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Between the Lines: Power Play

POWER PLAY

People with not very much to do at noon each day tune into Channel 4 and watch The Parliament Programme. It used to be a bit dull, filled mainly with actionless-packed shots of the House of Lords (a yawn an hour) and talk about the exciting events taking place in the lower chamber. These days the programme is not just a bit dull, but dullness unrestrained, with lengthy recordings of the Commons at work. This "work" takes two main forms: there are the big shows where the two chief dinosaurs shout names at each other across the room, while backbenchers make animal noises: and there are the fringe shows—which is what goes on most of the time—where the chamber is as empty as the bars are full and a few unknown losers sit around trying to make the poll tax or Scottish water supplies sound interesting.

In the big shows there are set postures which regular viewers of The Parliament Programme have come to expect. There is Kinnock's effort to sound like Thatcher and Thatcher's effort to sound like Churchill, the Speaker's effort to sound like a real man even though he has on a wig. and Jeremy Corbyn's effort to sound like Fidel Castro, even though he is a pathetic reformist twit. MPs seem greatly concerned to know what Thatcher is doing today. One day she will tell them that she is devoting every spare hour to the efficient legalised robbery of the working class. Paddy Ashdown speaks every so often to let everyone know that he is still there, dead centre, dead boring and with the deadest of prospects.

The Parliament Programme not only records these mind-numbing scenes of debates between those who support capitalism and those who support capitalism (with occasional interruptions from those who support capitalism), but it also invites the mind-numbers into the studio to analyse what they have been saying. It is like watching Neighbours and then inviting Melvyn Bragg to host a studio debate on the dramatic merits of each episode.

Let's face it: people who enter parliament on a capitalist ticket do so with the intention of re-arranging the furniture in a museum which should long ago have been demolished. What have workers to gain from listening to their political justifications for such futile game-playing? For example, on The Parliament Programme today (8 March) there was an interview with Graham Bright, a Tory MP for Luton, who is dedicating his energies to passing a reform which will make it more difficult for acid-house parties to be organised. The merits or demerits of his stupid law are of no interest to this writer; what is of interest is that here is a man who has been elected by tens of thousands of workers who naively imagined that making Mr Bright an MP would make their lives better. Far from this being the case, he seeks to conserve a social order which treats workers with contempt, while using his limited powers of oratory to waste parliamentary time complaining that the proles are dancing too much.

GIVING THE GIRLS A GO

It used to be argued every so often that all of this parliamentary pomposity was a reflexion of the male egos dominating the Westminster gentleman's club. Now that a female presides over the show the argument is put less often. If she has proved little else. Margaret Thatcher has shown that you do not need to wear trousers to be a callous political opportunist.

Forty Minutes (BBC2. 1 March. 9.30pm) told the story of three Tory women who were trying to be nominated as candidates for the safe Conservative seat of High Peak in South Yorkshire. The good bit of the programme was that none of them won. The bad bit was watching them trying to win. Asked whether they supported capital punishment (strangling by the state) there was not the hint of a blush as one of the smiling opportunists affirmed her full support (as if there is such a thing as partial support for hanging). In the end the Tory-women hopefuls were rejected in favour of a chap who looked like a parson who had presided at too many funerals. The pro-hanging hopeful said that she would live to fight another day. Of course, the Guildford Four would not have been able to enjoy that opportunity if she had her way.

Steve Coleman