Category Archives: political coverage

The Thick of It Series 4: I’m on the train

ImageYes! Yes he does! Ollie Reader DOES look like a Quentin Blake drawing. How can you not love a programme that notices things like that? How can you not love The Thick of It? Certainly this latest episode (four), the One On The Train, has already taken its place on the shelf marked ‘finest things ever seen on tv’. But even the previous three episodes, which common tedious consensus decided were ‘not as funny as earlier series’ were actually still miles better than just about anything else. I love everything about the Thick of It, and everyone in it, every second of the time. Here’s some of my top loves, in no particular order:

  • Ollie and Glenn, the Steptoe and Son of the civil service. Glenn’s so tragic, and Ollie can’t stop taking the piss, but – and here’s the genius – we know that they’ll never be able to separate permanently. I’m surely not the only one who hears the Steptoe music whenever they appear together, am I?
  • Peter Mannion. Despite being a posh floppy-haired Tory, he’s the right sort of Tory – the Ken Clarke kind. He’s also the Everyman, being permanently infuriated and baffled by the ghastly (but actually not as ghastly as real Coalition) ideas that are constantly being chucked in his direction. Quick quiz: Is the following a TToI policy or a real-life government proposal: reduce the benefit paid to council tenants if they have a spare bedroom, unless they fill it with a homeless lodger?
  • Malcolm. Obvs. Done Malcolm already, here. Today I tried out his ‘why don’t you make like a tree and fuck off?’ The kids were suitably impressed.
  • Nicola Murray. TToI is brilliant at making its women characters seem like real people: sweary, ambitious, a bit useless, not having the moral high ground just because they’re female. Nicola – having the huge advantage of being played by Rebecca Front – is the best of them, but there are plenty of others, such as:
  • Terri. I love that she is highly incompetent but thinks she’s the only one who knows what’s what. I have known so many Terris. I love watching her; even when the actress playing her hasn’t much to do she is doing so much.
  • The sheer speed of everything. The banter, the u-turns, the rise to chancellor and fall to meet his sword by poor old Ben ‘Bental Illness’ Swain in less than thirty minutes, the short space of time in which Nicola runs headless-chicken style up and down a train platform and her career runs in the other direction, the facades of politeness dropping like shit-covered bricks the moment someone’s back’s against the wall. The verve and energy is a thing of beauty.
  • The fundamental darkness at the programme’s heart. Is there a character on it that isn’t in some way depressed, a relationship that isn’t in some way compromised, an initiative that doesn’t ultimately lead to a futile outcome? It truly is a fine mirror to hold up to these bizarre days, in which rich men keep making poor people poorer, and real health secretaries are far worse than anything Armando could conjure up.

 Please add your favourite things below.

Posted by Qwerty


Filed under Comedy, political coverage

BBC News Election Special: “Coalition of the winners”

And the winner is …. TV.  After months in advance of being told “it’s social media, stupid”, this election has made us realise that TV rules.

They can do fast, they can do slow.  They can give us the raw numbers, they can give us the raw human emotion. They have all the players and the movers and the shakers.  They can even get the movers and the shakers to hit each other when it gets a bit boring.

The only place they couldn’t yet get to was inside the Palace.  The badly taken snap of Cameron with her Madge – probably taken by Phil on his phone while making bad taste jokes about SamCam – was the last redoubt, shown rather embarassedly amongst the literally more moving footage.  Next time, next time we’ll have the Buck House CCTV and a Royal camera crew with live feeds to play into the 24 hour news.

This election – from the leaders debates to the common-sense defying but spot on exit polls, from the aerial shots of Whitehall to the No 10 door-step in and out – has been TV’s by a mile.

But interestingly, there is no coalition for these guys.  BBC, ITV and Sky still pretend the others don’t exist.  They’ll happily review all the papers and show off their Twitter feeds to demonstrate just how chébran they are.  But as they stand outside No 10 or on College Green they all seek to keep up the pretence that they’re the only TV crew there.

No 10 – or in Nick Robinson’s hypervent state “the most famous address in the world” (which I think the US president, the Pope and even the Queen might have grounds to query) – does provide the best backdrop for the chosen few political editors.  Hoi polloi have to goggle through the iron gates several hundred yards away.

No 10 is instantly recognisable and flatly iconic like a Warhol picture of a door.  It lends gravitas and honour to the chosen few allowed to stand in front.  It has sufficient comings and goings to make it interesting and yet not so many that it’s just another thoroughfare.  And they can be sure that no idiot will appear behind them and start doing silly walks. Continue reading


Filed under political coverage

Election News Special 2010: “Coalition of the losers”

The longest TV election night in UK history now reaches its 96th hour.  Have they allowed David Dimbleby some sleep?  Judging by his appearance at the hurriedly arranged 8.30 pm BBC1 Election special, he’s had a few hours kip.

But under the hallowed unwritten UK constitution it’s actually a requirement that a Dimbleby remains on TV until a new government is formed.   It’s going to be a long night.

You guys all wanted a hung parliament – and this is what it’s like.  We’re watching the formation of a Government in slow-mo, something  that usually happens in just a few hours on the early hours of a Friday morning after the polls close.

But you’ve got to admit these are great, dramatic political events.  Today (Monday) perhaps the best of all as Gordon Brown shifted the dynamic once more with his resigning as leader, but remaining PM.  It’s one of the great features of that same unwritten UK constitution that we can do this – “I’m resigning as leader, but I’m still in charge of the country”.  Beleaguered leaders elsewhere must see this as a pretty neat trick.

General Election Night, usually the time of highest drama as MPs fall and rise, now feels like the phony war.  There was no Portillo moment then.  But I think we’ve had it now, with Gordon falling on his sword outside No 10.  But “were you back home in time for Gordon?”, sadly doesn’t have the same ring to it. Continue reading


Filed under political coverage

Leaders’ Debate: An airhead’s view

I felt rather forced into watching the election debate last night by my other half, who accused me of not paying enough attention to the biggest decision this country has faced in a long time. Actually, I know all about making decisions. I am in the middle of making one right now. It’s getting warmer and it’s time to decide… will it be Gladiator sandals, flip flops or ballet pumps this summer? Anyway, I decided to show him I could take an interest in the Live Debate and besides, I love anything with Ant and Dec hosting.

After I had recovered from the initial disappointment that Ant and Dec weren’t  hosting and that the audience weren’t allowed to boo anything they didn’t like, I started to listen to what these three men were saying. My husband asked if I even knew the names of the party leaders, which of course I do.  David Cameron reminds me of my slimy Geography teacher; Nick Clegg looks like the dishy bloke who sold me my Renault Clio… crook… (car man not Nick Clegg); Gordon Brown looks like Crazy Bob from the pub who sings karaoke in his slippers. So now I have proved I know who they are, I feel I can comment on their policies and give my opinion on them.

To show I take an interest, I had a read of the campaign posters in the city on my way to Primark (jeggings £3). I must say though, I don’t think those with a picture of Gordon Brown’s face and the words “I took millions of pounds from pensioners last year, let me do it again” is a very good slogan for someone wanting to be Prime Minister again. Then after seeing the news from Rochdale on Wednesday, I realised he really does have it in for pensioners doesn’t he?

Last week there were discussions about Foreign Policies. Well I think we should deal with our own policies before we start bothering about theirs. So what did tonight’s debate have in store?

Tax Credits were mentioned, but no one seemed to admit if they were going to cut them, keep them or abolish them. I think the question that should be asked about tax credits is how do you fill in the huge and very complicated form correctly, so that in a month’s time they don’t ask for the money back, because (like me) you filled it in wrong and told them you had 13 children?

Continue reading


Filed under political coverage

Prime Ministerial Debate: Cameron gets his Clegg over

This was an odd one.  To be frank it bored the pants off me. They were all practised and smoothed off to within an inch of their lives. They were all, for different reasons, scared to put a foot wrong. It therefore never caught light. The differences were minute. Frankly, at points I was more concerned about the Liverpool result over on C5.

But, but, but …. the Institute for Fiscal Studies are right – the depth of the financial gap we are facing as a country is immense, and here they were footling about arguing over £6 billion here and there:  all it takes is saving of just 1p in the £1?  Cock.  If the voters take this supposed economic debate as setting out the reality ahead, you’re in for the rudest awakening since Chamberlain’s paper waving after Munich.

But, whisper it, this was the one where I started to get what the Clegg attraction was all about. I started to fall under the influence.  I started to warm to his apparent ordinary chapness. Pity for all those who really think he is different. He’s a politician, just one who’s not been near a sniff of actual power until TV turned this election upside down 2 weeks ago.

Cameron still seems botoxed to within an inch of his life. If he is destined for No 10, I’m going to hate him as much as his predecessors. He even managed to look Prime Ministerial, scary balloon clown that he is. I await the evolution of Steve Bell’s cartoon of the man I fear will be our next PM, God help us all.

Gordon Brown looked absolutely knackered. With his dreams haunted by Mrs Duffy and his bigot-gate disaster, he seems like a punched out boxer who’s still got the mechanical moves but his eyes are dulled. I think people are starting to feel sorry for him – and that’s fatal. Continue reading


Filed under political coverage

Leaders’ Debate 2: the difficult second album

Would Cleggmania continue to ride rampant over what he would persistently call the “old parties”, or would his bubble burst as the electorate woke up from a seven-day bender wondering what the hell they ever saw in him?  In practice, neither.  This was closer to being the difficult second album which can’t have the wow factor of the first but certainly isn’t a flop.

Overall this was therefore more of a score-draw – with Clegg unable to sustain the hysteria of Leaders 1, Cameron getting more to grips with the format, and Gordon Brown hanging on in there. And that in itself is a mark of how much seismic change these debates have delivered for UK politics.

The fact that we can see it as a pretty normal outcome to have all the parties sitting on around 30%+ is remarkable.  If this sustains through to 6 May this will be something that has seriously not happened in our lifetimes (assuming you don’t count the weird Labour suicide-note politics of 1983).  You see even I am getting carried away.

Clegg being stationed in the middle this time round often got squeezed and picked on, and from time to time got sucked in to the old adversarial politics (or politics as you and I would call it) which he successfully derided last time.  It’s hard to be an outsider when you’re front and centre. 

Cameron by contrast benefited from being able to stand off to one side and distance himself, seeking to peg the other two together.  Indeed they all tried this, with Gordon’s slightly naff pre-prep line of “you’re like my two boys squabbling at bathtime”.  While that neatly re-cast the youth of both opponents as inexperience, it conjured up a pretty weird image of a large paternalistic Gordon looming over a naked Nick and Dave in the bath.  At least it did for me. Continue reading


Filed under political coverage

Leaders’ Debate: Clegg nicks it

Well there it was.  TV history in the making. It was exciting just for the fact it happened.  Even if nothing really did happen.  There was no “you’re no Jack Kennedy” moment. No zinger from one candidate which turned the election. No sweaty Nixon pallor.  That may still be to come.

Each of the three party leaders was incredibly controlled:  over 90 minutes none of them appeared to put a physical step wrong.  No arrogant rolling of the eyes. No weird facial gestures. No checked watches.  Indeed it makes you wonder how the US Presidential candidates have got it so wrong in the past.

Gordon Brown didn’t chew his nails.  David Cameron didn’t sing the Eton Boating song. Nick Clegg didn’t freeze with fright at being in the playground with the big boys.

All of them had clearly practised the same approach – it was show not tell.  Play out the anecdote of the latest school you’ve visited.  The latest nurse you’ve spoken to.  The latest crime victim you’ve salivated over.

But there was at least a clear winner:  as with “Ask the Chancellors” this was the Lib Dems. So far, so predictable.  But predictable only to those who thought about it for 5 minutes in advance.

To around 90% of the audience tuning in, the fact that Nick Clegg was even the same size as the other two was probably the biggest surprise.  Schooled on the David Steel perceptions of politics, we expected the Lib Dem leader to be about 2′ 6″. Continue reading


Filed under political coverage

How to win the TV debate: Michael Cockerell

Well, if you weren’t already excited by the prospect of the political leaders’ TV debates and persuaded that this is a turning point for UK politics, then Michael Cockerell’s fascinating How to win the TV debate should have changed your mind. 

This was great television:  television doing best what only it can do.  So good that I re-watched it on iPlayer immediately (and then replayed the best bits again).  It should be compulsory viewing for all voters.

In little under an hour, it provided an informed and engaging sweep across televised Presidential debates in the US, starting with the initial Nixon-Kennedy clash in 1960.  And carefully, as the years and decades went by, it linked them across to the UK elections and leaders and the similar debates they often talked about, but avoided having.

This of course had the huge advantage of being TV analysing the production and impact of TV – but it used the vast range of historic footage it had skilfully and at just the right pace.  It was laced together with insightful analysis from the vastly experienced political reporter, Michael Cockerell (who nicely established his credentials mid-way by including a clip from 1979 of his questioning candidate Reagan).

What made this programme fly was indeed the fine selection and presentation of archive material, drawing in Presidents and Prime Ministers and wannabe Presidents and Prime Ministers alike, plus their raft of advisers and political commentators reflecting on the debates. 

Those candidates that did shine through the TV lens still standout:  Clinton, even with all we know about him, was still exhilarating both in interview and in the TV debate.  I’d vote for him tomorrow.

It also showed what went through their minds and how they and their advisers prepared.  It had great behind the scenes footage, such as Presidents Ford and Obama preparing:  Gerald Ford practicing by literally taking on a cumbersome old TV playing clips of Carter, not that it availed him much in reality. Continue reading


Filed under political coverage

Ask the Chancellors

An odd title for a programme given that there was only one actual Chancellor and two would-be Chancellors, but never mind.

Just one of the many compromises involved in a programme that was wrongly hyped as paving the way to some sort of televisual history, propelling UK elections into the TV age, in the way which US elections have been conducted since before the Nixon era.

With the big TV channels having secured the potential PMs, Channel 4 snuck in and grabbed the Chancellors and got to show them off first.  This must have felt like a coup in the planning.  In retrospect, I’m not so sure.

Of all the negotiated positions – who goes first, who stands in the middle, how do we all avoid wearing the same tie – the compromise condition that the audience stay shtum to avoid any appearance of bias was the unexpected downer on the evening.

As the first statements were made, and questions were asked and answered, they sat still, silent, unresponding. To politicians used to the caffeine rush of immediate feedback, it must have felt like they were comedians dying on their arses before a wet matinee in Hull.  And people at home were bereft without their live audience barometer to see who was up and who was down.

I could sense the producer wondering what the hell he had agreed to as they sat in frozen silence for nearly 15 minutes.

And then a Vince Cable aside prompted the audience to laugh, despite whatever pre-broadcast contracts they had signed in blood, and the spell was broken. They immediately returned to the same sepulchral silence, but at least we knew they were breathing. Continue reading


Filed under political coverage