'We need to watch that': David Blunkett calls for satirical TV shows such as Mock the Week to be reclassified as 'current affairs'

Programmes that mock politicians cross the line from satire to comment, he says

Satirical shows such as Have I Got News For You which mock politicians should be reclassified as “current affairs” and face tougher scrutiny, David Blunkett has suggested.

The former Home Secretary warned that the line between comedy and politically-motivated abuse was increasingly being crossed on programmes such as the BBC series Mock The Week, which he says need to be "watched".

Mr Blunkett said: “The protection that broadcasters in particular have is ‘well, everybody knows this is comedy don’t they?’ So it’s not libellous, it’s not dangerous in the sense that it’s targeted and therefore vicious towards an individual. And I think we need to watch that.”

The Labour MP told the Radio 4 documentary, When Comedy and Politics Collide: “Sometimes actually it isn’t comedy, it’s comment and current affairs in the middle of what is supposed to be a comedy programme. There’s a bit more of that going on at the moment.”

Mr Blunkett’s blindness has been the target of Mock The Week’s panel of stand-up comics. A joke in a 2010 episode ran: “Sometimes Ministers would break up boring Cabinet meetings by convincing David Blunkett he was black.”

Comedian Russell Howard cut his teeth on popular satirical TV show 'Mock the Week' Comedian Russell Howard cut his teeth on popular satirical TV show 'Mock the Week' The former minister said he declined to complain but feared that such jokes have a corrosive effect on an already cynical electorate’s engagement with politics.

“I’ve often not taken offence deliberately at something that’s referred to blindness, partly out of not being seen to be ‘fuddy-duddy’ or too sensitive or too thin-skinned,” Mr Blunkett said. “If it’s only a laugh or only cynicism or only denigration – which the worse of satire can degenerate into – then it is damaging both to the political process and to individuals.”

Matthew Flinders, Director of the Sir Bernard Crick Centre for the Public Understanding of Politics at the University of Sheffield, who presented the documentary, said “barbed and bullying” punchlines designed to “appeal to prejudices” have become dominant.

“I can’t help thinking that compared to the past, political comedy and satire is in a poor state. There’s too much snark and not enough satire,” Professor Flinders said.

Dan Patterson, Mock The Week producer and co-creator, expressed his apologies to Mr Blunkett if he was offended by the blindness gag, which had not prompted any complaints at the time of broadcast. The show has since softened under a different line-up.

“He (Blunkett) was very keen to be treated like anyone else,” Mr Patterson said. “He was very out there with his blindness as a major thing for him but he didn’t want anyone to soft-shoe around it. I think the gag was about politicians being mischievous as well as the blindness joke.”

The gag should be seen “in the context of all the other jokes about politicians being fat and ugly or all sorts of other things,” the producer said.

BBC satire shows already must conform to the libel laws – the insertion of “allegedly” is a long-running Have I Got News For You gag - and Ofcom’s “Harm and Offence” provisions.

However the BBC’s guidelines grant comedians “scope for individual expression” and the corporation defends Have I Got News For You’s more controversial moments by defending its absolute right to lampoon public figures in an irreverent manner.

Comedian Jo Brand on Have I Got News For You, which former Home Secretary David Blunkett thinks should face tougher libel scrutiny Comedian Jo Brand on Have I Got News For You, which former Home Secretary David Blunkett thinks should face tougher libel scrutiny Prof Flinders argued that the nasty edge to political satire was creating fertile ground for Russell Brand’s call for young people not to vote in protest at party politics.

Rory Bremner said the current generation of personality-light politicians invited a derisive response. “Look at the political titans we now have. Philip Hammond, Andrew Lansley, Owen Paterson, Patrick McLoughlin. I don’t know if Cameron knows who half the Cabinet are?”

Jesse Armstrong, co-writer of Whitehall satire The Thick Of It, said: “The targets have grown a little smaller. At one time it felt like if you were attacking Thatcher, you were attacking a monolith.

“You could mock her but you could never dismiss her but now we’ve become rather dismissive. Now Cameron, Miliband and Clegg are people who are derided rather than feared.”

Mr Blunkett, who said he had turned down “quite large sums of money to appear on all kinds of entertainment programmes”, agreed that the political arena currently lacks personalities.

“I do think we are in an era where people don’t stand out in quite the way that they used to – what used to be described as late as my time in the Cabinet as the ‘big beasts’ – and therefore there isn’t the ability to caricature in quite the same way.”

Mr Blunkett said he had declined the entertainment programme offers because politicians who appear on reality TV shows are “likely to lose gravitas.”

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas Pynchon in 1955, left, and Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix in Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of his novel, Inherent Vice

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

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Nicole Scherzinger will join the cast of Cats

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Fans were left surprised by the death on Sunday night's season 26 premiere

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lady Mary goes hunting with suitor Lord Gillingham

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Arts and Entertainment
Sergeant pfeffer: Beatles in 1963
booksA song-by-song survey of the Beatles’ lyrics
Arts and Entertainment
music'I didn't even know who I was'
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl was left in a conundrum with too much talent and too few seats during the six-chair challenge stage
tvReview: It was tension central at boot camp as the ex-Girls Aloud singer whittled down the hopefuls
Arts and Entertainment
Kalen Hollomon's Anna Wintour collage

art
Arts and Entertainment

TV Grace Dent on TV
Arts and Entertainment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

music
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.

    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
    Why do we like making lists?

    Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

    Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
    Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

    A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

    As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
    Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

    Paris Fashion Week

    Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
    Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

    Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

    One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
    10 best children's nightwear

    10 best children's nightwear

    Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
    Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

    Manchester City vs Roma

    Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
    Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

    Trouble on the Tyne

    Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?