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Tuesday, 30 July, 2002, 11:24 GMT 12:24 UK
TV drama highlights Millbank masses
Stars of the show are activists who worked on 1997 poll
Mark Davies

A new television drama highlighting the role played by young activists in Labour's 1997 election triumph is said to be troubling party chiefs.

The Project is due to be aired in the autumn.


Decisions were being made, not in cabinet but by a tight circle of people, some of whom had not been elected

Leigh Jackson
The fear among Labour leaders is that the drama will distort the role played by the ranks of young activists who staffed the party's Millbank HQ in the run-up to the election.

But Alastair Campbell, the prime minister's communications chief, has denied ordering Labour staff to shun the programme makers.

Depending on who you ask, the Millbank masses were either the pack horses upon whom Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson built their success or key strategists in the birth of New Labour.

And The Project is set to cast them in the latter category - and worse still as far as Mr Campbell is concerned, suggest that many are now disillusioned by Labour's record in power.

Spy

Programme makers Peter Kosminsky and Leigh Jackson are reported to have consulted more than 120 party members and staff over the drama.

This film is about idealistic young people who want to help Labour get into power and, ultimately, change things

Peter Kosminsky

They insist that it is not based on any real-life party workers.

The drama focuses on the lives and careers of four young Labour activists during the party's rise to power.

It is to star Matthew McFadyen, who appeared in the recent spy drama Spooks.

"The Project is a fictional drama set within a factual framework, and provides an insight into New Labour's political coup d'etat within the Labour Party, based on exhaustive research," Mr Kosminsky said when the drama was announced.

Transformation

"This film is about idealistic young people who want to help Labour get into power and, ultimately, change things. It is a realistic portrayal of how we got to May 1, 1997 and what happened afterwards."

Matthew McFadyen
Star: McFadyen starred in spy drama Spooks
The programme begins with the main characters still at university and follows their lives as they begin their political careers at Millbank and then at Downing Street.

And according to the pre-publicity, it will expose "the machinations behind the party's transformation into the sharp, media-aware voice of professional, middle-England".

The two central characters in The Project - Paul, played by McFadyen and Maggie, played by Naomi Harris - share a "deep rooted passion for politics...matched by their intense rivalry and passion for each other".

But their friendship comes under threat, as do their political beliefs as they rise within New Labour.

'Tight circle'

Speaking when the drama was launched in May, writer Leigh Jackson said: "Most of us want what is best for ourselves and our families so we look to a government to be fair.

"There was great anticipation when New Labour came to power in 1997 but it quickly became difficult to tell where Tory rule ended and New Labour began.

"Decisions were being made, not in cabinet but by a tight circle of people, some of whom had not been elected."

The suggestion that some party activists became the people making vital decisions is mocked by Labour chiefs.

But it is certainly true that some of those who worked alongside the architects of New Labour took on key roles alongside them in government.

Heart

Their level of influence is matter of some debate.

Some, particularly those who worked alongside Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, went on to policy-making posts and have subsequently become MPs.

Others continue to work at the heart of government in policy roles or as spin doctors, or have since left for highly-paid jobs in the private sector.

Derek Draper, for instance, a former aide to Peter Mandelson, went into lobbying - a well worn path - and then advertising before deciding to retrain as a pschotherapist.

There were also those who fell by the wayside - some disillusioned, others simply surplus to requirements.

The Project is described by BBC Controller of Drama Commissioning Jane Tranter as "a hugely ambitious drama that looks into the very heart of our country's governance and beyond".

Determination

She says it examines the transformation of Labour "from an organisation incapable of capturing the popular vote into a fighting machine that won the election landslide of 1997".

It then goes on to examine "the nation's hopes for lasting change that followed, and the party's dedicated determination to win a second term, whatever the cost," she said.

The programme is one of a number of BBC dramas with a political dimension in the pipeline.

Also coming up is State of Play, a Whitehall-based thriller about the death of a young political intern who is having an affair with a New Labour minister.

The Jeffrey Archer saga is to be explored in a satire by Drop The Dead Donkey writer Guy Jenkin, while a drama called The Key will examine 100 years of the unions and socialism in Scotland.

See also:

06 Jun 02 | Politics
25 Jul 02 | Politics
09 Jul 02 | Politics
30 Apr 02 | Politics
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