Arts & Books

TV review: The weirdos who keep democracy alive

Sir Robert Rogers, clerk of the house, stars in the documentary Inside the Commons (Atlantic Productions/BBC Picture)

British democracy was never the same after they let television cameras inside Parliament. Combine the politician’s natural desire to entertain with the possibility of getting 30 seconds on telly and it was bound to cause trouble. Our system continued its inexorable decline into showbusiness for ugly people.

So, ironically, it’s taken a TV camera crew invading Parliament to revive my faith in our elected representatives. Inside the Commons (BBC Two, Tuesdays, 9pm) is made by Michael Cockerell, the master of modern political documentaries. His programmes about political wonkery and the weirdos behind it are always labours of love – and this series is informed by an obvious affection for the subject at hand.

Cockerell’s genius is for spotting the humans in politics and then letting them speak for themselves. Peter Bone MP sneaking his wife into the gentlemen’s changing rooms so that she can iron a £15 shirt in preparation for a television appearance was wonderful. Likewise was the proud declaration that, only hours after a new chief whip was appointed, Mr Bone had already rebelled against him.

Some MPs, however, are too human. The series has identified a new generation of politicians who seem to find Parliament embarrassingly arcane, which raises the question of why they bothered to enter it.

I’ll never understand people who join an institution in order to change it – and the dizzy young things who complain that the Commons isn’t child-friendly or the debates are too loud really ought to look for alternative employment. Their lack of reverence for the traditions of democracy is disturbing.

Thankfully, there’s always Jacob Rees-Mogg to restore sanity – and he’s Inside the Commons’s real star. Oh, for a Parliament of Jacobs. There is a man who is intelligent yet self-effacing, and who understands Britain’s constitution and is in Parliament to defend it. That he is mocked for using long words is a poor reflection upon his critics, not him; he belongs to a better, more eloquent age. Does Rees-Mogg even own a television? One can imagine him mistaking it for one of these new-fangled microwave things and trying to heat up soup in it. Let us pray that he never changes.

This article first appeared in the latest edition of the Catholic Herald magazine (27/2/15). Also in this week’s issue: Andrew M Brown says all baptisms should have a touch of The Godfather, Mary Kenny on the wisdom of Stephen Hawking’s ex-wife and Colin Brazier says we should breed like rabbits. Take up our special subscription offer – 12 issues currently available for just £12!