Shock! Horror! Fuzzy logic found in Parliament


"They will take the view that this is about as exciting as writing up a trainspotter's conference," advised a candid PR man in Dispatches' report (C4) on parliamentary lobbying; "they" being journalists and "this" being an arcane amendment to the Gas Bill. Then again, journalists have a way of finding interesting matter in the least promising materials, as yesterday's papers proved with exhaustive write-ups of the programme's best scoop, the fact that Sir Jerry Wiggin had taken Sebastian Coe's name in vain when tabling an amendment.

Was it actually worth watching the programme, once you'd read the reports, listened to the bulletins and rocked in the backwash of outrage and spin- doctoring that followed? Well, yes, if only because print can never quite capture the delicious wriggle of a man on the hook. For the first half, the programme had gone fishing, trying to work us up about the fact that big business tries to win MPs round to its own point of view. You would have had to lead quite a sheltered life to be shocked by any of these early revelations (MPs taken to rugby matches!), though some opposition members gamely tried.

But then Dispatches hooked a big one - a piece of parliamentary sleight- of-hand that couldn't help but look decidedly shifty. Sir Jerry didn't help himself much with his explanation. You've probably read the salient remarks already, but most journalists left out the comic detail. Why hadn't he put his own name on an amendment that favoured his employers, the British Holiday and Home Parks Association? "I prefer not to - because I think it gets misinterpreted by people like you... har, har." Then he went on to that turk's head of evasion, a sentence so morally knotted that I feared for my fingernails. "I think it's better not to put down amendments in which one has an interest... [with you so far, Sir Jerry] because one can't be on the committee to declare that interest [hang on a mo, you've lost me there. Bear with me, Sir Jerry. I'm being a bit obtuse, I know, but I can't see how hiding your interest solves the problem of not being able to reveal it]". It helps if you start from the premise that the sentence contains no statements of principle at all. "It's better not to" doesn't mean "one shouldn't", it means "it's tactically preferable".

It was worth watching, too, to see Sebastian Coe on the spot. His remark ("He put my name down before I'd even realised that it had gone down, and it would be quite wrong to do that") has been widely quoted as if the second half was a comment on the first. In context it was quite different; to my ears he was commenting on the propriety of dropping a fellow MP in the dirt. If Sir Jerry had been caught fair and square, Coe had been foul-hooked - confronted without warning with an off-the-record revelation. St Sebastian looked martyred in the face of this breach of journalistic etiquette.

It wasn't the only mischievous moment in the programme, which also doorstepped reluctant interviewees and filmed empty chairs when their occupants proved elusive. The man from British Gas, pursued throughout the programme to arrange an interview about their lobbying tactics, was finally cornered emerging from his office. How did the man responsible for liaising with the press handle this tricky moment? He tried to hide behind the interviewer.

Even more mischief in Wax Cracks Cannes (BBC1), in which Ruby poured sand into the gas-tank of the world's biggest film festival. The funniest moment was a press conference for Mickey Rourke. It took some two hours for the minders to manoeuvre this grotesquely bloated ego into a marquee crowded with journalists. At which point it ran straight into the spiky little broad on the front row and you heard the hiss of escaping gas.

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