Magazine article The Spectator

Can't Avoid Them

Magazine article The Spectator

Can't Avoid Them

Article excerpt

Even Colditz had its escape route but while the radio is on we remain prisoners of freedom, unable to tunnel ourselves out. I do not just refer to the massive coverage given to the party conferences which have now mercifully ceased, but to the prevalence of politicians on the radio pretending to be human. Nor do I agree with the late American poet e.e. cummings that a politician is an arse upon which everyone has sat except a man.

Just as we thought we were about to be released for good behaviour and repatriated, we heard Roy Hattersley reading from his memoirs on Radio Four (Monday). Last week it was the former Transport Minister, Steven Norris, reading from his book Changing Trains, which should have been titled Changing Mistresses, as some of it dealt on his success with women. I have no idea what Hattersley's views on this subject are but he concentrated more earnestly on his success with Jim Callaghan as PM, having previously failed to catch Harold Wilson's eye.

Another MP, Ken Livingstone, now has his own show on Radio Four, And I'm the Queen of Sheba (Thursday), a desperately unfunny panel game about lies and deceit, and of course over on Radio Five there's David Mellor mixing it with the lads on SixO-Six (Saturday), a football phone-in. The MP for Putney displays an encyclopaedic knowledge of groin strains and his programme is easy to avoid as it's on Five.

The problem with well-known politicians like these is that when we hear them speak on the radio we can also picture them, which doesn't help. We know they're not as self-deprecating as they try to sound. They can be funny, both deliberately and unintentionally. Hattersley, for example, the most rounded of them, tells some good anecdotes against himself. But just as we're thinking what an avuncular, sausage-jowled old cove he is, we remember what he looked like when he used to threaten us with measures to curtail our liberty, such as preventing us from educating our children the way we'd like to, or imposing limits on the price of bread as part of his government's Prices and Incomes Policy.

It sounded like 1876 not 1976, those grim days of incompetence and meddling, and even Hattersley seemed surprised that it was only 20 years ago. He seems, by the way, to have become every radio producer's favourite politician, popping up on the News Quiz and various other shows. Time for his own phone-in, perhaps. He'd probably sound more patrician than Mellor does with serious football fans. Much of it was about as penetrable as Sanskrit to me but Mellor certainly knows his Rons and Erics. His callers like to say, `Hi, mate,' to which Mellor responds, `Hi, Chris. …

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