Ken Loach: “It’s a wretched old world we’ve handed on”

Ken Loach speaks to students at Goldsmiths

Pic: Flickr - The Lost Eyeway

Ken Loach is as politically outspoken as ever. With 3 million people preparing to strike on November 30’s ‘day of action’, he took the stage before Goldsmiths, University of London students at an anti-austerity conference on Thursday.

The one-day strike at the end of this month will see an estimated 2.3 million public sector workers take to the streets to defend pension rights, as government officials proposes cuts as part of the coalition austerity drive. Loach, the legendary film directer,  is one of the many public figures to have lent their support.

Speaking  to EastLondonLines before the event at the Ian Gulland Lecture Theatre last night, he shared his advice for young people today: “It is good to study, to go to university, to learn about the world.

“I think the danger is that people drop into pessimism and alienation, thinking they have no power and no place in the world because there’s so much unemployment, and what jobs there are are very hard to find, sometimes casual and not permanent.

“The only way you can go on is to study what you can. Solidarity is the best way of making friends.”

As a director, Loach’s work has consistently met with acclaim, but his self-deprecating demeanour is unsurprising given the acute social realism that marks his oeuvre.

After his 1966 film ‘Cathy Come Home’, which depicted the realities of homelessness, the charity Shelter was established in response.

Yet more than 40 years later, the same poverty, crime and unemployment that marred then British society continues to thrive. Does this make him dispirited?

“If you’ve got a political perspective, you see what the various class forces are at any one time, the aberrations we’ve had on the left. That’s represented by the Labour party, and they’ve led us into cul-de-sacs. We’ve had this permanent crisis of leadership.”

And he is willing to face up to both the lessons and mistakes the past?

“There is a lot to learn from our parents’ generation and their parents’ generation as well. The problem is that you can generate militancy but unless you have some vehicle to progress what you want to happen, it will dissipate.

“It’s the same with November 30.”

Students and workers are now uniting in preparation for the biggest day of protest for a generation. And with posters reading “We are the 99%” blanketing public spaces throughout London, the momentum is certainly gathering for genuine change.

But even as he voices support, Loach is keen to highlight the difficulty of realising radical plans on an international scale: “History grinds on inexorably and the need for change just gets more and more intense. The problem is if we allow capitalism to disintegrate it could take the globe with it because it could just destroy the world.”

An advocate of the ‘more walking, less talking’ approach to politics, Loach reflects this in his films, too.

“It’s not enough just to show poverty. The important thing is to indicate in some way why things are as they are. Maybe you can’t do that in every film, but you can lead the audience into a certain discontent, and leave them not with everything tied up, but with a conundrum, a contradiction to puzzle over.”

Loach’s films have provoked controversy from the start. Over the last four decades he has consistently met Hollywood’s ultra-sanitised, saccharine offerings with stark social realism. Along the way he has collaborated with the whole back catalogue of British gritterati: Robert Carlyle, Ricky Tomlinson, Robert Duvall, Peter Mullan…

So how does he feel about being cast as the archetypal director-cum-activist?

“I just spend my life making films, which is quite a nice thing to do, but I haven’t experienced the problems that people have at the sharp end. I’m just trying to lend support where I can, where it’s appropriate.”

He ends on meditative note: “It’s a wretched old world we’ve handed on. So it’s important that we consider the subjects we cover, the questions we ask, and the stories we tell.”


On Saturday, Goldsmiths will host the UKs biggest ever student activism conference. For more info see:

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