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The Saturday List: TV PMs Mar 27

As I’ve been working my way through the House of Cards trilogy recently (what better way to get in the mood for a General Election?), this week’s list is fictional British Prime Ministers from off of the telly. Minor spoilers for old dramas follow.

  • From House of Cards:
    • Charles Henry Collingridge – Margaret Thatcher’s successor, who makes the mistake of leaving Francis Urquhart unpromoted
    • Francis Urquhart – F.U. himself, a ruthless right-wing PM brought brilliantly to life by Ian Richardson
  • Maureen Graty – the British PM who appears briefly in the sixth season of The West Wing, played by Pamela Salem – and as far as I know, fact fans, she’s the only actor from either Doctor Who or Blake’s 7 to have appeared in The West Wing
  • Michael Phillips – Robert Bathurst’s occupant of Number 10 in the BBC sitcom My Dad’s the Prime Minister
  • Tom Davis – second PM (and the first named) in The Thick of It, although he’s not seen on screen
  • From the Doctor Who universe:
    • “Jeremy” – the PM during The Green Death – assumed to be former Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe
    • “Madam” – there’s a female PM on the phone in Terror of the Zygonspossibly Shirley Williams
    • Joseph Green – MP for Hartley Dale and acting PM in World War Three, although he’s actually Jocrassa Fel Fotch Pasameer-Day Slitheen in disguise
    • Harriet Jones – Penelope Wilton’s MP for Flydale North, she is Prime Minister in The Christmas Invasion
    • Harold Saxon – John Simm as the Master, perhaps having benefited from the Doctor’s quiet overthrowing of Harriet Jones
    • Brian Green – played by Nicholas Farrell (also of To Play the King), he was PM during Torchwood: Children of Earth
  • Kevin Pork – in Whoops Apocalypse, portrayed by Peter Jones
  • Ros Pritchard – Jane Horrocks’s eponymous character in The Amazing Mrs Pritchard (which prompted a lot of discussion on Lib Dem Voice)
  • From The Pallisers:
    • Joshua Monk – Liberal PM in Trollope’s The Duke’s Children, played by Bryan Pringle
    • The Duke of Omnium – from Trollope’s The Prime Minster, played by Philip Latham
  • Michael Stevens – Anthony Head’s PM in Little Britain
  • Harry Perkins – the star of A Very British Coup, Ray McAnally’s socialist PM is almost the diametrical opposite of Francis Urquhart (the book was by Chris Mullin, subsequently a Labour MP himself but standing down this year)
  • Jim Hacker – last but by no means least, Paul Eddington takes the title role in Yes, Prime Minister, one of the best sitcoms ever made

And here’s a fact I stumbled across while checking the information in this list – the replica House of Commons often seen in TV dramas since the 1980s was built for the ITV adaptation of First Among Equals and is now owned by TV writer Paul Abbott.

A plague on both your homes May 16

I may write more about the MPs’ expenses scandal over the coming days. It’s a fascinating piece of car-crash current affairs, watching those who lectured us that “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” suddenly turn out to have had something to hide themselves. It’s been a bad week for MPs, but hopefully, in the long run, a good week for politics, as the institution of Parliament, set in its arcane, superior ways, is brought down to earth with a thud.

The Telegraph‘s circulation has risen – the main objective for the newspaper, of course – but it hasn’t helped its journalistic reputation by putting what appear to be genuine scoops like the Elliot Morley and Shahid Malik affairs alongside innuendo and prurient invasion of privacy. There are two issues muddled together: those cases where MPs were dishonest, and those cases were MPs took advantage of a flawed system (albeit one which they, en masse, had the power to clean up).

Labour blogger Kerron Cross pleads for us to remember that MPs are human too, as fallible as the rest of us when it comes to making expenses claims. As I’ve said in a comment submitted to his post, I sympathise with that, and some of the claims highlighted by the Telegraph are simply errors – both clerical errors and errors of judgement.

Kerron stands up for Morley, who is accused of pocketing mortgage-related expenses for over a year after his mortgage was paid off:

Take Elliot Morley, one of the most villified individuals this week. One of things most people will tell you is that Elliot is one of the nicest (and most boring) MPs in Parliament. For whatever he is being accused of now, I can’t think of a man less likely to be implicated in a major scandal.

I’m a forgiving sort and am prepared to believe, if this is the outcome of the various inquiries, that Morley really did make a clerical error. The trouble, though, is that the Government of which he was part loves its macho posturing. Say Morley had continued to claim job seeker’s allowance for 18 months after getting a job. Do we think this Government would be satisfied with “Sorry, it was a mistake and I’ve paid the money back”?

Cameron less radical than Howard Jan 13

A non-musial interlude now with this brief foray into politics.

I read the news today, oh boy, and it said

Cameron would cut MP numbers

which was like déjà vu all over again. Haven’t the Tories talked about this before?

Ah, yes. Here’s Michael Howard’s pledge from 2004:

The Conservative Party would cut the number of MPs by about one-fifth if they were elected, Tory leader Michael Howard has said.
[…]
The precise number of MPs to go would depend on the result of the Welsh referendum [to scrap the Assembly], but it would probably mean a reduction of around 120 from the current total of 659.

And here’s Cameron’s “new” proposal:

David Cameron would remove more than 60 MPs as part of a Tory plan to make parliament work more efficiently.

Drawing on plans drawn up by Kenneth Clarke, the former chancellor, the Tory leader today pledges to introduce legislation in his first term as prime minister to cut the size of the Commons by 10%. There are currently 646 MPs, a figure that is due to increase to 650 at the next election.

So Cameron – via Kenneth Clarke’s constitutional review – has managed to come up with basically the same policy as before, except significantly less ambitious.

And while we’re playing House of Commons size reduction top trumps, let’s check what Nick Clegg’s position is:

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg is calling for the number of MPs in the House of Commons to be cut by 150.

That’ll be two-and-a-half times more MPs gone than the Tories are offering.

Twitter in Parliament Dec 21

It is not my intention that this becomes a blog about Twitter so I’ll let this be my third and final post on the subject for the time being (the next will be a small rant on a different subject).

But I wanted to draw attention to Twitter’s appearances in Parliament on Thursday, and in particular Jo Swinson’s contribution to the Christmas adjournment debate. As well as being the youngest MP, Jo is one of Parliament’s few twitterers, as she mentions:

I want to talk about the possibility of speeding up Parliament’s entry into the 21st century. I know that the Deputy Leader of the House has taken an interest in online matters. Indeed, I remember that, before his promotion to the Government, he was often seen asking questions in business questions to the Leader of the House about whether we should have more e-tabling of signatures for early-day motions and such like. More and more MPs are now using the internet to connect better with their constituents, and Parliament should also embrace this new technology, whether through social networking sites such as Facebook, Bebo and MySpace, or through interactive forums, encouraging comments on websites, podcasts, video logs—known as v-logs, they are small videos that can be uploaded to sites such as YouTube—or, indeed, a new website launched today called tweetminster.co.uk. It aggregates all the mini-blogs or “twitters” of those MPs who twitter regularly. I declare an interest, as one of the five MPs identified as those who use this service. The others are the hon. Members for Loughborough (Mr. Reed), for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Watson) and for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps), and my hon. Friend Lynne Featherstone. This is an example of a way of connecting more immediately with our constituents, and I would encourage other hon. Members to make full use of the advantages that the internet offers, particularly in relation to the younger audience, who would not normally declare a huge interest in politics.

Jo went on to mention two other important issues of parliamentary accessibility: the rules which keep footage of Parliament off YouTube and mySociety’s Free Our Bills campaign, which I have plugged before.

Thanks to mySociety, you can watch Jo’s speech in full right here:

In tracking down Jo’s speech on TheyWorkForYou, I stumbled across two further mentions of Twitter. Thursday in the House of Lords saw Lord Norton’s debate about Parliament’s communication with the public. The first mention of Twitter came from crossbencher the Earl of Erroll, who also mentioned YouTube:

An interesting development is putting stuff about the Lords on YouTube. I was interested to see how we are rated. About 10,000 people have looked at the piece by the Lord Speaker, which is interesting and informative; about 12,000 people have looked at the Youth Parliament which took over the Chamber last summer; but 47,000 people looked at a pop group called the House of Lords, which was next on the list. That tells me that people are attracted by entertainment. If we are to try to get our message across, we shall have to make it quite entertaining and short, sharp and snappy so that people become aware of it.
[…]
The Lords of the Blog come along with more serious pieces. I have looked at that and it is heavier stuff to go through, but it is good. We need some short, sharp things. I think Twitter used very short sentences to track the State Opening of Parliament; for example, “The Queen has just entered the House” and so on. I do not know how many people showed interest in that, but all those little things build up more interest and then some people dig deeper. That is important.

The final word, though, to the second mention of Twitter, from the Lord Greaves:

A lot of noble Lords have talked about modern communication. I very much applaud the Lords of the Blog, the most interesting being the noble Lord, Lord Norton, and my noble friend Lord Tyler, but that is because I am interested in the same sort of things, which is why I am taking part in this debate. I do not go on Facebook or YouTube and I hope that I will never need to. I know that Twitter exists, but that can stay where it is. However, I applaud noble Lords who get involved in such things.