It’s important not to be misled by the title of this terrific documentary, which seems to promise an attack on Conservatives but is in fact an evenly balanced study of voter apathy.
John Walsh is a London film-maker and lifelong Labour supporter who became disillusioned with Gordon Brown’s party, and decided, against all his instincts, to stand as a Conservative. He was immediately elected as a candidate in Middlesbrough, a depressed and rundown Northern former steel town. His opponent is the invisible Labour incumbent Sir Stuart Bell, a spectacularly useless MP who has been elected seven times in a row without even being seen in the constituency. Bell has not run public surgeries for over fifteen years, and employed his crooked son, who ended up in prison for thieving.
Walsh finds himself up against a level of disinterest so high that the people of Middlesbrough appear to have been drugged. Those who do vote will only vote Labour because their families have always done so, even though their elected MP hides out in Paris, won’t answer the phone, didn’t bother to turn up when the mills shut down and didn’t respond for Middlesbrough after it was described as the worst place in Britain.
Walsh is naive, not a polished speaker (his megaphone cry of ‘Vote Conservative or I’ll kill you’ reflects his growing frustration) and he’s feeling his way through a process that’s less ‘West Wing’ and more ‘Keeping Up Appearances’, but he’s also up against an incompetent central office, a deeply slimy opponent and the Royal Mail, who fail to deliver his campaign leaflets.
The tension rises as Walsh hunts out his opposite number Bell, who can’t even be arsed to turn up for the candidates’ debate. The outcome is, as you’d expect, deeply depressing.
This is the kind of small, committed documentary that gets overlooked when awards come around, but is a snapshot of our country’s political apathy in microcosm. It’s heartbreaking to see people blindly supporting their own demise as if they’re playing some kind of long game they’ll probably never live to see the outcome of. Oh, and it’s also very funny.