Did you catch BBC Three’s Revolution Present: Democracy Dealers last week?
Hopefully you didn’t, unless you’re the sort of person who enjoys spending half an hour feeling increasingly sour.
It was the latest by Jolyon Rubinstein from that mildly amusing programme The Revolution Will Be Televised, although this one managed to make all previous efforts look like an impossibly high standard of television. It features a group of “hilariously inept” politicians getting into all manner of scrapes around Westminster and beyond: in essence the sort of thing you’d get if a secondary school staged its take on The Thick of It. Although that’s probably unfair to secondary-school comedies, which are often rather witty and subtle.
It’s hardly the first unfunny comedy that’s ever been made, but the problem with this programme, and one from the previous week, called An Idiot’s Guide to Politics, is that both of them seem to be encouraging cynicism about politics while not bothering to check that the picture of politics that they’re presenting is at all accurate.
An Idiot’s Guide purported to be a documentary examining the problems with politics and why young people don’t tend to vote, but only really examined the things Rubinstein and Co had decided were problems. He didn’t visit Parliament except to deliver some “bullshit”, which the poor policemen on the gate were rather baffled by, and to interview the very thoughtful Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith.
Democracy Dealers was supposed to be a satire, but its stereotypes were so poor that the only resemblance to the political scene was the vaguely accurate impression that Rubinstein can do of Ed Miliband’s voice. It was clear the scriptwriters hadn’t bothered to observe what it is that makes politicians appear so “hilariously inept”.
Election Analysis: The Key Voters
Election Analysis: The Key Voters
1/6 Settled Silvers
These are the comfortably-off over-60s, still in work or drawing a decent pension – or both – who are enjoying their entitlements such as the Winter Fuel Allowance, free bus passes and free TV licence. They are worried about immigration and Europe. Both the Conservatives – who are pledging to keep benefits for wealthier pensioners – and Ukip want their votes
2/6 Squeezed Semis
Slightly older than the Harassed Hipsters, they are the second key group for Labour’s family-focused election strategy. They are married couples on low to middle incomes who own unpretentious semi-detached homes in suburban areas. In 2001, these were the Pebbledash People sought by the Conservatives. Now the pebbledash is gone and a modest conservatory has been built at the back
3/6 Aldi Woman
In 1997 and 2001 she was Worcester Woman – a middle-class Middle Englander shopping at Marks & Spencer and Waitrose. Today, the age of austerity means she still goes to Waitrose for her basic food shop but cannily switches to Aldi for her luxury bargains such as Parma ham and prosecco. Identified by Caroline Flint, she is a key target of both Labour and the Conservatives
4/6 Glass Ceiling Woman
In her thirties or forties, she has an established career under her belt, perhaps in the “marzipan layer” – one position below the still male-dominated senior executive level. She is now, according to Nick Clegg, forced into making the “heart-breaking choice” between staying at home to bring up her children and going to work and forking out for high-cost, round-the-clock childcare
5/6 Harassed Hipsters
One of the two key groups identified by Labour as crucial to hand Ed Miliband the keys to Downing Street. Well-paid professional couples, often with children, they live in diverse urban and metropolitan areas rather than the suburbs. More comfortably off than most swing voters, they are time poor – struggling to balance raising a young family with busy work schedules
These are mainly first-time voters, though some are in their twenties – students and digital-age generation renters helping to fuel the “Green Surge”. Idealists, but with no tribal loyalty to any party, they are anti-austerity, middle class, living in urban areas. Despite studying at university or recently graduated, they are struggling to find decent jobs and want cheaper housing and a higher minimum wage
The rows and character flaws in Westminster are subtler and more interesting. For example, ambitious minister Liz Truss managed to offend a bunch of traditional Tory MPs by sending out Christmas cards with “Happy Xmas” written in them. And there’s another minister who is notorious for looking over the shoulders of anyone he’s talking to at parties, just in case he sees someone more important. At a recent event, he walked away from someone who was mid-sentence in order to greet a better-known political figure who had just arrived.
Those sorts of characters are far funnier than the figments of Rubinstein’s imagination. And the problems with politics are far more serious than the ones his programmes dream up, too. They include tribalism, patronage and spin. But one of the problems he’s contributing to is an unfounded cynicism about Parliament among young people. He claims to want to improve the political process, but is really damaging it by turning voters off.
Thornberry’s equality crusade
The Equal Pay Act is 45 this year, and quite frankly, it appears to be having a bit of a mid-life crisis. So much so that Labour’s Emily Thornberry is keen to persuade her party it should bring in a whole new act if it’s in government from May onwards.
The former shadow Attorney General sees the Act suffering from a number of aches and pains. For instance, trade unions have become rather wary of negotiating on behalf of a worker in an equal pay dispute because in some cases the worker has been dissatisfied with the pay deal she’s then offered and has sued the union. Or the Act only allows a woman to take up an action against her employer herself, without any great effect on other workers. Or employers can employ men and women doing comparable jobs on different rates so long as they are in different buildings. It is also difficult to quantify what “comparable work” is, and women are disproportionately represented in jobs that relate to their traditional roles, such as social care, catering and teaching. “It’s almost as if women have been told to leave the kitchen – but not go too far,” says the Labour MP.
Though Thornberry doesn’t expect a new Equal Pay Act to appear in her party’s manifesto, she’s reasonably confident she can persuade colleagues of the need for new legislation anyway.
Parties fill their war chests
Labour managed to catch up with the Tories on pre-election donations last week, taking more than £7m in the last quarter of 2014, just behind the Conservatives, who received more than £8m. The data for the latest quarter won’t come out until after the election, but it will show both parties, particularly the Tories, still raising money right up until the deadline. The Black and White Ball still hangs like a toxic mushroom cloud over the Tories nearly two weeks after it took place, and yet they don’t even need the money for this election. One reason they’re stuffing their war chests is that they think there might be a second election this year.
But having the money to fight another election will form only a small part of the decision any party takes to push for a second battle in the same year. Sage MPs point out that these campaigns are the most exhausting experience, particularly for first-timers. No one will want to go through that again months later, and so they may, in their fatigue, be happier to sign up to deals with other parties that keep the government going a bit longer.
For other MPs, the necessity of no second election is more personal. They’ve booked lovely holidays soon after polling day. Some worry that if they get offered a government job they’ll either have to cancel the expensive holiday to accept the prime minister’s offer, or else turn down the chance of ministerial glory and head for the beach anyway.
Isabel Hardman is assistant editor of The Spectator