Coalition: Channel 4 makes a drama out of a political crisis

The dramatisation focuses on those five tense days in 2010, when our current government was formed

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With all the speculation over this year's leadership debates - who would be appearing and why and what colour underwear they'd have on when they did - we seemed to forget that debates aren't the only sort of election coverage. In fact, as May 7th approaches we can look forward to a wide variety of specially programmed television.

On BBC2, Charlie Brooker presents Election Wipe and Jack Dee hosts a three-part series Election Helpdesk, based on his live Edinburgh show. We’ve already seen documentaries including Steph and Dom Meet Nigel Farage which promised us a deeper understanding of the personalities involved. Tomorrow evening Channel 4 will air Coalition, a dramatisation of those five tense days in 2010, when our current government was formed. Might election-themed television of a less formal  kind also have an impact on the way people vote?

The politicians themselves certainly seem to think so. Peter Mandelson, Paddy Ashdown and George Osborne all agreed to be interviewed by Coalition writer James Graham - Osborne even gave him a guided tour of No. 11 - and they’ve been rewarded with reasonably flattering portrayals in the drama. True there’s something vampiric about Mark Gatiss as Mandelson, but all three act as trusted advisors to their respective party leaders, demonstrating a political astuteness which borders on prophesy. “This way we can share the blame,” says Osborne (Sebastian Armesto) at one point, when weighing up the benefits of a coalition with the Lib Dems, “People expect us to be ruthless. They’ll be seen as traitors.” Sound familiar?

Ed Balls who is played by the actor best-known as Shoreditch nincompoop Nathan Barley, may be less happy with his portrayal, but then it’s not the representation of individuals, or even policies which should concern politicians most. TV’s real influence over voting patterns is much wider-ranging and much more fundamental.

It was once fashionable to bemoan the ‘fact’ that more people vote in the finals of X Factor than in a general election, but his probably isn’t true. While voting more than once is frowned upon by the Electoral Commission, on TV reality shows the practice is actively encouraged. So even if more votes were cast in total, there’s no proof that more individuals voted. It remains true, however, that those same groups most likely to vote in reality TV shows are least likely to vote in political elections.

Perhaps when you’re so often enjoined to ‘press the red button’, ‘text to vote’ or ‘join the Twitter conversation’ by television, the first-past-the-post system seems a frustrating indirect sort of democracy. So can television influence the way people vote? Undoubtedly. But the programmes with the most influence on the electorate might not be the ones we imagine.

Sarah Lancashire in Happy Valley (Red Productions/Ben Blackall)

... and another important vote

One cold evening last February, TV critics representing every major media outlet in Britain gathered together in a room with no windows for a no-holds barred barney. One magazine journalist launched an impassioned (and lengthy plea) for Pointless, I nearly came to blows with a blogger over whether Happy Valley or True Detective is the superior crime drama (correct answer: Happy Valley, obviously) and the chairman’s calls for quiet were rarely heeded - but in the end, it was all worth it. The resulting shortlist for the Radio Times Audience Award at the BAFTAs is open to the public vote until May 7th.

Will it be ITV’s Cilla that gets your backing? Or EastEnders? Or Game of Thrones? Perhaps you think The Great British Bake Off, The Missing, Sherlock or Strictly Come Dancing are more worthy of recognition? And if your favourite isn’t on that list, take heart; it could be worse. In 2011, The Only Way is Essex went home with the prize.


Inside No 9

What a treat to have Steve Pemberton and Reese Shearsmith’s twisted tales anthology back for a second series. This first unpredictable tale brings six very different strangers together to share the cramped couchette number 9, on a train from Paris to Bourg St. Maurice. Jack Whitehall guest stars and burping, farting, snoring Jorg (Pemberton) isn’t even the cabin’s most awkward occupant.

Girls: The Complete Fourth Season, Blinkbox

It’s time for those of us without a Sky Atlantic subscription to catch up with the latest series of Lena Dunham’s brilliant comedy about oblivious young Brooklynites. Big changes are afoot as Marnie purses her career as a (terrible) singer-songwriter, Hannah relocates to Iowa and Shoshannah finally graduates college — not that any of them have started behaving like adults, of course.

Teens, 4oD

The many strange rituals of young people are de-mystified in this documentary from the team behind last year’s The Secret Life of Students. The fact that a group of teenagers have agreed to share the contents of their texts, tweets and Snapchats with a national audience probably says just as much about this generation as anything to be found in their missives.

The Royals,

It’s been slated by the critics, but trash TV fans should still be in their element. This new series about a fictional English royal family harks back to the 80s heyday of TV melodramas and stars Elizabeth Hurley as Queen Helena. Even more exciting are the occasional appearances of Joan Collins as queen mum, the Grand Duchess of Oxford.