How to list Britain's powers the slow way

The Power List Channel 4

How does one choose the 300 most powerful people in Britain? Such lists are themselves problematic, and prone to glaring omissions and eccentric inclusions, as we have seen from lists like The Best Books of The Century, the 100 Best Albums Ever or even the Turner short list. One imagines that any jury impanelled to select the 300 most powerful people might quickly realise the absurd enormity of the task, before agreeing to pull a few hundred names out of a hat.

The opening programme of The Power List seemed very keen to show us that its selection committee, the eight-member "Power Panel", took its task very seriously, employed no shortcuts, and thoroughly argued and justified even its most obvious choices. Even the running time of one hour and 15 minutes had an unconstrained earnestness about it: to hell with time slots - we'll finish when we finish.

The Power Panel was convened last summer at Leeds Castle, and included Lord Hattersley, Will Hutton, Peter York and former Smash Hits editor Kate Thornton. The programme decided to begin at the beginning, with a mysteriously over-long segment showing the panel checking into their rooms. By the time they all sat down together I feared the extra fifteen minutes wouldn't be enough. Each had brought along a little film they'd knocked up in their spare time about a potential candidate. This seemed like a slow way to start, especially when panelist Sara Morrison kicked things off with a film about why The Duke of Westminster shouldn't be on the list.

The question of how to define power looked to be a real stumbling point, but in the end the panel glossed over the issue. They simply decided to go with something that somebody had typed out earlier: "the ability to define the quality of people's daily lives". This definition is, like any other you might care to come up with, severely flawed, and makes selection more subjective, rather than less: is Bill Gates defining the quality of your life?

Anything like an accurate measure of influence would require a very strange formula and the sort of research and number crunching in which no one is interested, probably with good reason. The panel approached the whole exercise with sufficient cynicism that you knew anyone who said "Hey! What about Tony Blair?" would be written off as grossly naive.

The pervading idea was that many of the most powerful people are behind the scenes, and largely unknown. They even came up with a few examples, but not surprisingly, their names didn't ring any bells. Peter York made a good, if characteristically smug, case for Sir David Frost's unparalleled toadying power, but in general the inclusion of media figures got a little out of hand. Kate Thornton had no trouble convincing her colleagues that Alan Magee, head of Creation records and the hand that rocks Oasis, was on the verge of ruling the world. Suddenly Noel Gallagher himself was being talked up. I began to think that Denise Van Outen might be in with a chance. I felt like shouting "Hey! What about Tony Blair?"

Blair and his cabinet got only the briefest mention late in the programme, perhaps because originally Roy Hattersley was meant to present a little film about Frank Field, who has since been shuffled out of his job as Minister for Welfare Reform. The fact that the film and all subsequent references to Mr Field had to be excised from the programme may explain its occasional choppiness and the extended shots of everyone arriving. When they did get round to Blair, the panel only wanted to talk about Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson. The power behind the throne is much more interesting, even when it is less powerful.

In the end not one contender was assigned a firm place on the winner's board. The actual Power List is being saved for next week's two concluding programmes, and there was no hint last night of who might be on it. In an hour and 15 minutes they didn't quite managed to commit to six people. Perhaps they're afraid that some more of them will be sacked before next week. I may not be able to do any better, but I could do it a lot faster. Is the Duke of Westminster one of the 300 most powerful people in Britain? No. Is Alan Magee? No. David Frost? No. Roger Penrose? No. And who is the most powerful person in Britain? Tony Blair. See? Easy.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week