The Challengers Introduction
by Edmund Ward
The two Members of Parliament who are The Challengers represent the adjoining constituencies which make up a town called Andersley.
Andersley is roughly comparable in size to Derby, Norwich or Walsall-three of the dozen or so areas in this country with two constituencies in which one Member is Socialist and his neighbour Conservative.
Its population is about 150,000, its origins those of a small market town swamped early in the industrial revolution. Some history remains in a bottleneck section of the High Street and a narrow access road into the centre past the Abbey. A river loops across the northern edge of the town and the. nineteenth century linked this to a canal system and a sprawl of railway.
To the east, the Notts, Derby and Yorkshire coalfield adds a fringe of slag-heaps and colliery winding wheels. On the alluvial plain have grown the other old industries-dyeworks, woollen mills, heavy engineering and specialist foundries existing on sub-contracts from the big wagon sheds of the railway maintenance yards.
Tacked on to the south of the town are two industrial estates, one of them pre-war, where biscuits, hosiery and light engineering take up some of the slack as older industries decline. This side of town is only moderately prosperous and unemployment figures are slightly higher than the national average.
To the west of Andersley is the wooded river escarpment of an old Pennine fault. Above this, the country rises, at first gently and then to the steep and bracken covered Dale tops where buzzards wheel and watch the pall of the town twenty miles away. Between the buzzards and the biscuit factories is a wide crescent of good agricultural land, a rich swathe carefully farmed by careful men.
On this immediate side of the town boundaries and within the Parliamentary constituency of Andersley West, the rural fringe is jealously preserved and the suburbs become villages, a rearguard bastion to the big houses on the escarpment proper.
Between rural and industrial, there are still some steps on the feudal ladder but these assume smaller importance as the descent is made from the moors and the rural suburbs to the council estates on the other side of town.
On that same steady slope, the recreations change and are becoming interchangeable. The yeoman farmers and minor county set patronise the pony clubs and point-to-points but the local football club at the bottom of the second division has the local baronet as its chairman. Farm bailiffs and their employers lay bets at the illegal coursing on the moors.
Attendance is dwindling a:t the rugby league ground, two cinemas have just closed, the bingo halls offer joints of meat as Friday prizes, the racing pigeons are still stacked in crates on the railway platform.
There is still a market day but this is more a benefit for publicans with extended licensing hours than a forum for fatstock, and the old sheep-pens are now an asphalt playground for children. A new technical college was opened two years ago but the eighty-year old grammar school still clings to its title and the name of the Victorian mogul who endowed it.
The population derives its character from the intransigence of heavy industry and relics of a pride in craft remain. The textile trade and later light industry gave rise to a tradition of working women and the independence this induces in them exists side by side with a respect for their men who earn money hard and sometimes dangerously.
Encroaching on this very quickly are the lessons being taught by the newer managerial classes who spread a blanket of influence across the town, but factories side by side can still operate on opposite policies of paternalism and critical-path analysis.
John Killane becomes Conservative MP for Andersley West in the first play. He was born in 1936, in a Bournemouth nursing home, the second son of an unambitious Anglican clergyman who botanised happily across a prosperous living in rural Hampshire, content to let a more mercenary brother-in-law collect the school-fee bills for all the family children.
Killane went to prep school, through a minor public school on a church scholarship, then to London University for a good degree in mathematics. He is fond of the place he went home to for holidays but has no strong local roots or ties. From university, he went to one of the big oil companies as a statistician, then moved to become assistant head of their European market research division following six months training in America.
In 1964, he joined an ex-colleague and the disgruntled principal of a mass-opinion survey and the three of them set up an independent market-research agency-financed by the mercenary uncle who was paid back within two years.
The agency became successful very quickly by reason of a combination of talents. Killane's contribution was the interpretation of results, the ability to take cold, hard figures and use knowledge and intuition to translate the figures into people. His mathematical skills became only an adjunct to this flair. Killane was earning about £10,000 a year.
With his ability for translating figures into people, the opportunity to use a statistician's skills to compare the systems of government of other countries with that of Britain, Killane's upbringing and a strong sense of history asserted themselves.
His leanings were Conservative, his first motives only the desire to use the skills of his profession to bring about more efficient government. Both political parties have panels of advisors from the selling, economic and academic professions-admen, designers, s-statisticians, specialist lecturers-who contribute time in support of their beliefs.
Killane joined and was then quickly running the ad hoc research panel. Then he wanted more than to give advice. He wanted to put his translation of figures into action. This was after two years on the advisory sidelines when he had made it his business to know a great deal about the mechanics of politics.
The selection committee was not entirely unanimous. In Killane's favour was evident sincerity, willingness to serve, a proven commercial record, youth, good looks, a brilliant mind. Against him was certain irreverence, a sharp wit, an independence-financial and more than some lack of experience. Also against him was a messy divorce, kept quiet and with Killane blameless. The judge gave him sympathy and custody of the two children.
Killane was offered a candidacy in somewhere like Swindon, fought it well and lost. Even in the anonymous hubbub of a general election, his campaign made its mark for energy, professionalism, and sincerity. Killane is not a hustling seeker after power or privilege and it showed. He was sent up-without much optimism-to nurse Andersley West, then a Labour seat with majority of about 3,000.
He managed to prove that being a single man is not a disadvantage if that single man has enough energy and charm. The Conservative ladies are often the mainspring of the local associations-particularly in fundraising-and a candidate's wife is expected to take her share of 'the load. For Killane, the ladies worked a lit-tie harder.
The minor squirearchy respected his good manners, the rising meritocracy admired his technical skills. But he was still not one of them. He was from the South, had friends at Central Office, ran a business in London. They would have preferred a local man.
Another factor against him was the element of the solitary in his character. Outwardly approachable and charming, Killane is a difficult man to know. Some of this stems from his capacity for analysis, some of it from the divorce scars. And he is lonely in Andersley.
It would be better for Killane in Andersley if he were more of a hypocrite, affected a few local phrases, adopted some form of protective local colouring. He will not do this. But where no one can fault him is in his knowledge of local conditions, the result of weekends of hard work. The knowledge, though, is still acquired, not intuitive or inbred, and Killane still has a lot to learn about local character-and knows it.
Then the Labour incumbent dies. Killane fights the by-election and wins it with a majority of about 2,000- against the odds and local betting. He is now forced to face his own motives for seeking office and whether the achievements are worth it. He will be up against the Labour Member for the other half of the town, a skilled, hard and experienced politician.
He will be expected to contribute to local issues now, not theorise about them. He will be expected to repay favours, real or imaginary.
Killane remains on the board of the agency he helped to found but on a much reduced salary. In round terms, the office of MP will cost him about £5,000 a year. And, without his special skills, the agency may tend to stagnate and partners may put pressure on Killane to use Parliamentary position to tout for business.
He will move in the new worlds of Westminster and Andersley, shed some prejudices, learn some lessons. Killane has been successful in translating figures into people. Now he must deal with the people themselves and be fully committed. He is dealing with a town now, not a research document, and a town where he is a comparative stranger with only his wits and his beliefs to help him.
In opposition to Killane is Sam Brodie, Labour MP for Andersley East. He was born in 1925 in Andersley in one of the good terrace houses torn down to make way for the new Technical College. His father was a railway fitter and Brodie left school at fourteen to become an apprentice in the wagon sheds. Three years in the Army resulted in demobilisation as a REME sergeant with a decoration for genuine bravery and solid technical and administrative skills.
Brodie returned to the railway maintenance sheds, qualified as a charge-hand, went to night-school, became foreman, then joined the managerial echelon as a shop manager and turned in his union card. This was the period when he also played three seasons as forward for the local Rugby League team.
From contact with the club committee=-men of influence and money-came the early days of politics. Brodie became a local councillor in 1955 at the age of thirty. There was only one side to join-Labour. The reasons were vague at first, rooted in upbringing and an inherited belief. They became much clearer as he became more involved in taking decisions affecting the whole town instead of just a wagon shed. Brodie's urge to public service stems from a deep sense of belonging to the town where he was born and a concern for its people.
In the General Election of 1959, he was elected to Parliament, a completely natural choice, bringing authority and strength to representing his town, a man committed to serving local causes. The idealism of the early days-both at local and national level-was never tinged with self-deception. He knows the working classes well enough to respect them but not to fall into the liberal trap of painting them as angels.
Brodie was re-elected with increased majorities in 1964 and in 1966 but his majority dropped to its original level in the election of 1970. His seat is far from marginal but he cannot neglect it. From 1967 to 1970, he was a Parliamentary Secretary, the sort of junior minister post which put another £2,000 on his salary. His special interests in the House are industrial redevelopment, transport, and natural resources.
These interests form a simple pointer to Brodie's complexity. Industrial redevelopment reflects his sense of reality, the knowledge that a wage packet is the best proof of concern by a representative for his people. Natural resources reflect a deep love for the contours of the land and the area which bred him. The interests are backed by a wide knowledge of them.
Brodie moves easily across all sections of society, the local accent modified now, the clothes chosen to suit himself and not any cloth-cap image. He has lived and worked in Andersley all his life, is well-known and well-respected.
One facet which some people forget is the taste for blood necessary to a Rugby League player as good as Brodie was, the decoration earned under fire, the sense of pride in his own achievement. Brodie, angry, puts away the rule-book and has never been beaten. The anger may not always be on his own behalf and has cropped up often enough for him to have enemies. Brodie is not an ambitious man in material terms but knows his own worth. He would have set out for the Crusades as a minor squire and returned with scars, a title and a couple of castles.
Brodie was married in 1952 to the daughter of a local bank manager. There are three children. Andrew and Thomas, sixteen and twelve years old, both at the local grammar school. There is a daughter, Elizabeth, seven, at a special school twenty miles away. She is not backward but she is not bright and represents a vulnerable chink in Brodie's armour.
Brodie and his family walk a financial tightrope and he would have been much better off in money terms if he had stayed in industry. During the period when he was a junior minister, Brodie bought a larger house and the mortgage is over-extending him.
In London, he stays for three or four nights a week in one of the back rooms of a small Kings Cross hotel and will often take the late train on Thursday nightusing his MP's free travel pass~to save a hotel bill of £1.75 Brodie's income in 1971 was between £2,500 and £3,000 a year and normal income tax still had to be paid on this. And Brodie is luckier than some because the treasurer of the local Labour party is a very skilled accountant who handles the family finances cleverly and withou t charge.
And, with the financial pinch, other temptations began to loom larger. As an MP, Brodie could expect a pension calculated
Following from this, and with his prospects, it is difficult for Brodie to oppose his party masters even whilst in opposition. The prospect of office is the premium for his old age and his children's future.
There is, however, the common insurance against political uncertainty-the commercial directorship. Two or three of these at £1,000 a year would solve a lot of problems and Brodie is starting to weigh personal gain against the dogged ideals of public service which remind him that he must remain his own man.
He is still happy walking round Andersley or up on the hills above it or in the local crowd at a good Rugby League game. He misses the early days when he could afford to spend two evenings a week exercising a good singing voice in the local choral society. And, at least once a month in the season, he will take a day's fishing, just himself and the not-bright young daughter, and they will sit quietly together in their own world on a river bank.
Brodie at forty-six is a man in transition-personally, politically and emotionally-and must make his decisions against the constituency backcloth where his every move is apparent.
The Challengers is a series of plays about these two men, two Members of Parliament--one Labour, one Conservative. It does not deal only with their lives in the House of Commons, the grime in the wainscots of the corridors of power, the caucus rooms, the lobbies. It deals with constituency life, the shifts and balances and problems that an MP must face in the community which elected him, where he is answerable to the 35,000 people who cast votes and for whom he is a mixture of God, scapegoat, collective voice, wielder of influence and someone to open a jumble sale.
There are 630 Members in the House of Commons, the best club in the world, and some of them have spent most of their lives trying to get there. They represent all sorts and conditions of men and motives and within the precincts of the Palace of Westminster, they enjoy a unique privilege and exclusivity.
What happens when these men catch the train to their constituency? How much must they justify their week's work, their income, their beliefs? What sort of favours are they asked, what sort of problems are they expected to resolve? How much will they dislike each other and why? And the questions have to be answered, not within the pro consular confines of Parliament among their peers, but in the local High Street, the churchhall committee rooms.
Who are the people that surround them when the train stops 200 miles from Westminster, the components of a force which elected them? What is expected of a Member from his agent, the area officer of the party, the local chairman, a town councillor, a desperate woman in tears at the fortnightly surgery? The Member has dealt in words all week and now he must take to action-if he can.
How much tax do they pay, how and where do they live, what is the price they put on public service, why did they undertake this service in the first place, are the achievements worth the effort? And in the self questioning of the small but brilliant spotlight of the constituency, they must always be aware of the difference between the public and the private face they wear.
What are the temptations and the pressures, how much weight is put on an indiscretion unnoticeable in London but now blatant under the microscope of a much smaller community?
What are the rewards-money, high office, prestige, an assuaged idealism? How much can early belief be weakened, initial principle compromised, how soon will the dictum that 'Politics is the art of the possible' become a mono to hang on the wall?
How much can one man's sense of history or love of country weigh in the balance of the future of its people? And how will he contend with the time-servers and place-seekers and saints along the way?
The Challengers is about two men who must find answers to these questions within the context of their own hostility to each other's principles, in the setting of the town they serve, rival lions in an arena where their families and friends and supporters are involved spectators.