Issue 183 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published February 1995 Copyright © Socialist Review


Brain dead

'It seems you cannot watch any serious discussion programme without someone from the academic lunatic fringe being dragged on'

There was a time when Question Time was a good programme to watch on a free Thursday night.

It was a forum for the right to do battle with the left. There were Labour and Tory speakers plus, on not irregular occasions, guests to the left or right of the mainstream.

Increasingly in the late 1980s and early 1990s the show also became a fairly accurate gauge of the growing hatred and contempt for the Tories.

Today that anti-Tory mood has reached almost fever pitch, yet the panels on Question Time have become more and more right wing.

Now no one to the left of Labour ever appears. Tony Berm and Arthur Scargill are allowed the occasional outing, but in the main the 'left' is represented by some droning Blairite scared to say anything lest they should embarrass his Bambiness.

The right on the other hand seems to be given free reign. There will sit the Tory minister flanked by some right wing journalist, a figure from the business world, or some utterly brain dead historian fresh out of the mad reaches of the Adam Smith Institute.

Take, for example, a recent programme. The panel included Michael Howard. Beside him sat the writer Victoria Glendinning who I'm sure is well meaning but is just about as muddle headed as they come.

Waving the red flag high was Margaret Hodge who sounded like a tape recording of Blair. And finally a greasy looking yuppie, all teeth and hair, who you just knew before his name was announced was going to be introduced as an historian.

You also knew before he opened his mouth that he was going to be a right winger. His posh Scottish accent made you feel sure that he was indeed a graduate of the Adam Smith Institute of political madness.

As I watched the farce that followed, with an entire panel failing to reduce Howard to an oily slick on the floor (something any vaguely political 12 year old could have done) or even embarrass him, I got angrier and angrier.

Couldn't Glendinning just string two coherent sentences together (she is a writer for god's sake). How could Hodge be so utterly useless, so lacking any spark of gut anger, so happy just to waffle in endless Blairspeak?

Finally, why was this chinless yuppie there? What were his credentials for this television stardom?

I may be wrong, but I can never remember historians of real weight and standing getting on the programme in days gone by. I don't ever recall Christopher Hill, EP Thompson or even AJP Taylor appearing on the programme.

Why when the country is moving to the left are the television stations so determined to make celebrities of the fundamentalist academic right?

It all seemed to start with Oxford historian Norman Stone, who for some reason has now slipped out of view. Nevertheless he has certainly carved a path for others to follow.

It seems you cannot watch any serious discussion programme without someone from the academic lunatic fringe being dragged on.

'This evening we have Professor Kenneth Minogue from the LSE', says the announcer, and before you know it you have this man of letters talking absolute garbage in a sort of upper class version of a London cabby in full flow, with all the depth of a CD recorded by his Australian namesake, Kylie Minogue, however, is a thoughtful intellectual heavyweight compared to that other loathsome LSE man David Starkey. Starkey is that pompous little man with a moustache who seems to be on everything.

His views are bizarre in the extreme, a fundamentalist libertarian right winger. Years ago the only thing to vaguely resemble him on television would have been as a caricature right winger on a comedy show. Few, however, would have dared push the caricature to the point of being like Starkey simply because it would have seemed unbelievable.

Yet now when more and more people reject all the talk of the wonders of privatisation, the bullshit of the low tax economy, the drivel about the rights of the individual, when they hate the practical consequences of each and every one of these philosophical nonentities, Starkey and his ilk are given regular access to the airwaves.

Not surprisingly this phenomenon has extended beyond the `serious' discussion programmes to the more frivolous chat shows with loathsome neanderthals like Richard Littlejohn and Garry Bushell being allowed to air their disgusting prejudices.

Thatcherism's ideological mark may now be a distant blur on the political horizon, but it clearly has still got a hold on the gutless wonders who run television programming.

Terrified of government sanctions against the television licence in the case of the BBC, or losing the franchise in the case of the commercial stations, they continue to bow to yesterday's philosophy, and the sad misfits who are its last advocates.

So that while in the areas of comedy or drama they may permit the more risque or daring, when it comes to current affairs or political discussion they roll over in the face of reaction.

Which is probably why these days far more socialists are talking about Have I Got News for You or Rory Bremner than Question Tine or Panorama.
Pat Stack

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