Political Jokes

 

It has always been the prerogative of children and half-wits to point out that the emperor has no clothes. But the half-wit remains a half-wit, and the emperor remains an emperor.

            Sandman: The Kindly Ones


It's an ugly story. A public servant, doing their job as best they can (not perfectly, but which of us could be perfect under such scrutiny?) is driven out of their job by the baying hellhounds of the tabloid press. A mistake…a month of editorial prejudices and opinions masquerading as news…the scent of blood…a forced resignation…a ruined career. This is not the first time it has happened. In fact, it's not the first time it has happened this week. But it's an injustice which cannot be allowed to stand.

Angus Deayton must be given his job back immediately.

It should be obvious to everyone who has ever actually watched the programme that Have I Got News For You won't work without Deayton in the chair. The programme works precisely because it is a symbiosis of three completely incompatible personalities. Ian Hislop, the public school boy with the sense of moral outrage; Paul Merton, the plebeian improviser who appears not to see the joke; Angus Deayton, the superior, patronising don trying to get his seminar group to stick to the point. Hislop makes a serious point about politics, Merton goes off on a surreal riff, and Deayton tries to remind them of the question. Hislop patronizes Merton, Merton thinks Hislop is a snob and they both gang up on the question master. The antagonism between the regular characters is the central conceit which wrong-foots the celebrities into making fools of themselves. (And these are very definitely characters we are talking about: panel games, like wrestling matches, are a kind of drama. I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue takes place in an entirely imaginary universe.) The show appears to be two teams of two competing against each other for points; but it's really one team of three against two celebrity guests, where the guest always loses. If the BBC haven't understood Daeyton's importance to this narrative structure, then they haven't understood what the show is about.

The BBC claims that a satirist can't be funny when he is himself in the news. This is a very small fig leaf intended to cover a very large prick. Daeyton's drugs-'n'call-girls disgrace has not remotely affected the programme. If the BBC had a problem with Angus being the butt of jokes, they would have fired him the first time he put on his famous brown suit. In fact, Daeyton's private vices provided one of the moments of fall-out-of-your chair comedy in the first  show of the current season:

Deayton: ….said disgraced former Tory MP Neil Hamilton…

Christine Hamilton:  Don't call my husband disgraced. If he's disgraced then what are you?

Daeyton: (Embarrassed): I don't know. Disgraced I suppose. (Pause; under his breath:) But at least I didn't bang on about family values for seventeen years.

*

The first election I remember taking an interest was 1979, when Thatcher swept to power on a policy of mass unemployment and killing Argentineans. Labour responded by fielding a sequence of joke candidates fronting joke manifestos. Michael Foot was a wise and erudite man who wrote essays on Jonathon Swift in the Times Literary Supplement. Neil Kinnock wasn't. But what possessed anyone to think that either of them might possibly make credible alternatives to Mrs Thatcher in her Queen Elizabeth I period? It only took Labour two decades to come up with a leader who was young, articulate, good looking, idealistic and apparently sincere -- a leader, in short with all the required characteristics for a successful Labour Prime Minister with the possible exception of socialist views. Whereupon the Tories decided it was their turn to start fielding no-hopers as party leaders. So we've had a political nerd who is obsessed with the finer points of European law, followed by a political nerd who believes in hanging and flogging but pretends to be even more liberal than Tony. Tony fondly believes he is in office because he well loved and popular. Everybody else knows that Tinky-Winky could have been elected prime minister if William Hague was the only alternative.

This is why I take political jokes rather seriously. For the last twenty years, they have been the closest thing we have had to an Opposition.

*

The decision to destroy the HIGNFY is based on a category mistake. It seem that what we live in a world where a comedian is judge by his moral integrity, as opposed to (say) his ability to tell jokes.

I can understand why politicians should have to resign from office if something goes horribly wrong in their department. They hardly ever do, but I can understand why they should. It is harder to see why a politician who has committed fornication should resign, but I can at least see how we got to that state of affairs. It's a mistake to think that politicians should have any input whatsoever (either as legislators or role-models) into matters of individual morality. But once you have made that mistake, it's logically valid to want to get rid of sexually immoral politicians. It would be a mistake if we started to regard cricketers as authorities on dental hygiene. But having made that mistake, I can see that you might ask the England Captain to resign if he told the world that he brushed his teeth in coca-cola.

But when we have got to the point of saying "Believing in reincarnation is incompatible with coaching the England football team," or  "Taking drugs is incompatible with being a comedian," I start to think that the world may just possibly have gone a little crazy.

Cheating on your partner is a caddish thing to do; of course, but use every man after his dessert and who shall 'scape whipping?

*

Do you need to be a paragon of moral virtue in order to mock the immorality of the powerful? Does one qualify to be a Fool by being a better ruler than the King? Do doctors ever smoke? It's very easy to criticise the Prime Minister but I wonder how well you would do in his position? You shouldn't slag off a  footballer for being caught LBW or a painter for exhibiting a bed covered in elephant droppings in the Tate if you yourself cannot play football or create painting. Only those perfect as touching the law can be a judge; let he who is without sin cast the first stone. If we cast our mind back to Chaucer's Parson's Prologue we will recall that this conundrum much exercised the medieval world. Could a fat man preach about gluttony? Could God's word survive being preached through an imperfect vessel? The patristic judgement was generally that

//This is far too boring. AR.//

*

Everyone knows that this has nothing to do with drugs or prostitutes. The press hate HIGNFY because it sends up the press. The Mirror, which dedicated its whole front page to gloating about Daeyton's sacking, has been gunning for HIGNFY ever since editor Piers Morgan appeared on the show and was made to look a complete fool. (The fact that Hislop refers to him consistently as "Piers Moron" can't help, either.)

Angus offended the tabloids. The tabloids run the country.  The tabloids demanded Angus's head on a platter. The BBC gave it to them. The tabloids are, even now, looking for their next victim. And that is not very funny at all.

Is it too late to nominate Angus to the shortlist for the BBC's fatuous "greatest Briton of all time" phone in poll?

 

 

 

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