The Graham Norton Show last week was unusual for the interlude towards the end of the programme when a serious discussion broke out. This followed the usual showbiz banter and the puffing of the latest disc/movie/tour by Elton John, Dame Judy Dench and John Bishop. At this point Paxman arrived to promote the book he has written about the First World War. Not being an easy subject for jokes, the mood swiftly changed. Discussion centred on the ‘lions led by donkeys’ line which Paxman argued was mainly a creation of the 1960’s, particularly arising from ‘Oh What a Lovely War.’
The focus veered onto modern UK politics and Paxman gave vent to his feelings. He had recently interviewed Russell Brand and had been energised by the encounter. Brand had poured torrents of disdain on our political system. He despised our politicians and urged revolution. This, in turn, had provoked the bubble-dwelling chattering classes to circle their wagons and pour scorn and derision on Brand. Paxman expressed himself less than content with our current politics and politicians. John Bishop interjected that no-one should become a politician until they have had at least one proper job. This brought a roar of recognition and agreement from the audience.
So far a storm in a teacup. Then yesterday, the PM programme under its intelligently astute presenter Eddie Mair, turned up the volume. Paxman has written an article in the Radio Times about his meeting with Brand.
"There is a huge sense of disillusion out there. At the next election we shall have a choice between the people who've given us five years of austerity, the people who left us this mess, and the people who signed public pledges that they wouldn't raise student fees, and then did so – the most blatant lie in recent political history," wrote Paxman.
"It won't be a bombshell if very large numbers of the electorate simply don't bother to vote. People are sick of the tawdry pretences," said the presenter who dubbed the "whole green-bench pantomime in Westminster … a remote and self-important echo-chamber". Guardian 5/11/13 (my emphasis)
Mair trailed the item throughout the show giving snippets occasionally. It concluded with three Westminster worthies, Ming Campbell, Margaret Hodge and Tim Lawton, navel gazing together. The only one with anything of note to report was Hodge who had been threatened by the BNP in her Barking constituency and had taken them on by going down to pavement level and engaging with people on local issues and concerns. The other two typified the problem. Ming was back to his patrician best although he did admit that all three parties had shared values nullifying any sense of difference.
The Falkirk fiasco has lifted a lid on the wheeling, dealing and downright skullduggery that takes place at constituencies up and down the country. Under our archaic system, barely 150 seats make a difference. 500 seats are in effect ‘safe’ and the selection process of the main parties candidate is everything. This at a time when party membership is collapsing. One of the outcomes is the flying in of ‘bright young things’ who left uni, went straight into Westminster as a researcher or adviser, crept, licked and crawled up the greasy pole, then became eligible for a safe seat. We are drowning in mediocrity. Perhaps not quite as bad as the old Rotten Borough days .....but there is not a lot in it.
In last week's Newsnight interview, Brand asked Paxman: "Aren't you bored, aren't you more bored than anyone? Ain't you been talking to [politicians] year after year, listening to their lies, their nonsense, then it's this one gets in, that one gets in, but the problem continues? Why are we going to continue to contribute to that facade?"
Revolutions rarely turn out as hoped for. Egypt and Tunisia are two recent examples. But Reform, that is something else. A group of people united under the banner of Reform could surf this wave of disgust and throw out a great many placeholders and selfservers.
There is plenty of time. Mair has promised a regular return to this subject.