Last Night's TV
THE TRILLION DOLLAR REVOLUTIONARY: THIS WORLD BBC2
EXODUS CHANNEL 4
Whenever you start worrying that our home-grown politicians are addicted to the soundbite, you should compare the alternatives: the Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, for example, whose weekly television address to the nation, which started as a 15-minute briefing, has become a rambling extravaganza typically three hours long. "He doesn't," as John Sweeney put it in The Trillion Dollar Revolutionary: This World, "half go on a bit," adding, puzzlingly, "you'd never guess he was a lefty." As sequiturs go, this is pretty non: not half going on a bit is firmly established as a speciality of left-wing leaders, Fidel Castro being outstanding in this respect; in any case, in the extract being played as Sweeney spoke, Chavez's every third word was "socialismo".
In itself, long-windedness is a venial sin; in Chavez's case, it matters a little more, for two reasons. First, all free-to-air broadcasters, television and radio, are compelled to carry his programme live. A Chavez supporter whom Sweeney met denied that this amounted to a limitation of freedom of speech - "We have no censorship," he said. But freedom of speech involves not simply allowing people to say what they like, but giving them ways to be heard saying it; in Venezuelan TV, it's hard to get a word in edgeways. (The fact that subscription channels are exempted from Chavez's speeches makes things worse: it means that only the rich are given real choice.)
The other reason it matters is that outside Venezuela there are many prepared to treat Chavez as a hero, because of his willingness to say rude things about George W Bush. This is, it has to be admitted, fun. We got him here speaking at the UN shortly after Bush, and claiming that the podium still smelt of sulphur; and Sweeney had footage of him calling Bush a "donkey" and "Mr Danger". In London, attitudes to Chavez have become an electoral issue. Mayor Ken Livingstone has accepted 15m of subsidised Venezuelan oil for London buses, in exchange for advising Caracas on its traffic problems. What advice Ken can offer beyond "Slap a congestion charge on 'em", I don't know; and while it's sound enough in my book, 15 million quid seems steep, especially when 60 per cent of Venezuelans live below the poverty line. Ken's Conservative challenger, Boris, has responded by pledging that if he gets the job, he won't be taking money off "dictators", and has called the arrangement "Ker- rackers". It's jokes such as that that make you appreciate humourless ideologues.
The seriousness …