And the loser is...

It has been John Major's year - just as it has been British cow year

Share
Related Topics
The scene is a concrete bunker in down-town Rangoon. Two men in dark glasses are poring over the front page of one of Britain's leading newspapers. The more senior of the two (let us call him U Deah) turns to his colleague and - in a quavering voice - accuses him of poor judgement. Had he not advised that the BBC's Personality of the Year poll - in which Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi had come third - was a farcical measure of public opinion in Britain? Why then are the results of this poll making headline news from Farringdon Road to Scapa Flow? "Calm down colonel," advises the emollient Nev A Rong, doyen of Burma's intelligence service. "Did you see who won?" U Deah takes a closer look, and suddenly his face cracks, his sides heave. "John Major!" he wheezes happily.

John Major, indeed! 1996 has been John Major's year in the same sense as it has been British cow year. He has had a dreadful time. Foreign policy is now purely a function of internal Tory party management, and he has been weak, briefing ineffectually against his leading ministers. Backbenchers routinely describe him as a "plonker", and his colleagues use more classical language.

So how can it possibly be that he has been voted BBC Personality of the Year by listeners of the Today programme? The Beeb itself discounts cheating, since he won without the assistance of 4,000 multiple votes (which were anyway not the result, said the BBC, of organised cheating, but of many tiny individual acts of corruption by ordinary Tories - which is very reassuring).

Other explanations include: subterranean popularity (in which folks who dare not speak openly about their love for the Prime Minister steal to the phone, and - casting about them for eavesdroppers - quietly dial the appropriate number); a split in the Female Martyr vote (which would have got two-thirds of the ballot had it not been divided between four candidates (the only non-martyred female who received votes was the preposterous Anglican homophobe Anne Atkins, who argues that only straight men should dress up in vicar's skirts), and an ingenious theory that many voters believed that they were actually voting for the person upon whom a personality ought to be conferred.

All of these individually or together may well account for what happened. Until recently there were two ballots: Man of the Year and Woman of the Year (always Mrs Thatcher). When these were amalgamated, the BBC was so terrified of accusations of political correctness that instead of calling the competition Person of the Year - which would have been logical - they called it Personality of the Year, which was not. This appalling title has muddied the water considerably.

But the explanation, I think, lies elsewhere. When I worked on Today it was in the last throes of holding an annual Young Person of the Year poll. This vote (regarded with deep hatred by presenters and producers alike) invited listeners to nominate a young person who contributed selflessly to the community, etc etc. They then told their stories on air, were shamelessly patronised and duly voted for. As the years rolled by the youngsters nominated became more and more unfortunate, their sacrifices greater, their nobility more extraordinary. Paraplegic teenagers vied with terminal cancer patients to run Outward Bound courses for schizophrenics. One impossible year there was a serious chance that, by polling day, more than half the nominees would be dead. We came in every morning wondering who had pegged it overnight. It was like working for Radio Lourdes.

It was dropped, just as Personality of the Year will be dropped - and for much the same reason. What Radio 4 listeners like to do is to give the underdog the consolation of their support at Christmas. The Burmese dissident under house arrest is in a bad way. She comes third. The Wolverhampton nursery teacher has been belaboured about the arms and head by a machete- wielding lunatic, while trying to protect her tiny charges. She comes second. But the most hapless, innocent victim of social breakdown this year, the man who has suffered every kind of indignity and adversity, the man for whom a machete blow to the head would be a blessed relief is (drums roll, a fanfare sounds) the Prime Minister!

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: Every privatised corner of the NHS would be taken back into public ownership

Philip Pullman
 

Errors & Omissions: Magna Carta, sexing bishops and ministerial aides

John Rentoul
As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links