Richard Ingrams’ Week: Don't underestimate the lack of interest in politics

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The Independent Online

There is an alarming gap between the things media folk say about the political situation and the experience of the audience they address, i.e. us. This is not just a question of that elusive fury over the MPs' expenses about which I wrote last week and which we are still told has every man, woman and child in its grip.

Yesterday I heard the great John Humphrys describe Mr James Purnell, the Work and Pensions Secretary who has just resigned, as "a man often spoken of as a potential leader". I like to think of myself as somebody who keeps reasonably abreast of political events, but I have to confess that until yesterday I was quite unaware of Mr Purnell's existence. Certainly if you had shown me a picture of this rather boring-looking man I would have been quite unable to identify him. Yet all this time, according to Humphrys, people have been speaking of him as possibly a future prime minister.

As for the fury, it is this, according to the media folk, that is responsible for the exceptionally low turn-out in Thursday's European elections. But again the reality isn't like that.

To begin with, a whole mass of people will have been quite unaware that there was such a thing as a European election taking place.

And even if they were aware, very few of them indeed will have had any kind of clear concept of what the European parliament is or what it does.

They almost certainly will not know the names of their representatives in the European parliament – though they may have a well-grounded suspicion that whatever the Westminster MPs may get up to when it comes to fiddling their expenses, the MEPs are probably even more unscrupulous, particularly since so few of us are even aware of their identities.

Is this a monopoly on libel cases?

"Why is there only one Monopolies Commission?" the late Screaming Lord Sutch once asked. Of more practical significance these days is the question: why is there only one judge to hear all the libel actions? In the good old days of libel, you never knew until the last minute which judge you were going to get – which added a welcome note of unpredictability to the proceedings. Nowadays, come rain or shine, the man on the bench will be the red-faced figure of Mr Justice Eady. And not only for libel actions but also for the new invasion of privacy cases.

Thus it was Justice Eady who recently presided over the ludicrous case brought by Max Mosley against the News of the World. In a highly controversial judgement, Eady awarded him substantial damages. One might not object too much to Eady's apparent monopoly if he had proved himself a paragon of judicial wisdom and common sense. But this is not his form. It was Eady who granted an injunction to the ex-BP chief executive, Lord Browne, who was later exposed as having lied about his private life. Eady also gave an order preventing the media from naming a prominent sportsman accused by another man of having an affair with his wife.

Once again, this judge is in the news this week after siding with the British Chiropractic Association, which was accused by a doctor in a newspaper of "promoting bogus treatments".

To those of us with a tendency to make that kind of remark, Eady's judgment may give rise to alarm. I would only suggest that it's time now for another judge to be given a turn.

Arias on a motorbike won't faze opera-goers

A newspaper photograph of a fat bald man smoking a cigar and sitting at a typewriter catches my eye. Who is this – a Tory MP making out his expenses claim? No, it is a famous singer playing Falstaff in the new Glyndebourne production of Verdi's opera, pictured. Opera-goers, many of whom will have paid about £150 to hear the fat bald man sing, will not be in the least put out by the strange transformation that has befallen Shakespeare's famous creation. They are used by now to operas being performed in anachronistic sittings with a cast dressed up in incongruous costumes. A Rossini aria may be sung by a woman on a motorbike. Nubile girls in bikinis can dance around to the music of Handel.

My very occasional visits suggest that most of the people who go to opera have no special love of music. For them it is primarily a social or business occasion. Being well aware of this, producers know that it doesn't really matter what they put on the stage. The audience will applaud or laugh delightedly if a woman rides in on a motorbike.

On my last visit to Glyndebourne some years ago to see Don Giovanni, the singers had to stand on a kind of slagheap in the centre of the stage, and there was a dead horse hanging from the ceiling in the final act. The performance was universally panned by the critics as one of the worst ever productions of Mozart's great masterpiece.

But it didn't make the slightest difference. The same production was back on the Glyndebourne menu the following year playing to packed houses.