Janet Street-Porter wants a knee trembler. Apparently.

Tonight’s Question Time came from Brighton, where, amongst others was Paddy, looking, to my mind, noticeably laid back whilst John Redwood made unfounded and ridiculous predictions of a “big tax shock” from the Lib Dems. Frankly Redwood was just nauseating in his slimy disingenuous hypocrisy throughout.

But anyway, what really had me wanting to throw things at the TV was a “young person” announcing his general uninspiredness with the leaders of our parties. Now, curiously enough, I have just the other day written of my general feelings on this kind of whinging. This particular chap, at least, made his feelings known in an articulate way, wrong-headed as they were. Sadly, though not entirely surprisingly, Janet Street-Porter chimed in to agree:

Self Identified “Young Person”: I don’t think it’s an issue really of the age of political leaders, I think it’s more a question of how inspiring they are, to all age groups; and at the moment, with all the parties fighting for the centre ground, I’d say there’s a lack of identity and a lack of direction in British politics which comes across to me as a young person coming up to voting age. I find none of the parties’ leaderships particularly inspirational.


Janet Street Porter: You know when Ming Campbell started droning on today about his age, I thought “He’s really lost the plot.” Because, frankly, it’s ageist to talk about your age, isn’t it? Haven’t we just passed all this legislation about going on about your age all the time and… it was pathetic and also to refer to these other two people as “young turks” when they’re about as exciting as a plate of tapioca [LAUGHTER, god knows why], I mean, that young lad up there is completely correct [smug nodding from young lad], I mean, what politics needs is some excitement, and somebody that when they speak your knees start to tremble, and quite frankly, when Ming Campbell speaked (sic) today, his jokes were so old – it was so old –

David Dimbleby: [interrupting] I don’t know what makes your knees tremble; does David Cameron make your knees tremble?

Janet Street-Porter: No no no no no, he’s, er, he’s…

John Redwood: {some old shit about Mourinho}

Janet Street-Porter: I think the fact of the matter is that politics needs to be … does need to be inspirational for your generation of people to vote, and at the next election, whether it is in the next eight weeks or early next year or in four years, our problem is that we have one of the lowest turnouts in Europe, and I don’t see any sign of that changing with these particular group of people leading our parties, so the idea of choosing between Ming Campbell and these other two “young turks” is like choosing between frozen peas or.. custard. Forget it.

You can find the relevant bit of the programme at about 49:45 on the play again thing on the website.

The first thing that comes across loud and clear to me about JSP’s comments is that she has clearly not actually seen Ming’s speech. Now, I don’t think everyone should be made to listen to Ming’s speech – I wouldn’t be much of a liberal if I did – although it would be nice. But if you’re going to go on Question Time and profess to knowledge about the world in general, maybe you should actually know what you are talking about.

How can I tell this? Well, because, having sat in the conference hall and listened to Ming myself earlier, I am quite aware that the “young turks” in question were not the leaders of the other two parties, as she seems to imply at the end of her rant, but Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne. I am quite aware that very little of Ming’s speech was about his age; about two sentences in a 45 minute speech hardly counts as droning on. I am quite aware that several of his jokes were actually quite original (at least, they were new to me, and I watch a fair amount of political humour). I can’t help but think that in all likelihood, what JSP has watched is the five minute round-up of the speech from the news.

But what depresses me is the idea that this somehow passes for informed commentary (and incidentally, it’s only when you sit and transcribe this stuff that you realise that, whilst this young guy in the audience spoke in perfectly formed, if long, sentences, Janet Street-Porter speaks in a stream of fragments not a million miles away from the rhetorical style of John Prescott).

“Because, frankly, it’s ageist to talk about your age, isn’t it?” Er.. not particularly, no. And anyway, how are you supposed to answer your critics, who, the media tell us, are attacking Ming for his age (not really true at all, when there even are critics, but sod the actuality), without mentioning your age? This seems to smack of quite obscene double standards; people are allowed to slag off Ming for being “too old”, but when he refutes that, he’s being ageist?!

“Haven’t we just passed all this legislation about going on about your age all the time…” Er.. no, Janet dear, we haven’t. We’ve “just” passed some legislation outlawing discrimination by employers on the basis of age. As far as I’m aware, fuckwits the world over are still quite free to “go on about your age all the time”, much as I wish they weren’t in the case of Ming. Incidentally, Charles Kennedy on This Week made the very valid point that if cartoons as disgraceful as some of what the papers have printed this week on the subject of Ming’s age were instead about race, sex or religion, there would surely have been complaints to the Press Complaints Commission, a statement Andrew Neil seemed to agree with. A suggestion for a line of agitation?

Anyway, getting back to JSP (sigh). I do wonder why exactly people are quite so keen on being lead by someone who “makes your knees tremble”. Personally, I want to be lead by someone intelligent, a good leader, who I would trust in a crisis, and who believes in something I believe in. On all these counts, I think Ming does pretty well. I absolutely do not want to sweep a politician into office on the grounds that they “make my knees tremble”. This just seems like a perfect articulation of the wish to submit to authority figures. Are we really a nation of political BDSM enthusiasts? I want to be encouraged to select an MP and to vote for a party based on a rational evaluation of the interests of the country from my point of view. I would hope I wouldn’t ever vote for someone purely for their rhetorical skills.

At the end of the day, who exactly does JSP have in mind? Dimbleby made an attempt to get an answer to this, but none came. Thatcher? Not to my mind. Churchill? Possibly. But politicians of his stature only come along every now and then, and, in line with what I was just saying as a generality, I would frankly like to think that were I voting in 1950 I would not be terribly keen on Churchill, grizzled old racist that he really was.

To my mind, what the support for this sentiment from JSP indicates is that people really can’t be bothered to have to actually listen to what politicians say and work out which one they agree with. They want charisma and rhetoric to make a decision for them. Surely that’s not a healthy desire?

In the end, this comes back to what I said on Wednesday; sadly, politics is something you have to put some intellectual effort into to get anything out of it. This yearning to be led is a window-dressed version of the facile whinging that we need to be “engaged” better. My advice to all of these people is:

Grow the fuck up. Poltics is about issues. We live in a country where the gap between rich and poor is widening, where our government wants to waste our money encroaching on our liberties, where we are lied to over signing up to an illegal war, where endless schemes are conceived to wastefully shovel public money into private companies, and where the two main parties agree on more than they disagree on. In short, we have problems. We don’t have time to sit around whingeing that we don’t feel inspired enough.


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