Friday, 11 June 2010

This week’s political viewing (Mon 7th-Sun 13th June)

This won't be a regular article series since there aren't always smashing political programmes on, and if there are, I don't always know about them. Furthermore, all the programmes I suggest will have already been shown on TV, and therefore are only available online (I provide links) or through repeats. I'd love to be able to do what some proper journalists do - watch and review in advance of their screening, but TV companies aren't very likely to approach me to do that.

I am aware that it's Thursday, but I haven't had time to write this article until now due to revision and exams, but they're now all over and done with.

A Very British Coup - 4 On Demand

[caption id="attachment_797" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="The newly-elected Perkins is popular with most of the public, but a committed band of opponents unite against him"][/caption]

Based on the novel by Chris Mullin, this three part drama (though merged into two parts on the Channel 4 website for some reason) transports us back to the 1980s, with the prospect of Thatcher and the Conservatives being obliterated by an extremely left wing Labour party, the likes of which we'll probably never see again in the modern socialism-lite Labour party. Following his surprise landslide, Harry Perkins sets about putting his socialist agenda into place, including removing US nuclear weapons from British soil; making Government fully open and accountable; and greater investment in public services. The links to Michael Foot's leadership of Labour are clear, but rather than falling to a terrible defeat, the drama asks what could have happened if the Labour party of the time had won. From the outset, the Government is hindered: markets react to their planned legislation with predictable uncertainty, but the Government appears to be saved by a massive loan from the USSR. The unwillingness of Perkins and his Government to bend to suit others - The USA attempts to use threats to prevent the removal of weapons - is made clear. However, dark forces, such as the army's top brass, continue to act behind the scenes, intent upon bringing down the radical Government which they see as a threat to them and national security.

Whilst A Very British Coup could be seen as exaggerated, I think it is surprisingly accurate. Ultimately, Governments are slaves to groups and events over which they have no control. Despite the huge mandate afforded to Perkins and his Government, they find themselves unable to carry out all their plans due to a combination of groups placing blockades in their way at every hurdle. The film presents a stark and unappealing view that our Governments are now merely administrators; any Government with a radical left-wing agenda that seeks to put people before business risks its task being made impossible by silent conspirators, both seen - in the form of the markets - and unseen. I think this interpretation is worrying accurate, shown only recently with Cameron pleading in the election campaign for a majority Government in order to prevent a hung Parliament and the markets going into freefall.

Even if you do see it as little more than exaggerated biased left-wing tosh, it's a great political drama to watch that covers a number of aspects.

- Jolly good


The Making of the Iron Lady - BBC iPlayer

[caption id="attachment_814" align="alignright" width="300" caption="In a rare show of true emotion, Thatcher reveals her human side."][/caption]

It appeared to have been 80s week last week on the Beeb, which meant two Thatcher programmes. This one sees Michael Cockerell transporting us back to the late 1970s, charting Thatcher's rise to become leader of the Conservative party, and then Prime Minister. It features smashing interviews with people who knew her at the time, including some previously unseen footage, such as rare glimpse of the usually elusive - and very grumpy - Mark Thatcher, who apparently found his way out of the desert. We're given a great insight into her best attributes: she appears hard-working and committed, but also her worst. Whilst you may despise her (especially if you're northern or Scottish) this programme helps us appreciate the obstacles she faced in gaining the leadership of a largely backwards-thinking Conservative party, and her shrewd ability to rise to the top by any means necessary. It's also fascinating to see footage of the reactions of Denis Thatcher and her children when their wife/mother gives interviews on the telly.

There are no revelations or new information unearthed, but the previously unseen and well selected interviews make up for this. Whether you're a Thatcher devotee or someone who spends their time plotting her death, you're likely to appreciate the tremendous efforts she went through just a little bit more, or at least accept that she does have emotions when you see Maggie nearly in tears over the death of a close friend and fellow MP.

The only thing I would have preferred was for this programme to have gone on for longer; I want more, which is why it misses out on 5 stars.

- Jolly good and a half


Margaret Thatcher: The Long Walk to Finchley - BBC iPlayer

The second of the selection of Thatcher shows wasn't as good. This one tells about her earlier days: her attempts to become an MP. It's not very - if at all - factually correct - even the subtitle declares 'How she might have done it', so most of it is just created claptrap that attempts to make a weakly comedic drama out of Thatcher's imagined early years. The extent of the programme's exaggerated stupidity is made clear with the army general directing the Dartford and surrounding area election campaign: he wears an eye-patch; clads himself in military uniform; and generally behaves as if he's planning an invasion. I know you get some nutcases in politics, but I expect this character is entirely of the writer's creation.

Predictably given the large Labour majority in the seat, the future PM loses. However, the programme does portray Maggie's unorthodox methods and fighting spirit, and continues to show how she eventually on in Finchley.

The writer also invents an early rivalry and perhaps even little burning flame between Roberts (as she was before marrying good old Denis), though this perceived love interest appears to be more Margaret's attempts to get a stronger foothold within the party and get a winnable seat. There are occasional snippets of retrospective humour that allude to Thatcher's actions when she finally becomes part of the Government; such as the exclamation that, if she were PM, every child would have as much milk as they want.

Basically, it's a drama-type-thing with splashes of comedy that is loosely (loosely being the operative word) based upon Thatcher's attempts to become an MP. The others reviewed here are far more worth watching, but if you'd like something less factual and more entertaining, this will do nicely.

- Quite naff, with whiffs of average


Nixon in the Den - BBC iPlayer

[caption id="attachment_821" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Nixon's first Presidential bid was unsuccessful partly due to Kennedy's superior media ability"][/caption]

Richard Nixon is perhaps the least popular President in history. Despite his general success both at home and abroad; for example,  he opened up relations with China and was re-elected with a massive majority, he was brought down by the Watergate scandal and his refusal to go out with grace by admitting he had done wrong. His continued lies and deception over claiming he had no involvement in the scandal was his downfall, and "I am not a crook" went down in history as his defining line.

In this programme, David Reynolds makes the strong case that Nixon was fundamentally flawed: he was paranoid; had an obsessive fixation with everyone being against him; was never satisfied with success; and ultimately refused to admit defeat in spite of logic. Reynolds claims the pressures of being one of the most powerful people in the world brought out all his negative traits, and this ultimately led to his downfall.

The programme gets its title from the room from which Nixon spent most of his time. Unlike other Presidents, Nixon set up in a small office in an building separate from the White House, and it was in this office that he made most decisions alone, emphasising his obsessive controlling streak.

Overall, it's an enthralling programme examining both Nixon's earlier life - and its impact upon him as a President - and his time in Office. Reynolds makes a strong case that Nixon's unprivileged and working class background, the abuse he suffered as a child, the jibes he endured from more opponents, and his defeat at the hands of Kennedy left him with a further feeling that it was him vs the powerful and wealthy liberal elite politicians and media. In just one hour, we're given a fantastic and factual insight into the mind of Nixon and his actions as President.

- Bloody brilliant


The first one on the list looks like it will be there indefinitely for your viewing pleasure, but the BBC will remove theirs after a week or so because it likes to try to make money from you by having you buy something on DVD that you already paid for through your license fee. Of course, I couldn't possibly condone defying Auntie Beeb, and you should not go to, download the software, and use it to keep copies of the programmes. That's something you should not do.

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