Daytime TV: Party pieces

Gary Day is more entertained by Alastair Stewart's tie than he is by the three main political leaders

April 22, 2010

I've rarely seen such dramatic clouds," said Professor Brian Cox, looking up at the swollen sky of Oklahoma, otherwise known as tornado alley (Wonders of the Solar System, BBC Four, Saturday 17 April, 8pm). And he's from Manchester, a finishing school for storms. But politicians rush in where the Sun fears to tread and the city played host to the first live television debate between the leaders of the three major political parties (The First Election Debate, ITV1, Thursday 15 April, 8.30pm).

Would their exchanges be mild and temperate or full of thunder and lightning? Let us not mock. This was a fine example of British democracy; three middle-aged men in suits politely arguing about which colour water pistol to use to put out a house fire.

Alastair Stewart hosted. It was his chance to break free from the constraints of newsreading and he seized it with both hands. There was his tie, for a start. Much brighter than the average celebrity, it deserved its own show. The party leaders were upstaged before they had opened their mouths. Their own neckwear, though plain, at least helped us to tell them apart.

Alastair took advantage of being allowed to use his legs for once. The camera could barely keep up as he sped round the studio while the men who would be prime minister stood stiffly behind their lecterns. An aerial view revealed shadows like daggers pointing at their backs.

When he had finished racing, cartwheeling and break-dancing, Alastair invited Gordon Brown, Nick Clegg and David Cameron to make their opening statements. Nick said vote Liberal for a change. Dave said vote Conservative for a change. The mike failed to pick up what Gordon said. Maybe it was something interesting. But then again, maybe not. For already some of the members of the audience were stifling a yawn.

Alastair roused them by calling for the first question. It was on immigration. Gordon said he wanted to control and manage immigration. Dave said he wanted to control and manage immigration. Nick said he, too, wanted to control and manage immigration. They all had different ways of doing it. And their way was much better than those of their opponents. Gordon boasted that he had introduced a points system but so far the candidates had failed to score a single one.

Time for another question. Jacqueline Salmon, from Burnley, wanted to know how each leader would stop burglary. Put more police on the street, said Gordon. Dave said he would put more police on the street. Put more police on the street, said Nick. They all had different ways of doing it. And their way was better than those of their opponents. A cameraman must have fallen over because we had a sudden shot of the candidates' shoes from a horizontal angle.

Alastair livened things up by telling us that policies on crime, health and schooling were all devolved and so would be different in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Viewers would be able to see their leaders debate these matters on Thursday. No, wait. Tuesday. Alastair apologised for the mix-up but it was because he was excited. He set off for another dash round the studio.

Things were beginning to hot up. Gordon told Dave that this was "answer time not Question Time" and that he could "airbrush his posters but not his policies". He even made a joke about how the Conservative Party posters, showing a smiling Gordon Brown, had done more for him than newspaper editors, an experiment in humour I beg him not to repeat.

"It will disappoint you, and it will disappoint many people, but we have come to the end of our debating time," said Alastair. He was disappointed because it was back to the confines of the news chair. We were disappointed because it turned out that we had not, in fact, come to the end. There was more. Each leader had to sum up. Nick said vote for a change. Dave said vote for a change. Gordon said vote for me or else.

It's the word "change" that was so fundamentally dishonest. None of the candidates has any intention of changing the British economy or British society. Take land ownership in Lancashire. Four aristocratic families lay claim to 113,379 acres out of 758,000. Most of the rest is divided between the government and the church. It's a pattern repeated throughout the country. And that's only one instance of inequality. Which makes a mockery of the expressions "let's be honest" and "we're all in this together" that echoed through the programme.

Back on planet Earth, Brian explained how the solar system came into being, the peculiarities of Mars' orbit and why we have seasons. The three amigos couldn't even agree on how much the budget deficit was.

Vote for Brain - I mean Brian.

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