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Breaking Baz: David Hare, British Playwright & Filmmaker, Casts An Unsparing Eye Over The UK General Election & Reveals He Is Working On A Drama About “The Great Question Of The 21st Century”

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EXCLUSIVE: David Hare, one of the UK’s foremost playwrights and a double Oscar nominee, is in an unsparing mood about the state of UK politics. This comes as leaders of the country’s two major parties parry in the cut and thrust of the July 4 general election.

Hare’s view, he tells Breaking Baz, is that there is in fact not enough cut and thrust, what with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak going to the polls “because he’s as fed up with this government as the rest of us.” 

The dramatist, director,and screenwriter tells me that the Tories are coming up daily with “harebrained” election promises while Labour, its chief opponent, “is trying to be sober, say nothing and do nothing.”

He fears, though, that Labour is taking up “a defensive crouch“ when it should be thrusting.

“Something always goes disastrously wrong unless you are active and on the front foot in an election campaign. And I hope the Labour Party will become a little more front foot,” he says.

However, Hare appears chipper about Labour leader Keir Starmer’s prospects of becoming the next Prime Minister, following 14 years of the party being out of power.

“And Starmer’s job, presumably, is to try and relate politics to people’s lives again, because I don’t at the moment feel that people think what’s going on in Westminster has much to do with them,” Hare argues.

Politics has always been woven into the fabric of Hare’s plays and screenplays, there’s quite the list of them.

They include Pravda, the satire he wrote at the height of Thatcherism with Howard Brenton that he directed on the National Theatre’s Olivier stage in 1985 starring Anthony Hopkins as fictional South African-born Lambert Le Roux, an omnivorous media tycoon. He was a stand in, of sorts, for Rupert Murdoch. A young Bill Nighy played Le Roux’s sidekick.

There have been others: The Secret Rapture in 1988, Road Kill in 2020 and Gethsemane in 2008, to name but a few.

But Hare’s The Absence of War, staged at the National in 1993 with John Thaw at his scorching best as a Labour Party leader going into yet another election that will end in defeat, is the one I always return to. I re-read it annually. Hare wrote the drama after embedding himself in former Labour leader Neil Kinnock’s unsuccessful general election campaign in 1992.

The play was adapted for the screen but to have been there on opening night was something never to be forgotten. Some argue otherwise, but this is Hare’s theatrical masterpiece, I believe. His acute analysis mapped out exactly what caused Labour’s defeat. Yet, there’s something at the heart of the play that always stirs. A sense of lingering hope, perhaps?

Hare has identified his next work. He has been working on a project – he refuses to discloses whether it’s for screen or stage – about what he believes is “the great question of the 21st century” and that, he believes, “is expressed through migration.”

 He says that he’s writing “about the poor beating down the door of the rich.”

Also, he has a new play called Grace Pervades which will star Ralph Fiennes as Henry Irving, the great actor of the Victorian stage. “It’s about Ellen Terry and Henry Irving, and it’s about the creation of the 19th century Lyceum Theatre, which was sort of the prototype for a National Theatre,” he explains. 

“In other words, Irving and Ellen Terry together did something as close to making a National Theatre as … It very nearly became a National Theatre in 1905-6. And then it was privatized and didn’t. So it’s a little story about subsidy and privatization of the arts.”

Grace Pervades runs at the Theatre Royal, Bath from June 27 through July 19, 2025. It’s part of a three-play Ralph Fiennes season in Bath next year.

Ralph Fiennes

Courtesy Theatre Royal Bath

Fiennes will then direct Gloria Obianyo playing Rosalind and Harriet Walter as Jacques in As You Like It. That’s set to run August 15 through September 6, 2025. And Fiennes, I can reveal, will also appear in a new play that’s being written by Rebecca Lenkiewicz as part of the Fiennes season.

Back to Hare, who says he follows the election, for the most part, on television and online, and he expressed high praise for Sky News Political Editor Beth Rigby. Hare and Breaking Baz enjoyed a little natter about the state of the nation at election time and our back and forth is outlined in this Q&A.

DEADLINEWere you surprised at Sunak’s call for summer election and the manner in which he did it? [in the rain outside Number 10 Downing Street]

DAVID HARE: Not really. I mean, he’s just as fed up with this government as the rest of us, isn’t he? I mean, there was just a general sense of exhaustion in the country at large, and there was a sense that you can’t go on like this. It was reaching a point of complete ridiculousness that the government, well, I don’t know what the government has done. In other words, it hasn’t achieved anything. And I can’t think of anything, a significant piece of legislation, that its put through for a long time apart from [the controversial] Rwanda [immigration policy], obviously, which is either going to be realized or not. And I would’ve thought he woke up one morning and thought, ‘What the hell is the point of this.’ You’ve got to get something back from a job, haven’t you? If you do a job, it’s very depressing to wake up every morning and know you’re not getting anything out of it. And I imagine he felt that.

DEADLINE: Yes, and the bad poll ratings.

HARE: Yeah. But I mean, presumably he thought that it’ll be no better in the autumn because by the autumn he’ll have failed to get his flights to Rwanda or the economic situation won’t be any better. And I mean, there’s a strong feeling, isn’t there, that the polls are frozen, and so if the polls are frozen, then you might as well go because I assume it’s agony in there for him. It’s not fun being Prime Minister in these circumstances, is it?

Rishi Sunak announces the election in the rain. Image: Peter Nicholls/Getty Images

Peter Nicholls/Getty Images

DEADLINENo. Especially because it’s not all entirely his fault. Liz Truss, Boris Johnson, Theresa May and David Cameron, were there before him [as Prime Ministers].

HARE: I’m told that his boss at Goldman Sachs, Richard Sharp, when Rishi Sunak said, “I want to go into politics,” Sharp said to him, “What on earth do you want to do that for? I can’t think of anyone less suited to politics than you.” And I don’t mean that in any critical way. I just think that kind of sheer thick-skinned persistence that you need to be a politician, probably he doesn’t have it, does he? And you could see he was getting very, very bad-tempered towards the end of this.

DEADLINEThen to come up with this idea of National Service [for some young people]. And David, a day after the election was called, one of his ministers officially answered the question posed by an MP, that the government had no intention of bringing back National Service.

HARE: Well, they’re tap dancing, aren’t they? They’re improvising and they’re throwing a lot of stuff at the dartboard to see if anything sticks because they’re doing anything to move the polls. And you have this extraordinary reverse situation in which Labour is trying to be sober and say nothing and do nothing. And then on the other side, you have them just coming up with anything that comes into their warm-hearted little heads.

DEADLINE: And for want of a better phrase, and apologies, the schemes are rather harebrained.

HARE: Harebrained is exactly what they are. I mean, they’re sort of mad schemes. The idea one day that you announce that there’s going to be military service, then you say, “Whoops, no, it’s only going to be 30,000 people who are actually military.” Then you say, “Whoops. No, they’re not actually going into battle.” And then you have to say, “Whoops, no, there’s going to be no sanction if people refuse to do it.” And your idea has crumbled in 24 hours, hasn’t it?

DEADLINEAnd what do you say of the opposition, the Labour Party?

HARE: I think they’ve got a huge task ahead because I think that both when I wrote Absence of War [premiered at the National Theatre in 1993] with Neil Kinnock [former Labour Party leader], and then when I covered the elections for the Telegraph and the Guardian, I did feel that both sides, I felt John Major [former Conservative Prime Minister] and Kinnock were in good faith. Major does believe that his brand of conservatism helps people in their lives and makes their lives better. And similarly, obviously, both Neil [Kinnock] and [former Labour Prime Minister] Tony Blair believed that they were helping people. 

But since then, I think politics in Britain has become really a self-interested cartel, and it’s just them talking to each other and none of them really talking to us. So I think that the disaster of Johnson and the disaster of Truss has not shaken faith in the Conservative Party. I think its shaken faith in politics and obviously because technology is advancing at such an amazing rate at the moment, and the world seems to be run by these huge technology companies, not by national governments, they seem particularly irrelevant and particularly self-absorbed, don’t they?

And so Starmer has got a massive problem to make people believe in politics again.

Sir Keir Starmer

Chris McAndrew

DEADLINE: You’re right, though it’s not Starmer’s fault. Do you feel that the country has been totally betrayed over these past 14 years?

HARE: I just listened to a podcast that a friend had told me to listen to last night. And it was a podcast in which Kwasi Kwarteng [Chancellor of the Exchequer under Liz Truss] talks to Rory Stewart and Alastair Campbell about his time as Chancellor. He talks about it entirely in terms of the political game, and he never once expresses any regret for the people who are impoverished by him losing £56B ($71B). Not once does he talk about the effect. And he actually talks about how even in the House of Commons, it’s now impossible to talk about politics, that people only talk about the game of whether they’re advancing or retreating. 

So politicians seem to have become an entirely self-interested group who are practicing a game which doesn’t have any relevance to the rest of us. And that has happened since I wrote that play [Absence of War]. And Starmer’s job, presumably, is to try and relate politics to people’s lives again, because I don’t at the moment feel that people think what’s going on in Westminster has much to do with them.

DEADLINEDo you sense that Starmer is trying to show that he wants to govern for the whole country, not just for members the Labour Party?

HARE: Well, the list of problems that he’s going to inherit, which presumably is social care, housing, hospital waiting lists, sewage and the state of prisons. I mean, the prisons are such a practical problem that has existed now and got worse for the last 30 years. And now suddenly everyone’s running around screaming, and the Conservatives are telling judges to slacken sentences and to let people out early because we simply don’t have the resources. So at a practical level, politics has been astonishingly badly administered for the last 14 years. At the administrative level, it’s not functioning because none of the country’s major internal  problems are being addressed.

DEADLINE: And don’t you think that the elephant in the room that is Brexit, that’s not being addressed at all?

HARE: Whatever you think about Brexit, it is absolutely clear if like, say, Liz Truss, you want to generate, kick the economy up again, the only way you will kick the economy up again is by restoring good relations with your major trading partner. You can’t behave as if losing your major trading partner and all the regulations making it more difficult to trade with Europe, you cannot behave as if that’s not impoverishing you. It’s an act of self-harm, and they’ve impoverished the country. 

So you have a slightly ridiculous election campaign in which nobody can say anything about Brexit because all politicians on all sides are terrified of it. The people on the right are terrified of it because it’s failed and they know it’s failed, so they can’t talk about it. And the people on the left can’t talk about it because they believe that last time they lost an election because of their apparent opposition to it. And so this is obviously not a very healthy state of affairs, but it is perfectly clear. Just look at the small boats question. Small boats and the question of immigration can only be solved if you have goodwill between France and England. And clearly there’s no goodwill at the moment between France and England. So how do you begin to rebuild trust between Britain and the EU, that’s obviously top of Starmer’s list, but he can’t talk about it, can he?

DEADLINENo, quite, because the Daily Mail, my former employer…

HARE: Well, everyone is just waiting for him to say something about Europe so they can all foam again. And so it does make the election a little bit unreal.

DEADLINE: It does, absolutely.

HARE: But my fear is, and this is obviously having been on election trails before, the parties which try and just go steady through an election campaign, something always goes disastrously wrong unless you are active and on the front foot in an election campaign. And I hope Labour will become a little more front foot because I think taking up this defensive crouch where you just wait to be hit, which is really what they’re doing at the moment… it doesn’t mean there aren’t blows ahead. And I think Starmer will need to come out of his hutch at some point.

DEADLINEYes, I think he does. At heart he’s a smart guy, do you not think?

HARE: I don’t know him at all. Do you know him?

DEADLINE: I don’t. We know people who do though. He looks like an uncle. But I think he’s got that ruthless streak through him that just wants to succeed.

HARE: Well, clearly he has. And clearly he’s not frightened to do what he needs to do to get power. But on the other hand, I just wish that tactically they were a little more positive because as I say, fighting wars by staying where you are is never a good idea.

DEADLINE: A bit more fire in the belly, I think.

HARE: Exactly.

DEADLINE: David, what does this present for an artist such as yourself, this political landscape, this thing that’s going on in our country at the moment?

HARE: Well, I think this is what I’ve been going on about for some time. I think the great question of the 21st century is expressed through migration. Migration is about the feeling that approximately 1 billion of us on the planet are doing really well, and then six or seven billion of us are not doing so well. And the six or seven billion are beginning to feel that they would like a share in our prosperity, and they want access to our prosperity. 

I’ve argued a long time ago about the Conservative Party, even when it was at the height of its success, I said, “You cannot have a free market philosophy without free movement of labor. Those two things are incompatible. If you are opening up the market to the world, then the world has to be allowed access to your market. And that means people have to be allowed to move freely across borders.”

And clearly, that contradiction is the contradiction on which conservatism has been founded because half the Conservative Party believe in the free market, and half of them believe in putting up barriers and not letting immigrants in. And that question about migration is obviously the question that in America is very powerful in Europe. We’re seeing the rise of the right in Germany and France in Hungary. And so that’s the 21st century question. How are the poor going to be allowed access to some of the prosperity of the rich, particularly when so many of them are moving because of war or political persecution or because of climate? And they’re all on the move. And what are we going to do? And I don’t pretend to know the answer to this question, but a measure of access to our prosperity has to be on the cards or else things are going to turn very unpleasant, indeed, I think in this century.

DEADLINE: That’s going to be down to willingness and cost.

HARE: Well, all that is the stuff that Starmer is going to have to be dealing with if he becomes Prime Minister of this country. And it’s stuff which hasn’t been dealt with for ideological reasons since [former Conservative PM David Cameron, now Lord Cameron the Foreign Minister]. Cameron can’t touch that question because half his party believes one thing. He allowed immigration effectively because he was a free market capitalist. But there are plenty of people on the other side of the argument, Suella Braverman [former Home Secretary], for instance, who doesn’t want anyone coming into the country. And so that party has foundered on the rock of that question. And that’s, I think, what’s destroyed the Conservative Party, and that question is not going to go away. It’s going to get more urgent as more people are displaced.

The pinch point is obviously the channel crossings for us, but the French are suffering more than we are. In other words, Northern France is becoming criminalized by these incredibly unpleasant gangs that are now using guns. And so France has got a major criminal problem out of it. We’ve just got a problem of numbers and what to do with them and all that, and what control is or isn’t. But the French havegot a real problem of organized crime.

DEADLINE: I heard about that  [criminal gangs in France] when I was in Cannes. Will it spread here?

HARE: Well, I mean, the thinking is that the people who run the gangs are living in England. Whether they are or not, I don’t know. But the weird thing is nobody knows who’s running the gangs, but there is no doubt that there are now guns on the street in Northern France, which was not true five years ago.

DEADLINE: David, does any of this present an idea fora play or a screen drama?

HARE: Yeah. The question about, as it were, the poor, beating the door of the rich is to me the most interesting question of the 21st century, and that’s what I want to write about.

DEADLINE: Is that something you’re actively doing now?

HARE: Yeah, absolutely.

DEADLINEWhat, for the theatre? 

HARE: I’m not telling you, Baz.

DEADLINEHave you…

HARE: I don’t want to read about it in Deadline.

DEADLINEHave you been commissioned to do such a piece?

HARE: Yeah. Yeah.

DEADLINE: Can you not tell me by whom?

HARE: No, I can’t Baz, honestly, because they get so upset when you do.

DEADLINE: So that tells me it’s more electronic media than treading the boards?

HARE: Oh, I don’t know. I think theater people are perfectly capable of getting upset. You think? Have you never met an angry person from the theater?

DEADLINEAll the time. That’s why I enjoy covering…

HARE: You must know some very nice people.

DEADLINE: I just peeped at the FT [Financial Times] before meeting you. Their polling gadget suggests that the Labour Party, if an election were held today, would have a majority of 325 seats.

HARE: [Expresses initial surprise] It reminds me that Blair in 1997 was genuinely disbelieving, and I don’t think he was kidding. I think he was the person who least believed what was happening. There’s a thing about him travelling in a plane. Down from wherever he was up in the north in his constituency. And these results were coming in about the landslide. And he was, I think, genuinely amazed. And I’m sure Keir Starmer won’t feel any security for the next five weeks.

DEADLINE: I think you’re right. 

HARE: It’s what I think they call whipped dog syndrome.

DEADLINE: Whipped dog syndrome?

HARE: Well, that’s what I think Harriet Harman [distinguished senior figure in the Labour Party who just stood down as an MP after nearly 40 years] calls it, because the dog has been whipped so many times, meaning the Labour Party has lost so many times, having lost the last three elections or whatever it is. It just always believes it’s going to lose because it’s been whipped so often it believes it’s going to be whipped again.

DEADLINEWhat do you think about the way the election is being covered on TV? 

HARE: Well, it’s much fuller than it is in the newspapers, isn’t it? What I mean is that this is where people are now getting their news. And so the coverage is not much of the issues. It’s of the personalities, isn’t it? But having said that, let’s say the television seems a great deal more fair-minded than the press does. Wouldn’t you say that?

DEADLINEWell, yes and no. I mean, we do watch the Laura Kuenssberg Sunday show on [BBC TV], and some might detect a bias toward the Tories.

 HARE: Oh, it is. She is. But I don’t mind that. I don’t mind that, because there’ll be somebody else on another program who balances it out, but at least they’re trying on the BBC. In other words, the concept of balance is discussed. And so I think there’s a sort of anger in the press because people know that they get their news now from television or from the internet, indeed, but not from the press anymore. That makes the press even angrier, doesn’t it?

DEADLINEWell, that’s why I got out of it. And what about Sky? Do you ever watch them?

HARE: Yeah, she’s very good, isn’t she?

DEADLINEBeth Rigby? [Sky News, Political Editor].

Danna Strong, Beth Rigby

Danna Strong, Beth Rigby

Richard Kendal/RTS

HARE: She’s very, very good. Beth Rigby, don’t you think?

DEADLINE: I’m a huge fan of hers. She holds all of them to account.

HARE: I think she’s really smart and sort of ahead. You can tell she’s thought things through often more than the interviewee has. 

DEADLINEAnd Chris Mason [BBC News, Political Editor], what do you think of him?

HARE: He’s what they call the safe pair of hands, isn’t he? Meaning he’s not going to get into trouble, is he?

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