'Let's see what the critics have to say'

The Project
2002
A Collection of Article/Review Exerpts


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BBC press release:

The Project
Sunday 10th November 9 - 10.45pm, Monday 11th November 9 - 10pm & 10.35 - 11.30pm.

The Project charts New Labour's rise to power and the landslide victory of 1997.

It stars Matthew Macfadyen, (Perfect Strangers), Naomie Harris (White Teeth), Paloma Baeza (The Way We Live Now), Shaun Evans (Teachers) and James Frain (Armadillo), is directed by the award-wining director Peter Kosminsky (Warriors, Shoot To Kill and No Child of Mine) and is written by Leigh Jackson (Warriors and Other People's Children).

Matthew MacFadyen Director Peter Kosminsky says, "The Project is a fictional drama set within a factual framework, and provides an insight into New Labour's political coup d'etat within the Labour Party, based on extensive research. This film is about idealistic young people who want to help Labour get into power and ultimately, change things. It is a realistic portrayal of how we got to May 1, 1997 and what happened afterwards."

Naomie Harris Set against the backdrop of real events, The Project follows the lives of a group of young Labour party activists from their final days of university to Westminster's corridors of power. Their journey takes us deep into the world of New Labour's headquarters in Millbank, and later Downing Street, exposing the machinations behind the party's transformation into the sharp, media-aware voice of professional, middle-England.

James Frain as Harvey At the heart of The Project are Paul (Matthew Macfadyen) and Maggie (Naomi Harris), whose deep- rooted passion for politics is matched by their intense rivalry and passion for each other. As their respective stars begin to rise within New Labour, it's not just their friendship that's at risk but the very beliefs that inspired them to turn to politics.

"The Project is part of a concerted attempt to turn the spotlight on our recent history," explains Jane Tranter, BBC Controller of Drama Commissioning. "What I have tried to do is encourage and choose dramas that are relevant to the way we live now. We want to have stories that reflect the audience's experiences, and that will include how we are governed, the state of the NHS, education or the railways, or what we think might be going on in Whitehall."

Matthew MacFadyen The research process was painstaking and thorough and took three years to complete. Career researcher Philip Marlow, a journalist, interviewed key people who had worked at Walworth Road and Millbank (Labour's former headquarters) before and following the party's landslide victory of 1997. There were two phases to his work. The first looked at Labour in opposition from 1992 to 1997 while the second phase looked at what happened within Labour following the election in May 1997 until 2001.

Matthew MacFadyen plays the part of Paul Tibbenham. "Paul has been my most challenging role to date but also one of the most rewarding," says Matthew. "I loved the part and immediately knew that the script was something special, notably because it had been written by Leigh Jackson (Matthew also starred in Jackson's Warriors)."

Naomie Harris "Maggie was an extremely interesting and complex character to play," explains Naomie Harris, who recently headlined the cast of White Teeth on Channel 4. "Her mother died when she was young and her father was very disciplinarian. Consequently she had quite a restrictive up bringing. She was the only black person in Wroker, the Conservative area where she was brought up, so she developed rebellious tendencies and always felt like she needed to prove herself."

The Project It seems as if The Project is not the only recent drama to challenge the workings of the state and government. Dominic Savage's award-winning film about the juvenile justice system, Out Of Control , was shown last month. Guy Jenkin's irreverent comedy, Jeffrey Archer, about the disgraced peer's life as seen through his own rose-tinted glasses, will be shown in early December.

A conspiracy thriller by Paul Abbott, State of Play (due on screen spring 2003), which stars David Morrissey and John Simm and which is set in the heart of Whitehall, is currently in production. Derailed, a factual drama about the crisis in Britain's railways, is also currently in development.

Director Peter Kominsky's next piece is the film White Oleander, starring Michelle Pfeiffer, Renee Zellweger which will be in cinemas early in 2003.

Character Profiles

Paul Tibbenham (Matthew Macfadyen):
Labour Special Adviser. On leaving Manchester University, he joined the Labour Party as a press officer, then worked his way through a series of behind the scenes jobs, first at Walworth Road then at Millbank. Special Adviser at No 10 after the 1997 election. Shares a house with Irčne, Andy and Maggie (with whom he has been in love since university days).

Maggie Dunn (Naomie Harris):
Labour MP. Grew up with her father and step-mother in Wroker in the North of England. Met Paul, Irčne and Andy at Manchester University where she was a leading light in the Labour Club. On moving to London, worked her way through a series of menial jobs for Labour before being elected as MP for her home town in the 1997 election.

Irčne Lloyd (Paloma Baeza):
Journalist. An only child, brought up in North London by her paediatrician mother and barrister father. Went to Manchester University as a minor act of rebellion. Picked from hundreds to be awarded a BBC graduate trainee-ship specialising in news. Works in Radio 4 current affairs in the run up to 1997, moving to the Today Programme after the election. Leaves to buy a house with Richard Loach, thus effectively breaking up the 'Famous Four'.

Andy Clark (Shaun Evans):
Carpenter. Grew up in Liverpool, first member of his family to go to university. Met Paul, Maggie and Irčne at Manchester where they were neighbours in their first year halls of residence. Political, in an anarchic, non-partisan way. The last to agree to share a house in London. Loyal and perceptive, lives life for the moment.

Harvey (James Frain):
Behind the scenes operator for Labour with an intentionally ill-defined rôle. Comes to the fore in elections and by-elections when his effectiveness is most welcome. Continues in a wild-card capacity after the 1997 election. Identifies Paul as a potential assistant and sets out to persuade him to leave his existing job, partly because he recognises his talent and partly because they are polar opposites both in personality and in their aspirations.

Josh (Adam Croasdell):
Tory Special Adviser. Friend and political adversary of Paul, Maggie and Irčne at Manchester where he was a journalist and member of the Conservative Club. Works behind the scenes for the Conservative government in the early 90s in much the same way that Paul works behind the scenes for Labour. Has a one-night stand with Maggie after a Tory Conference. Lindsey (Kaye Wragg):
Nurse. Lives opposite Maggie, Paul, Irčne and Andy in Hackney. Divorced from her ex-husband Dave, has two children (Roy and Nell), and is working for a Building Society when we first meet her in the early 90s. Works as a Labour volunteer at Millbank in the run-up to the 97 election. Returns to nursing afterwards. Has a long-running affair with Paul Tibbenham.

Jeremy (Ben Miles):
Junior Labour Press Officer, first at Walworth Road and then at Millbank. Continues in that role in government after the 1997 election.

Richard Loach (Derek Riddell):
Special Adviser in the Treasury. Worked as a junior financial adviser to the Labour Party in the late eighties before moving to America to work for a merchant bank. Returned to join the UK subsidiary of the same bank in the City of London before being head-hunted by Gordon Brown to be a member of his financial team. Continues in the same capacity in government. Has an on-off affair with Irčne Lloyd, eventually buying a house with her.



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Press Release

28.05.02

TV DRAMA

The Project

- written by Leigh Jackson and directed by Peter Kosminsky

A drama for BBC ONE about New Labour's rise to power

Peter Kosminsky and Leigh Jackson's major new two-part drama, about the lives and careers of four young Labour activists and the party's rise to power, is currently filming in London for BBC ONE, it was announced today by Jane Tranter, BBC Controller of Drama Commissioning.

The Project charts New Labour's rise to power and the landslide victory of 1997.

It stars Matthew Macfadyen (Spooks, Perfect Strangers), Naomi Harris (White Teeth), Paloma Baeza (The Way We Live Now), Shaun Evans (Teachers) and James Frain (Armadillo), is directed by the award-wining director Peter Kosminsky (Warriors, Shoot To Kill and No Child of Mine) and is written by Leigh Jackson (Warriors and Other People's Children ).

Director Peter Kosminsky says: "The Project is a fictional drama set within a factual framework, and provides an insight into New Labour's political coup d'etat within the Labour Party, based on exhaustive research.

"This film is about idealistic young people who want to help Labour get into power and, ultimately, change things. It is a realistic portrayal of how we got to May 1, 1997 and what happened afterwards."

Set against the backdrop of real events, The Project follows the lives of four young Labour party activists from their final days of university to Westminster's corridors of power.

Their journey takes us deep into the world of New Labour's headquarters in Millbank, and later Downing Street, exposing the machinations behind the party's transformation into the sharp, media-aware voice of professional, middle-England.

At the heart of The Project are Paul (Matthew Macfadyen) and Maggie (Naomi Harris), whose deep rooted passion for politics is matched by their intense rivalry and passion for each other.As their respective stars begin to rise within New Labour, it's not just their friendship that's at risk but the very beliefs that inspired them to politics.

Writer Leigh Jackson says: "Most of us want what is best for ourselves and our families so we look to a government to be fair.

"There was great anticipation when New Labour came to power in 1997 but it quickly became difficult to tell where Tory rule ended and New Labour began.

"Decisions were being made, not in cabinet but by a tight circle of people, some of whom had not been elected."

BBC Controller of Drama Commissioning, Jane Tranter says: "The Project is a hugely ambitious drama that looks into the very heart of our country's governance and beyond.

"The drama explores how New Labour transformed the party from an organisation incapable of capturing the popular vote into a fighting machine that won the election landslide of 1997, the nation's hopes for lasting change that followed, and the party's dedicated determination to win a second term, whatever the cost."

Peter Kosminsky and Leigh Jackson's last collaboration for the BBC, Warriors, the two-part film about British peacekeepers in Bosnia starring Ioan Gruffudd, Damian Lewis, Matthew Macfadyen and Branka Katic, won the Prix Italia, an RTS and a BAFTA award.

Peter Kosminsky's credits include Shoot To Kill about the John Stalker affair, and No Child of Mine, about a child abused at home and in care who became a prostitute at the age of 11.

He recently completed directing Michelle Pfeiffer and Renee Zellweger in White Oleander.

Leigh Jackson's credits include Other People's Children starring Lesley Manville, Emma Fielding and Denis Lawson; and his film The Rose Grower is currently in development with the Film Council and Pearl Pictures.

The Project is written by Leigh Jackson, directed by Peter Kosminsky and produced by Matthew Bird (Linda Green, Anna Karenina). The executive producer is Jessica Pope and the BBC Head of Drama Serials is Laura Mackie.

The Project is part of a raft of BBC dramas with a political edge which are currently in or approaching production.

Paul Abbott's State of Play is a thriller set in Whitehall and journalism about the death of a young political intern who is having an affair with a high-flying New Labour minister.

Jeffrey Archer - The Truth is a satire by Drop The Dead Donkey's Guy Jenkin, which presents the world as seen through the eyes of the disgraced Tory peer; and Donna Franceschild's The Key is a dramatic take on 100 years of the unions and socialism in Scotland, told from an emotional and human point of view.



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Special report: Labour party

Blairites in a spin over New Labour soap

Ex-Downing Street aide issues a legal warning to BBC

Gaby Hinsliff and Vanessa Thorpe

Sunday August 11, 2002

The Observer

It is a clear case of truth that is stranger than fiction. A new BBC screenplay charting the rise of three young New Labour spin doctors, their passion for politics - and for each other - has triggered a real-life row to rival any screen drama.

Executives received a warning letter from the lawyer of a former aide to Tony Blair last week over The Project , the story of three fictional activists who meet at university and plot their rise to power during Tony Blair's first term of office.

Claims that it is too closely based on thinly disguised real figures - fiercely denied by the BBC - look set to trigger a serious clash between politicians and the BBC when it is shown in November.

The two-part drama, billed as a This Life for the Westminster world, but featuring political staffers instead of the house-sharing lawyers of the cult BBC2 series, finished shooting in London only last week. Yet it has already sparked a flurry of private emails between veterans of the 1997 election, speculating on what secrets it may reveal.

'This is not going to leave us looking good,' said one. Wild rumours that the film features drug-taking, that it was shot in former Blair aide Tim Allan's old flat - in fact, it was in unglamorous Acton, west London - and that the actor Colin Firth was to play Gordon Brown have heightened the tension.

In fact, The Project will feature nothing more debauched than beer drinking, although one main character does sleep with a Tory, director Peter Kosminsky said yesterday

There was no need to cast a Gordon Brown: the fictional spin doctors' story is interleaved with news footage of the senior Labour figures they supposedly work for.

As for Allan - who had the lawyer's letter dispatched after hearing gossip that one character was a mixture of himself and his colleague James Purnell, now an MP - Kosminsky insisted he has nothing to worry about.

'Although we have interviewed about 120 people for background research, the characters are fictional,' the director added.

'It's frustrating when you say that and people are still - ahead of having seen the film, which isn't even close to being finished - saying "it's based on me", when it absolutely, clearly and demonstrably isn't.'

Made by the team behind the acclaimed drama Warriors, about British peacekeepers in Bosnia, The Project revolves around Paul and Maggie, played by Matthew McFadyen from the spy series Spooks, and Naomi Harris.

Their characters are former Manchester University students who break into politics with their friends Irene, Andy and Richard. One eventually goes into Downing Street to work for Blair, another into Brown's office, and the third becomes an MP.

The BBC will screen a special warning at the start of each film, explaining that it depicts real events but that all the characters are fictional.

Kosminsky insists viewers will not be confused: 'It's a time-honoured process going back to Shakespeare's histories to take real events and put fictional characters in, and explore what it must have been like to be in the middle of great events.'

And Jane Tranter, head of drama commissioning at the BBC, insisted such dramas could help to reverse voter apathy: 'This piece enables people to feel more politically attached and aware, and more politically culpable in terms of what actual individuals can and should be doing.'

The BBC guidelines on ensuring balance in conventional political programmes were 'never an issue' in this drama, Tranter said.

Yet it touches raw nerves. One scene uses a real backdrop of Blair's much-criticised 'Cool Britannia' party for celebrities at Downing Street in 1997, as the fictional protagonists are shown struggling with the need to sacrifice principles for power.

Writer Leigh Jackson says the BBC lawyers 'spent days crawling over it: they are still jumpy about it, and we had to lose a few things.'

The programme-makers were not allowed to film outside 10 Downing Street, and Alastair Campbell told party workers not to co-operate.

Jackson suggests the Number 10 director of communications is unlikely to be reassured by the final cut, 'because it takes a hard look at Labour and at what they have done'. A party official said it was 'not aware' of any communications with the BBC about the film.



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October 28, 2002

Playing politics

by fiona morrow

All of a sudden it's become fashionable to make dramas out of crises and conspiracies in the corridors of power

TELEVISION DRAMA has been running shy of politics recently. Rather like the electorate, really, though for different reasons perhaps. While the British public have been turned off the process of government by a decade of spin and choreographed campaigning, television has succumbed to its fiercest ratings war, calling in the focus groups and the management consultants in an effort to second guess the public and give the audience what it thinks it wants.

The result has been bland, producer-led star vehicles with about as much relevance to people's lives as Alastair Campbell's interest in Britney Spears. Talk of public-service broadcasting has become almost as rare as facial hair on a new Labour MP.

This could all be about to change. Restructuring at the BBC has meant that commissioning editors no longer have to refer their projects up an endless pyramid of hierarchy in search of a green light. And, in the case of drama, the relocation of the nightly news bulletin to 10pm has finally given them a proper midweek slot, for which they've also been given a bigger budget.

"It has meant we can open the doors to a far greater variety of stories," says the BBC's head of drama, Jane Tranter. "What I have tried to do is encourage and choose dramas that are relevant to the way we live now."

Nothing, Tranter insists, is off limits. "We have said that we want to tell stories that reflect the audience's experience, and that will include how we are governed, the state of the railways, the state of the NHS, education, what we think might be going on in Whitehall."

And, as the first few commissions begin to trickle through, it's clear that the writers have taken Tranter at her word. Dominic Savage's award-winning look at the juvenile justice system, Out Of Control, was the first indication that the BBC had decided to get its hands dirty. Next up is Peter Kosminsky's The Project, detailing the rise of new Labour - and the subsequent fall into disillusionment of its party workers, to be followed closely by Guy Jenkin's Jeffrey Archer piece The Truth, about the disgraced peer's life as seen through his own rose-tinted spectacles. Just into production is Paul Abbott's State Of Play, a conspiracy thriller set in the heart of Whitehall, while Donna Franceschild's The Key looks at the history of the Labour movement through the saga of one family.

"I was delighted to see how much is coming up," says Franceschild, author of the acclaimed Taking Over The Asylum and A Mug's Game. She thinks Tranter's attitude heralds a marked change at the BBC. "Executives are finally realising that no matter how many soap stars you get on golden-handcuff deals, it's not going to produce good drama," she adds. "They're realising that without a good script, they've got nothing."

Guy Jenkin agrees: "Everybody always says they value good writers, but few executives actually seem to. Yet inevitably, writers write better when things are bursting out of them, when there's something they simply have to get out of their system." Nevertheless, the BBC brought the Jeffrey Archer idea to him. "They were after a fairly realistic - if comic - dramatisation of Archer's life. Not something I was particularly interested in as it had been covered so much elsewhere, so I said no."

But Jenkin thought some more about it and went back with an alternative idea. "I started wondering what it would be like if we had him tell his own story Baron Munchausen-style." The BBC went for it, despite the fact, Jenkin admits, that it's caused "a couple of rainforests to be destroyed in the service of legal correspondence".

The political stakes are rather higher with The Project (to be screened early next month): Peter Kosminsky found himself and writer Leigh Jackson in Alastair Campbell's hitlistsights once word of the drama leaked out. "The Labour Party was unbelievably obstructive, instructing everyone to have nothing to do with us," says Kosminsky. But the BBC didn't balk. "Whatever the corporation's view might be, I haven't heard a squeak about it."

He believes that television should hold a mirror up to the audience. "The Project was concieved out of a concern with the state of politics in this country," he says. "I am terrified of the way in which the political process has been devalued, and I wanted to investigate the calibre of person that is entering politics. It's not an idle concern - this keeps me awake at nights. I think the people running the country have developed contempt for the public's intelligence." Franceschild is similarly appalled.

"The impetus to write The Key came out of a frustration that we are now supposed to think of politics as management, to believe that there's no ideology. What an extraordinary thing to say. I wanted to remind people that without vision we stop believing that we can be better than we are."

Tranter may have shifted the commissioning emphasis towards more contemporary, relevant works, but she's adamant that the quality of the drama, not the political angle, comes first. "We will only make dramas that have politics with a capital P at their heart if they are told through a personal story and have a strong dramatic interest," she says. "Otherwise, we may as well all go off and make documentaries."

The Times Online



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from BBC News:

Thursday, 7 November, 2002, 18:11 GMT

Putting power before principle?

A major new political drama for BBC One, The Project, charts the careers of four young Labour activists from university to the corridors of Westminster. But what happens to passion and commitment when gaining power becomes all important?

director Peter Kosminsky The Project's Director, Peter Kosminsky, remembers the night of the 1997 election clearly. He says: "I live in the heart of Tory middle England. I sat huddled in one room with most of the other left- leaning people in that small town.

"When Basildon fell we cheered. We were stunned into silence when Stephen Twigg unseated Michael Portillo in Enfield. The scale of the victory was almost unnerving. "It really did seem to be, as Peter Snow was busy saying on the BBC results programme, '...the end of an era in British politics'."

"How hollow that phrase rings now, five years later, when it's clear we did little more than replace one branch of the Conservative Party with another.

"Less trumpeted was the turn-out. It was low, very much in keeping with the declining trend in successive national elections."

Now, says Peter, the British people are drifting away from politics, because they no longer trust politicians.

Peter claims: "Within months of their election, Labour was busy reneging on election promises - private prisons, trial by jury, Freedom of Information, tuition fees, welfare cuts... "No one likes to be lied to and spin is really just a polite word for lying."

Grass-roots of politics
It was his stark disillusionment with New Labour that led him to team up with producer Leigh Jackson and come up with the idea for "The Project". Peter explains: "We had worked together on Warriors, a drama for BBC One about British soldiers keeping the peace in Bosnia. We were keen to find something else on which to collaborate. "When we were students, getting involved in politics was viewed as an honourable option.

"Why was it, we wondered, that those who genuinely wanted to help improve the lot of their fellow men and women now chose aid work overseas rather than aspiring to govern their own country? "What had convinced the very people we needed to be our next generation of leaders - people whose motives were altruistic rather self- aggrandising - that it wasn't even worth trying?

"We decided to make a drama, pitched at exactly this grass-roots level, to answer that question. Over three and a half years he met 120 people who had worked for or with Labour in the nine years between the 1992 and 2001 general elections.

Dirty tricks
Peter claims a letter sent from Alistair Campbell's department asked people not to co-operate - a request, he says, they ignored. He says: "We managed to interview civil servants, members of parliament, special advisers and researchers as well as team members from Media Monitoring, Rapid Rebuttal, Attack, the Press Office, the Business Unit, and the advertisers.

"A very clear message emerged, so clear in fact that Leigh and I began to suspect a party line.

"In the mid-90s, as Labour moved from Walworth Road to Millbank, there was a feeling amongst the activists that almost anything was acceptable if it could guarantee the defeat of the Tories.

"After four election defeats in a row these Labour insiders were prepared to contemplate some very shady activities - dirty tricks against the Tories more normally associated with the worst excesses of the tabloid press.

"All of this could be swallowed if it resulted in the defeat of the Tories and, finally, a new Labour Government. Because "...then we'd show them".

"The ends would demonstrably justify the means. Once Labour was back in power, the good that they would do would more than compensate for the dark arts they had had to employ to get there.

"What left this cadre shattered, disillusioned and ultimately unable to continue was the fact that, once Labour gained power, it failed to deliver.

"In fact, worst of all, it started behaving like the Tory Government it had just replaced. "Was it for this that they had lied and bugged and shafted their friends?"

Questionable future
Peter adds: "It makes for gripping drama. But the research for these films has left me profoundly alarmed.

"Our political rights and freedoms were hard fought for in this country. We should not discard them lightly.

"People don't like to be lied to. Recently we have seen a man in a monkey suit elected to office. Three of four mayors elected in the autumn bore no party political allegiances.

"European history is littered with examples of what happens when the public develops a contempt for the political process, when people of ability see no point in getting involved in politics. Time and again, extremism has filled that vacuum.

"When we put power before principle, principled people turn away, leaving the field to others.

"Leigh and I made this film to help us answer one question. Now I find myself facing another: what kind of political future are we bequeathing to our children?"

Alistair Campbell has denied he ever gagged Labour party workers or anyone else. He said: "For the record, I have had no conversations with anyone from the BBC about Peter Kosminsky's programme The Project. "Nor have I, contrary to his claims, ever sent letters to any Labour Party worker, or indeed to anyone else about it. Frankly, I have better things to do."

The Project will be shown on BBC One on Sunday 10 November and Monday 11 November, at 21:00 GMT.



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Off-message

The word was that the main character in The Project, a BBC drama about New Labour's rise to power, was heavily based on former No 10 spin doctor Tim Allan. So what does he make of the programme?

Friday November 8, 2002
The Guardian

The Project, an exhaustively researched and eagerly awaited dramatisation of New Labour's rise to power, follows a handful of young party activists as they leave university, get jobs as press officers in opposition, and then go on to work as special advisers at Number 10 after the election.

As someone who made that journey, but had refused to speak to the production team behind the programme, it was with some trepidation that I sat down to watch it. Some of the BBC-inspired previews had talked (inaccurately) of its lurid portrayal of the advisers' private lives, and I had - in a probably unwise piece of New Labour control- freakery that I really should have grown out of by now - sought and received written assurances from the BBC that none of the characters was even partly based on me.

Certainly, the production team has made great efforts to make each of the characters composites of several people, but the reality is that the number of advisers involved was pretty small. Even if no single character is based on me or anybody else, it is easy to spot aspects of the lives we led, the language we used and the things we believed. It is certainly odd hearing whole conversations I took part in repeated on screen by a supposedly fictional character.

The director Peter Kosminsky's compelling device of mixing factual events such as Today programme interviews with Blair, Brown and Harman with a fictional drama, means that his work has to be assessed on two levels: as a historical account and as a piece of drama.

On the first level there is much to keep New Labour trainspotters happy. While the portrayal of advisers rooting around in the bins of Tory MPs is (I hope) far-fetched, the detail is exceptionally well observed: the production of a rapid rebuttal document about a Ken Clarke speech to Tory conference before the then chancellor had sat down; the physical portrayal of Millbank's open-plan working environment; the frantic discussions between advisers during a Today programme interview with a politician that is going badly wrong. Even the choice of background music - Radiohead's The Bends and Massive Attack's Blue Lines - took my mind straight back to the flat I shared with other New Labourites during the period.

But this is a history injected with Kosminsky's and writer Leigh Jackson's searing polemic. The Project is an intensely political work. Its thesis is that New Labour betrayed those who supported it; that the people working for it were prepared to sacrifice their idealism and principles in order to defeat the Tories and became heartbroken and bitter when in government, Labour failed to deliver more traditional Labour policies.

The second half of the programme, Government, details the disillusionment which the New Labour praetorian guard apparently felt. We see Paul, the Number 10 adviser, increasingly upset that the government is implementing policies on tuition fees for students. We see Maggie, who becomes an MP, fighting a losing battle with her conscience about the reforms to incapacity benefit.

It is here that the programme becomes seriously unstuck, both as a factual account and as a drama. The feeling that New Labour failed to deliver on the expectations of what a Labour government should do is of course one that is widely held among many Labour activists, trade unionists, MPs and, evidently, by Jackson and Kosminsky. But by projecting their anger that Labour did not pursue a more leftwing line on to those New Labourites working at Number 10 after 1997, they profoundly misunderstand and misrepresent our political outlook.

As upsetting as this may sound to Kosminsky and Jackson, I did not want New Labour to be a brilliant confection designed to convince the electorate that Labour had moved to the centre, which could be conveniently replaced by a more traditional Labour agenda when ministerial bottoms were safely on the backseats of government cars. That was the greatest hope both of old Labour and the Tories in 1997, and it remains my greatest fear for this government.

I had grown up against a background of Labour being incapable of convincing the country that it could be trusted to run the economy, with its bitter divisions being on public parade throughout the 1980s, and with its routine espousal of the demands of every pressure group who wanted more government funds. The Tories' emphasis on private enterprise, individual responsibility and hard-headed decision-making dominated the intellectual and political landscape by the time I was at university. I hated the Tories' defence of privilege, their unpleasant authoritarian conservatism on social issues, their reverence for outdated institutions and traditions and their indifference to the inequality in life chances that their policies had created.

But I certainly did not want a return to the Labour policies of the past. I believed in a market led economy, I thought that privatisation had worked. I wanted a Labour Party that could rid itself of its statist, producer-led outlook, disassociate itself from trade union demands, and put up a convincing fight against the Tories on economic and social issues. These were things I wanted Labour to do, not just to get elected but because they were what I believed in.

So I was certainly not deeply depressed, as all the main characters are, by Labour's refusal to tack to the left in government. I would have been quite shocked and upset if the Labour government had baulked at necessary reforms in student funding. I would have felt betrayed if Gordon Brown had let government spending rip. I would have been utterly disillusioned if the government had started caving in to the demands of every lobby group that pitched up at Number 10.

Of course, I am sure that some advisers did not share my enthusiasm for the government's "elected as New Labour, govern as New Labour" mantra, but the absence in The Project of anybody who actually believed in New Labour policies undermines the historical accuracy of the programme. I am not saying that we did everything right. We made major mistakes in bringing the communications techniques that had worked in opposition into government. Our obsession with trying to control the news agenda in itself came to dominate political news, and it is only recently that the government has learned to let go a bit more. But Blair's central determination not to use the massive majority as an excuse to move to the left was one that had overwhelming backing within those who worked for the leadership.

The dogged pursuit of the producers' thesis also undermines the drama. Whereas the first episode - Opposition - buzzes along as the young characters excitedly immerse themselves in the heady world of national politics and media, the second episode sags badly as all character development is laboriously linked to the writers' polemic. A series of increasingly absurd vignettes demonstrating Labour's betrayal, culminates in a physical assault on the new female MP, Maggie, by a government whip, dressed like a pantomime villain. At this stage I was reminded of kitschy proletarian Art of the 1930s, with its explicit revolutionary motifs eclipsing any artistic merit. Potentially interesting plot and character developments are sacrificed so that everything can be ham-fistedly related to the central message of betrayal.

Like Paul, I handed back my Downing Street pager well before the 2001 election. Not out of a feeling of disillusionment, but out of a feeling that there was more to life than politics and I wanted time to try to make a career in business. I look back on my six years working for Tony Blair with enormous affection and pride. More than any election since the war, 1997 was a generational election. Blair's appeal to youth was one of the central differentiating factors between the parties, and his fearless, rather reckless promotion of youth in his team allowed me and some others to have responsibilities in the 1997 victory that I could not have imagined when I left university less than five years previously. The Project captures some of the excitement felt by the young advisers who as Paul says had "never had sex under a Labour government". But, through its devotion to its polemic, it becomes rather one dimensional and predictable.

Tony Blair is fond of telling the story of how a shadow cabinet member said to him before the 1997 Election, "God, it must be terrible for you having to say all this crap to get us elected". "It's worse than that", he replied. "I actually believe it". Jackson and Kosminsky's failure to imagine that perhaps the people who worked for him did too makes The Project, for all its insights, less accurate, less complete and less interesting than it could have been

Allan worked for Tony Blair as policy researcher (1992-94) and then as deputy press secretary (1994-98). He now runs his own PR firm. The Project starts at 9pm on Sunday on BBC1.



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BBC's New Labour drama 'based on fact'

Jason Deans
Thursday November 7, 2002

The Project's Matthew Macfadyen Scenes in controversial BBC1 drama The Project in which a New Labour official rummages through a dustbin to find dirt on the Conservatives and uses a false press pass to gain access to the Tory conference were based on real incidents.

Writer Leigh Jackson and director Peter Kosminsky confirmed that all the activities Matthew Macfadyen's character, Paul Tibbenham, gets up to in The Project, which begins on Sunday, came from real incidents they came across during background research for the drama.

A researcher working for Mr. Jackson and Mr. Kosminsky conducted interviews with 120 people, including many former New Labour officials and BBC staff.

In The Project Tibbenham works as a spin doctor in New Labour's infamous Millbank media centre in the run-up to the party's May 1997 election victory.

He is seen rummaging through the dustbin of a Tory minister's mistress to try to find incriminating material to feed to the press.

Tibbenham goes the 1996 Conservative conference in Bournemouth using a false press pass to gain access.

Once inside he makes mischief, attending a black tie event with a wire to try to pick up useful gossip to pass on to journalists, and foiling a Tory attempt to unveil a Labour defector by planting a question with a reporter at a press conference.

After New Labour's 1997 election victory Tibbenham becomes a special adviser at Downing Street and his first job is to collect dirt on the party's own intake of new MPs, to be used against them if they are disloyal.

Mr. Kosminsky said the message that came over in interviews with former New Labour officials about this kind of behaviour was that the end justified the means.

"What came really clearly out of these conversations was that after four election defeats on the trot, almost anything was OK if it got New Labour into power," he added.

"That led people to do things they weren't particularly proud of. Which was fine, as long as when they got into power a New Labour government did what they expected," Mr. Kosminsky said.

"But they behaved very much like the Major government these people had fought so hard to replace."

In the drama, Tibbenham becomes increasingly disillusioned with Labour and eventually quits in 1999 after the freedom of information bill, on which he is working as a special adviser, is watered down because of concerns that more openness will cause problems for the government.

Political commentator and Scotsman publisher Andrew Neil said he thought the government would be "really pissed off" with The Project.

But Neil also dismissed The Project as a "predictable leftwing critique of the government".

"It could've been made by the Guardian. Even down to the thing it was most critical of, which was the Freedom of Information Act," Neil said.

But he added that as a piece of drama The Project was not in the same league as Cathy Come Home, which criticised Harold Wilson's 60s Labour government.

"Cathy Come Home was an incredible docu-drama, a savage piece of criticism. This was not in the same league," Neil said.

Charlie Whelan, Gordon Brown's former spin doctor, said he could not recognise himself or any other New Labour figures in the characters portrayed in The Project.

"It didn't seem authentic to me. But it's very difficult to dramatise something like that," Whelan said.

"You always end up with the main characters being amalgams of several people. There was a more accurate portrayal of how the BBC works, rather than New Labour," he added. "I thought [World at One editor] Kevin Marsh was very well portrayed."



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Friday November 8, 04:01 AM

TV play to make Tony blush

By Derek Robins

BBC bosses say its hard-hitting new drama The Project, about New Labour and its election victory of 1997 is bound to embarrass Tony Blair's government.

BBC head of drama Jane Tranter says: "It charts how Labour got into power in 1997 and the aftermath and it will be uncomfortable viewing for the Labour party.

It's reported that communications chief Alastair Campbell banned staff and activists from speaking to the makers and the BBC wasn't allowed to film footage of 10 Downing Street.

"It's about how the joy of 1997 was followed by a determination to win the 2001 election as opposed to carrying on policies as government."

Labour MPs saw the two-part drama earlier this week. Jane Tranter says: "We spoke to people we needed to speak to but not Campbell or people like Peter Mandelson."

The BBC1 programme on November 10 and 11 features questionable tactics supposedly used by Labour Party workers before the election victories of 1997 and 2001.

Kosminsky says the drama's revelation that Labour members became "disillusioned" after the 1997 victory leaves him down.

It shows activists sifting through the rubbish of a woman allegedly having an affair with a Tory MP so it can be leaked to the Press. They are also seen infiltrating Conservative cocktail parties.

He says: "I'm profoundly depressed and frightened by the way we are progressing. Membership of parties is falling and people of talent are not going into politics as they believe they will be lied to.

Tranter says: "It puts fictional characters with compelling stories against real events."

"They believe they won't be able to do good as the party machine is too powerful and they won't be heard."

The Project took three years to make and is based on interviews with 120 people involved with Labour, including backbench MPs.

Leigh Jackson, writer of The Project, says the drama reflects the hope of the nation when Labour won the 1997 election and how it quickly evaporated.

It was written by Leigh Jackson and directed by Peter Kosminsky, well-known for making dramas which challenge the establishment.

He says: "When Labour won it was like a new dawn. There was a tremendous feeling of rejuvenation and hope which has now evaporated.

Researcher Philip Marlow says: "When these MPs were first elected they thought Labour would make radical changes. They were shocked how close Labour policies were to the Tories."

"There is no opposition at the moment. There's a whole raft of people who aren't represented by anybody as Labour is servicing the same people the Tories serviced.

" New Labour's election victory in 1997 is told through the eyes of idealistic young party workers in The Project.

Kosminsky is renowned for his controversial TV dramas.

Spooks star Matthew Macfadyen is special advisor Paul Tibbenham, who becomes disillusioned after he has to wage a dirty tricks campaign against the Tories.

His work includes Shoot To Kill about the John Stalker affair; No Child Of Mine about a child abused in care who became a prostitute; and the Bafta award-winning Warriors about British peacekeepers in Bosnia.

Naomie Harris is Maggie Dunn, the woman he loves, who becomes an MP - one of the Blair Babes. It also stars Paloma Baeza, James Frain, Anton Lesser, Ben Miles and Kaye Wragg.

The Project is one of many political programmes on the BBC. The next to be seen will be the comedy Jeffrey Archer - The Truth in December.



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Column from spiked-online.com
8 November 2002

TV UK, 8 November
by Dolan Cummings

I've never had much sympathy for people who claim to have been disappointed by New Labour in government. I mean, were they paying attention at all? According to The Project (BBC1, Sunday and Monday at 9pm) even those on the inside were pretty clueless.

The Project is a drama about the rise of New Labour, set mainly between the general elections of 1992 and 2001, and based on extensive research and interviews with party insiders. Campaigning for election in 1997, Maggie Dunn repeats the mantra, 'We have campaigned as New Labour, and we will govern as New Labour', without ever seeming to realise that it is a threat as much as a promise.

The drama opens with the four central characters as student activists in Manchester, trying to stop a chemical company from polluting a river. This is supposed to establish their idealism, though it is a distinctly unideological idealism. This is the post-Militant, post-Cold War generation of Labour supporters who are as committed to 'modernising' the Labour Party as they are to whatever it is they are committed to. Clean rivers, I suppose.

Maggie and Paul work their way up the party hierarchy, each occasionally shocking the other with betrayals of principle, but these are really quite trivial. Maggie is disrespectful about Labour leftwinger Claire Short; Paul betrays the confidence of a Tory friend, etc. As Maggie becomes an MP and Paul a special adviser, the compromises become more profound. The government sticks rigidly to Tory spending limits, and lacerates the totemic Freedom of Information Bill, and they begin to ask themselves what they are working for anyway.

Paul gets involved with Lindsey, a nurse and a single mother, who helps with the 1997 election campaign, and then suffers the 'disappointment' first hand on a hospital ward. Kaye Wragg is an excellent actress, and her performance gives some depth to a character who would otherwise be little more than a cipher for the working class, and who must also suffer the indignity of providing the gratuitous nudity that marks The Project as a 'serious drama'.

Strangely perhaps, The Project is nothing like The West Wing (E4, Thursdays and Sundays at 9pm), which also deals with the compromises of power. This is partly because The Project is a polemic, but in a funny way its focus is actually more personal and psychological. What does drive people to get into government if it isn't politics? The closest we get to an answer is Harvey, a brash New Labour fixer who declares that his hero is Norman Tebbit. He is the type of person who lives on adrenaline and revels in dastardly deeds. Another cipher, then, but no nudity.

This psychological approach (and indeed the fact that The Project is a drama rather than a documentary) is an apt reflection of New Labour's own mission. Policy is less important than presentation, because what New Labour really wants is to connect with people on a psychological, even emotional, level (1). The Project misses this by portraying New Labour as little more than an election machine, but faithfully reproduces the approach itself. Just as Blair is sincere about nothing in particular, Maggie and Paul are idealistic about nothing in particular. You just can't help but like them.

As the credits went up at the press screening, the rightwing journalist and editor Andrew Neil loudly asked when the Guardian had gone into TV production. (As Neil ought to know, the Guardian has gone into TV production - although this isn't one of theirs.) Actually the programme is quite interesting on the relationship between the media and politics: one of the main characters works on BBC Radio's Today programme, which New Labour sometimes regards as the real opposition, and the ensuing tension is quite impressive.

It is impossible to watch The Project without getting the message, and it isn't very profound, but there is enough dramatic contemplation of personal motivation and loyalty to make the programme worth watching. Just don't miss the West Wing.



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* note from webmaster - the following is an interview with the late Leigh Jackson, who wrote The Project. His CV at PFD reads -

Born in London in 1950, Leigh was educated at Tiverton Grammar School and Manchester University, where he studied Politics and Economics. His writing career began with plays for the stage and for radio but for the last decade he concentrated on writing for the screen. Leigh passed away in 2003.

Special report: Labour party

Three years of Labour pains

Leigh Jackson tells how his political drama The Project reached our screens despite huge hurdles, including his diagnosis of cancer

Sunday November 10, 2002
The Observer

In the autumn of 1997 New Labour faced its first winter as a Government after 18 years out in the cold, and I was having my first meeting with Peter Kosminsky to discuss making a drama about the war in Bosnia. In preparation I had watched Peter's film Shoot to Kill, which took us into the hard world of sectarian politics in Northern Ireland. For his part, Peter had ploughed through my adaptation of Charlotte Bronte's autobiographical novel Villette. It did not take a genius to see what attracted Peter to a film about the experiences of the first British soldiers to become embroiled in the early days of that Balkan madness. I thought it was a wonderful leap of faith that he felt confident I could write as convincingly about young squaddies as I could about recalcitrant love finding its match in mid-nineteenth century Brussels.

Warriors was shown around the world. None of us could have predicted just how pertinent the film was to become in the aftermath of Kosovo, and now its shadow hovered over writer and director as two years later we sat in a BBC office to discuss another project: The Project, in fact - the transformation of the Labour Party into New Labour.

My memories of May 1997 are hazy - a lot of cheering and alcohol as the Tories were routed. Later, taking a taxi to Brixton, the driver had the radio tuned to a news programme and, as we passed fellow fans celebrating on the streets, it felt like the England football team had just beaten the Faroe Islands. It was a long time since the popular profile of politics had been so high.

During the making of Warriors, in the early years of the Blair Government, I lost touch - politics and filmmaking can be very similar occupations, where you forget the price of a pint of milk. Certainly the odd distress rocket had gone up. Why was the Government cutting single parent benefit and then attacking disability benefit?

One of the problems of research is that your ideas can become swamped by your material, but nothing could keep down the growing realisation that after 18 years we might have voted in another 'Tory' government, only this one was more efficient and twice as ruthless. One of the big differences between research ing Warriors and The Project is that the soldiers were desperate to talk while the democratically elected Labour Government was desperate to do anything but. Our researcher, Phillip Marlow, was continually blocked, people would agree to talk and then mysteriously change their mind. These were not just people holding senior positions, as one of my early decisions was that the story should be told from within the middle ranks. We were told, though we have no proof of this, that a memo had gone around Downing Street telling people not to talk to us.

For six months I read, the researcher researched... and the pile of papers grew on my study floor until it resembled the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It was fear that started me writing. Fear of never starting, let alone finishing.

We needed a structure. I needed my study floor to pace. I decided The Project should start in 1992: I didn't want a Labour Party history lesson, and '92, after a fourth election loss in a row, raised fears that the party could disappear altogether. The end was obvious - the 1997 election victory. It was going to be 90 minutes long. All our characters would be fictional - no impersonations. These would be characters the audience believed existed in the world we were recreating, and they would speak with their own voice. The eight main characters who emerged at this time were not to change significantly over the next three years. Our persistence was paying off, people were talking to us, telling us what it was like to be in there, fighting for the life of the party.

Most of 2000 was spent working on the script as I accommodated new research. Even when Warriors was nominated for an Emmy (we were beaten by a Danish programme about a youth football team), Peter and I paced my New York hotel room, banging the sides of the script to see what else would fall off. At times it became a very acrimonious process. Thank God for Jack Daniels, but what a waste of New York.

The Government had its problems. It was facing a backlash from press and public for its skilled use of (but growing dependence on) spin and presentation. Not that I had to worry about anything post-1997 - or so I thought. The problem was the research: the script never felt finished, and the next election would probably be spring 2001 so we had to go into production quickly if we were to show before the election.

Then the BBC began to feel the piece needed a second part, taking our characters into Government. The idea filled me with dread - this was turning into a marathon. But they did have a point.

Then Peter was offered a film in America (so that's what the mysterious meeting in New York had been about). There was no doubting his commitment to us, but if we abandoned spring 2001 he could make his film while I wrote the second part. The decision was mine. Why does the writer always get those decisions?

So the director went to Hollywood. I was to join him in the autumn of 2001 - Peter was finishing up his film - for more banging of the script, this time in Los Angeles bungalow accommodation. While in LA I took a long walk along the beach at Malibu, watching the pelicans dive while the director remained, flaked out back in the restaurant among the remains of a great seafood lunch.

I hung on to that memory because when I came back to England I was diagnosed with cancer: nasopharyngeal with Chinese lymphoid tissue if we're going to be exact. A tumour on my tongue had moved sideways into the lymph system, hence the sudden swelling on the side of my neck. This was not supposed to happen to me. I didn't smoke, I ran and played football every week, and my slavish devotion to organic food threatened to make me a figure of ridicule. And I hadn't finished writing.

I had two choices: the knife, followed by blasts of technology; or to live on green juices you could buy over the internet from doctors with strange names who lived in Memphis. One minute I was fit and well, the next I had staples running up the side of my neck and the radiotherapy/chemotherapy was turning my body to lead. When the treatment reached the stage where even opening your eyes was an effort, thinking about New Labour became impossible. My world shrank. I wore tracksuits and Red Indian moccasins.

Eventually the treatment stopped and my body started to recover, but in the outside world things had been happening. We had been given the green light to make The Project, which was great news, but everybody felt the second part needed a complete rewrite. Was I up to it? Should we delay and risk losing the slot? Should another writer take over? After two years-plus-cancer? I didn't think so.

One of the great things about Peter as a director is his focus. He will know the material inside out but has no pretensions to being a dramatist - he will identify the problems, confident his writer will come up with the solutions. We each have boundaries that are respected by the other. So I sat huddled against a radiator making notes while we went over the options I had chosen to dramatise; single parent benefit, disability allowance, freedom of information. We had been working on The Project for over two years, and we had titles: Part One was called Opposition and Part Two Government. As in real life, Government was proving more difficult than Opposition.

Post 1997, our drama could easily be overtaken by real events. Interestingly, it never occurred to any of us that Labour might lose the 2001 election, which would have demanded major rewriting. The answer seemed to be to stay away from anything that was 'of the moment'. Petrol strikes and dodgy party finances were not as interesting as how loyalty to the party was rewarded and principles still survived amid all the spin. I also had to remind myself to improvise. There is a sequence in 'Government' involving the Lord Chancellor's very expensive Pugin wallpaper and how it ends up as a Valentine present, which illustrates this point perfectly.

Earlier in the same episode there is a long radio interview with Harriet Harman. While we hear her desperately failing to defend Government policy to cut lone parent benefit, we see key characters in the same Government preparing to distance themselves from her. Even as Harriet drowns, the lifeboats are being pulled up out of the water.

The work paid off, but endings are often a problem. And with The Project we would not get our ending until we were well into shooting. Meanwhile the machine had taken over: auditions were held, teams assembled, the read-through arrived, we had grown from one 90-minute drama to two, each of 100 minutes-plus. Warriors was brought to life by a magnificent cast, and this one was even bigger - 126 speaking parts - but equally spectacular in its talents.

And now here we are, about to go out on television. Three years' work. We have tried to show that politics, far from being boring, is relevant to everyone. Maybe it helps that the action takes place among people we can recognise and identify with. For me, if it should prove to be the last thing I write, then it could not be better testimony to a life spent in sporadic usefulness.

· The Project is on BBC1 tonight at 9pm and concludes tomorrow at 9pm



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The Project - London Mirror review

DOCU-DRAMA IS CYNICAL ATTACK ON LABOUR

'The New Labour drama no one wanted to see' WHY has British TV never had its own West Wing - the award-winning drama about life at the White House - where people are wrestling with real-life dilemmas, and acting, in the end, for good motives not ill?

Such a programme, it seems, could never work in Britain. And the heavily hyped The Project tells us why.

As it demonstrates all too clearly, any British TV programme about politics has to show almost everyone driven solely by cynicism, self-interest and ambition.

The drama, which concluded on BBC1 last night, was set over the years of Labour's election build-up and coming to power in 1997.

It starred Matthew Macfadyen, Naomie Harris, Paloma Baeza and James Frain who plays the poor creature - fictional in every sense - who is forced to play dirty tricks on the Tories.

They make the best of their cheesy lines (unrecognisable to those of us who were there), which are offset only by some smart, edgy camera work. Fans of Alastair Campbell would have been disappointed that there is no one playing him (or me for that matter).

Indeed, there was no one I could identify from the hard-working team, many unpaid, of which I was immensely proud to be a member.

What The Project showed was so far from the truth and offered such a partial, incomplete picture of what Labour has done since 1997.

Would the producers know one end of a national minimum wage from another, or realise what it's like to have above- average increases in the state pension or depend on record rises in child benefit? I somehow doubt it.

To deliver these and other improvements you have to get into power first. I make no apology for our determination to beat the Tories at their own political game and, yes, to keep ahead of the media who owe Labour no favours.

What would the programme-makers have preferred? A Labour campaign of the sort that lost us four elections in a row and, in the early 1980s, made us an international laughing-stock?

For the record, I do not know of any Labour employee rummaging through Tory dustbins. If there had been any sweet-smelling fruits of such endeavour, I think I would have known about it. As for the alleged crime of infiltrating our opponents, I had far too much concern for Millbank staff than ever to ask them to attend Tory cocktail parties.

The programme-makers had Millbank's physical layout roughly right, but they did not capture the excitement and team spirit of those days. Everyone felt part of the action. There were no smoke-filled rooms, no muttering in dark corners.

But the real target of this BBC parody was not Millbank at all. It was this Labour Government. And here I do think the programme- makers became consumed by their own narrow political agenda.

They drew a picture of the first years of this Government that bears no relation to the truth. To suggest that nothing changed and that all we had to show was disenchantment and disillusionment is nonsense.

Perhaps a few trips out of the metropolis to the once ruined towns of the North-East, like my own constituency of Hartlepool, would have opened their eyes. But to show that this Labour Government helped boost the pay of a million of the poorest paid people would undermine the programme's view that Labour has let down its supporters.

Did it mention that, despite fierce opposition, we introduced the windfall tax on the profits of the privatised utilities? No, because if it had, it would have undermined suggestions that the Government was in the pocket of business.

Did it mention that this money was used to introduce the New Deal to tackle the scandal of youth unemployment. No it didn't.

No mention either that the number of infants in over-sized classes had already been halved, that a nursery place has been provided for every four-year-old, that the literacy and numeracy hour were in place and already improving results.

No mention that, within two years, there were already 400,000 more people in work and mortgages were lower than for a generation.

All of it happened because the country elected a Labour Government and the Labour Government was delivering on its promises.

Governments should be criticised for breaking promises. It's a bit rich to criticise them for doing what they said they would. This is the crux of the programme-makers' rant.

Apparently, they are (just about) prepared to tolerate the party being elected as New Labour as long as it governs as Old Labour.

Sorry, if that's the sort of politics you want, then go back to the one-term Labour governments of the 60s and 70s. But in doing so, don't think you will be helping those who really depend on Labour being in office.

The programme-makers say they were driven to make The Project to explain why people are cynical about politics. In fact, all this drama does is promote the very cynicism they claim to regret.



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A tale rich in character and coincidence

By Andrew Sparrow and Tom Leonard

(Filed: 06/11/2002)

The makers of The Project vehemently deny suggestions that their main characters are thinly disguised caricatures of real people.

However, even if no character is entirely based on a single person, many appear to be composites of Labour figures as there are some intriguing coincidences.

Matthew Macfadyen Paul Tibbenham (Matthew Macfadyen) plays a former Manchester University student who works his way through various behind-the-scenes Labour jobs before becoming a special adviser at No 10.

He is later approached by the party's chief spin doctor to work for him. There is no suggestion that he ever engaged in dirty tricks but Derek Draper, the former Labour spin doctor, did go to Manchester University. He later became the acolyte of Peter Mandelson.

Richard Loach (Derek Riddell) is a special adviser at the Treasury who is head-hunted from the City by the Chancellor. He falls in love with Irene Lloyd (Paloma Baeza), a journalist.

Ed Balls, Gordon Brown's economics whizz-kid was recruited by the Chancellor from the Financial Times. He has since married the Labour MP Yvette Cooper, who was a journalist at the Independent. The Loach character is, however, also a loud-mouthed media manipulator - drawing parallels instead with Mr Brown's former spin doctor, Charlie Whelan.

James Frain as Harvey Harvey (James Frain) is a "behind the scenes operator for Labour with an intentionally ill-defined role". Peter Mandelson was Labour's great election tactician and became a minister without portfolio and the prime minister's fixer after the 1997 election.

Maggie Dunn is a black "Blair babe" from the north who is elected at a young age to represent her home town. Lorna Fitzsimons may not be black but she became an MP at 29, for her home town of Rochdale, Lancs.

Stanley Hall (Anton Lesser) is a millionaire who is also Labour's focus group guru. In one scene he lies to the prime minister about his popularity to flatter him. Philip Gould, Tony Blair's favourite pollster, is a very rich man too. While there is no suggestion that he ever misled Mr Blair about his appeal to voters, insiders claim the resemblance between Hall and Gould is the most striking of any in the drama.



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An enjoyable bunch of BBC viewers comments:

Monday, 11 November, 2002, 10:14 GMT

The Project: Your views

The Project goes behind the scenes of New Labour

The two-part television drama The Project is set in the world of politics, offering a look behind the scenes of New Labour. The show, set against the backdrop of real events, charts the rise of three people involved with the party - including a political adviser and a spin doctor - over a period of nine years.

"Anyone who was around at Westminster for the decade covered in the film, will be very familiar with these vignettes of life at the heart of The Project," wrote BBC News Online political correspondent Nyta Mann.

But what do you think?

Is an effective political drama? Or just another run-of-the-mill look behind the scenes in politics?

What an intense political drama..... And that was just the first part!
Stuart Robbins, England

I think that The Project confirms what most people suspect of New Labour; that they will continue to resort to any level of dirty tricks, subterfuge and control freakery to hold on to power.
Bob, UK

Refreshing, an eye opener into the the murky world of New Labour and spin.
Marco, UK

I thought the programme was brilliant and I'm looking forward to the conclusion this evening.
Sheila Williams, UK

My mother was heavily involved with New Labour around the time of their rise to government in 1997 so it's interesting to see what was going on behind the scenes while she was busy pushing leaflets through doors and plastering posters all over town.
Jennifer, Netherlands

It was like watching paint dry - a hideously literal approach which defines the worst kind of auntie-ish drama. Maybe the writers/director were trying to find some distance from - say - Primary Colors, but they would have done much better to have focused on a shorter, more intense period and drawn the story from that rather than trying to tell everything.
Steve, UK

When did the BBC go from government funded to government controlled?
Philip Frampton, England

Trash! Anything to with New Labour is utter trash!
R. Steward, Great Britain

All spin ... no delivery ... enough said.
JS, UK

The first part was an interesting insight into the machinations of the New Labour party? I do not, however, believe the Conservative Party Central Office is much different.
Jonathan Gill, UK

It shows just how far Mr Blair has taken us, and is prepared to go, to maintain supreme control.
M Joyce, UK

Hardly cutting edge stuff. No surprises, no tension, way too long and entirely predictable
John Cooper, UK

I really enjoyed it last night. Refreshing, an eye opener into the the murky world of New Labour and spin. Only the BBC would have the clout to make such a good programme! Makes me feel happy paying my TV licence. Good job!!
Marco, UK

Very enjoyable viewing but not particularly hard-hitting in my view. Not much in the way of scene setting for the previous "Thatcher years" - for instance no reference to events such as the poll-tax riots.

Overall worth the licence fee ! But shows how tame our politics really are in comparison to our cousins across the pond. Witness the recent senatorial race with a Vietnam veteran (Dem) who lost THREE LIMBS in the conflict being branded unpatriotic by his (Rep) opponent !!
Steve Cogan, UK

I watched it. It was very slow and lacked any pace. My wife and I will probably not watch the second part. I believe it probably potrayed what happens in most political parties. They are a mixture of many ideas and types. I expect Ian Duncan Smith is seeing this right now.
Bob Downes, U.K.

Most enjoyable. I like the important themes it is exploring.
Simon, London

Very bitty - a good deal of background knowledge required
Christine Kirkby, UK

Hardly cutting edge stuff. No surprises, no tension, way too long and entirely predictable. We all knew that all this stuff went on - who was it aimed at? If there is anyone left in the country who didn't know that that was what New Labour was like then they certainly wouldn't have been interested in watching the programme in the first place! I could have written the script.
Jon Cooper, UK

Well it sure confirms my worst fears about New Labour and why I along with many thousands have lost interest in politics and politicians. It is without doubt second only to accountancy (corporate auditing) in the league of disreputable occupations right now.
M Stageman, England

A mish mash. I will not be watching the second episode.
Steve Mitchell, UK

Very bitty - a good deal of background knowledge required. Characters hard to distinguish - Tory friend/Brown acolyte.
Christine Kirkby, UK

Everything that I suspected New Labour were up to, they were indeed behind. When Labour were crying "sleaze" they were up to their armpits in mud, throwing it at Conservatives. The cynicism, the pursuit of power for its own sake, the bullying of the media and the internal fighting were all wonderfuly put across. At last New Labour laid bare.
Ian McCord, Leeds, UK

This was just a poor man's copy of the West Wing
Paul Wenderling, UK

Very tame. Have they been warned off showing the real story behind the spin?
David Mellor, UK

Just another piece of formulaic BBC multicultural, feminist, Blairite propoganda. Ugh.
Michael S, UK

Pretty dull and boring - where was the meat, this was just the bystanders and second league players.
Ro Watson, UK

I don't know about the Labour Party, but I found the programme rather dull and difficult to follow at times.
Chris, UK

Perhaps this was fine for anyone around in Westminster but for ordinary punters like me, it was simply bad TV, jumping around so much I didn't know where I was, and I turned it off half way through. I certainly won't bother to watch tonight. Lightweight and very poorly presented.
David Meikle, England

A great piece of fictional drama. Pure entertainment, just enough "chicanery", not to make it too far fetched.
Ken Astill, England

While we continue to be fascinated by raking over the entrails of our recent history, derivative programmes like The Project will continue to be made. It wasn't so much the subject, which was uninteresting, as the recherche stagnant script, which wasted the available acting talent on show; most significantly Naomie Harris, who is on the cusp of fame. More current affairs please, less re-writing of history, thank you.
Shahab Mossavat, UK

Excellent so far (half way). No doubt every party acts like this though!
Paul, UK

I will never get that 1h 45mins back. Just what goes through your minds when you commission this rubbish?
Matthew Bailey, UK

Tosh, and misleading tosh at that. An attempt at portraying real events would have far more impact and far more interest.
Ken Brown, England

The Project depicts a certain party so corrupted by the pursuit of power and control that it has become quite evil. How very accurate.
Alexander, United Kingdom

Pretty dated in terms of its directorial style (just how many jerky hand-held cameras can we take?) it nevertheless did the job intended: exposing the chilling ethical vacuum at the heart of "New" Labour.

Two obvious criticisms: predictably, it portrayed the BBC as far more impartial than it really is and its criticisms of The Project were entirely from a Left perspective.

Some connection there, maybe? Surely not!
G. Cooper, UK

The first half of The Project showed very well how easily altruism becomes corrupted into a desire for power for its own sake; it demonstrated how, to use an old-fashioned word, honorable men and women will always fall foul of the ruthless self-aggrandisement of the dishonorable element; and worst of all, it all felt horribly familiar. We are asked to vote for the product of these machinations, and yet they don't appear to realise that we are on to them - that's the most insulting thing!

One thing the programme failed to convey was the sheer joy, elation and relief that the "nightmare years" were over at last (and I'm a Lib Dem!). This leads me to believe that they will also fail to capture the enormity of the sense of betrayal that people are now experiencing.
Fran, UK

I thought that this was a fascinating insight into the New Labour machine in action. It really makes you realise how effectively Labour managed the election and the lead-up to it, and how all of the spin which we know is integral to Labour was used ruthlessly - the Tories had no chance against all of that. Labour certainly came a long way between 1992 and 1997.
Greg, UK

Didn't live up to the billing and was a pretty poor over-hyped run-of-the-mill sunday night drama. Try harder next time. How about a dramatisation of this butler Paul Burrell affair - now that could be interesting.
John Brownlee, England

How do we mortals know if The Project is realistic? We were not there. All we know is what we see on TV or read in the papers. The only people who can comment on the accuracy of the programme are those who it is about.
Alex, England

Pure and simple - it was no West Wing.
Robert, UK

I can imagine that's what actually happend behind the scenes in "New Labour". Blair's no better than anything else. In fact I think he's a lot worse...
Paul Taylor, UK

A very cynical, dark, almost frightening look at politics....just what any good political drama should be. I found it a little disjointed, skipping through the years just a little too quickly for me. However, I enjoyed it and if the protrayal is accurate, then it serves to highlight just how Machiavellian politics has become.
D Bourne, Wales

It was difficult to believe the main character had got anywhere as he appeared completely disengaged. It was badly acted and the characters seemed to be a vehicle for damning New Labour and thus it was difficult to empathise with any of them.
Anon, UK

Very poor. Unusually, as it became more and more predictable I ceased to engage with it and simply found myself feeling sorry for the actors having to project such weak characters and poor lines. They must have felt they were back in a school drama class.
Des, Londo, UK

The Project was excellent - challenging, exciting and fascinating. It certainly seemed to vindicate the suspicions that many people hold about the way the Labour Party operates. Much more importantly, if even half of what was portrayed is true (and I believe it to be), we need to address the appalling tactics of political parties immediately.
C M Price, UK

I think the programme was effective in exposing the "anything goes to win power" attitude that characterised New Labour's victory in 1997. It should be compulsory viewing for the former Tory voters who switched alligence in their droves only to discover that the New Labour promises not to raise taxes, improve the NHS, education and be tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime, was a complete lie designed simply to attain power. We're all now about to reap the whirlwind: rising unemployment, falling house prices, rising taxes, faltering economy and an uncaring, elected dictatorship.

Will the general public wake up and realise what's going on? I hope so for all our sakes.
John Duffy, UK

The Project was a stunning and deeply insightful view of the events surrounding the phoenix-like ressurection of the Labour party from the Tory quagmire of the 80s. If a British version of Primary Colours was to be made, this would truly be it. For anyone who doubts the real forces at work in the Labour Party, this is proof positive that the New Labour machine is oiled by the liquid spin of the wizard behind the curtain himself, Alastair Campbell.
Lenny Audaer, UK

I think people already know goes on behind the scenes. The Project simply highlights that Labour are just as dirty and ruthless as the Tories. They well and truly had the country sucked in, I hope dramas like this will make people wake up to the fact that politicians both Labour and Tories are as bad as each other. The main difference between New Labour and Conservatives, is that the Tories are now completely useless at fooling the public. What makes Labour even worse is the fact that they would abandon their principles for power. Everyone knows what the Tories are.
Jason, UK

After all the sensational BBC hype - the whole thing so far is so Labour - just words and no plot - hope the concluding episode is better!!
Paul H, UK

The drama was very slow to get into and didn't develop any of the characters very well at all. However, the actual events which took place were very entertaining and believable. I look forward to tomorrow's installment.
Alan Roden, Scotland

Fascinating. It paints quite a realistic picture of our modern day political machinery, regardless of which party that is. I thought that the programme illustrated very well the commonly held reason why so many are disaffected with our politicians. Personal greed and ambition, whether its power or money, or both. Greed is the driver. Survival is the game. Many of the clips reminded me of some of my more politically motivated friends over the years. Initially the path is one of ideals and good intentions, which quickly becomes a chessgame of moves and counter moves to ensure that one remains in with the pack of power.

I didn't read this as a slant on New Labour as such. It is clear that much of what was shown was the prerequisites of attaining power. In doing so, they had become the beast that they had slain. Such is the way of politics and media minding. Can't wait to see the next part!
Jim Dempster, UK

As a political drama, it has a credible and authentic feel to it. It depicts the all too real power struggles and the betrayals in the cut throat world of politics which few other dramas can match.
Jamie, UK

Nothing new, nothing to be ashamed of. The Labour Party needed to win the election, and they did everything possible to bring British politics kicking and screaming into the 20th century, ready for the 21st.
Matt Larkin, UK

Well, having watched episode one, if anything it has strengthened my belief in the party! As a businessman I recognise the changes that were made within the party as changes that any evolving organisation in these global times has had to make. I am sure episode two is the one lined up to pour the acid however. I wait with baited breath.
Rokkster, UK

Nothing we didn't know already. The programme itself was rather sappy! it further boils the blood of Brownite though!!
Andy, Great Britain

Dross, a poor soap, wasted half an hour of my time. No wit, no humour, no intelligence.
Ian Berry, Manchester, UK

I was a member of the Labour Party during the period of The Project, and it seems like an excellent portrayal of the changes that occured in the Labour Party during those years. We see the cynicism of the leadership, the desperation to win office at any cost, and, eventually, the terrible realisation of exactly how high that cost was. The BBC will, no doubt, come under yet more fire from the Party machine for this, but the makers of the drama should be commended for it.
Graham Copp, London, UK

We're all supposed to be so very absorbed by the antics of these lovely, intelligent and oh-so-special Oxbridge hopefuls as they cling to Tony's coat-tails. Oh, and the people over at the Beeb are even clever and more wonderful. And they're all so sincere/clever/manipulative/super. Please. All they have acheived is a triumph of empty marketing over policy, and Tony's Cronies have turned out to be little more than salesman in flash suits smiling to the cameras whilst they sell off Britain to the PFI merchants in the City.

And where will all these darlings be in a few years time? Working for the same PFI companies! And is this TV with an edge? No, because it doesn't expose the real hard-boiled cynicism of Tony's army, just the nicer end of confused thrusting radicalism that younger people have.
James, Oxford, England

This was a bold and highly interesting piece of drama. Excellent work.
Angus Hardie, UK

Good political drama, The Project looks back on the period with a certain nostalgia which could only come with the change 18 years in opposition would bring. Another Auntie success story!
Emmet McDonough, Ireland

Brilliant! Very revealing and entertaining. I'm not especially keen on New Labour but I agree with a lot of the perspectives put across in the first episode - Labour wouldn't have been elected if it stuck to the "oldo" Labour image and Clause 4! The mock cabinet scene was especially good! Can't wait for tomorrow's episode.
James Morgan, UK

Remarkably effective and clear analysis of the actions and principles of the New Labour movement. Should send a shiver down the spine of most non-political people.
Stephen, UK

The Project effectively conveys the spin dominated party New Labour has become, showing the human consequences of false sloganising and deceit. I doubt life behind the scenes of New Labour is quite as interesting as the programme depicts, with sex almost a part of the party membership package, but a worthy political drama, the likes of which has been missing from TV schedules since the equally sceptical House of Cards
. Alex Macrory, England

This programme was interesting viewing, but one of the most politically biased pieces of broadcasting I have ever seen. Conservatives were portrayed as racists and Liberal Democrats as in favour of drugs. Labour on the other hand was going to do entirely "nice" things. What plans does the BBC have to do a drama about the other two political parties showing them in a good light so as to fulfil its legal requirement to be politically balanced?
Mark, UK

Utter tosh, believable, but bad TV. Why not tell the truth instead of producing this dramatisation that doesn't.
Jeff Jenkins, UK

As a Labour activist I was looking forward to a drama featuring history and events I could identify with. As a grassroots member, I was looking forward to the dissing of the "Millbank Tendency". I turned off after forty five minutes, bored by the two-dimensional characters and stilted dialogue.
Geraldine, UK

Good late night viewing - sent me off to sleep quite nicely thank you.
Brian, UK

A political party using spin and dirty tricks to gain and then stay in power? Boring. Nothing we didn't know already.
JP Nicholls, UK

I watched this drama for about twenty minutes and found it stifingly boring. We have heard and seen all this stuff over the last few years with acres of newsprint being used. Does any ordinary member of the public really care what grimy events go on behind closed doors? I certainly don't. I should have watched Foyles War or kept an eye on my washing machine or observed the paint drying in our kitchen.
Bri Millar, Scotland

It was very fragmentary and the main character had an emotional range from A to B. Is it really as bad as this? Yes there always have been cynical manipulators in the party, but we heard little from the mass of die-hard activists who are currently hanging on to membership by their fingernails. It was a pretty good hatchet job though, wasn't it?
Bob Marshall, U.K.

It was more old hat than New Labour. A very poor cousin in the political scandal family to House Of Cards.
Amanda, UK

Whilst I found this (first part) to be quite an enjoyable drama I have to say I cannot understand what all the fuss has been about! Those of us who are often called cynical will see this as business as usual (or as we always suspected). But really, there was nothing to justify all the hype and (much like some of the storylines) if people had ignored the pre-publicity the whole thing would just have passed us by. I remember the drama with Ian Richardson as a scheming politician - that seemed more like something to write home about that these ordinary tales.
Guy Hancock, Britain

Frankly boring. We're really into politics in our house but even we switched it off and went to bed halfway through. Too slow paced.
Sarah Taylor, UK

Very dull; no sense of drama; no sense of what inspired the activists and a landslide majority. Compared to the West Wing, there was no insight into the real dilemnas of policy and presentation. I predict that we will not find anything in the second episode to show us why a second landslide followed.
John Lloyd, U.K.

Very good. Became a little confusing as to who was meant to do what, but I'm sure it is close to the mark.
Andrew, UK

Brilliant! Please, can we have the same about the Conservative party?
Claire, UK

Very good drama explaining how the New Labour spin machine got into action. Didn't focus enough on the Tories disastrous fourth term leaving the door open for Blair - it wasn't all down to Mandelson! Can't wait for tonight's conclusion.
Simon, UK

Whilst highlighting the events and tactics of the time, it has no character development and it assumes we all know what were the issues. It is more like a precis of a documentary.
Joe, UK

Enjoyable mostly, but storyline was too disjointed to really engage. I would have liked to have known more in depth detail about how the characters got to where they were, rather than them just appearing there. From a political perspective, there was nothing that really merited the furore about the drama.
C, England

It is lucky for Labour that The Project was based upon interviews with poeple who were on the inside in the relevant period. It seems reasonable to assume that these informants still held some Labour sympathies. The truth is probably substantially worse that that portrayed on the screen. Overall it seemed to be a well researched and presented programme; although sadly it confirms just how low politics and politicians (on all sides) have sunk.
Tim, UK

Rubbish. Compared to the West Wing it was hopeless.
Peter Simmons, UK

The worrying thing so far is how believable it is.
Andrew, UK

The problem for the Project is that the reality is more extreme, more hypocritical, more unprincipled than the drama. The pastiche characters in the show are outdone by the real-life originals on which they are based. The parting shot at the end of the first episode said it all - New Labour (aka "the Tony Party") represents the most extensive political betrayal of principle in recent UK history.
Keith, GB

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