Terence Blacker: Is politics more than a reality show, anyway?

People like Banks were simply more honest in their egocentricity than most of their colleagues
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The Independent Online

The general view seems to be that the week's most widely broadcast intellectual discussion was not entirely satisfactory. It ranged widely, of course, covering issues of animal rights, contemporary morality, sexism, Buddhism, vegetarianism and troilism, but none of the big hitters quite managed to land a knockout punch.

Miss Marsh argued, with perhaps more passion than coherence, that she was totally disgusted that Mr Burns was wearing a monkey coat and that using animal products in that way made her sick because it was literally murder. Mr Galloway responded that the Eskimos needed fur in order to survive and were not murderers, and Mr Maggot concurred that this was a fair point. Miss Marsh riposted that this was because they've like chosen to be uncivilised, with no televisions or whatever. Ms Lenska tapped a small bell, went "Ommmm" and levitated.

Mr Galloway suggested that, given some of Miss Marsh's recent conversation (a reference to her description of a five-way orgy as the best night of her life), she was hardly best qualified to speak about civilisation. Miss Marsh asked why everyone was picking on her. Ms Lenska said we have all the potential to have a god within us, a remark which seemed to remind the big American with a fork through his nose that he had not had sex for three full days. He was later informed by Miss Marsh that she might do it with him but no way would she go out with him.

This discussion was perhaps not quite what the Respect MP George Galloway had anticipated when he accepted an invitation, and presumably a large cheque, to join Celebrity Big Brother. He had wanted, he said, to talk about the war in Iraq to a mass audience, to further the case which he last expressed in his internationally broadcast debate with Christopher Hitchens. Instead he had to listen as a model talked about her depressing sex life.

There are some grotesquely funny sights in this faintly demeaning show, with enough fake lips and tits in the house to build a whole new celebrity guest, but nothing has been quite as funny as the sight of George Galloway sitting in silence, wearing the sullen, defeated expression of a dad whose daughter has just brought her boyfriend down to breakfast.

Killjoys have argued that what Galloway is doing this week has done as much harm to the reputation of politicians as Neil Hamilton posing nude for a magazine or Ann Widdecombe riding an exercise bike on TV. Certainly, he seems not to have realised that a middle-aged man can only emerge from these reality games looking like a prat. Either he admits being hopelessly off the pace and gets ignored, or, more disastrously, he tries to get on down and be one of the kids. Galloway had boasted rather pathetically that he was "more in touch with the street than most MPs", but was clearly unable to decide the correct street attitude to a woman half his age talking dirty. It is difficult to see how, watching his discomfort, anyone would be encouraged to vote for anything apart from his continued presence for as long as possible in the hellish public prison he has chosen for himself.

Yet, in his way, Galloway is performing a useful public duty. At a time when politics puts its best face forward with the help of sophisticated PR techniques, it takes those with a powerful personal agenda - the jokers, eccentrics and show-offs - to remind us of the ambition and egotism behind the façade. It is not an easy part to play, and, as the death of Tony Banks has shown, the wild cards of public life tend to be most appreciated when they are no longer around.

Like Galloway, Banks clearly believed that he was in touch with the street. His wit and wisdom, actually published in book form, were rarely witty and never wise. He campaigned for pigeons and foxes but cheerfully defended being a fisherman - or rather "piscatorial artist" - himself. A tireless self-publiciser, he unblushingly blamed media intrusion for his retirement as an MP. At that point, the great man of the people entered the House of Lords as Lord Stratford.

How we shall miss him. What a generous, open figure he cuts beside those thin-lipped, blank-eyed men and women who, unlike him, have progressed by keeping their mouths shut and their heads down. He was prepared to be true to himself, rather than to hide behind a toned-down, buffed-up, PR-enhanced version with all the corners and contradictions carefully smoothed out and erased.

When they have gone, people like Banks or Mo Mowlam, Alan Clark or Nicholas Fairbairn bring home how close the worlds of politics and entertainment can be. In their lives, they were simply more honest in their egocentricity than most of their colleagues.

Few will see George Galloway in this light at the moment. But should some terrible accident occur to him while in the Big Brother household - Barrymore going berserk with a knife, Jodie Marsh knocking him through a window with one of her breasts, the American with a fork through his nose spontaneously combusting through sexual frustration - attitudes will quickly change.

He may be a bit of a twerp, but he has reminded us of the essential exhibitionism of public life. If, as Rula Lenska said, we all have a bit of god within us, then all politicians have within them a bit of Banks or of Galloway.

Terblacker@aol.com

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