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.

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
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.

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power