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TV UK, 6 May

The Pop Idol election: looking for entertainment over transformation.

Dolan Cummings

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Election night did not start well. The troll who lives on the sofa insisted on watching Charlie’s Angels, a cheekily unpolitical offering from Channel 5 (though a somewhat classier choice, I think, than Footballer’s Wives on ITV). But as expected, the election coverage itself eventually proved to be just as fantastic and irrelevant to political reality as the high-kicking antics of Liu, Diaz and Barrymore.

After Angels, the troll carried me down to London’s Institute for Contemporary Arts (ICA), where I was to join a panel commentating on the unfolding events for the crowd in the bar (Don’t ask). This meant watching the BBC coverage without being able to hear, so that Peter Snow’s legendary graphics were all the more important. In fact, visual gizmos like swingometers have come to symbolise the media’s general approach to the election, desperately trying to compensate for the lack of political excitement by adding on extraneous whizzbangs and treating the whole thing as light entertainment. Witness Newsnight’s reality TV-style Student House, or the pathetic ‘election fever’ song with the congo-ing Andrew Neil and co on This Week.

At least I was able to use a tip picked up from Monday night’s Election Unspun (Channel 4) on politicians’ body language: losing candidates line up with the hands clasped in front of their crotches, like footballers defending a freekick, while the winners hold their hands awkwardly at their sides and try not to smile. That seems to be true, though the rest of the programme was bunk.

Peter Collett (never trust a man who starts every other sentence with ‘I’m a psychologist’) analysed the Brown-Blair relationship and explained that there was either not enough or too much eye contact. And apparently Charles Kennedy doesn’t blink enough. Collett promised that we would never look at politicians the same again. In the case of Michael Howard and Collett’s explanation of that tongue thing, it may be that we will simply never want to look at him again.

Given the result, we might not have to, but there’s not much else to be cheerful about. There was a disproportionately high number of voters at the ICA on election night, but even there the appetite was for entertainment rather than transformation. Even those who dutifully vote for whoever they think is the best singer on Pop Idol nonetheless keep watching only because they hope something embarrassing is going to happen. Not much did, so the troll and I went home, resolving to watch the highlights in the morning.

Such as they were. That iconic moment when the now congo-ing Michael Portillo lost his seat in 1997 was reversed when the Tories took the seat back from Stephen Twigg, but it was hardly the same. Twigg, a former schools minister, had not managed to impose himself on the public consciousness, and it seems a bit rough to have enjoyed the moment just because he has a smug little face, but that’s politics these days.

Presumably Twigg is one of the ‘fallen comrades’ referred to in Tony Blair’s typically nauseating victory speech. That was outdone only by George Galloway, the former Labour MP who felled Oona King in Bethnal Green and Bow: having rallied the Muslim ‘anti-war’ vote against the government, Galloway imagined the whole general election result was a vindication of his opportunism, in a pompous oration that recalled that comical ‘indefatigability’ address to Saddam Hussein.

These moments might make a future I Love 2005 programme, but they have no more to do with political substance than Peter Snow’s gizmos or Andrew Neil’s conga. And politics reduced to entertainment just isn’t entertaining.

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