Friday, October 13, 2006

X loses the plot

There is a long brick wall on our high street onto which someone has spray painted ‘if voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal’. It’s been there for years. No one has bothered to clean it off or write any clever riposte under it because most people now think that’s true. In the new BBC drama The Amazing Mrs Pritchard, an intelligent, plain-speaking supermarket manager puts her pledge card where her gob is and runs for parliament with one objective – to do what the public wants. She ends up becoming Prime Minister with an all women cabinet.

It’s a great opportunity for the programme makers to vent the collective spleen of the nation by firing the entire government in five minutes and making it quite clear they disapprove of the opposition as well. As an added bonus, they get their money’s worth out of some of their under-utilised news presenters who take cameo roles as ‘themselves’.

I’m enjoying it a lot but, by the second episode you can already see where it’s heading. Mrs Pritchard is going to discover the hard way that it’s no doddle being Prime Minister and having to make ‘tough choices’ like ordering dangerous secret sorties into Iran. Maybe if she develops a ‘special relationship’ with Geena Davis over on More4’s Commander in Chief she might pick up a few pointers. President Mackenzie Allan is pretty good at ordering ‘kick ass’ operations. If all else fails they could do Thelma and Louise II co-starring NATO.

I’ve been thinking about what could be done to re-engage the nation in politics. Mrs Pritchard began by asking people to contribute their ideas to her first Queen’s Speech. I’d go further. People are mostly interested in reality television shows and shopping. My suggestion is this. All political candidates must work in a shop so people can see them and find out if they can,

a) ask and answer questions – absolutely essential for appearing on Question Time – a BBC staple and critical measure of the country’s vital signs. They might ask questions like ‘can I help you?’ This would be a huge advance and might even be rolled out into the public services eventually. They might have to field questions like, ‘why is it that half the children can’t get a secondary school place and there are expensive initiatives to get the other half to attend their secondary school place?’ (Prospective candidates should note that it will still be acceptable to pretend to be terminally ill and run away if asked this question.)

b) count – this is very important for budgeting. It’s important to have a Chancellor of the Exchequer who can count but especially important to have one that can do other things besides count.

c) wrap up – Jeremy Paxman asked me if this could be included as he’s quite sick of interrupting politicians and getting the blame for their verbal diarrhoea. I think it’s a good idea though.

Secondly, political candidates will all have to participate in several new reality television shows which will act as elimination rounds like the regional heats of The X Factor. The first will be live coverage of them working in their shop. This will be called Shopping Them, sponsored by Betfair – who will also run a side book. Viewers will be able to issue demerit points via the red button on their remote control every time a candidate is snarky with a customer or puts the wrong DVD in a case or doesn’t give them enough green points for bringing their own shopping bags.

Those who make it through Shopping Them will get a big slobbery kiss from Sharon Osbourne/Cherie Blair – it doesn’t matter which one because not even their spouses can tell the difference. This endorsement will see them through to the next round – Natural Selection, sponsored by L'Oreal. The public will be encouraged to shout ‘because you’re worth it’ when they see a candidate. This is when the competition begins to get fierce.

Natural Selection candidates will be placed with a ‘challenging family’ in one of the country’s ‘areas of multiple deprivation’ and put in charge of applying for benefits. Points will be deducted for failing to recognise all the benefits to which the family is entitled. There will be a special award for the candidate who manages to get closest to working out the correct amount of Working Families’ Tax Credit payable. Carol Vorderman MBE will be engaged to adjudicate.

The final phase will be called The People’s Election, sponsored by a small consortium of retailers who do not yet have knighthoods. The strap line for this show will be ‘Who rules? You decide’. During this final gruelling contest, candidates will be sent to an unidentified trouble spot, (Brighton, Bournemouth and Manchester are all potential locations), fed a sensory deprivation diet of left over school dinners especially prepared by Jamie Oliver and forced to write a policy statement when they’d rather be spending time with their family/dog/rent boy called Peaches. Voters/viewers will be asked to select successful candidates not on the quality of their policies – that would be too much to ask – but on how close they come to addressing our ‘shared values’ which we all understand, right?

If all these things take off, someone might change the graffiti on our high street so that it reads ‘If voting changed anything, why is Jade Goody still here?’


Photograph by Jill Posener

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