WATCHING ANDREW Rawnsley as the new face of ITV weekend politics is about as exciting as lifting the leathery lid of an overcooked rice pudding… mmmm! Sundays will never be the same.
Presenting a show that sits squarely in ITV's "never a pleasure, always a chore" public service remit, and with a potential audience of 60 or so MPs in key marginals who are so inertia-crazed that they spend an hour of their weekend watching unemployment crawl down a cathode tube towards them — what could go wrong?
So what are the public being served? A broadcast range that runs from Andrew Marr to Andrew Neil and now Andrew Rawnsley. You don't have to be called Andrew to opine about politics, but if they couldn't get Rawnsley, word was ITV were going to approach a tin of liver salts to front their show.
With a demeanour akin to the Beano's Desperate Dan after a Cambridge education, and a track record of appearing on other political programmes that no one watched, Rawnsley might as well appear with the words "Regulatory Requirement" stamped on his forehead.
So if your kids find politics about as sexy as a balsa-wood glider kit with not even a tube of polystyrene cement to sniff — is it the fault of poor Andrew Rawnsley? Or of anyone called Andrew?
People routinely lament the state of political journalism without stopping to enquire whether the politicians do anything to help sustain it. Blame personality politics if you like, but that hardly begins to describe the unpersonable vacuum that exists where a Des Browne or an Alan Johnson ought to be. These men take the funk out of functionary faster than Ruth Kelly takes the chick out of apparatchik.
The relationship between politicians and the media is shifting. The media is for charming if you have Tony Blair's "Phillip Schofield" manner. But if, like Gordon Brown, you are the unpopulist antithesis of Hugo Chavez with a bitter streak that makes a Bendicks mint look like a Smartie, then the media is for managing. What the media is not for, is connecting with people, articulating grievances and frustrations and explaining things.
Or is it a lack of imagination on the part of the media and a belief by politicians that it comes down to mastering briefs, condensing, recycling and fencing? Pensions will never be exciting, but the future of humankind might be, and sometimes politicians do touch on the really big issues that none of us can ignore, except on Sundays when they're on TV.
ONE OF the annoying things about someone as jolly and engaging as Michael Grade chairing the BBC is that he's obliged to put his name to the Beeb's Orwellian corp-speak and mission metrics.
Take this nugget, supposedly penned by the man who started out as a sports writer on the Mirror: "The BBC's privileged funding places on it a clear responsibility to provide a benchmark of quality across all programme genres: a core element is the provision of accurate, comprehensive and impartial news and information. It is the central plank of the BBC's remit. It addresses the critical need in a healthy democracy for a well-informed citizenry." (Yes, just take two teaspoonfuls of News 24 to keep your voting regular.)
This was chairman Grade trying to drum up enthusiasm for the Beeb's impartiality seminar. Well, you can't stop an old showman! Seminars and the odd independent report (conclusions welcomed, recommendations ignored) are part of the "inclusion illusion" that the BBC's top management successfully deploys to keep licence-fee payers at arm's length.
Taxation without representation has served the Beeb well for decades. Right now, with the level of the licence fee still up for negotiation, the still or sparkling mineral water is flowing in rivers at Media Village, making its vast desert spaces bloom with opinion-formers. Alas, this will be an all-toobrief window of opportunity for them to be welcomed into the warm buffet bosom of one of the village's many boardrooms.
Once the licence fee is set and the vast public trough is replenished, the Highland Spring will run dry.
Media Village, costing in the region of £250 million, is a fine example of the public extravagance. The complex was opened two years ago by Jonathan Ross, Mr Public Service himself, and a snip at £6 million a year. The annual mortgage payments on Media Village probably cost less than Jonathan, another public extravagance.
For all Grade's affability, the consultations and inclusiveness on offer from the BBC are poor substitutes for the democratic process that would give the Corporation genuine accountability. The Beeb is happy for you to vote to save old buildings, or choose celebrity dancing couples. But how to spend the money you give them each year? Grade would give you a couple of words of advice on where to take that idea.
ONE IDEA that may be coming to a news programme near you is getting an airing on the new CBS Evening News. It's called "freeSpeech". Strip away the wacky use of lower and upper case and running two words into one, and you have a public access cable rant. Because it's on network television it is, of course, inaccessible to the public, instead using minor celebrities to take the place of what the slot's producer calls "for want of a better word, ‘regular citizens' ".
Television people on both sides of the Atlantic are always talking about connecting with their audiences and engaging the public. Witness the Grade quote above. So who are the guys on security at the studios there to keep out? That's right.
For want of a better two words, "regular citizens".