Ken Loach: Still a right old leftie

As a cinematic and political firebrand, Ken Loach has been a force for good for five decades. His new film, ‘Jimmy’s Hall’, tells the story of the first Irishman deported from his own country. But is Loach really ready to hang up his megaphone? “Being realistic, that’s as ambitious as you can be,” says the 77-year-old director

Fri, May 30, 2014, 00:00

The National Front tops the European Parliament vote in France. Golden Dawn win 10 per cent of the same vote in Greece. Lega Nord win 6 per cent in Italy. The Danish People’s Party win 27 per cent. Ukip tops the poll across the Irish Sea.

It has not been a good week for anyone whose politics fall anywhere to the left of Genghis Khan.

A necessary corrective arrives in the form of Jimmy’s Hall, a new film from Ken Loach. The reliably socialist film-maker behind such classics as Kes and Ladybird Ladybird, is, understandably dismayed by the left’s recent failure to woo voters at a time of economic collapse. Dismayed, but not too surprised.

“It’s very hard for the left to get any purchase in the public discourse,” says the 77-year-old. “Because the press reflect the political parties that exist. They convey a narrow spectrum of ideas. They’re all neo-liberals of one stripe or another. All pro-market. All pro-big corporations.”

It does not help, of course, that ‘the left’ is an awfully fragmented place to be.

“It’s totally infuriating,” admits Loach. “I’ve been involved in every attempt to gather together a united left. Right now there’s a movement called Left Unity which is trying to deal with the gap between political representatives who are all neo-liberal and the mass of the people who can see the system collapsing. There are so many campaigns to keep this hospital open or to address cutbacks in funding for the homeless or disabled. But these voices are fragmented. That’s the problem. If you can unite all that discontent you would have a big movement. But public discourse as represented by the press absolutely want to keep the left fragmented.”

But why on earth would the British press – even those outlets that maintain a sheen of soft-core socialist values – so consistently promote Ukip as an up-and-coming political force?

“Ukip is in favour of corporate power. So Ukip is another face of the establishment. They are funded by people who support big corporations. They play on the lowest prejudices and fears. They’re not a fascist party. But they are dangerous. They are using fear and economic collapse in the same way that the National Socialists once did in Germany.”

Jimmy’s Hall opens, rather defiantly in the circumstances, in Irish cinemas today. The film tells the story of Jimmy Gralton, a Leitrim man who immigrated to the United States in 1909. He returned to his native county to fight in the War of Independence, and founded a dance hall, where he and fellow members of the Leitrim Revolutionary Worker’s Group provided free classes in music, boxing and poetry. It’s a small and mostly overlooked story but one with plenty of contemporary resonance for Loach and his regular screenwriter, Paul Laverty.

“The ideas are for all time,” says Loach. “The struggle for free ideas. The struggle for a place where you can learn to dance and practise sport and where you can exchange ideas and develop a political perspective. Which can lead to activism.”