wed 19/06/2024

Tower Block of Commons, Channel 4 | reviews, news & interviews

Tower Block of Commons, Channel 4

Tower Block of Commons, Channel 4

MPs in out-of-touch shock

Mark Oaten goes native in Tower Block of Commons

What do our elected representatives in Westminster know? Apart from, clearly, how to fill in an expenses claim form. You can file all the usual complaints about Tower Block of Commons, a series in which MPs take up residence in sink estates. It uses the tired old Wife Swap format of sadistically throwing its subjects in at the deep end to watch them sink or swim. The editing is visibly manipulative.

After every commercial break it recaps the entire story for its goldfish audience. And that title is, as per, naff. But strip away modern documentary grammar and after the first instalment you were left with a bald truth. Our politicians haven’t the first clue how the other half lives.

How bald? I refer the honourable members to the recession-hit domes of Mark Oaten, or Iain Duncan Smith, both of them dumped in East London high rises and left to cope. The shadow children’s minister Tim Loughton was dispatched to somewhere similarly grim in Birmingham, while Austin Mitchell was sent north to Hull. In each case they were foisted on a host, invariably female, whose task was to show them the sights: the turds, the shards, the sharps.

The depth of the MPs’ ensuing shock was so profound you slightly wondered whether they weren’t, in the style of another documentary staple, faking it. Duncan Smith was advised that if he wore his suit he’d get egged. “What’s that?” he said, assuming this must be some form of tower-block argot. “Eggs,” his young hostess Charice elaborated. As in what you can’t make omelettes without breaking.

Charice had not heard of the former leader of the Conservative Party, or possibly of the Conservative Party itself

Needless to say it was the Labour member who seemed much the most loftily ignorant of working-class reality. You’d never have guessed, from Mitchell's blithe lack of awareness of how he came across, that one of Westminster’s self-styled mavericks was once a television presenter himself. In The Damned United a version of him stitches up Brian Clough in the studio. (Slightly pointless footnote: he was played in the film by the actor Mark Bazeley, who did the voiceover here.) Where the other MPs consented to stay with their hosts, kipping on an airbed or the sofa, Mitchell insisted on bringing his wife and having their own council flat. The production company got their revenge by sticking them in a shithole.

Thoughout, Mitchell wore the look of someone on a tolerably amusing jaunt. Unless it was all edited out, he was barely interested in his tour guide Selina, a former prostitute and recovering heroin addict. When she told him they were off to the methadone dispensary to get her daily fix, he actually chuckled. Much more of this, he said, and he’d leave an expert on drugs. Then again, maybe not. Mrs Mitchell empathetically explained to Selina that she understood all about addiction, as in her 30s she had a little penchant for painkillers herself. This was news to the budding narco-tsar she's married to.

How useful is Tower Block of Commons, other than for throwing further tomatoes at Members of Parliament? When Michael Portillo opted for a similar immersion in working-class reality, he had already left Parliament. Apart from Loughton, most of these self-selecting outsiders might as well have done too: a Labour dinosaur, a washed-up ex-leader and a failed leadership candidate who by May will have given up his seat. Oaten came across as personable but maybe not the sharpest tool in the box. Did he imagine that the camera wouldn’t watch him when he went off for a walk in his tower-block mufti of hoody and tracksuit bottoms? From a window the long lens caught him lying face-down on the grass, as if poleaxed by sniper fire. “Look at ‘im,” said his delightful hostess Cathy. “’E can’t take it. At the end of the week he’s gonna want a noose.”

As an image of political impotence, it sort of said it all. There is nothing any of these politicians can do. They certainly wouldn't coax a vote out of anyone they met. Charice had not heard of the former leader of the Conservative Party, or possibly of the Conservative Party itself. At least Oaten’s reputation went before him. “Ain’t you the one that got done by the rent boys?” enquired one passing youth. (This was helpfully subtitled, in case anyone missed it.) The only box anyone admitted ticking was marked BNP, whose hate-peddling apparatchiks probably enjoyed this apocalyptic slice of light entertainment.


I am writing this to complain about the programme tower block of commons. I am so sick of hearing how badly off people in council houses have it. I have worked hard all my life have never been on the dole or collected benefits. I am a single white female who does not have the right to a council house as the waiting list in London would be around 25 years! I pay for everthing, prescriptions, dental treatment, parking permits, congestion charges, council tax, income tax, national insurance the list goes on. I was brought up with a work ethic not to rely on other people to keep me & house me and sort out the maintenance of my house! I don’t see why uneducated ignorant people are given the opportunity to humiliate the Mp’s shown on this programme. The reason they don’t live in the same circumstances is that they chose to educate themselves & go to work. Our Society is cultivating a a new breed of ill educated lazy people who think the world owes them a living. I was disgusted & had to turn this programme off. If you are not prepared to put anything into life you will not get anything out!!

It was quite obvious from the start, that being placed in those situations was going to be a shock to any politician. Maybe now they will get the chance to see we are living in a society that creates estates like these in every Town and City in Engand (Thats if they can be bothered to watch in the first place). It doesnt matter if the estates are tower blocks or not, they exist and we can see examples of them daily. I grew up (and still live) on a Council estate, fortunately for me it was a pretty nice place to live and I consider myself lucky when I see the plight of the residents in this programme. Looking at it from the residents point of view, they dont like or want the crime, drug and alcohol abuse, intimidation and discomfort they live in, however, they seem to be able to afford mobile phones, computers, great clothes and can go clubbing, all on benefits?. This comparison brings home the way in which people (rather oddly) prioritise things and place value on what the casual observer percieves as luxury items. I already know life can be difficult under these circumstances, It is obvious that our "goldfish" politicians cant hack it, and, I hope it does some good. However, this is the reality of England today, lack of jobs, education, crime, drugs, alcohol need I go on leads to people existing ,rightly or wrongly on benefits. Living on benefits rapidly becomes a way of life to which people quickly adapt, thus, creating further problems as they grind through thier daily existance under the flag of "Social Security". As a life long Labour supporter I was also disgusted at the performance of Austin Mitchell, who should have known better. I can not believe that a man like this would dare to represent the "working" man. I will watch the remaining episodes with baited breath, in the hope that something useful comes of the time, money and effort being put into the programmes creation. I doubt it though, because once these politicians get back to thier Ivory towers, we wont see them again and I fear the quicker they can forget about thier exoerience the better.

Whilst savvy editing did its best to make MItchell look out of touch with working class reality, it merely reveled his deeply entrenched and now dated misogynist views. The reason he has no idea how much a pint of milk costs is because it is 'woman's work'. He's not necessarily out of touch with his constituents, he's just a dated fossil, and should have been replaced by a younger model ages ago; which, hopefully, after this program, he will be.

i am not suprised by the reaction off the mp,s to the extent off unemployment and housing issue but they seem to be shocked in a britian they helped to create i am suprised that i am being drawn more towards the tory mp,s more than labour as mr austin mitchell and wife in my opinion seem to be slighty patronising towards the working class they suppose to represent being labour. the programme itself is fantastic for the fact its highlighting the problems in britian today but until the labour goverment i.e prime minister gordon brown realise that there are just as many problems here he needs to concentrate on the british people and his countries IMMIGRATION, NHS,AND LACK OFF WORK BECAUSE OFF IMMIGRATION THESE ARE THE REASONS THE BRITISH PEOPLE ARE OUT OFF WORK AND ITS ABOUT TIME THE GOVERMENT TOOK A STEP BACK AND REALISED WHAT THEY HAVE DONE OR( DO THESE REMARKS MAKE ME A RACIST) IN SOME PEOPLS EYES. and for anybody who reads i am employed luckily not a dole doser,but there are a lot off people who are job seekers who want to work but cant for the reasons above because a foriegn worker will work for peanuts so to speak then we wonder why we are lacking in tradesmen money talks britian a country who used to look after its own.

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