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Martin Horwood MP

Festivals of Film, Literature and... Politics. crack

CHELTENHAM’s festival calendar is really hotting up right now. The extraordinary Times Cheltenham Literature Festival (8-17 October) this year boasts a staggering 450 events over ten days. Big names include General Sir Richard Dannatt, Hanif Kureishi, Philip Pullman, Armstrong & Miller, Martin Amis, Alastair Darling and Salman Rushdie. And that’s just on the first Saturday.

Just before the LitFest, there’s the new kid on the block: the very first Cheltenham Film Festival (1-3 October), backed by the British Film Institute and by Kraft – reminding us they haven’t left us just yet and that they always were rather more community-minded than recent media coverage suggested. With four screens showing blockbuster movies, world, arts and heritage cinema over three days, it’s a brilliant new initiative and I hope it becomes a permanent member of the festival family.

The best festivals pull you in with crowd-pleasing headliners and then tempt you to see something you would never otherwise have discovered. So the Literature Festival will feature Stephen Fry and Stephen Hawking but also the wonderful nun-turned-mystic-philosopher Karen Armstrong, the Lib Dems’ indefatigable elder stateswoman Shirley Williams and the equally indefatigable and even older ‘Debo’ Devonshire. The Film Festival features cracking movies like Mamma Mia and Alien on the big screen but then brilliantly offers us the Mexican foodie magic of Like Water for Chocolate and the first ever 1903 version of Alice in Wonderland side-by-side with the 1951 Disney classic.

Before any of these I’m off to the politician’s equivalent, party conference. All three parties are ditching seaside resorts this year and heading for the delights of Liverpool (LibDems), Birmingham (Tories) and Manchester (Labour). All you see on TV these days are leaders’ speeches and journalists telling you the story they thought of before they got there. This is a shame because they really are festivals of politics. Properly reported, they could inspire generations of young people and perhaps cure some of our cynicism about politics. They’re packed with passionate speeches, debates and endless fringe meetings where everything from history and philosophy to the pros and cons of nuclear energy or stem cell research or Trident missiles are hotly debated, often with leading experts in each field. The arguments carry on in the hotel bars into the wee small hours. Certainly at Lib Dem conference, it’s all hugely good-natured and it does make a difference. Our policy isn’t made by the leadership or by party apparatchiks reading opinion polls. It’s still thrashed out on the conference floor and voted on by the elected representatives of every local party member. It’s democracy in action. And we now know those policies really can end up in programmes for government.

The highlight of the conference season this year will be the announcement of Labour’s new leader. My money’s on Ed Miliband although predictions are risky given Labour’s arcane trade-union-based voting system. But you’ll probably know the result by the time you read this so I’d better to stop making predictions and start booking those movie tickets.

Martin Horwood MP

Find the Cheltenham Film Festival at:

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