22 October 2009
How often do politicians watch television?
In the run-up to the BNP leader's first appearance on BBC TV's Quesion TIme later tonight, the Number 10 website had an interesting snippet about Gordon Brown's plans for the evening:
'Asked whether the Prime Minister was planning to watch Question Time, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister did not routinely watch Question Time.'
This reminded me of something I remember being surprised by when I was more actively involved in day-to-day politics:
however keen politicians might be to appear on the box, they didn't actually watch television very often themselves - not least because the timing of House of Commons proceedings meant that they wouldn't be able to see prime-time shows even if they'd wanted to.
As I'm not sure if my Betamax video recorder still works, I can't show you a gem from one of Mrs Thatcher's early Conservative Party conference speeches after becoming prime minister.
It was around the time that Heineken lager was running TV commercials (later banned because they claimed health benefits from drinking the stuff) that ended with the slogan "The beer that reaches parts that other beers can't reach".
My reason for thinking Mrs Thatcher had never seen or heard of the commercial came as she was thanking her cabinet ministers. Of Lord Carrington, the then foreign secretary, she said:
"He really is the peer that reaches parts that other peers can't reach."
The audience, most of whom must have been watching television often enough to be familiar with the slogan, loved it. But, as the laughter and applause got under way, Mrs Thatcher looked visibly surprised and said under her breath, and presumably with earlier arguments with speechwriters in mind:
"Oh - it did work then."
So I wasn't at all surprised to learn that Mr Brown doesn't 'routinely watch Question Time', and suspect that, like Mrs Thatcher and many other politicians, he hardly ever watches any television at all.