1990s >> 1997 >> no-1114-june-1997

TV Review: Is Laughter All You Need?

Political coverage since the polls closed on 1 May has been considerably more entertaining than it was in the period immediately before, though given the tedium of the election campaign this is actually no great achievement. For starters, election night itself was certainly more interesting than usual. The fact that the working class had once again chosen to put their class enemies in charge of the machinery of government and the armed forces was tempered to an extent by the sight of some of the most loathsome specimens that have been doing the bidding for the capitalist class recently being unceremoniously shunted out of office. No socialist is going to weep any tears for the likes of Michael Portillo, David Evans, Michael Forsyth or David Shaw, all enemies of the working class to their very core. But unlike the Trots and reformers we couldn’t and shan’t raise a cheer for the new Labour team cither. We are fully aware that in five or ten years’ time the ashen face of Portillo on BBC’s election night coverage is likely to be replaced by that of an equally implacable opponent of the workers—Jack Straw, perhaps, or Peter Mandelson. And though we might raise a brief midnight cheer at the time for that too, it will be in the full knowledge that getting rid of one set of masters simply to replace them with another lot is the way to frustration not emancipation.


It was pretty obvious long before election night itself that Labour was going to win fairly convincingly, having been backed by influential sections of the capitalist class—and most significantly of all—the majority of the media. It will be truly fascinating to see how the media reacts to New Labour in office when the honeymoon period dies down, but so far old habits die hard. Kicking the Tory Party while it is lying prostrate on the floor with blood gushing from its head is the name of the game and bashing right-wing head-bangers the current trend set by programmes like Have I Got News For You, Rory Bremner and A Week In Politics.


Lady Hamilton and friend


Having stated this, the 10 May edition of Have I Got News For You was more akin to a ritualistic public hanging. For those who didn’t see it, it featured smarmy Neil Hamilton and his barmy wife as two of the panellists. You can probably guess the rest. What on earth possessed the two of them to appear on this programme is a topic worthy of an Arthur C. Clarke investigation. The pittance they would have received by way of an appearance fee could have in no way compensated for the humiliation they received at the hands of Ian Hislop. editor of Private Eye, which along [with] the Guardian had led the campaign against “cash for questions”.That the Hamiltons are clearly buffoons of the highest order only served to make Hislop’s task easier and more enjoyable.


However, there are worrying aspects to this entire business with the Hamiltons. The electors of Tatton, in the main, thought Hamilton’s actions in the last Parliament reprehensible, and this is not surprising. But the vast majority didn’t seem overly perturbed by Hamilton’s links with the far right, his support for the Monday Club and his long-standing and inflammatory views on immigration. Neither, for that matter, did most of the press which ended up hounding him—indeed, why should they when so many of them hold similar views to him? The idea that taking freebies or bribes as an MP is disgraceful conduct whereas stirring up racial hatred is entirely permissible illuminates the hypocrisy of the press as much as it does of Hamilton himself. It was a great pity this wasn’t brought out by Have I Got News For You, a significant fact bypassed in the headlong Gadarene rush to damn a helpless victim.


Still, while Hislop and co’s antics were hilarious and election night entertaining enough in itself, the lesson is that the bigger picture should not be lost amid a welter of emotionalism and point-scoring. It does the working class no harm in itself to rejoice at the misfortunes of our enemies, although it is always important to remember that while these people are enemies they do not in themselves constitute the enemy. There are issues at stake here that are bigger than Hamilton’s clowning or Portillo’s pomposity. And in order to tackle them we will have to engage our brains and thereby advance beyond a situation where we are simply helpless with laughter. Unless we do that the joke will be on us in election after election.


Dave Perrin