We’ve come a long way since one got elected by hiking up your toga and handing out grapes from the back of a chariot. A rousing speech in the Coliseum for the general citizens and a slavegirl or two for the hard-to-reach councillors. When the likes of Morag was young politics was live. Then newspapers became a bigger part of the process and you relied less on the oratorical skills and more on the written word.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy changed politics forever because we then realised that we could have visual with our rhetoric. We could combine the joys of going to the movies (looking at handsome young heroes and their princess brides) with the joys of social engineering and tax policy. That, of course, was the beginning of the end. Here in the UK we held on longer but we finally fell foul of the Kennedy-curse as well. I remember arguing with people about William Hague and being told ‘We can’t have a Prime Minister who is bald’ – for heavens sake we used to have Prime Ministers with no teeth and wigs.
We have become obsessed with appearance and are suffering greatly for it. And sadly no one seems the least embarrassed by it. “Is he media-friendly?” is a thinly veiled euphemism for ‘are his teeth crooked and is that his hair’. Someone once called to enquire about Morag and the question was ‘she sounds brilliant on the radio but what does she look like, could she be on the telly?’ What difference did it make what I looked like? I wasn’t going to be on in a bit of sequins flipping letters. But that’s where we’ve come to and as much as we might like it there’s no going back.
This week has shown us just how dangerous television can be and I think it would behove us to take a serious look at the problem. Forget about Labour and the Lib Deems, as-yet-unformed policies, disenchanted voters and donations. The biggest enemy facing us today is television. We can ignore it as much as we like but we will do so at our peril.
Everyone wants to be on television because we now know that a good appearance on the GMTV sofa will influence more people than a good showing in the polls. But most people do not understand the ruthlessness of television. Gone are the days when television needed us – we now need it.
The channels can pick any till-checker from obscurity and turn them into a nations’ darling and they delight in doing nothing as much as taking the high and mighty and crushing them under their heel. An Italian television program decided this week to interview some Italian Mps. As egos now go all and sundry rushed forward for a chance to be seen and adored by the nation. While pretending to put makeup on them the production company were really swabbing their foreheads to test them for drugs. So instead of getting a chance to inundate us with their opinions we found that 12 of them had recently consumed cannabis and 4 of them cocaine. Was that fair of the television company to do? Not in my opinion but that is the nature of the beast. And if you think all these fake-sheikh tabloid stings are bad, trust me – telly stings will be much worse.
Television can make or break you and as someone occasionally on the inside my opinion is that we (as Conservatives) are not going about taming this tiger in the right way. Combine the ruthlessness of television – makes the Fleet Street lot look like Sneezy, Dopey and Grumpy – with the accessibility of all and sundry to the medium and you have the makings of a disaster on your hands. “We” went on Jonathan Ross – an extremely ill-advised move in my opinion (my phone didn’t stop ringing for the days before with media insiders howling their heads off because of what they knew would happen – and of course it did). And the Tom & Sion show – which was beyond a disgrace (poor production values, in extremely poor taste – and worst of all not even funny). These things are happening because we are not approaching television with the fear and respect it deserves. If we are not careful television is going to crucify us and we’d better do something fast.