15 December 2012

For obvious reasons, people are always looking for a nicer word for right-wing. For a while, they tried ‘free-market’ — after all, it sounds spirited and buccaneering — but the 2008 financial crisis left that one holed below the waterline. There was a brief fashion for trying to make the word ‘laissez-faire’ sound attractive, but it succumbed to the same lethal question Raymond Williams once asked of the permissive society. ‘Oh yes? And, tell me, who exactly is meant to be doing the permitting?’ After that, the right tried vainly to appropriate the word ‘radical’ and make it work for their side. All wingnut think-tanks and rich men’s lobby groups, when coming up with ingenious wheezes to make the poor suffer even more, were suddenly styled ‘radical’. Andrew Lansley always called his proposals to axe hospitals ‘radical’. But now we’re groaning under this Mickey Mouse usage ‘libertarian’. It’s meaningless. Michael Gove wants centrally to dictate the curriculum in schools, to ban BBC television plays he doesn’t like, and has let out not one squeak of protest against the Home Secretary’s plans to read all our private emails. Liam Fox, in disgrace, wants to subjugate what remains of our independent foreign policy to that of the Americans, and then set forth to bomb Iran. Libertarian? I think not. There are one or two genuine libertarians — David Davis, yes — but otherwise you are right to lock away the china whenever you hear the word. It’s replaced ‘the devil is in the detail’ as Britain’s most annoying political cliché. It’ll be gone in a year or two.

The received wisdom is that styles in acting change. Everywhere it’s said that if our generation saw David Garrick, we’d be embarrassed. Sarah Bernhardt, Eleonora Duse and Isadora Duncan would all be ridiculous. Well, actually, it turns out that it isn’t necessarily true. Right now, I recommend you go to YouTube and access a filmed recording of the Laurence Olivier production of Uncle Vanya which helped open the Chichester Festival Theatre in 1962. I watched it again from beginning to end. Michael Redgrave gives a performance as Vanya which would be acclaimed as perfect were you to see it on stage tonight. No adjustment is necessary. So much for the argument that theatre’s all a matter of fashion and memory. At last we have the technology to check our personal powers of recall, and Joan Plowright and Redgrave both hold up magnificently. What’s more, Olivier, in his own performance, predates another contemporary prejudice: that just because Astrov’s an environmentalist who cares about forests, he must be a saint. Olivier plays him the other way — calculating, devious, untrustworthy with women — sorry, everyone, but not so different from Chekhov himself.

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Poetry’s a strange line of work. You’ve only got to come up with one perfect line — ‘They flee from me that sometime did me seek’, ‘Daddy, I have had to kill you’, ‘I’m in Paris with you’ — and your name will be known for the next few hundred years. It’s the purest form of literary roulette. Nobody cares what else you wrote, just that one line: ‘I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree’, ‘I sit in one of the dives on Fifty-second street’, ‘Not waving but drowning’. This year Faber took another optimistic spin of the wheel by getting Carol Ann Duffy to commission a new poem for each of the 60 years of the Queen’s reign. Liz Lochhead, superbly feminist, provides one of Jubilee Lines’ two best poems. In my admittedly biased view, Alan Jenkins offers the other. ‘Between’ celebrates the fact that the poet’s current squeeze was born in 1978 — between when the poet first saw a play of mine, Plenty, and a play of Pinter’s, Betrayal. How great if the beautiful phrase about Kate Nelligan’s ‘black waisted plunge-line dress’ were one of the ones that caught on.

Signs of growing old. First, a preference for local newspapers. I’d far rather read the Camden New Journal than the Economist (a magazine which, mind you, must be as tedious to write as it is to read. Is the solution to every country’s problems really to resemble the US more closely? Can’t anyone at the Economist come up with a new article?). Second, choosing to ride on buses, especially upstairs. Is anything more interesting than looking in people’s first-floor windows? Third, matinees. A good play can seem even better in the afternoon. However, a year or two ago, during a matinee of The Smoking Diaries, at which the average age seemed to be about 85, the supposedly tragic scene in which Simon Gray is told by his doctor that he has only 12 months to live rather lost its intended shock when you could feel the whole audience respond with a collective ‘Hmm? Twelve months, not too bad, I’d settle for that.’ Fourth, and the clincher: admiring youth unreservedly.

David Hare’s The Judas Kiss reopens at the Duke of York’s Theatre, London, in January

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  • Malfleur


  • The Red Bladder

    Another sign is, of course, writing interminably long paragraphs about nothing in particular.

  • Vulture

    You are a pathetic, flabby faced creep, Hare. A typical third rate public-school (Lancing) educated Marxist, you spent thirty years writing your balls achingly dull plays about the evils of capitalism that only got put on by your left-wing chums at the National Theatre. Then you accept a knighthood ( God, how Marxist is that?) From Tony Blair. Tony Blair!! Why don’t you just f***k off and bore someone else to death you wimp.

    • cambridgeelephant

      Well said Vulture. He’s a self regarding luvvie twat.

  • acorn

    David, great first para on ‘right wing’. There’s a lot to be said for analysing how we apply labels. When designing them we are conniving and when accepting them we can be very stupid.
    Keep going despite the abuse 😉

    • Malfleur

      Why can’t I down-vote this prat? Shades of Bolshevik electoral practices?

  • JMckechnie1

    I prefer right-wing; not the implied right-wing that fulfills the prejudices of others. So, yes, I am a right-winger.

  • Damon

    Dear David, I’m so tired of hearing about the evils of capitalism from a privately-educated child of privilege like you. I’m sure you’re a nice enough person, but I do wish you’d be quiet. Best regards from a working-class, comprehensive-educated right winger.

    • TylerNull of YouTube

      And for all that privilege, the dolt remains utterly ignorant of the history behind the right-left wing framework. There was no right-left framework in Abe Lincoln’s day. The two wings are adjectives that modify the noun SOCIALISM. Today’s so-called Left lean on historical illiteracy to keep smearing the past stink of SOCIALISM onto those in the USA who reject ALL WINGS of SOCIALISM.

    • StephenW

      I am so glad I canceled my subscription two weeks ago. Now at least I am not helping to pay for all this nonsense.

      • StephenW

        Many years ago there was an excellent article in the Specie about the whole left-right labeling thing. Sadly I have not been able to find it after two or three moves. It always amazes me how almost no one in the UK challenges these labels. Many years of indoctrination no doubt.

        • dalai guevara

          It exposes a society living in the past, most useful for those who wish to take influence on a very basic level – and just one step up from having a picture/avatar on your ballot paper. Oh hang on, we have got just that…

      • Fraser Nelson

        Why did you cancel?? Your weekends will be a lot duller, I tell you…

  • Adrian Stear

    I can’t find the “Uncle Vanya” production on YouTube. Please can you provide a link?

    • Lavretsky

      @Adrian Stear
      The DVD of Uncle Vanya is available from amazon.
      Can’t see why Mr Hare didn’t say that.

      • Rhoda Klapp

        If he was due royalties he’d mention the DVD. As he is not, he sets free the access to it.

      • AdrianStear

        David Hare’s article states it’s on YouTube. I cannot Find it there, can you? Amazon’s DVDs are beyond my budget

  • Rhoda Klapp

    The trouble is that your internal definition of right-wing is people you don’t like. Putting the labels on after that is superfluous. you still aren’t going to like them. Choosing examples of libertarianism from within the political class is not really sensible. If they were libertarian, they would not believe in the excessive regulation of behaviour that is endemic to that class nor that everything can be fixed by a new law.

    The Left, on the other hand, requires, absolutely requires, to control behaviour. We cannot be collective without forcing the errant to behave as we say. The left is all about control. Oh, not in those bedroom things you all get so excited about, they may be as free as you like, but in terms of relationship with the governing power, absolute control is a pre-requisite.

    • Sarah

      Only because the right wing did all their controlling in previous centuries and now are in a position where they don’t need to.

      • Rhoda Klapp

        Tyranny is what it is, it requires no left/right wing label. do you think that the rulers of the past were right-wing, per se? Or merely tyrannical. There is that thing again. If you are left-wing, anything you don’t like must be right-wing. And as left-wing defines itself as good, anything else must by elimination be bad. Not just wrong, but evil. I suppose it means you don’t need to analyse anything much.

  • Roy

    No matter how you try to ridicule the right wing it is the free enterprise business of farming, manufacture, buying and selling, that makes society thrive and prosper. It is only you scribblers who are always looking for new turns of phrase to make your articles more digestible and salable to the fashionable left who like to propagate such bull. You are deceiving yourself and your readers in your advocacy of the left and the death knell of the right. The corner shop proprietor, the delivery boy, or the scaffolding firm owner don’t have rich men’s lobby groups or ingenious wheezes that you talk of, or would know what you are talking about.

  • fishspouse

    “Is the solution to every country’s problems really to resemble the US more closely? Can’t anyone at the Economist come up with a new article? ”

    Amen to that, brother.

    That being said, all magazines and periodicals have a schtick that is endlessly repeated for the faithful. Including the Spectator.

  • Julian F

    Who is David Hare?

    • Fraser Nelson

      he vies with Tom Stoppard for the title of Britain’s greatest living playwright

      • Julian F

        God help us.

      • Rhoda Klapp

        He gives the impression of Britain’s art world having disappeared up its own fundament years ago. Don’t get him to write anything paleo-political ever again. Perhaps you might commission a play, if that is what he is good at.

      • Marshall Mannerheim

        I am sorry Fraser but he isnt remotely in the same league as Stoppard. That’s like claiming Fifty Shades of Grey vies with Bringing up the Bodies fir the greatest book of 2012.

  • Malfleur

    For obvious reasons, people are always looking for a nicer word for extreme left – they have now settled for Hare-brained..

  • Jabez Foodbotham

    Fascist swine always seemed fine to me. It may not be strictly accurate but has the advantage that when you see it being used by Lefties you know they are talking about the good guys.

  • Raman_Indian123

    I am astounded at how brainlessly virulent the response is to a mild article from a left-wing point of view. Are these right-wingers so rattled by the crisis of capitalism? Why so snarlingly defensive?

    • Rhoda Klapp

      Not because he doesn’t like the right-wing. Because he doesn’t seem to understand what right-wing means, and his clumsy attempts at definition serve only to advance his emotional response to anything which isn’t left. There is more to fighting poverty than fighting some evil social order. As for inequality, that is such a daft concept that it means we can’t really converse at all.

      • Raman_Indian123

        If a few are much richer than the rest and the gap is widening all the time, it is more than a matter of envy if one objects. Money means power, and the ones who have much more will decide what happens to society as a whole.

        • Rhoda Klapp

          If Bill Gates has an extra dollar, or a million, it makes no difference to me. He pays his taxes and tries to cure malaria. I am not envious. So much of leftist thinking concentrates on envy and divisiveness. I do not want some set of envy-peddlers deciding on what is best for society as a whole. That is the entire point. If there is a definable difference between left and right it is the slef-appointed right of the left to make everybody dance to their tune, for their own good. I’d like to be allowed to decide what is for my own good, thanks very much for your concern.

          That’s the difference, That’s what Hare does not touch upon. He chooses to define by himself what right-wing means and then to demolish what is little more than a straw man. He should stick to plays.

          • Raman_Indian123

            As I said above, “Money means power, and the ones who have much more will decide what happens to society as a whole.”
            I do not dispute that some rich people give to charity. But a society of flagrant inequality puts power in the hands of the rich, and they get to decide for the rest. Hence the need to limit inequality, of course by democratic means. If inequality becomes too great, then democracy itself breaks down.

  • Sipu

    Why on earth is it obvious for people to look for alternative terms for ‘right wing’? Right wing is perfect. It separates us sturdy rams from those smelly billy-goats.

    I welcomed his famous-lines-of-poetry. But Wyatt’s work benefits form five centuries of patronising ignorance. Try writing stuff like that today and you would be laughed off the stage. I imagine even back in 16th century London, members of his audience giggled behind their fans. I think Sylvia Plath would have made a beguiling dinner guest. “Kate Nelligan’s ‘black waisted plunge-line dress’ is pure luvviedom.”

  • Edward Lucas

    do you actually read the Economist? I have been writing for it since 1988, from half-a-dozen countries and now in the UK and I have never written a piece arguing that the solution to every problem is to emulate the USA, nor can I recall reading one.

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