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Thursday, 7 November, 2002, 14:52 GMT
New Labour, the mini-series
Matthew Macfadyen in The Project
Matthew Macfadyen plays an idealistic Labour staffer

For New Labourites working in government or the party, no contemporary political drama can beat The West Wing.

And no wonder. The US show is unashamedly feelgood in its portrayal of idealistic folk battling nobly to make the world a better place, all under the paternalistic leadership of a sage-like president.

How unlike the escapades of our own Jo "bury the bad news" Moore.

The Project, our home-grown version, offers a bleaker vision.

Set against the backdrop of real events, the two-part film charts the rise of three archetypal New Labour types - an ambitious Blair babe, a machinating spin doctor and an idealistic special adviser - from 1992 to 2001.

The idealism they start out with is progressively compromised until they are running dirty tricks operations against their opponents and doing over their own mates.

Where principles clash with ambition, ambition wins the day.

No Labour co-operation

From the moment they realised it was being put together, the New Labour establishment was not amused.

Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's head of communications, reportedly instructed staff not to co-operate with the makers - something he now denies.

Nevertheless, director Peter Kosminsky and his team talked to over 100 people in and around the New Labour firmament across the relevant period. It shows, too.

The film makers - and their lawyers - are at pains to insist the characters within it are fictional, rather than caricatures of the individuals we know to be at the centre of the events shown.

But there are plenty of incidents which will ring loud bells for many.

At one stage a Labour aide pretends to be a journalist so he can trawl for information at a Conservative event.

Elsewhere, a senior BBC editor is tempted from her job to a supposedly central role at New Labour's HQ, only to find herself sidelined and unable to return to journalism.

After the party's 1997 landslide, backroom boys set about the task of unearthing the dirt on the unexpected glut of MPs in preparation should any of them prove "troublesome".

Familiar to many

A focus group supremo argues with the people he is supposed to be impartially polling when they come up with the "wrong" answers. When his subsequent "findings" fail to accord with what his boss wants to hear, the pollster massages his results.

A special adviser is despatched to "help" on a government bill being put together in order to meet a pledge rashly made in the days of opposition, but his real task is to smother the issue.

Just about anyone who was around at Westminster for the decade covered in the film, either working within or reporting closely on New Labour, will be very familiar with these vignettes of life at the heart of the project.

Another thing the film successfully captures is some of the atmosphere at the very centre of events during a political party's high octane journey into power: always exciting, often adrenalin-fuelled and at times euphoric.

While being all of these, however, one thing it would never be described as is a pleasant place to be - another stark contrast to the rose-tinted West Wing.

The Project is on BBC One on Sunday 10 and Monday 11 November

See also:

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