ToryBoy visits the Frontline Club

John Walsh.jpg


By William Turvill

The Frontline Club, on Monday 21 November, screened the critically acclaimed ToryBoy The Movie, followed by a question-and-answer session with the film’s creators, John Walsh and John Cowen.

Dubbed the “documentary of the year” by The Guardian, this film follows the campaign trail of Walsh, a “disillusioned Labour Boy gone stray”, as he attempts to dethrone Labour’s Sir Stuart Bell as MP for Middlesbrough.

Although the film originally started out with a focus on Walsh, by the end all attention seemed to be on Bell, an audience member pointed out after the showing. “Yes,” said Walsh. “This was originally going to be a short 20-minute documentary on me becoming a Tory boy, but there was an organic change and I turned from a politician into an investigative reporter looking into Sir Stuart.”

“On paper, winning seven elections in a row, Bell is the Alex Ferguson of Labour politics,” he explained, “but, as the film demonstrates, Bell is a terrible MP, and I’d be very surprised to meet a worse one."

Bell, the documentary reveals, seems to spend more time in Paris than in his constituency, he is unheard of or unpopular with locals, and yet, he has now been elected seven times. How much of a role has party tribalism- blind devotion to the Labour Party – played in this, asked an audience member.

“We found a lot of people, when you mentioned the Conservative Party, would aggressively refer to Thatcher,” said Walsh’s colleague Cowen, who played a very active role in the campaign. “Maybe in 15 to 20 years time, it will be the same thing with the Labour Party being associated with Blair and Brown. One bad egg can tarnish the reputation of a party for a generation.”

Despite Bell’s Labour status hindering political progress for Walsh, the ToryBoy admitted that Sir Stuart’s presence certainly added a good story to the documentary. Although not able to make an impact as an MP, Walsh is confident the film can help make a difference to Middlesbrough and was pleased to say that some good had already come of it. 

“It took a while to produce the film, but local and national awareness has been generated,” said Walsh. “For instance, a local journalist, following a local screening of the film, attempted to get hold of Bell regularly over a 100 day period, and then heavily reported on his failing to do so. Then, on a national level, The Independent named Bell ‘Britain’s laziest MP’. So progress has been made – people have started to realise how damaging over-protected MPs can be for democracy.”

This was just one screening of many, but, according to Cowen, the chance to screen the film at the Frontline Club was “hugely pleasing”, and said “it was nice to get some in-depth questions from a well-informed audience.” Walsh added: “It was a real honour to be invited to show the film at such a prestigious venue.”