What are the two things that Ken Livingstone, Boris Johnson and Sadiq Khan have in common? The first is very easy, they are, or have been, Mayors of London. The second is that they have, before attaining this office, appeared on the panel show Have I Got News For You.
It may seem trivial, but if a politician appears on this show, it does seem to be one route to success. Zac Goldsmith has not appeared on this show.
Although not an immutable law, politicians who have had an appearance that is not a car-crash on this show seem to enjoy greater visibility and success. Charles Kennedy was a frequent panellist and host and the party he led enjoyed its greatest number of seats for close to a century under him. William Hague, after he stood down from leading the Conservative party, appeared as a host. This seems to have helped him in the transition from leading a party into a landslide defeat into a valued elder statesman. Iain Duncan Smith has never appeared on the show. He did not even contest a general election as party leader.
Or perhaps it is the other way round. If a person can show their human side on the show, this is returned in voter appreciation. Robert Kilroy-Silk embarrassed himself in uncalled-for spats with the series regulars and disappeared from politics. Roy Hattersley cancelled appearances numerous times until the producers, in final exasperation, replaced him on one show with a tub of lard. Neil Kinnock appeared several times. He moved from a leader vilified in the media who could not win in 1992 to a European Commissioner and peer of the realm. Whatever your political persuasion, this has to be appreciated as a success. John Prescott displayed natural showmanship as he bungled through the autocue. Whatever people think of his politics, he displayed natural showmanship of a kind that would even have been of value when politics included speechmaking in draughty village halls and television was a Heath-Robinson contraption being developed by John Logie Baird.
It is not just Sadiq Khan who may have benefited from the HIGNFY-factor last Thursday. Ruth Davidson appeared on the show recently and the Scottish Conservatives are experiencing a revival. Neither Kezia Dugdale or Nicola Sturgeon have sat next to Ian Hislop or Paul Merton or chaired the show. Labour is now the third party in the Scottish Parliament and the SNP no longer has a majority of seats and will have to work in coalition. Sturgeon seems to be managing the SNP’s slow decline from the lofty heights gained by Alec Salmond, another HIGNFY alumnus.
When Bob Crow passed away, his demise was marked in the House of Commons by the Prime Minister who said very kind words which were echoed elsewhere. His appearance on the show was not a complete disaster, apart from when he accused Ian Hislop of a regular lobster diet for some reason.
The show seems to be the only one on television where a politician can try and shake off the spin-doctor-prescribed straitjacket and demonstrate that a real person exists inside the façade, or at least an acceptable slice of humanity, however manufactured that may be. The Irresistible Rise Of Boris Johnson started with appearances on this show that were so entertaining that the programme’s makers released a DVD entitled The Full Boris. It definitely did not damage Mr Johnson’s career.
Of course, current leaders of the main and opposition parties keep clear of the show by a country mile. Some newsmakers are clearly far too important to allow themselves to be open to examination of the news they have created from a satirical point of view. Neither David Cameron or Ed Miliband have ever played the ‘Strengthometer of News’. If Ed had done so, perhaps it would done some good to his reputation. Instead, he appeared on a more-serious ITV discussion show and was mauled by Myleen Klass over taxation and glasses of water. Ian Hislop would have been kinder.
HIGNFY is currently a national institution and is celebrating is over a quarter of a century as a TV fixture. If a party wants to know which of the competitors for the greasy pole have got what it takes to go all the way, they could do no worse than to get their chosen man or woman on the show. Certainly it seems to have provided an impetus for the Scottish Conservatives by making their leader a national figure.
If Labour does wants to save their electoral fortunes in 2020, perhaps Jeremy Corbyn should sit himself next to Paul Merton one evening.
Remember, you read it here first.
(Image: Julian Berry)