Booth's old guard lead Equity putsch

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The Independent Online
IT WOULD make a deliciously surreal comedy if it were put on television. Tony Booth, the Prime Minister's father-in-law and once the scouse git in BBC's Till Death Us Do Part, is organising a hard-left clique to overthrow the moderates of the actors' union Equity.

Determined to stop him is an impressive cast list of the old guard. They include the playwright Sir David Hare, actors Sir Derek Jacobi, Timothy West, Juliet Stevenson and Sheila Hancock, and comedians Dawn French, Roy Hudd, Roger Lloyd Pack and Julie Walters. Their names are on an advertisement in today's issue of The Stage supporting Equity's moderate ruling group.

Denouncing Booth openly is former EastEnders actor Michael Cashman, who wants to join the Labour National Executive Committee and become a Euro MP. He has started his campaign in novel fashion by rubbishing the Prime Minister's father-in-law as "a table thumper who wants to overturn attempts at modernisation".

And trying to keep the peace is Baldrick, the lovable nincompoop from the BBC's television series Blackadder, although in the guise of his alter ego actor Tony Robinson, Equity vice-president - tipped as the next president when the election results are announced next month.

Booth has been a member of Equity's ruling group for four years, but has now formed a breakaway group to oppose modernising plans. In his election address yesterday he attacked the ruling moderates for "their sell-out on residuals, their inept handling of the recent television commercials dispute, and risking collective funds on the Stock Exchange".

Some see the elections, contested by five main groups, as a microcosm of Labour Party in-fighting of the Eighties. The Representative Conference Group - the equivalent of new Labour - which includes Tony Robinson and the other celebrities, has ruled Equity since 1994. The soft-left reforming faction replaces the union's old-style acrimonious annual general meetings with a new-look representative conference.

The Independent List, with Tony Booth, is "an anti-slate" made up of people who promise to act and vote independently if elected. It is disillusioned with current policies, particularly the abandonment of residual payments for cable and satellite repeats.

Act for Equity is a right-of-centre grouping which controlled the union until 1994 but has now been marginalised; Tory MP Roger Gale is one of its representatives. Equity Left Alliance is a socialist grouping of long-standing which seeks to repeal anti-trade union legislation.

A fifth slate, as yet unnamed, is a single-issue group campaigning for restoration of the closed shop. They urge solidarity with the late Dame May Whitty, "the amiable, dotty, wobbly-chinned secret agent in Hitchcock's film The Lady Vanishes", who with other actors in the late Twenties put Equity on its feet, refusing to act with anyone who was not a member of the union.