How did we get here?
If it was not already clear, the 2016 presidential election proved that the United States is a country deeply divided— politically and socially. This divide is not just between the Democratic and Republican parties; it is also within the parties themselves. In the Democratic primary election, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton illustrated the tension between pursuing far left ideology and shifting more center to appeal to a wider voter base. On the Republican side, the clash between moderates and Tea Party conservatives exposed a deep faultline that gets wider with each news cycle.
This political polarization is not just happening in the United States. We see it in Serbia, Argentina, Germany, France, and, of course, the United Kingdom. In June 2016, the discord within the UK received worldwide attention when a referendum was held to decide whether or not the country would leave the European Union (“Brexit”). In a shock to many, those in favor of leaving won the vote 51.9% to 48.1%. The vote seemed a high profile example of the divide between the Conservative and Labour parties, but the polarization within the parties was even more telling. In fact, both leaders of their respective parties held views that were not in line with the majority of their base. Following the vote, Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron resigned and Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn received a vote of no confidence from two thirds of his cabinet. Analyzing this internal dissention and increasingly polarized electorate – and particularly interested in the roots of this polarization within the Labour Party – playwright James Graham asks the question, how did we get here?
As you will see in Labour of Love, the Labour Party has had a particularly tumultuous journey. Prior to 1994, the party experienced a string of humiliating losses. After 18 years out of power, the Labour Party rebranded itself as New Labour under the guidance of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Policies moved more center, strategies became transparent, and leaders pledged to listen to the needs and expectations of a wider base. Tony Blair – a centrist in the Bill Clinton mold – was elected Labour Leader in 1994, and the Labour Party won the next three elections. But in 2003, Blair faced great criticism after supporting George W. Bush and the US invasion of Iraq. People began to lose faith in New Labour, and the movement dwindled out after Labour lost the 2010 General Election.
At the start of this play, it is 2017. Current Prime Minister Theresa May has called a snap General Election in the wake of the Brexit vote, hoping to increase the number of Conservative seats in the House of Commons. While constituencies across the country shocked the UK and went red (red in the UK signifies the liberal vote), at the particular district of our protagonist David Lyons, we see the opposite. After decades of being reliably Labour, the district turns and David faces the end of his 27 year streak as MP. The rest of the play traverses time and attempts to understand why this happens. And where we go from here.
– Katie Ciszek, Dramaturg