I’m still alive, which surely proves I’m not spending all day watching the telly whilst not here. I don’t watch much TV as it is and certainly wouldn’t before 7.00 in the evening, anyway. Recently forced to upgrade by my digital supplier, I did so with little enthusiasm, though I can now ‘Series Link’, which is a bit like programming ye olde VCR to record a particular programme weeks in advance. It’s not something I’ll probably make much use of, however, as I tend to use the TV set as an effective monitor for the DVD player most of the time. And what I do like to watch is usually regarded as being of minority interest, which means it’s always in danger of disappearing from the screen. The word ‘minority’ has different connotations where mainstream broadcasters are concerned, anyway.
The recent announcement that those oh-so wise guardians of the licence fee have decided to slash the budget of BBC Parliament – probably to finance further ‘life-changing journeys’ through some far-flung foreign field for a bunch of has-beens from the 80s – is typical of the Corporation’s priorities when confronted by criticism: keep the crap and dispense with everything that makes it unique (see also the sales of Maida Vale and BBC Caversham, plus the regular pruning of World Service branches). Moreover, the cutting back of the Parliament channel is a blow for archival anoraks who’ve enjoyed numerous nights viewing unearthed real-time coverage of distant General Elections on said channel. Thankfully, most are available on YouTube now, albeit not subject to the censorious new moral regime that is constantly preventing me making a penny from my own videos; anyway, it was online where I received my latest fix when sitting through the 1970 show.
Avuncular anchor Cliff Michelmore had a mouth remarkably similar to that of a frog; I kept expecting an elongated tongue to lash out and whip a fly from the nose of David Butler during the broadcast. Alas, it didn’t happen, but it was an entertaining watch, all the same. A degree of civility and politeness on the part of the presenters when speaking to politicians came as a refreshing shock, particularly from Robin Day, who is still credited with a fearsome proto-Paxman reputation; and when compared to the tiresome bullishness of the ‘Channel 4 News’ or ‘Newsnight’ teams of today – behaving like prosecution barristers from their very first accusation – the less confrontational approach of Robin Day actually achieves better results from MPs not instantly on the defensive. Then again, perhaps the men from the Ministries were held in a slightly higher regard back then.
As ever with these programmes, glimpses of the general public are a priceless window onto a lost world – a bit like a recent DVD outing, the mid-70s Thames TV murder-mystery panel game, ‘Whodunnit?’, hosted by Jon Pertwee with regular panelists in the shape of the swaggeringly-suave Patrick Mower and the gorgeously languorous actress-cum-hotelier Anouska Hempel. At one point, a member of the public is added to the panel every week (courtesy of winning a TV Times competition), and each bears all the endearing awkwardness-on-camera absent from media-savvy millennials. Regarding the public of Election 70, however, there is additional fun to be had through spotting future faces hidden behind the floral shirts, including journalist Simon Jenkins hanging out at a swanky London night-club in a sequence that resembles a Carnaby Street pilot of ‘The Hit Man and Her’ – and Gyles Brandreth whilst still a student at Oxford.
The declarations themselves are quite dramatic on occasion; though not as momentous a wipe-out as 1997, the unexpected ousting of the Wilson Government saw some impressive scalps claimed by the victors, none more so than the colourful figure of George Brown, losing his seat after 25 years. The notorious old soak managed to stay sober during the tension provoked by the recount, and Brown’s losing speech was his final public address as a ‘commoner’, for he enjoyed a familiar elevation to the Lords almost immediately thereafter. Watching the defeat made me wonder what it must feel like to receive rejection on such a scale (Brown lost Belper by more than 2,000 votes), though I suppose it depends on how much you care for your constituents. I would imagine being rejected by just one person you love is a tougher experience than being rejected by 2,000 people you couldn’t give a toss about.
Would I have more confidence in our elected representatives if the likes of Wilson, Heath, Callaghan, Castle, Jenkins, Whitelaw, Thorpe, Thatcher or Powell were amongst the candidates today? Looking at perhaps the most abysmal and incompetent Tory Government in living memory (including Major’s) and then glancing across at a Labour Opposition infected with identity politics and boasting a Corbyn alternative in the likes of oily Umunna, I can only come to the conclusion I’d rather be on the 1970 electoral register than the 2018 one. I don’t think I’ve ever had less confidence in any of them to deliver the goods than I have right now. The Brexit charade seems to sum it all up, a farce as demoralising as the ongoing soap opera in Washington. Hard not to be a cynic and simply think f**k the lot of ‘em. Mind you, most days I think f**k the world and everyone in it, so I guess politicians are open goals for contempt.
Twitter can often provide a different perspective on affairs, especially if you follow incompatible participants from across the ideological spectrum. It’s healthy to have your opinions challenged as well as reinforced, though even this can grate after a while. Of course, both sides highlight anything that supports their chosen narrative, so the left bigs up the Boris-is-an Islamophobe storyline whilst the right milks Jezza’s anti-Semitic terrorist sympathies; alongside these headlines are smaller stories that do a similar job, though one can’t help but wonder if they’re being reported solely to promote an agenda as inflexible as its polar opposite. Too much exposure to it all and I come away convinced both sides of the divide are as bad as each other; and I’ve got enough negative energy to deal with as it is.
Unsurprisingly, I’m not feeling especially charitable towards anyone at the moment, and as public figures whose careers are in ‘public life’ can provoke both anger and annoyance at the best of times, I’m hardly in the right frame of mind to pen balanced assessments of their performances and, on occasion, give them the benefit of the doubt. If there’s only bile in the belly, you’re left with Alex Jones; if there’s only petulant conviction you’re right and everyone else is wrong, you’re left with Owen Jones. And if there’s no sign of a heart, you’re left with Katy Hopkins. As Richard Nixon said, ‘Those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them. And then, you destroy yourself.’
I appreciate some of you may miss the days when I would write about anything in the news; I do myself. But despite my best efforts, the prospect of returning to regular posts on here still leaves me impotent. A year ago, I could write daily dispatches without breaking sweat; but a year ago I could kiss the day goodnight secure in the knowledge that everything to have constituted the day would be there for me to kiss goodnight again tomorrow. There was plenty of time to take everything for granted and wallow in the blissful complacency that comes with perceived security. Well, that security has gone now and I’m stranded on this bastard island until my eyes are able to recognise a rescue ship when they see it. I should’ve gone to Specsavers. But as the spirit of dark and lonely water once said to a traumatised generation, I’ll be back-back-back-back-back…
© The Editor