For people whose position is decided purely on the basis of public appeal, it’s remarkable quite how unpopular MPs have become over the past year. There has never been a time when having, ‘The Right Honourable’, before one’s name seemed more sarcastic. Of course, the heyday of the esteemed parliamentarian, when representing the constituency of Penrith and the Border earned you almost as much respect as fronting the Arctic Monkeys, has long been over but the volleys of vitriol launched at elected officials have now reached levels previously reserved only for obnoxious reality TV contestants.

It’s somewhat odd, therefore, that several MPs have eagerly volunteered to ameliorate the situation by appearing in Channel 4’s new reality offering _Tower Block of Commons_ (Monday 9pm, Channel 4). Attempting to expiate oneself through reality television is rather akin to trying to extinguish a fire with petrol. The only method of repentance more likely to infuriate would be hiring a troop of skywriters to inscribe a rambling apology note over Britain at taxpayers’ expense.

In what must surely have been a massive shock to the well-meaning folks at Channel 4, the programme does indeed end up showcasing its much maligned participants as a bunch of condescending, pompous tossers. Operating on the well-worn but effective fish-out-of-water format, _Tower Block of Commons _(working title: _Meet the Proles_) sweeps its MPs away from the cosily Epicurean trappings of Westminster to a series of benighted council estates, in order to experience life at the bottom of society and, more importantly, face the seething wrath of the vengeful masses. With regard to the latter, it’s a bit like a 24-hour version of _Question Time_, except for the constant possibility of one of the politicians getting beaten up by someone other than David Dimbleby. However, despite the aptly prophetic Mark Oaten observing, “I think they’re going to hate me”, the reaction of some of the locals seems as much one of an almost pitying contempt for their nervous guests as one of real loathing. Indeed, when Oaten, overwhelmed by a reference to the scandal that ended his front-bench career, lies prostrate on the desolate grass lawn, his host remarks, “he’s gonna want a noose” in a tone approaching affection.

Apart from Oaten, who further cements his reputation for sage-like insight with comments like, “Living off five pounds a day in my lifestyle would be virtually impossible”, the MPs include Conservatives Iain Duncan Smith, Tim Loughton (imagine the most humourless geography teacher in existence) and Nadine Dorries, alongside Labour veteran Austin Mitchell, who appears to have been possessed by the spirit of Tommy Cooper. Duncan Smith, anxious to dispel his image as some kind of tedious milquetoast, hilariously quotes Jim Carrey in the taxicab. Did we misjudge this zany picador all along? Unfortunately, his re-branding from boring if well-meaning ex-Tory leader to ‘Iain: Party Animal’ is cut short when he departs from the programme for personal reasons. However, the producers still insist on constantly replaying a clip in which he’s asked when he lost his virginity, to which he replies, in the most awkward sexual boast ever uttered, that he cannot recall as it was too long ago. Nice one, Iain.

While Duncan Smith was at least relatively inoffensive, the show also features two out-and-out reality gits in Loughton and Mitchell. Loughton rather wonderfully seems to have misjudged the entire intention of the show, which is essentially to shame the privileged MPs with the deprivation and desperation of the estates. Instead he sees it as an opportunity to single-handedly heal urban poverty through his patented technique of stern disapproval. When not tutting and sniping at his hosts like a tetchy maiden aunt scripted by Alan Bennett, he’s giving frowning lectures to the camera in which he informs us that, while he does enjoy a drink, he, unlike his host, can control himself. Expect to hear phrases like, ‘Buck up his ideas’ and, ’short, sharp shock’, by the end of the next episode.

Mitchell’s behaviour, considering his occupancy of the other side of the house, is perhaps a little more surprising. While not quite so unsympathetic as Loughton, he more than makes up for this by bullishly undermining every rule of the programme and throwing constant tantrums. A romantic old soul, he insists on appearing alongside his wife, Linda, with the result that his sections are not really about Mitchell coping with life in the tower blocks, so much as Linda coping with Mitchell. Faced with any difficult tasks, he airily declares them to be, “women’s work” and gives up, a move which one can just about get away with when seventy-five. However, filmed clutching a wineglass at the dinner party he escapes to, looking precisely like an uncreative political cartoonist’s illustration of ‘champagne socialism’, it is genuinely astonishing that Mitchell believed that this would cast him in a good light.

While no-one seriously expects anything productive to come out of Channel 4’s reality programming, the show succeeds in delivering a glimmer of righteous schadenfreude, simply through depicting politicians suffer a little. However, there is a vaguely offensive aspect to using the decayed environs of the estates as a kind of challenge course for the MPs, one exacerbated by the tokenistic pretence of addressing the problems at hand.

Still, if Tim Loughton gets happy slapped, at least it will all be captured for posterity on high definition camera film.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.