Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Back to the Future?

The last of the RSC lectures at Westminster Abbey yesterday, focusing on the end of the War of the Roses. As Shakespeare tells it, the reviled, usurper, hunch back Richard III was killed by the forces of the new pretender, the handsome, media friendly, Henry, who won the day on Bosworth field only when the wavering troops under the command of Lord Stanley joined his side. Henry then sealed the deal by marrying Elizabeth of York, uniting the white rose of her family with the Lancastrian red of his. As all good Tudor propagandists know it was the birth of a new and glorious dynasty. A coalition of all the talents.

I came to town early and was drawn immediately to college green outside the Houses of Parliament where politicians, the public and the media were mingling freely, briefing, speculating and commentating on the fluctuating events of the afternoon. Nobody was quite sure what was going on, but the mood was one of expectation and excitement. Radio 5 were broadcasting live and we crowded around their tent to try and catch the latest rumours and hear first hand the evolving power shift.

By the time I made my way into the Abbey it seemed clear that the Liberals had come close to a deal with the Tories. By the time I'd come out, having placed a red rose on Henry and Elizabeth's tomb in the Lady Chapel, the last great architectural monument of the medieval age, the world had changed. Once again we crowded around the Five Live tent as Gordon made his way to the Palace to offer his resignation. It was over.

Half an hour later, in the fading light, Cameron stood grinning wildly on the steps of Number 10. Although we'd known this to be the probable outcome I still felt a shiver of dread as I watched on a research assistant's laptop. The Hackney MP Diane Abbott, who was standing next to me, frowned, shrugged her shoulders and walked away. Ex minister, Ed Balls, protected by minders, scowled and tried to look magnanimous. Nobody could quite believe the Liberals had signed up. Surely the Tories will simply eat them up and spit them out? As Cameron turned and went inside it started to snow. A new winter of discontent or was it simply hell freezing over?

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