Daily Archives: 4 October 2006

Tory Balls

I think Channel 4’s Fact Check is being a little unfair to Gideon Osborne here in stating that is claim that Ed Balls was a member of the Tories at university is completely bogus.

It is true, at least in my experience, that there is a very different political culture in Oxford and Cambridge when it comes to signing up people to student societies. Elsewhere in the country, student groups often struggle to sign up enough people and mostly treat the Fresher’s Fair as a recruitment ground. Back when I was the LDYS Communications Officer we were always frustrated with the fact that the Oxford group didn’t see it as their role to recruit people into the party, but rather have lots of jolly parties. I’m not for a minute suggesting this is still the case; I have no idea. Nor am I denying that many of the party’s brightest and best went to Oxbridge; indeed in my experience many of those people had the same frustrations I did and got politically involved in other ways.

But seriously, why would you join the “Conservative Association” unless you were genuinely inclined to join the Conservative Party? If you just wanted to go on jollies, there’s the Oxford Union or the Wine Society. While there are always a few wags who delight in joining all three parties, they are rarely people with firm political convictions.

So the fact that a potential future Labour Chancellor of the Exchequor once flirted with the Tories is both meaningful and important for the public to know. The fact that it took an annoying squit like Gideon to point it out is neither here nor there.

Missing Pritchard

Unfortunately, I missed the Amazing Mrs Pritchard last night. I say unfortunately, but by all accounts I wouldn’t have enjoyed it. I really wanted ot watch it to see if it was really as bad as it looked.

Richard Huzzey confirms my worst fears:

Having opened up a critique of the modern party system, and suggested that it had become a contest of image, rivalry and management pitches, Mrs. Pritchard then misses the target. Where is the pitch to idealism? If it had been a drama about principle triumphing over pragmatism, it may have been high-skies dreaming, but at least it would have been inspirational. We should be demanding from our politics. Instead, we were given the absence of principles as an ideal, that made her pure. A blank canvass was apparently the best thing for a new sort of politician. Her lack of interest in politics is her strongest virtue.

Of course, this is exactly the approach of Blair, Cameron and, post-2001, Charles Kennedy. Yet, unlike in the drama, it hasn’t inspired anyone. One hopes that during the rest of the series, the Annoying Mrs Pritchard will get her comeuppance, but somehow I suspect that even if the series does acknowledge some weaknesses in her approach, Mrs Pritchard herself will remain a sympathetic character.

It isn’t really fair to comment on something I haven’t seen, but that’s another issue that irritates me. The BBC’s website won’t tell me when the programme is going to be repeated, if at all. This is in common with most of the BBC’s original programming. Despite the fact the world has changed immeasurably since the BBC started in the 30s, they still slavishly follow the principle that their programming is all about the nation coming together at a specific date and time to watch the same TV. People frequently complain about there being too many repeats on TV, but in my experience the opposite is the case. Put simply, while the BBC chooses to repeat certain low grade pap that it can’t make money out of any other way ad infinitum (Dad’s Army, Two Pints of Vomit and a Packet of Genital Warts, etc.), most new programming is repeated as little as possible with the specific aim of maximising profit.

The truth is, most “quality” BBC programmes aren’t paid out of our license fee, but make a profit. They don’t even take on the whole risk themselves and almost all of it is a co-production between, for example, Discovery (most nature documentaries and Horizon), HBO (Rome) and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (Doctor Who). This stuff they then go on to sell on DVD (the prices of which are kept ridiculously high compared to other DVDs), repeats channels such as UK Gold and of course on the global market. What you pay for out of your license fee is the uncommercial stuff, which with the exception of things such as educational programming and news, normally means low grade crap such as soap operas and reality TV. This sort of stuff would of course be perfectly commercial if it was paid for out by allowing adverts, but we are told that would damage the “quality” of shows like Animal Hospital and Eastenders.

I’m struggling, really struggling, to justify the license fee these days. All my leftish prejudices tell me that I should, but then I see how the BBC has distorted commercial television to the extent that all there is to watch after 9pm is wall-to-wall phone-in quiz shows and shopping channels and wonder if there isn’t, surely, a better way to ensure a high standard in public service television. No one would dream of trying to set up a UK version of HBO, precisely because of the BBC. Yet people are being put in prison on a daily basis for refusing to fund it. There’s something profoundly wrong going on.

For this reason, I welcome the fact that Blair and Brown are reportedly blocking the BBC’s request for a massive hike in the license fee, but I do feel we need a more radical long term solution. Yet if anything qualifies as a “third rail” issue in British politics, it is questioning the status quo over the BBC.