A hallmark of call-me-Dave’s period of disastrous misrule has been a frequent conspicuous absence of strategic thinking, or the application of good old-fashioned political nous. Politics, it is often said, is the art of the possible, but above all, it is avoiding elephant traps.
And boy, has the Right Honourable Dave walked into one over his decision to extend the length of Parliaments to a compulsory five years.
What it means is that the period of electioneering has been extended from what had been accepted for decades, roughly 25 days between the dissolution of Parliament and polling day. Those who devised the rules probably knew that was all that we could stomach. But thanks to Dave, we are condemned to a solid six months of posturing, tub-thumping and `soap box oratory.
The elephant trap is that for broadcasters this is proving a bonanza beyond their wildest dreams. Most of those who work in the media, and of course, especially the BBC, hate the Tories, and now – for the first time ever – they have been able to plan on multiple levels and on an industrial scale how to rubbish them.
In the formal campaign period in April and May, they will still have to abide by the strict electoral law that requires public service broadcasters to achieve political balance – but not in the months of canvassing before that.
And so, this week we have had the debut of the first – and longest-ever – Labour Party election broadcast conceived, shot and put in prime time by the BBC. It’s a drama called The Casual Vacancy, it has cost £5m to make, and the first one-hour episode went out this Sunday.
The plot is based on the best-selling novel by bleeding heart socialist J.K. Rowling. For the uninitiated, it is set in a variety of ravishing Costwolds towns and villages, has a glitzy cast headed by Sir Michael Gambon and no expense has been spared to make it look as glossy as possible.
It may be pretty and elegant to look at, but politically, it is as subtle as a bag of spanners. All those in the town with any money are shallow, opportunistic, nasty, scheming pieces of work who don’t give a damn about anybody but themselves.
And guess what? The characters with no money are saintly but oppressed, each in different ways, by the rich. In consequence, they are imprisoned in lives of misery, addiction, and drudgery.
The plotting and characterisation is so one-dimensional that it is farcical. It shows mostly that the sainted JK should have confined her literary efforts to Harry Potter. Charles Dickens she ain’t.
But the BBC, of course, don’t care a jot about the niceties of dramatic quality. All they want is ammunition to fire at the Tories – and that’s what they have created. It actually joins a long list of drama productions in the same mould – from Doctor Who to the recent ghastly period saga The Village, which was described as 100 year s of boring lefty claptrap – but the difference this time is that production of The Casual Vacancy has been deliberately timed to fit into an election period.
The BBC know they can get away with it because the way they measure is not by individual programmes, but over time and over the full range of their content. The Trustees are the judge and jury of whether bias exists, and their decisions cannot be challenged. Their record for upholding complaints is roughly one in every 10,000 received. Trustee Richard Ayre recently revealed to MPs that not a single complaint about (for example) the BBC’s EU-related coverage has been upheld by the Trustees in the past seven years.
Throughout his time in office, call-me-Dave has been in a position to reform the BBC in a way that removed the stranglehold of lefty liberals and invigorated public service broadcasting. He ducked that opportunity – perhaps because he knew they supported him on such issues as gay marriage – but now his lassitude is coming back to bite him. The BBC are attacking him with planned, unrestrained glee.