Southwark Liberal Democrats have started a great series of slightly different local party events, as a result of which I was in the Shortwave Cinema earlier this week for a screening of ToryBoy.
It is a documentary by John Walsh of his experiences getting selected as a Conservative Parliamentary candidate and then fighting Middlesbrough against the controversial Labour MP Sir Stuart Bell at the 2010 general election.
It is a hugely enjoyable documentary, which mixes humour, drama and education. Humour such as John Walsh’s attempt to explain flash-mobbing to the massed ranks of Middlesbrough Conservatives (viz six people, mostly aged over 60 by the looks of it).
Drama such as the moment Walsh completely lost his cool after a printing problem triggered a Royal Mail difficulty, causing a risk that his freepost election address would not go out. If you are familiar with the strains of an election campaign, it is a scene that seems horribly familiar.
Education too for it is a documentary that beautifully captures what it is like being a candidate, mostly on your own, in a seat your party has no chance of winning. It is an affectionate account of politics, but it also has the sort of grassroots realism that is either horribly lacking (yes, Eastenders scriptwriters – I’m thinking of you) or completely missing (local delivery networks are not to be seen in The West Wing).
The focus on the Conservative Party is natural for a documentary about its candidate, but it does mean that the Liberal Democrat campaign, led by Chris Foote Wood, is rather neglected. A barchart featuring Lib Dem leaflet does creep in stage right at one point, however.
John Walsh comes over as the sort of bright and interesting person all parties could benefit from more of – as he did also in the Q&A session after the screening of ToryBoy. In one respect I was left with mixed views of the speed of his progression from becoming a Conservative to becoming an approved candidate to winning a selection. Good in that it showed a political party recruiting new talent and making good use of it. Less good in that even now, well after the 2010 election, there are moments when his understanding of politics seems rather weak for someone who has stood for Parliament.
Those sort of nuances, not all complimentary to the maker and star of the documentary, do however make it all the more enjoyable a watch.
Congratulations to Graham Neale and colleagues for organising the film screening, even if – shock, horror – it didn’t feature a raffle.