Editor-At-Large: Cowell to rescue British politics? Give me a break

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The Independent Online

Is there no end to the pompous self-importance of Simon Cowell? Basking in the knowledge that The X Factor final attracted 19 million viewers, he tells us he'd like to turn his attention to staging a series of "bear-pit", prime-time shows about politics in the run-up to the next election.

Cowell certainly is flavour of the month with politicians, who fell over themselves every week to let us know which of Cowell's puppets they were voting for, as if their credibility depended on it. Frankly, I couldn't give a stuff whether Gordon and Sarah were rooting for Stacey Solomon, the so-called ditsy diva (which is generally code for a bit thick) from Dagenham. I'm more interested in whether Mr Brown is going to end bonuses for public sector workers and actually manage finally to ban mixed-sex NHS wards, about a decade after Labour first made this promise.

If Simon Cowell is allowed to apply his brash values to a show about politics, we will learn nothing new. Mr Cowell doesn't deal with reasoned explanation, or in-depth research. The X Factor is a tidal wave of manufactured false hysteria, with crocodile tears, spurious bitchery and tantrums over seating plans. The X Factor deals in jeopardy – and to get as many votes and rake in as much cash as possible, the whole event takes place at full emotional volume. Do we really care so much about a handful of wannabes covering other people's songs, gussied up to within an inch of their lives? The "thoughts" of Cheryl Cole assume the importance of the tablets on Mount Sinai. The show is all about high production values and gloss. It succeeds because nothing about it is too challenging or difficult. It's pre-digested pop pap, perfect mindless viewing for a Saturday night. How can these values be applied to a show about complicated issues affecting our democracy?

Mr Cowell says he wants to focus on "five or six big issues which really affect people's lives" – from the war in Afghanistan to the death penalty and immigration. The show will take the format of a debate, with the public voting. Creepy-crawly Cameron was quick to praise, saying Cowell was "incredibly talented... he's trying to increase the level of people power in politics, and that's a really good thing".

Actually, if you watch Question Time at the moment, there is no need to worry about people getting involved. Now the audience simply brays its disapproval every time someone controversial is on the panel. They booed Margaret Beckett and they abused Nick Griffin. Intelligent debate has taken a bit of a battering recently. Since the MPs' expenses scandal, politics has become something everyone has an opinion on – and the internet means they can go online and mouth off, no matter how bigoted or uninformed they may be.

Reflecting this new philistine mood, the BBC didn't think twice before posting the crass question, "Should homosexuals face execution?", on their news website, because the Ugandan parliament is considering introducing a death penalty for some homosexual offences. One of those who participated in the debate said: "Totally agree. Ought to be imposed in the UK too, asap. Bring back some respectable family values." Another said: "Bravo to the Ugandans... a bright step in eliminating this menace from your society."

It's exactly 40 years since MPs voted to abolish the death penalty, and nobody has been hanged here since 1964, but according to pollster Ipsos Mori, the majority of the public would like to see it reimposed. Seven out of 10 people questioned supported the death penalty for murder, the highest proportion of any EU country, and twice the level of Spain. Three-quarters of those polled thought sentences were too lenient. Interestingly, the number supporting the death penalty went down as the complexities surrounding it were discussed further. Which means that on a telly show which will deal in simplistic soundbites, the results will be a foregone conclusion – more hanging, more deportation, less immigration and let's shoot bankers and castrate paedophiles. Quick-fix telly justice.

I want MPs to be accountable, to work harder, and to be paid properly. Then I want them to get on with debating how the country is run. I want them to spend hours refining legislation and making sure it's fair and appropriate. What I don't want is Simon Cowell setting the agenda for how my life is run.

The simple life You can get by with only one Bentley

Sir Stuart Rose tells an interviewer that "as I've got older I've become much less materialistic". In my experience, only those with several million in the bank are able to tell the rest of us they've opted for the simple life. It's all relative, my dears. Remember Princess Diana's trip to see Mother Teresa in Calcutta? Her ex-butler Paul Burrell told me that Diana had decided to seek out the "simple life" after her divorce from Prince Charles. Really? The next minute she was on the plane to St Tropez and a stint on the Fayed yacht simpering for photographers. Sir Stuart Rose seems to have the same tenuous grasp of basic living. On Desert Island Discs he told Kirsty Young he couldn't manage without "fluffy white towels and a power shower". In 2007 he was interviewed in a Savile Row suit, a £100 Hermès tie and Fogal socks. When M&S launched Plan A, to limit their environmental impact, Sir Stuart owned two Bentleys. He has now sold one. I suppose that's a start.

A skinny Santa is no joke

The health and safety doom merchants have issued stark warnings about the dangers of celebrating Christmas. Obesity experts say that the full festive feast with all the trimmings contains four times the daily calories that a child needs, and can lead to weight gain that will take many months to shift. Another public health expert states that the picture of a fat, red-faced Santa gorging on mince pies and brandy is a negative image and not the way seriously to promote healthy living. Apparently an image of a slim Santa jogging happily on a treadmill would encourage children to eat less and exercise more. Which is about as funny as a cracker joke.

Tsars don't start revolutions

The relationship between supermarkets and suppliers is a fraught one, but would the creation of a supermarket tsar improve matters? The Competition Commission has recommended one, and now the Labour MP Albert Owen has tabled a Private Members' Bill to try to speed up the process. But the history of so-called tsars having any real impact is pretty feeble. Remember the respect tsar? She's doing something else now. Then Loyd Grossman was supposed to sort out hospital food. Nothing much changed. Jamie Oliver was supposed to reinvent school dinners. Fewer children ate them. Joan Bakewell is allegedly the voice of the older generation. But she hasn't managed to get pensioners any real increases in their allowances. A supermarket tsar will be similarly powerless in the face of giant businesses which want to maximise profits for shareholders.