Clive Bradley, writer
Clive Bradley, writer of the Last Rights screenplay, talks about the issues raised by the series and what insights he hopes viewers will gain from it
What is Last Rights saying about young people and democracy?
The basic idea of Last Rights is very simple. It is about what happens if you don't vote. Voting is the first line of a whole series of democratic processes in society. If you don't exercise your right to vote, you may end up with your rights being taken away. Your engagement with the world will affect the world. Different institutions, governments, and what goes on in the world, are determined by people's actions. The turnout in elections is low but I don't think that is just because young people haven't learned to participate. There must be something that is failing to motivate them in the first place. One of the reasons people voted for Democratic Consensus, this new party that comes to power in the film, is that the other parties just saw politics as a game. That view is quite widespread now.
Is that a recent change?
My parents were solid Labour voters. When I was a kid, you knew what the difference was between Labour and Conservative in terms of basic attitudes towards the world. I think that is very hard to say now.
Why did you choose the name 'Democratic Consensus' for such a menacing political party?
At first they were called the Citizen Party until we found there really was one! So we had to think of another name. We liked the idea that this sinister and quite fascistic party comes from the centre, with the idea of bringing people together and doing away with the gladiatorial contest. People think of consensus as a wonderful thing. Maybe it is not. Maybe it is great that you can argue and disagree.
What about the word 'democratic'? Is that a comment on politicians who say one thing then do the opposite?
The party that comes to power is the ultimate spin machine and there is a kind of spin even in the name. They pass a law to say they don't have to pass laws any more.
In Last Rights, politicians and their advisers are cynical and manipulative. Does that reflect present-day politics?
The film is not intended to argue against particular individuals. People might look at the John Speers character, and think: Alistair Campbell. But it is not aimed at specific modern-day poiticians. People have long said that you can't believe everything a politician says, but there is a very modern version of that. It says they are selling you a version of the truth. Politics is 'spun'. The term 'spin doctor', of course, is very recent. This has an effect on people's attitudes towards politicians. When you look at old film of politicians, they seem unaware of the journalists. Now they exist in a media-saturated world.
In the film, power is exercised by the Prime Minister, the police and state forces, and the media. Where do you think power resides in Britain today?
It is probably in none of those places but more in concentrations of wealth that you don't really see. The only aspect of power that is under democratic control, which is dealt with in Last Rights, is Parliament. The media, the state bureaucracy, the police, the army, not to mention the economy, are not subject to democratic control at all.
Does the media help or hinder us from understanding political decision-making?
The media is a hugely powerful monopoly industry. There isn't transparency and people don't have real access to information. The climax of Last Rights all happens on television and out of reach. Sometimes politics necessarily takes that form. It becomes separated from you by the screen. There is an idea in the film that politics has become almost entirely 'mediated' by television in a way that actually changes the political reality.
Does the internet help to combat the power of the media industry?
The internet has had very many effects. The collective in the film are typical of certain kinds of political activist who are confronting the secrecy of power. They use the internet to share any information they get. More recently there has been a big growth in weblogs – and anybody can state their opinion.
When I'm teaching writing, though, I am aware of a negative consequence of the internet. Most young people read a lot less than they did when I was a kid. These are young people who want to be writers and journalists but don't read much. You can spend hours surfing. But that doesn't substitute for a good book!
What are the main pressures on young people's lives today?
They face peer pressures and the pressures of growing up, of adolescence. But there are particular kinds of pressures now to do with what kind of world people are growing up in. There is a violent gang culture, which puts all kinds of pressure on them. We also have a culture increasingly obsessed with celebrity and fame. You've got a society which is telling you that you need to earn many thousands of pounds to have a life that is worth living.
Would you agree that young people face negative stereotypes?
There is an image people have that is connected to the gang culture. Kids dress and behave in a certain way – the kind of hip-hop, street culture look. If you are older, it can appear threatening. But in fact that is just how they dress and behave. They have a right to develop as rounded people and grow into adults. They have the right to an education. It is a key thing that young people are enabled to think for themselves.
The film highlights youth crime and gang culture. Why are these things growing?
I am sure the causes are many and complicated. We can't reduce it to one thing. There are explanations like the breakdown of the nuclear family and the lack of male role models. From whatever direction, there is a pressure on young men to 'demand respect.' But it feels as though there is some new aspect to this which is not just about being macho. There is an element in which it is imported from the States. Images of such things come out of MTV all the time. But there is also something to do with the breakdown of a sense of community and collective organisations such as trade unions, and the different ways in which people collaborated with each other. There aren't the same kind of radical movements that existed. There is not much left of the big demonstrations against the Iraq war compared with, say, the campaigns on the Vietnam War in the 1960s which lasted much longer.
What are the main values espoused by the characters in Last Rights? What influences these values?
Max is the central character, and the film is about his journey. Max gets quite a lot of his view of the world from his father. From the outset he is concerned about people around him. His friend goes missing. He is concerned about him. He is prepared to take care of his friend's mother. She phones up in a state and he will go and see her; he won't put it off. That carries him through this whole story. He realises there is a personal responsibility about the wider world. He is not just out for himself. That basic idea carries him through to the point where he is prepared to do something about it.
Tariq and Max have been friends since they were kids. The fork in their relationship, before the story starts, is that Max, partly under pressure from his father, has gone off to college to do his A-Levels and Tariq has gone off the rails and got involved with the wrong sort of people. Tariq is motivated by the kind of peer pressure from the gang of kids that he wants to hang out with. Then there is the relationship between Tariq and Steve. They are lovers but it is love for someone who is not doing him any good.
Everybody in the story comes from single parent families. That wasn't planned but it ended up like that, so there is something going on in the psyches of Tariq and Max and Melissa. Tariq is loyal to Max but when he doesn't break easily under pressure, that is also his loyalty to his dead friend, Steve. Friendships are important when you are that age. Max is quite important because of the stereotypes of young black men as 'gangsters'. Max is a bright kid who is loyal to his friend.
How can young people make their voice heard today?
Young people, even at primary school, are more inclined to a kind of political activity than they were in the past – such as getting a petition together to give to the head teacher. Young people are always the mainstay of political movements of a radical nature whether left wing or right wing. There are many campaigns – environment, fair trade – which involve young people. In 2003, two million people took to the streets to protest against the war in Iraq. There are all sorts of aspects to participation in politics, which are not to do with elections. There is an effort in Last Rights to show that sort of youth subculture in the collective.
What would be the effect of lowering the voting age?
Max, the central character of the film, is 17. We discussed at one point whether he should be 18 or older but keeping him at 17 seemed to be right because he couldn't vote. I can't imagine what argument there is against lowering the voting age. You can have sex, join the army – but not vote. In the days before women could vote, there was this obsession that if you let women vote there would be a Conservative government forever. There are always these kinds of arguments and the reality is different.
There is a specific problem to do with the unattractiveness of mainstream politics. It's not just that young people feel 'there's no difference between the parties so why vote for them?' It is also that so much of what politics is about remains outside their control. If people felt it could make a real difference, if people felt that they could have direct control over their lives, that would be a different thing.
But the film's main idea is that if people don't vote, they allow dangerous and harmful things to happen to them.
The film is addressing the suggestion that people are quite apathetic, and not voting. I hope that is not going to continue indefinitely. But for me that central idea is a metaphor. The act of voting, and the consequence of people not voting, which results in a kind of fascism, stands for a bigger problem. The point of the story is not literally: go out and vote or kiss your rights goodbye; it's more general than that. It's about your engagement with the world. If you don't get involved in things, you won't have a say in what will happen to you.