Call me an old cynic but one of the most dispiriting aspects of politics and current affairs is being exposed to the thoughts and opinions of the average British voter – though I don’t doubt for a moment that this observation could also be applied to any voter in any democratic country and indeed to any citizen of any country in which either democracy does not currently exist and/or never has.
This realisation slaps me around the chops with bells on every time I watch the BBC1’s David Dimbleby-hosted Question Time – or more likely, listen to it from the sanctuary of my bed on Radio Five Live which these days simul-casts it and then continues with a follow-up phone-in reaction programme presented by Stephen Nolan and John Pienaar.
[As it happens Mr Nolan was accompanied last night by Chris Mason in this endeavour because Mr Pienaar was over in Euro-land following David Cameron’s latest attempt to wrestle face-saving concessions from his EU counterparts that will provide him with Emperor’s clothes sufficient to enable him to embrace the ‘stay in’ campaign in the UK’s forthcoming referendum on whether to remain in the EU.]
I should stress here that I don’t regard myself as pontificating from a position of any ‘holier than thou’ arrogance or condescension because I’m all too acutely aware that if I was ever granted a seat on Mr Dimbleby’s panel and just told things as I saw them, within seconds I’d be an instant Twitter viral sensation and identified as being right up there amongst the top prats ever to have graced the programme.
The fact is that ‘vox pop’ interviews as beloved by television and radio presenters are unutterably depressing in their banality. So are the views and comments of that strange constituency of strays, waifs and losers which not only suffers from insomnia but is then also moved to phone-in their ridiculous comments and/or opinions to those doing the graveyard shift on late night radio programmes.
Of course, on the BBC – with its eternal millstone of supposing to have to be seen to be impartial – the radio presenters have to be pre-tested for rhino-hide-standard patience, courtesy and restraint.
Way back in the day – I’m talking the 1970s here – things were much more fun on the likes of LBC, on which there used to be a phone-in programme conducted an abrasive Australian anchor called Brian Hayes who stood for little nonsense from those hapless members of the public who dared to phone in. At the first sign of stupidity, or indeed crackpot or unacceptable opinions, he first told the caller where to go and then simply cut him off and moved on to the next.
It was riveting stuff and I was a devoted fan of his programme. Would that we had more like Hayes today!
Having listened to Radio Five Live from about 11.00pm to 01.30am overnight, I was left with firstly, a heavy reinforcement of the truism that democracy is a much-overrated thing; and secondly, despite my fundamental and deep-rooted distaste for British politics and politicians, a slight degree of unexpected sympathy for those who choose to enter politics – simply because, in order to ‘play the game’, they not only have to pretend to empathise with and listen to the endless ill-informed and vacuous opinions of the Great British Unwashed, but also know from the very outset that their personal advancement probably depends upon them.