SOMETIMES, it seems, you do have to make a drama out of a crisis. ITV’s Mr Bates vs The Post Office has injected personality, scenery and tragicomedy into the dry details of a massive technological (and bureaucratic) failure.

An anti-establishment sweet spot has also been securely struck.

The drama skilfully renders small-town operators, the bedrock of the Brexit vote, as the victims of the stupidly blinking (and bug-laden) boxes of the Post Office’s Horizon accounting system.

It’s great event TV. You feel the Kafka-esque terror when the mumsy Jo Hamilton watches her office’s debt double before her eyes, as a result of merely refreshing the software. You are horrified when a depressed subpostmaster steps in front of a bus, unable to handle the shame of being accused of embezzlement.

Yet you exult in the patient, downbeat tenacity of lead complainant Alan Bates himself, perfectly played by Toby Jones. Brilliantly, the show keeps returning to the house Bates and his wife Suzanne fought their battle from, an isolated farmhouse in Nant Ffrancon valley in Eryri National Park (or Snowdonia), Wales.

The National: ITV STUDIOS.MR BATES Vs POST OFFICE....Pictured: AMIT SHAH as Jas,KRUPA PATTANI as Sam,IIFAN HUW DAFYDD as Noel,JULIE HESMONDHALGH as Suzanne,TOBY JONES as Alan Bates,MONICA DOLAN as Jo,WILL MELLOR as Lee and SHAUN DOOLEY as Rudkin....This photograph is

Humans – indeed, a loving older couple – are here in balance with glorious nature. This is regularly set against the Dickensian entanglement of computers, courts and cruel executives. The underlying point is well-taken.

You’re punching the air by the end. Yet there’s not much political advantage to be gained here. All of the UK-wide parties are besmirched.

My former colleague at the innovation charity Nesta, Geoff Mulgan, gave testimony a year ago as part of an official inquiry into the scandal. This was based on his role as a government adviser to the working group that signed off on the Horizon system in the late 90s.

Mulgan comes out of it with some personal integrity. He’s on record as laying down a warning to those attending. In his view, the ICL/Fujitsu contract “will in the long-run prove unsatisfactory, leaving the Post Office and government dependent on a hugely expensive, inflexible, inappropriate and possibly unreliable system”.

But Mulgan’s video testimony also reveals the worst kind of inter-departmental (and inter-ministerial) politicking around all this, at the very heart of New Labour.

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Tony Blair decisively recommended going ahead with Horizon, having at least partial knowledge of its technical failings. So we won’t have Keir Starmer’s rubber mallet bashing Rishi Sunak’s head on this one.

So much of the commentary contains a phrase to this effect: “Why did it take a TV drama to bring the biggest miscarriage of justice in British history to light?” This is an odd and ill-informed notion. Especially given both the robust history of TV drama doing exactly this, and indeed the very origin of drama itself.

Classical Greek theatre took place during a public festival, attended by the enfranchised citizens of Athens. They watched plays that dealt with dilemmas of policy, poor leadership, the individual’s versus the state’s rights … then discussed their themes afterwards.

So it’s easy to regard Mr Bates vs The Post Office as doing what drama has always done. Which is to provide the “constructed space”, as Scottish dramatist David Greig wrote in 2017, in which democracy can thrive: “Unless we are able to encounter each other within art, then any vote taken is taken in ignorance.”

Turns out it’s also easy to recall a history of dramatic screen series that have reduced our “ignorance”, as aware, deciding citizens. Such drama can “restore us to our humanity”, as Greig puts it.

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Ken Loach’s harrowing homeless drama Cathy Come Home (1966) provoked the launch of the charity Shelter later that year, as well as raising questions in Parliament (though arguably that crisis is now worse than ever).

Peter Watkins’s anti-nuclear war drama, The War Game, made in the same year, was deemed too dangerous to show for nearly two decades, regarded as a threat to Cold War morale.

BUT 1984’s Threads, also made by the BBC, contained unflinching depictions of nuclear carnage that terrified viewers.

One in particular, George Shultz, fed his horror into Reaganite US nuclear policy.

Jimmy McGovern’s Hillsborough drama (1996) strongly shifted the narrative of blame around the 1989 football stadium disaster, putting emotional fuel in the tank that led to further commissions and reports.

McGovern also wrote Sunday, about the events of Bloody Sunday, in 2002. Before that, the prime-time docudrama Who Bombed Birmingham? in 1990 set in motion the momentum towards the acquittal of the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven, enduring 242 years of Irish terrorism charges.

The National: Russell T Davies

There are other, more zeitgeist-shifting examples. To what extent did Russell T Davies’s Queer As Folk (1999) and It’s A Sin (2021) series for Channel Four pave the way for the normalisation of LGTBI+ lifestyles in mainstream society?

I would also make a case for the 1974 TV version of John McGrath’s The Cheviot, The Stag And The Black, Black Oil, which brought the radical variety show of 7:84 Theatre Company to the small screen. It sharpened decades of constitutional arguments about who controls (and should control) Scottish resources.

The musical’s deep Marxist scepticism about all existing party-political forces might not fully chime with the ITV film, which seizes on a patrician Tory MP (James Arbuthnot) as one of the subpostmasters’ Westminster defenders. But both shows definitely share the defiant viewpoint from below.

The obvious question arises: will the success, and effect, of Mr Bates vs The Post Office lead to more commissions of this kind? Might UK broadcasters and streamers feel they’re moving out of a long Tory winter? I know of a few dramatic productions that might well click the wheel of reform and policy forward.

One is the forthcoming movie by the wunderkind Alex Garland, titled Civil War, which is about, well, a civil war tearing America apart. Will it be a caution to US voters about the consequences of a Trump victory, or merely exploit such a scenario?

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A few series unearth old community tragedies. Most notably Netflix/BBC’s forthcoming drama on the Lockerbie crash and disaster. But there’s also ITV’s Toxic Town, relating the 80s story of Corby’s high defective birth rates, caused by poor toxic waste management in the area. Fascinating to see these productions scheduled for an election year, when we’re being invited to judge our steering classes again.

There’s also the BBC’s The Way, written by James Graham, actor Michael Sheen and documentary maker Adam Curtis. It’s about a British family fleeing from their industrial town which has exploded in revolt, triggering national unrest.

“This is a really timely way to examine one of the great puzzles of this moment”, says Curtis, “why is it so hard to imagine a better, or even just different, kind of future for this country? What is holding us back?”

Indy-minded viewers in Scotland may, of course, have their own answers to such questions.

In the meantime, let’s enjoy this rare outbreak, to borrow the phrase from School of Rock, of stick-it-to-the-man-eosis.

Victory to Mr Bates!