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Simon Callow

11 April 06 09:39 GMT

Westminster hasn't stopped all week. What a performance! We asked actor Simon Callow, star of Four Weddings and Shakespeare In Love for his Take Of The Week.

" A big week in politics, eh?

Big deal, I say. The main event was the election of a new leader for the Liberal Democrats. A choice between three shades of grey, and the winner was... grey.

Meanwhile, David Cameron had his Clause Four moment. Well, apparently; it passed me by. Essentially, he's now admitted that his job is to model himself as closely as possible on Tony Blair: the bland imitating the bland.

"I can be fat; I can be thin"

Electability is the name of the game, which is to say that if there's anything you the voters don't like, we'll drop it, immediately.

One's rather reminded of Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie: "I can be tall; I can be short; I can be fat; I can be thin".

There are certain similarities between politics and my world, the world of the theatre.

The theatre used to be led and dominated by huge, outsize personalities. Nowadays, the leaders of the profession are much smoother, much more generic, as you might say.

And one remembers in politics characters like Macmillan: widely perceived as a conjurer, as a boulevardier, as a soft shoe merchant.

It's completely inconceivable nowadays that Winston Churchill would be allowed to run a political party. Far too dangerous; far too risky.

Bottom fallen out?

Wisdom; life experience; what the Edwardians used to call "bottom" - weight of character - no longer mean anything at all. The day of the character actor as star in theatre and in politics is obviously over. No more Laughtons; no more Spencer Tracys.

When the Tories had a chance to elect Falstaff in the shape of Ken Clarke, they passed it over. A man who, at the very least, speaks the language of the people. He certainly wears their shoes.

We're left with a feeling that politicians no longer believe in ideas as such, but simply in themselves. "Elect me," they say, "elect me and I'll make it all work, no matter how."

The political stage will become increasingly unimportant unless it fosters drama of real conviction, with real characters on it -- otherwise the punters will just stay away.


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