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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > October 2017 > Playing with power

Playing with power

James Graham tells Andrew Dickson about his new play tracing Labour’s ups and downs—and his plans for a British version of The West Wing
MIKE MCGREGOR/GETTY IMAGES

The publication of the election exit poll at 10pm on 8th June was a plot twist worthy of the wildest of melodramas. Even by the turbulent standards of current politics, the prospect of a resurgent Jeremy Corbyn denying Theresa May a majority seemed so unlikely that few regarded it as credible. Journalists rushed to delete Labour’s political obituaries; pollsters were, yet again, dumbfounded. Judging by Corbyn’s reaction at his Islington count a few hours later, he was as flabbergasted as anyone.

Spare a thought, then, for James Graham. On election night he was drinking with friends, taking a break from a play he’d been working on for seven years. Labour of Love was supposed to tell the story of 25 years of Labour Party history, from Neil Kinnock’s failure to beat John Major in 1992 to what most people assumed would be an even more calamitous defeat in 2017. Actors had been cast and a theatre booked for the autumn; the script was nearly done. Everyone knew how the saga would pan out. Until, of course, they didn’t.

“I did have an existential crisis moment,” Graham admitted when we spoke recently, looking tortured by the memory. “It wasn’t just a case of having to change the bloody ending; the premise of the play had to shift. Nothing to do with my opinion of Jeremy Corbyn or the direction of the Labour Party, but I just assumed like everybody else that it was going to be an autopsy.” He threw up his hands. “And now we’re in a different world.”

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In Prospect’s October issue: Andrew Adonis, Steve Richards, Gaby Hinsliff, Rachel Sylvester and Jennifer Williams look at the idea that leadership is the only thing that matters when it comes to elections. Adonis leads the cover package arguing exactly that point and outlining his ratings of the leaders who have competed every election in the UK and the United States since 1944—Richards offers a rebuttal. Hinsliff, Sylvester and Williams profile three potential leaders in waiting—Amber Rudd, Jo Swinson and Angela Rayner. Elsewhere in the issue we map out the potential road the UK might travel down to stay in the European Union and explore the relationship between UN Secretary General António Guterres and Donald Trump as the two prepare to meet at the UN. Also in this issue: Philip Collins on the similarities between Britain’s Brexiteers and the Gaullists of yesteryear, John Bercow explains how parliament could function better and our “View from” comes from Nairobi, where the recent election result has been annulled.
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