MPs: Behind Closed Doors, Channel 5 | reviews, news & interviews
MPs: Behind Closed Doors, Channel 5
MPs: Behind Closed Doors, Channel 5
Constituents come off best in a fly-on-the-wall documentary about their representatives
TV can be a powerful tool of redemption. Take Strictly Come Dancing – anything that can shift perception of Ann Widdecombe from poisonous homophobe to innocuous have-a-go hero is dark, dark magic indeed. Just this week, the Strictly dancefloor has finally bid goodbye to Ed Balls after housing him for almost as long as the role of Shadow Home Secretary, and society is opening its arms to him – a politician with a reputation as a ruthless bully. It's another example of TV-led Munchausen syndrome by proxy.
In Channel 5’s fly-on-the-wall documentary, MPs Behind Closed Doors, redemption also seemed to be the order of the day, except with fewer sequins and, in Jacob Rees-Mogg, a man so cartoonishly Tory that you can imagine him rendered in a particularly harrowing episode of Postman Pat, lopping limb after limb off the delivery service with an appeal to common-sense economics and free-market competition.
Overall, the surgeries were shown to be far greater engines of social change than Parliament currently manages
Also appearing in this look at the day-to-day work of our representatives as they hold their local surgeries were Labour social media catastrophe Naz Shah and Nick Clegg, who seems permanently to occupy an emotional foothold between "fresh start" and "teary regret", much like a badly treated partner reminiscing on a relationship that they still think they can affect, long after it’s ended. In this, it seems still to be Nick Clegg, rather than current leader Tim Farron, who really captures the true spirit of his party. Soundtracking all of this was John Prescott, with his trademark nuance and the tonal variation of a foghorn.
The format wasn’t one that immediately lent itself to notions of discovery and revelation. While there are still some politicians who can’t seem to be in front of a camera without going into meltdown or punctuating every proposition with the word "Hitler", most are acutely aware of how they look and what will play well with the bit of the public that their overpaid experts have most recently focus-grouped.
It didn’t really matter in any case as the show was comprehensively stolen from under their noses by the British public, who proved once again to be a much more diverse bunch than newspaper headlines and binary referendum stances would have us believe. We saw a concerned Remainer being able to confront an architect of the Leave campaign and doing a better job of holding him to account than the Opposition; people raising concerns about everything from Trident to nuisance neighbours; and one particularly touching immigration case that saw a grown man cry the tears of an orphaned child. In the current climate, this proved particularly affecting.
Generally speaking the way that people benefit from the redemptive power of TV is to have any shred of humanity amplified through the cropped edit. At various points, both Clegg and Shah profited from this process by providing hope and a shoulder for their beleaguered constituents. “I didn’t get any reptilian vibes off of Nick Clegg,” said one vocal advocate for the use of medical marijuana. Well, quite. Overall, the surgeries were shown to be far greater engines of social change than Parliament currently manages.
Well, unless that social change is negative.
Rees-Mogg was badly hindered in this regard. The conclusion was inescapable that he is the problem, even when he did his best not to appear to be. When telling a couple that he’d managed to get someone to revisit the decision to cut care funding for their severely disabled son, there was a very telling exchange. “How can someone just pull the plug like that?” asked the concerned mother. “The approach to funding has changed,” replied the MP.
The disingenuous use of the passive voice to describe an austere change in policy for which Rees-Mogg has been a positive advocate said everything he was so desperately trying not to. Despite a format designed to flatter, he managed to come out covered in the excrement of his own political endeavours. Perhaps he should have asked an expert how to handle it better.
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