Deborah Orr: All hail Caesar! But where is our Cassius, or that fickle Roman mob?

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The Independent Online

It was interesting that so many papers chose to express Mr Blair's electoral setbacks in terms of physical violence. The Prime Minister got "a bloody nose", "a battering", and "a birthday bashing". He was "bloodied but unbeaten". He was even, in an uneasy distortion of both punning and punditry, "kicked in the ballots". Since I'd spent the evening of the election watching Deborah Warner's production of Julius Caesar, featuring, of course, one of history's bloodiest political murders, all this gory imagery seemed particularly stupid and inappropriate.

I wish I could claim to have found myself at the Barbican on Thursday night out of clever cultural inspiration. Actually, though, when they told me that 5 May was the only night with tickets still available, the penny simply didn't drop. Still, what could be better, while waiting for the results to start coming in, than watching a great play exploring the corrupting effect of political ambition, and the fickle nature of mob adoration? Nothing, as it turned out, not least because the most fascinating thing was the absence of parallels between then and now, rather than their presence.

Mr Blair might make something of a Caesar, preoccupied as he is with the idea that he can remake the entire world in his image, certain as he is that given the opportunity he can bring absolutely anyone round to his way of thinking. But since not a soul in New Labour was remotely willing to step forward as a Cassius-style chief conspirator, the whole concept has rather crumbled by the time you're halfway through scene three.

And as for the fickle mob, so joltingly portrayed in Warner's production as a bunch of post-Cool Britannia barrier-hugging event-seekers, they had nothing at all in common with the British electorate, which may not have been high in number, but whose members used their votes wisely and subtly. Blair received in Sedgefield the message that his colleagues had been so unwilling to deliver to him: that he personally is no longer the electoral asset he once was, while Brown in Kirkcaldy added a couple of thousand to his majority. As for the Labour majority, cut in half, there too the message was plain: "We're not entirely fed up with Labour, but we want you to be more accountable to Parliament and to us."

It was notable that all of the New Labour people - mostly with their majorities down and sometimes with their seats lost altogether - were careful to say that they had been listening to the people they had talked to during the campaign and were keen to act on what they had learned. Blair in particular emphasised that he was going to start doing this, as if it had not occurred to him before that this might be a useful part of a Member of Parliament's ambit. In fact, this result, billed as so messily disastrous for Labour, could actually turn out to be a fresh start for British social democracy.

Or maybe not. For an ironic aide memoire on the nature of political ambition, there is no better place to return to than the streets of Rome. The word comes from the latin ambitio, the act of going from house to house. Romans started the tradition of knocking on doors to drum up support in the run-up to elections.

Canvassing, then, by definition, is a means of fulfilling political ambitions, rather than an exercise in discovering the needs of those you claim to represent. Labour's massively reduced majority suggests that the "mob" is only too aware of that, and keen therefore to keep Labour on a nice tight leash.

¿ Awfully nice too that Michael Howard is off, not least because all of those Dracula gags were so terribly hackneyed. Can the next guy in the line bear in mind that all the posturing over immigration seemed to do more for the British National Party than for anyone else? And that Nick Griffin is now talking about what a "respectable" base his party has for gaining extra council seats?

Sickened by Oona's defeat

Oona King is certainly an example of a politician who followed her leader first and represented her constituents second. As she knows now only too well, the majority of those she represented did not want the war she voted for.

Yet the election of George Galloway on an anti-war ticket is sickening. Of all the divisive issues that were up for discussion, only two things were certain. The first was that regime change, under international law, was not a legitimate reason for invasion. The second was that Saddam Hussein was a torturer and a butcher whose regime was an abomination against humanity. For many people, the most ghastly thing about the war was that it sought to topple Saddam by stealth.

Much as he might try to deny it, Galloway came across as an appeaser of Saddam and an apologist for him. He showed such contempt for democracy in doing so that it's a wonder he condescends to sully his absolutist credentials by taking part in the democratic process at all. The idea of that odious, smirking little man knocking around for the next four years banging on about his result being the "most sensational ... in modern history" is too awful to contemplate.

Tony, Cherie and some relative values

Whatever the faults of the 2005 election, Independent readers will no doubt be relieved to hear that for me it was a social triumph of the first order. After the theatre, it was off to the director-general's party at the BBC (what larks) and a front-row view of the biggest, biggest television screen I've ever, ever seen. After some hours of goggling feverishly, the time came for the Sedgefield count to be announced. After this, it was home, so it was something of a climax.

Perfection itself arrived in the form of Lauren Booth, who suddenly introduced herself, and proceeded to stand beside me offering a running commentary on what the expressions on the faces of her half-sister and her brother-in-law really mean. Suffice to say it was all rather moving. Ms Booth is well known, like her father Tony, to be no great admirer of New Labour. But her personal affection for Cherie, who could barely contain her misery at the rejection that had been delivered to her husband, was ample and deeply felt. Poor Cherie, it has to be admitted, looked as though she could bear the blow less well than even her husband, who seemed absolutely stunned that he was no longer the nation's favourite social democrat.

Yet the smallest hint that perhaps the premier had got what was coming to him was not welcomed by Ms Booth. He may not be the best Labour leader, she stalwartly explained, but he is the best of men. When I ventured that he'd seemed quite impressive to me on the couple of occasions I'd met him, the woman positively bristled. "Quite", it seems, is not a word that can be applied to Lauren's brother-in-law. He cannot, it seems, be measured in such mealy little quantities. It would be a turn-up for the books if in his third term he actually brought us all round to this way of thinking. It's difficult, straight after elections, to stifle the hope of a new and beautiful dawn.

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