Yesterday, on behalf of the cause, I made a point of watching BBC2’s Daily Politics at noon, then the first programme in Michael Cockerell’s four-part series on Inside The Commons at 9.00pm, followed by the first episode of Rory Bremner’s Coalition Report at 10.00pm. The latter two are part of some BBC promotional theme on democracy, presumably intended as some sort of accompaniment to the 2015 General Election.
Jo Cockburn was hosting Daily Politics. When I first saw her I took her to be a time-serving BBC reporter lightweight thrown in alongside Andrew Neil simply to exhibit the BBC’s commitment to diversity. I’ve since revised that opinion. She doesn’t quite possess Neil’s uncompromising Rottweiler-type aggression towards political interviewees’ fudging and evasion, but she’s no slouch either – she’s more of a noisy, nippy, Jack Russell in the manner she rarely lets a victim off the hook.
The opening and main topic of the day was the latest proposal, unveiled by William Hague, for the Government’s watered-down version of ‘English votes for English matters’ (Cameron’s strange commitment made on the back of his first public reaction the ‘no’ result in the Scottish referendum). I must declare an interest here – as an Englishmen, I would have been only too happy to see Scotland go independent … and thence straight down the plug-hole that its traditional own malevolent meanness and ‘chip on the shoulder’ attitudes richly deserve.
Tory grandee Sir Malcolm Rifkind, member for Knightsbridge, was batting for the Government. Against him was a nondescript Labour MP and a Tory defector UKIP member Mark Reckless.
Rifkind is one of those Tory MPs who gives off the air that government and power is a personal entitlement and democracy a pernicious but sadly necessary adjunct to the really important business of running the country. By definition, his reasoning goes, anything he proposes or peddles as policy is right. Obviously, since that is the case, all other views are inherently wrong and certainly not worth considering or even taking on board, simply because – had they possessed any merit at all – he would have adopted them himself some time previously. Which is why argument or scrutiny of anything he holds to be the case is a pointless waste of his – and therefore everyone else’s – time.
Rifkind presented his, sorry the Government’s, case. The irony was that, the more he kept re-emphasising how simple and straightforward it was … the more complicated, convoluted and ridiculous it seemed to become as the other participants pointed out the flaws. Rifkind became mildly irritated because, as he rebutted each of the others’ points, nobody was listening to his line, still less accepting it as law. As it should be.
This one looks as though it will run and run …
I was left in two minds by Inside The Commons.
On the one hand it was lavishly produced, well written and presented by Michael Cockerell, was fascinating (in the sense that any ‘behind the scenes’ exposure of one of our national institutions of state is so) and – through the device of following a series of MPs and Commons backstage stalwarts for several months – certainly gave an insight or two into the arcane procedures of Parliament, how things get done and how MPs have to ‘work the system’.
On the other, to be frank, this first episode of the series was broadly similar to all the other “How Parliament works” documentaries that have ever been produced. Aerial shots of the Houses of Parliament, the inner workings of Big Ben, plush red-leathered tea rooms and miles and miles of long, Gothic, red-carpeted corridors – you know the sort of thing.
Still, I didn’t fall asleep during it – which says something. The impression that MPs are all in a Westminster ‘bubble’, existing on a different planet to the rest of us, was reinforced.
Relative newbie Sarah Champion, Labour MP for Rotherham, was shown battling to get her ‘child abuse’ proposals into a bill, and eventually getting the opportunity to ask a question at Prime Minister’s Questions, against all odds. Afterwards, in the corridor, she talked excitedly to the ‘unseen’ camera about putting her question … and how positively the Prime Minister had responded. At that moment, behind her, a phalanx of important-looking persons strode by and one of then suddenly came over to her to say “Well done with your question …”
It was David Cameron. Champion simpered back “… And thank you for promising to give it your serious consideration” – and then he was gone. She then turned back to the camera, giving a ‘What can you do?’ expression with her hand and grinning like a schoolgirl who felt she had impressed the headmaster in school assembly. She may only have been an MP since 2012, but you could tell Champion had already become an insider and ‘gone native’.
Rory Bremner’s Coalition Report was a major disappointment. There was a long period when his Channel Four show, featuring John Bird and John Fortune, was a ‘must-see’ for all those interested in politics. Now Fortune is dead and in this project Bremner seems to be just going through the motions, and on a reduced budget. Whether Bremner has lost his mojo, or modern politicians just don’t lend themselves to caricature as they used to, I don’t know – however, at least 80% of the time I wasn’t able to tell who he was purporting to be impersonating. Unless it was himself.
I’ve marked Bremner’s school report ‘Must do better’.