Tuesday 11 March 2008

An audience crying out for a happy ending

With the disturbing developments in Jersey remaining high on last week’s news agenda, it seemed a peculiarly appropriate time for Opera North to fill the Theatre Royal with three works about child abuse.

In Madama Butterfly, Cio-Cio-San is a mere child of 15 when she joyously enters her arranged marriage with the worthless American Pinkerton, who then abandons her. The eponymous anti-hero of Peter Grimes is a Suffolk fisherman whose young apprentices have an unfortunate habit of dying, while The Adventures of Pinocchio sees the boy puppet being abused by just about everyone (though it must be said that he does ask for it).

Both the classic productions were every bit as good as I confidently predicted in this column a few weeks ago. I only wish that I had possessed the foresight to make an equally strong recommendation of Pinocchio. It proved fantastic in every sense of the word, and played to too many empty seats.

In addition to the theme of maltreated children, all three operas shared an unexpected common factor: they kept reminding me of our political leaders, and their roles in the other big news stories of last week. The most striking parallel was between Peter Grimes and Gordon Brown, another obsessive outsider for whom everything goes horribly wrong. But the total insincerity with which Pinkerton took his sham marriage vows also recalled the way that the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties pledged to the electorate that we would have a referendum on the European Constitution and then cruelly left us in the lurch.

When Pinocchio’s nose started growing as he told lie after lie, I thought of David Miliband and Nick Clegg protesting that the Lisbon Treaty bore no resemblance to the “abandoned” Constitution, and Jacqui Smith explaining that the national identity database and card scheme was all about making our lives easier. Though the strongest image was of Gordon Brown at Prime Minister’s Questions parroting the tired old line about how 3.5 million British jobs depend on our membership of the European Union, and “Tory intransigence” (i.e. not rolling over and doing anything our partners want) would put them all at risk.

Why do our leaders insist on maintaining the deception that the European Union is all about jobs, trade and prosperity, when from the start it has been a political project designed to remove power from the nations and peoples of the continent and place it in the hands of unelected commissioners, running a single new state? Why do they lie to us about the nature of the Treaty even though we all know that they are lying, and that the reason we cannot have the promised referendum is simply that it would not deliver the result our masters want?

That’s why the only vote on Europe we can be allowed is the one on our entry to the Eurovision song contest.

Politicians, in short, are treating us like children. We see it in their nannying instructions on every detail of our lives from eating, drinking and smoking to cars, plastic bags, patio heaters and rubbish disposal. They pretend to be interested in our views, but treat them with contempt if we do not give them the answer they want on everything from unitary councils to immigration, as well as European integration.

In the operas, the misfit Grimes (like the innocent dupe Butterfly) is driven to suicide. I have no desire for the Prime Minister to share that fate, though I do wish him an early and prolonged retirement to brood in Kirkcaldy. As at the end of The Adventures of Pinocchio, let us replace the puppet with a real person: one capable of ending the abuse of the electorate and restoring this country’s freedom and independence. That’s a happy ending that would truly merit a standing ovation.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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