he compromise his ideals to lead his party into a coalition? His wife is determined to get on the front benches whatever the cost.

A free spirited Scottish musician arrives in London, keen to reconnect to her brother. He’s wary of his sister’s return and anxious to keep his addictions hidden.

One night, the musician and the politician meet on the Albert Embankment and find an unexpected friendship. As their connection deepens, love and politics become entangled.

Dates: 25th February – 1st March
Times: 7.30pm (Tues to Sat), 4.00pm (Sun)
Running Time: 2 hours
Venue: Waterloo East Theatre, Brad St, Lambeth SE1 8TN
Website: www.waterlooeast.co.uk/a-westminster-story
Instagram: @ful_hue_theatre

* Sal Fulcher is a writer, psychotherapist and Liberal Democrat member in Harringey.

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11 Comments

  • Jane Ann Liston 10th Feb '20 - 12:16pm

    I thought that one of the main points about Antigone’s defiance of Creon is that by forbidding the burial (even the scattering a few handfuls of earth over his body) of Polynices, he was outraging public decency. Hence Antigone’s defiance of him. The other important point about Creon is that he refuses to compromise and, as Haemon points out, those who do not bend will break.

  • Paul Barker 10th Feb '20 - 1:24pm

    There is actually a question whether “Punishment” by Voters was the only factor & what We were being punished for.
    Part of our problem was that some Voters didnt see Us as “Part” of the Government, we were just seen as hangers-on. We gave up the “Role” we had without gaining another.
    Certainly some Voters wanted to Punish us but part of that was that they didnt see us as “Government Material”, they thought we were too big for our boots.
    Even a Libdem Led Administration might come in for Punishment at the following Election, we just have to make sure that its worth it.

  • Paul Pettinger 10th Feb '20 - 2:08pm

    Other liberal parties in Europe regularly join coalitions, but rarely alternate between supporting Govts of the left and right and, when they do, it usually has damaging consequences for them. As a social liberal party, the Lib Dems joining coalitions with Cons is not realistic and, for many of us, far from ideal!

  • Maybe it’s really just about power and taking your chance when it arrives. The Top players in the Coalition for the Lib Dems got their seat at the table and went on to wallet busting careers after the destruction of the party. The Lib Dems have to answer the tricky messy questions about the cruelty and misery of the Coalition years and Danny Alexander doesn’t..the party has been left in this position by people who moved on and can get on with their new careers etc. All a bit sad when you think about it.

  • Nom de Plume 10th Feb '20 - 4:23pm

    I don’t think it was a great Greek tragedy. More like naivity, some careerism and a loss of a sense for principles and purpose once in power (and independent of the membership). In other words, normal politics. It has left the Party in a bit of a hole.

    Some might argue it was compromise. I would argue that it was too compromised.

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Feb '20 - 8:32pm

    We ought to have given Brexit as an example of what happens when no-one will compromise. Brexit did not happen for years after the referendum because whatever form was proposed there were some who said they supported Brexit, but did not support that form. Instead, we allowed the extremist to make the false claim that Brexit did not happen only because Leave supporters would not let it happen and so refuse to accept the referendum.

    Something similar would have happened had no compromise coalition taken place in 2010. Sure, every MP could vote against anything that was not what they really wanted. But then the danger is that the result would be the default of what happens when nothing is organised. For example, the danger of voting against tuition fees and then voting against tax increases to pay for universities is that universities would have ended up with no money, and they would all have had to close down.

    I think it would be hypocritical to support a multi-party system, but then not to agree to coalitions that have to be formed as no party gets a majority. However, we needed to make it clear that as just a small part of the only coalition that could be formed following the 2010 general election, we wold play only a small part in it, and we were no in a position to be able to get the Conservative to drop the main thing they stand for and switch to accepting instead our policies. We were greatly weakened by the disproportional representation system that made us just one-sixth of the coalition, whereas proportional representation would have made us two fifths of it. Proportional representation would also have made a Labour-LibDem coalition viable, so we would have been able to act much more strongly, at least if Labour was prepared to offer an alternative that gave in more to us.

    But we said none of this in the 2015 or the 2017 or the 2019 general election. And during the Coalition, our leader kept giving the impression that the Coalition was a wonderful government, rather than one were we reluctantly had to give up much of what we really wanted due to being just a small part of it. So that has destroyed our party, because most people now seem to think that we are the true heirs of the pre-referendum Conservative Party, and most of our voters in the seats we used to win were people who voted for us seeing us as the best opposition to the Conservatives.

  • Alex Macfie 10th Feb '20 - 9:01pm

    I can think of a scarcely more inappropriate analogy for Coalition government than a love story. Yesterday’ s i paper has a letter from one David Becket (who I assume to be the David Becket of this parish) where he points out that the biggest mistake by our leadership at the time of the Coalition was to do it as a “love-in” when it should have been done as a business arrangement. Lib Dems had lots of experience negotiating coalitions at various levels of authority, but Clegg & co refused to take advice from those who had been involved in those negotiations, hence the 2015 electoral disaster.

  • I do not claim to be familiar with Greek tragedies. As far as collations are concerned though I believe that we can look at events in Ireland from the perspective of personal relationships. The contribution of personal relationships in the Good Friday agreement in the North has been widely discussed. As I was watching the RTE coverage of the Election count over the week end – thanks to the BBC web site – I was struck by the lack of obvious animosity of the politicians to one another. A comment was made that there was a similar constructive attitude in the leaders’ debate which RTE had broadcast.
    Perhaps expectations play a big role. You are perhaps careful in insulting those that you will need to persuade you in government.

  • By the way, I have just opened Lord Ashcroft’s latest report – “Diagnosis of defeat: Labour’s turn to smell the coffee”. Perhaps we could persuade him to do a similar report on the Liberal Democrats?

  • John Bicknell 11th Feb '20 - 9:55am

    I think that there was a belief that one of the main reasons why people were wary of voting Lib Dem was that it would make a coalition government more likely, and that such governments were inherently weak and unstable. Thus, there was a determination to prove this prejudice wrong, and show that Lib Dems were prepared to be responsible coalition partners, even if this meant sacrificing some principles, and putting on a show of unity. Sadly, although the 2010-15 government was strong and stable (whatever else one might think of it), political commentators still refer to the possibility of any coalition administration in negative terms – the prejudice has still not been killed off – whilst the determination to present a show of collective responsibility has only fuelled the accusations of betrayal (not least amongst the Lib Dems themselves).

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