radio review

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The Independent Culture
Like all couples, they have their tiffs; but all in all, you'd have to say that the House of Commons and the Today programme have a pretty comfortable relationship, each side doing its best to make the other feel loved and important. Cute, but Today's obsession with Westminster - why this incessant need to get ministers on the air? - can become rather irritating. You just feel like such a gooseberry.

If you thought that "The Awkward Squad", the new Monday morning tenant of Radio 4's Yesterday in Parliament spot, might represent some kind of reaction to this cosiness, you were wrong. At first sight, a survey of political rebels by the instinctively contrary Matthew Parris looks promising. Look again: Parris's subject is rebellious MPs, and these days an MP doesn't have to do much to get classified as a rebel. In any case, it's debatable whether an MP who is in one of the main parties can ever really be rebellious - he may be standing at the edges of the room, but he still went along to the party.

More dishearteningly, Parris offered an analysis of their rebellion that would have delighted the whips of all parties. In yesterday's opening programme, having talked to a cross-section of wets, bastards, leftists and centrists about their childhoods - were you a rebel at school? - he jumped to the conclusion, unsupported by what we'd heard so far, that for most of them rebellion was really a sort of habit, an attitude that had taken root. They had become outsiders simply because they stood outside things - like the little boy who was too slow for the Pied Piper and was shut out of the mountain when the other children vanished, they started out only a few yards away from everywhere else, but ended up in a different world.

That might be a suitable analogy for what happened to Norman Lamont, and possibly even Julian Critchley or Frank Field; but you hardly think it applies to Ken Livingstone or Tam Dalyell or Norman Tebbit: stubbornness, a willingness to annoy, a reckless honesty, seem more significant factors in their make-up. Standing outside the establishment may be a necessary consequence of their attitude rather than a cause; standing outside may even be the point, if you feel that the establishment has got it all wrong. You wish Parris had at least given a mention to that point of view; after all, as it turned out, the little boy stuck outside the mountain was the one who had got it right.

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