TELEVISION / Like a high-jump without gravity

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The Independent Culture
"Basically full of common sense", said Christopher Haskins, successful businessman and imaginary prime minister, when asked about his first term manifesto. "When it comes into the open," he continued blithely, "people will say, `That's common sens e' andget behind it." Channel 4 had asked him to daydream about running the country but I'm not sure whether they had bargained for quite this degree of fantasy. In the course of The Number 10 Show it presumably became clear to Mr Haskins, the dynamic a nd successful chairman of Northern Foods, that his election wasn't necessarily going to coincide with the New Jerusalem - that vested interests in the lamb community might fight a nasty rearguard action against the proposal that the lion should lie down with them.

In this respect, The Number 10 Show is both preposterous and quite fun. Politics without the need for dirty pragmatism is like a high-jump competition without gravity - it's very difficult to score and those taking part have a tendency to drift off into the stratosphere. At the same time, though, there are worse things to do with half an hour than spend it imagining somebody else - anybody else frankly - inside Number 10. In this respect Christopher Haskins was slightly disappointing - through half-closed eyes he looked disturbingly like the present incumbent.

His policies couldn't have been more different, though - a clean-sweep managerial rethink aimed at repositioning the company... sorry, country... in a rapidly changing world. He proposed a referendum on every major issue of the moment - from devolution for Scotland to participation in Europe. Having delegated all the most difficult decisions and ensured that he was reflecting "the needs and aspirations of all our citizens" (it's odd how readily the participants take to poll-speak) he had more than enough time on his hands to rearrange the furniture. His first priority seemed to be to spend millions on a new parliament building - one that replaced those confrontational benches and conspiratorial corridors with a friendly consensual semi-circle - rather likethat famously tranquil assembly, the Italian parliament.

Of course the game would be a lot less fun if its players kept their feet on the ground. The whole point is to look at politics from the air, identifying new routes through the maze and revealing why so many of them turn out to be culs-de-sac. Among its other passing entertainments (which included a dark, realistically cynical briefing about political interviews from Haskin's adviser Geoff Mulgan - "Wherever possible deny the premise of the question") The Number 10 Show lets you see how "common sense" is never going to be enough on its own.

Situation Vacant (BBC2), which opened with its most feeble episode, has picked up a little bit. It's still an unusually dogged programme, so scrupulously fair to the various candidates it observes that you wonder if it's been directed by a personnel manager. Last night the knock-out contestants were after a job as ship's entertainment officer on the Canberra, a post that was to be handed out after an on-the-job audition. Julia, a 25-year-old dancer, didn't seem to have quite grasped the principle of theluxury cruise. "They're moaning about the food when there are people starving in Africa," she complained, after a gruelling session conversing with the passengers. She would be perfect if P&O ever launch consciousness-raising cruises, but she very wisely ruled herself out of the running for the conventional kind.

Her withdrawal seemed to leave the prize open for Kenny, a supernaturally cheerful Liverpudlian with smile muscles that could lift paving stones, but he was pipped at the post by Claire, after a mysterious gap in the selector's discussion. You were just feeling relieved on his behalf when the closing titles told you that he'd been taken on a few months later.

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