Shirleymander by Gregory Evans

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BBC Radio 4, 27 November 2009
Dame Shirley Porter was the charismatic leader of Westminster Council in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The daughter of the man who created Tesco, she prided herself on coming from the same kind of humble background as Margaret Thatcher; and in many ways she tried to follow the Conservative Prime Minister's example. Ruthless in her business dealings, critical to a fault and heavily demanding of her staff, she cultivated an image of calculated efficiency.
In Gregory Evans' play, however, we learned something of the seamy side of her character. In Tracy Ann Oberman's performance, she came across as someone so desperate to emulate her father's example that she frequently indulged in corrupt tactics. The play opened to the strains of Cole Porter's "My Heart Belongs to Daddy," which was followed by Shirley-as-narrator recalling her experiences as a local politician. Needless to say she believed that everything she did was for the best - the best, in this case, being defined by her rather limited ambitions of placating the white conservative middle class (who would thereby reward her for her efforts by voting for her).  Even if it meant indulging in gerrymandering - otherwise known as the forced movement of council tenants from local boroughs and selling off their houses to potential voters. Such policies were tantamount to ethnic cleansing, as most of the displaced tenants came from ethnic minorities.
As the play unfolded, one felt that Shirley received her just deserts in the end - despite her unswerving support for Mrs. Thatcher (and John Major later on), she received little or no public recognition for her efforts. Major was once heard to say that he would never let her near the halls of central government. Less principled than Ken Livingstone, with very little charisma, Shirley Porter was eventually found out and asked to repay over forty million pounds in costs. To date she has only repaid twelve million; but fortunately for most London residents she has since faded into obscurity. On the evidence of Marc Beeby's production, one can only be grateful for small mercies.