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The Independent Culture
"I am one of those politicians," said Tony Banks MP in last night's jolly World in Action, subtitled "Many Behaving Badly" (ITV), "who has a very healthy mistrust of the honesty of the electorate." The electorate, meanwhile, has a healthy distrust of politicians, rating them alongside second-hand car dealers. This is a shame, because 70 per cent of us expect a higher than normal level of moral probity from our MPs.

These examples of public perception, allied with the forthcoming general election, formed a somewhat tenuous basis for an investigation of the nation's honesty, and also an excuse for clever-clever tracking shots of a pair of Doc Martens and short-legged baggy trousers - traditional garb, as far as I remember, of the skinhead - prowling a city centre. World in Action has always had a slightly irritating tendency to pad like this, but such a fault is hardly unique in the world of mass-market documentary. The facts presented in between, meanwhile, were both hilarious and sobering.

Using hidden cameras, the team set up a series of pranks on the public. First, they bribed a cashier at one of the Martin's chain of newsagents to hand over an extra pounds 5 or pounds 10 in change. Then they waited to see who would protest. It was a long, and expensive, process. After a morning start, it wasn't until mid-afternoon that the first returnee appeared. Ninety per cent of customers made off with the cash. This dropped to 50 per cent in a corner shop, where there was a perceived victim, but two-thirds of people, when faced with a free-gift tenner sticking out of a cashpoint machine, succumbed. A similar trick was then performed with a stamped, addressed envelope containing pounds 5, dropped in the street. Twenty-five were dropped in Esher, 25 in Toxteth. Unsurprisingly, 11 residents of the wealthy commuter town returned the cash, while only two did the same in Toxteth.

Amusing, and satisfying, in a way, to find that those respectable Britons who wax so lyrical about the decline in everyone else's moral values are as likely to sin as the strangers they berate. How, though, did Tony Banks and his colleagues get on? Well, the documentary team sent out "mistaken" cheques made out to 25 each of random members of the public, MPs, priests and second-hand car dealers. The car dealers ran true to expectation - more than half of them pocketed the dough. Seven MPs did the same, which, contrary to popular perception, was four fewer than the priests. Joe Public came out on top with only three keeping the money. Which suggests that, if honesty is really crucial in government, we could save a lot of time and money in May by simply holding a lottery.

Talking of lotteries, Cutting Edge's film "Parental Choice" (C4) explored the fraught world of education. Since opting-out became the fashion, discussion of education has taken on an eerie similarity to what it was in the Seventies, back in the days of Milk-Snatcher Thatcher. Whichever way education policy goes, it seems, there will always be parents who respond with the cry of "It's not fair!". Comprehensivisation, remember, took place in the interests of fairness, and everyone who thought their child worthy of grammar school took up the cry. Now everyone who thinks their child might not be is railing against the fates.

The programme followed the fortunes of six north London children. Again, the sense of deja vu was alarming. Nice hairdresser Carol had to move from Hackney to Camden to get her son, Craig, into a state school she liked the look of. John and Jane, redundant and facing repossession, couldn't afford the private tutors used by so many of daughter Louisa's competitors for a place at Latymer: last year, the school had 1,800 applications for 180 places. Local schools prompted the exchange of stabbing stories in wine bars. In the end, only one of the six got into her school of parental choice. Everyone else tried to put a brave face on things, but their disappointment was palpable as they faced the fact that their little darling was not in the top 10 per cent after all. As they say in Swahili, plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.

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