The BBC once made a famous documentary called Yesterday's Men, a study of a recently defeated Labour cabinet, that soured relationships between broadcasters and party for years (indeed, hypersensitive members of Old Labour still bring it up from time to time, like Irish republicans recalling Cromwell's excesses at Drogheda). As titles go Last Year's Tories doesn't quite have the same epigrammatic ring - but Clara Glynn's film contained more than a mere echo of its predecessor's clear-eyed cruelty, delivering a sharp portrait of the peculiar humiliations of political redundancy. Ros Taylor, a career consultant, described the defeated members as "a bit like Vietnam veterans" - war heroes who got no homecoming parade - but Matthew Parris was far less diplomatic. When the tide goes out as rapidly as it did for the Tories, he said, it leaves some strange things behind it: "dead fish, jellyfish, flotsam and jetsam".

Gasping and flopping in the murderous air were a range of recent MPs - from amphibian types like Andrew Mitchell (who had triumphantly mastered the transition to dry land, but who still couldn't suppress a backward glance at the alluring twinkle of parliamentary water) to those whose hopes of adaptation seemed far more forlorn. Neil and Christine Hamilton had fatally trapped themselves in the shallow puddles of media notoriety - and when those mudpools evaporate, as they inevitably will, they will have nowhere to go ("We just had to get out there and sell ourselves," said Neil ingenuously, suggesting that in his case, at least, parliamentary experience had perfectly equipped him for the world outside). Others were just beginning to realise that the fins and scales that had served them so well were now simply an embarrassing encumbrance.

Face to face, Glynn was moderately sympathetic with these traumatised men. She didn't say "another slice of humble pie, you bastard?" - she said: "You were part of a Government that presided over a very high level of unemployment. Has the past year made you feel differently about that?" But on screen she exploited their new vulnerability to the full. In power most of them would have been far too busy to give her anything but a sanctioned soundbite - out of power they were at her disposal, susceptible to the calculations of a director who knew exactly what she was doing. So when she asked a whole raft of dispossessed parliamentary knights to look solemnly into the lens as it tracked past them, they all obliged. The result, filmed in monochrome, looked like a fundraising appeal for prostate cancer research or an Alzheimer's charity; all those melancholy uncomprehending faces, all those eyes following the camera with beseeching obedience.

Similarly, when she made another former MP stand motionless at a traffic crossing, and then showed the film speeded up, so that he was the only fixed object in a blur of indifferent energy, the resulting sequence was both an elegant rebus for the phrase "Going nowhere" and a reminder that he had nothing better to do with his time. Even when they hadn't collaborated in their own humiliation, her subjects were exposed to her visual wiles; filming an ex-MP receiving career guidance she initially used devices to conceal identity - cropping out his head, leaving his face in soft focus, closing in on his slip-on shoes and rumpled grey socks - so that by the time you finally saw his face a heavy implication of guilt and shame had been established.

A Song for Eurotrash mixed the kitsch irony of Antoine de Caune's variety show (dildos, innuendo and outsize mammaries) with the kitsch sincerity of Eurovision hits (kittens, lovers' tears and minuscule vocabularies). The result was enjoyably curdled but didn't prove a great deal, beyond the fact that no known human process can extract the saccharine sentiment from a Europop winner. Even when soundly thrashed with the blackthorn shillelagh of Shane McGowan's voice, Johnny Logan's "What's Another Year" managed to retain traces of life-affirming syrup. Quite an achievement that, particularly when you take into account the fact that McGowan appeared to be clinically dead for the entire performance.

Comments