Violent faces of politics

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The Independent Online
EXPERTS now think there may be a causal connection between crime on television and violence in the behaviour of politicians.

'We have been studying filmed reports of John Major over the last few days,' says Professor Alan Maastricht of Milton Keynes University, 'and there is a definite connection between his behaviour and his subject matter. When he is talking about politics, he is comparatively calm and unmoved. When he is talking about Europe he is calm and unmoved. When he is talking about the country's industrial prospects - well, actually, we're not sure what he was like then, because we all fell asleep during that bit.

'But when he came to speak about crime in the streets and how it could be caused by what people saw on television, well, my goodness, there was a change. His brow tightened, his jaw clenched, his head jutted, his muscles clamped into position - all the classic signs in, say, a dog preparing for a fight.

'In anyone else, these signs might not have appeared significant. In the context of someone as calm as Mr Major, it was frightening. Personally, I am not sure I would allow such a sight on television before 9pm.'

So is there a direct link between violence on television and crime? 'Oh, no,' says Professor Maastricht. 'We have done umpteen studies, and no link has ever been shown or proved. All we can say for certain is that if there is an upsurge of crime, then we will get an outbreak of politicians blaming it on anything but their own actions.

'A lot of politicians will blame it on the press. John Gummer will froth away and blame it on original sin - oddly, as Mr Gummer has no other known link with originality. What is most likely is that Mr Major or Lord Rees-Mogg will come on our screens and ferociously blame it all on television, unaware of the frightening effect they are having on people.'

So it's the other way round, then? Crime in society actually causes violence on television?

'Absolutely. Recently, for instance, we have had the terrifying sight of Kenneth Clarke rampaging on television, gloating about these horrific camps he is going to build where young offenders will be sent to suffer.

'Now, he knows these places won't work. It has been proved time and again that the short sharp shock treatment is a waste of time - if anything, it is a breeding ground for criminals.

'If Mr Clarke has any nous at all, and has listened to any of his experts, he must know that logically he is wrong. But he is not reacting logically. He is reacting emotionally, violently, viscerally - just as Mr Major is, when he condemns non-existent television violence. The trouble is that voters tend to react the same way, and believe that something is getting done.'

But have any laboratory tests been done on this phenomenon? 'Yes, they have - oddly enough, with the help of the Church of England. We had noticed over the years that the Tory party becomes most dangerously aggressive and hostile whenever an archbishop of the Church of England criticises the government for creating social conditions that cause crime.

'You might think that the Tory party would take the criticism seriously, or at least respectfully. But what happens? The Tories always go into a furore of rabid indignation, as if the Church had accused them all personally of drug-taking and incest, instead of merely contributing to a debate.

'So, at our instigation, the Archbishop of Canterbury or York has from time to time delivered a carefully measured speech in which he simply spells out the likely connection between government apathy and anti-social behaviour. The result, monitored by us, is always similar and always appalling - a display of violent ferocity on the part of the Tories which, in a dog, would be enough to have it put down.

'That, by the way, was our first big study.'

What was?

'Do you remember the outbreak of attacks by savage dogs a few years back? Of course you do. Do you remember the result? It led to the ferocious reaction of the then Home Secretary, Kenneth Baker, in issuing savage guidelines for the control and destruction of dogs.'

Yes, but was the outcome of the episode at all satisfactory? Did it actually work?

'I think you could say that. After all, Kenneth Baker vanished shortly afterwards, and he is not known to have caused any trouble at all since then.'