Live, raw and addictive – House of Commons is the ultimate TV drama
PUBLISHED: 18:12 02 October 2019 | UPDATED: 18:12 02 October 2019
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Forget reality TV or the latest box set - there’s far more drama on the television to be found in the House of Commons says David Clayton
I've taken to watching the Brexit debates in the House of Commons. Clearly there has been much more than usual to watch, and I can sit in front of it for hours apart from during the prorogation, or suspension, or whatever it turned out to be.
To be honest, it gave me a bit of a break too. I'm not alone. The BBC's Parliamentary Channel is notching-up many more viewers in these troubled times. Apparently, a good number of the increased viewership are the younger set.
Is it any wonder this is compelling viewing? Any TV producer worth his or her salt would "die in a ditch" (to borrow a popular metaphor) to capture all the elements of a day's proceedings in The Commons. There's conflict - lots of it. Each side increasingly incredulous at the others' intransigence. Passions are running high to the extent the finest actors in the land couldn't replicate some of the "performances" from our MPs.
There's jeopardy, lots of that too and it won't go away because will we or won't we get out on October 31. The stakes couldn't be higher. There are heroes and villains everywhere. My hero might well be your villain and vice versa, so it's an endless argument. In so many ways it's the perfect televisual storm.
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Then there's the curious archaic and arcane parliamentary procedures, coupled with the claustrophobic (when its full) bearpit nature of the setting. It trumps pretty much any drama on TV today and beats any reality TV format going. The cameras, all remotely operated, have been there long enough for the politicians to forget they're being watched, or are they really playing to the gallery? Either way, it works. The other important thing is, its transmitted live. In contrast to so much of the TV we consume these days, which isn't.
I travel the land coaching radio and TV presenters and there's a truism we often explore which is, "live is better than perfect." The point being there's an edge and authenticity to something unfolding as it happens. We're all "in the moment," together. No one can get at it and edit the life out of it. It's largely unscripted and often unpredictable, so together we consume the unfolding drama, warts and all.
There are the larger-than-life characters in this Westminster TV bubble. I can't say I've seen much of him lately, but lean forward in your armchairs when Dennis Skinner, aka The Beast of Bolsover, gets up to speak. He's been reprimanded for his unparliamentary language a few times over his long parliamentary career. He once called David Cameron "Dodgy Dave," and was told to leave the chamber. His best (or worst) effort was referring to David Owen as a "pompous sod." When asked to withdraw it - he only withdrew the word "pompous!"
Then, there's the remarkable voice of the attorney general, Geoffrey Cox. Animated at the despatch box, he commands the chamber, fills the TV screens and is and old-fashioned orator straight out of central casting, in my view.
I was ruminating about all the above with an old broadcasting buddy who's stalked the Westminster corridors for many a good year to enlighten the rest of us. I told him I couldn't make my mind up whether all this new-found interest in watching our elected representatives at work would ultimately be for the collective good. We both weren't entirely sure.
This heated debate we're watching is amidst a backdrop of toxic social media and under fearsome scrutiny. So how do you square the oft heard pleadings that most of us are feeling utterly fed up with politics and politicians but are tuning-in to watch it unfold. My old buddy had heard a very plausible theory. Despite their best intentions, so weary are we of all sorts of media interpretations and editorialising, we've taken to consuming the raw debates to make up our own minds.
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