2015 is the year of one of the most uncertain general elections in recent memory. After five years of a failed Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition, the governing parties look worse than they did at the last election. The opposition are represented by a Labour party which, while growing in popularity again, aren’t near their heydays of Blair or Wilson. The opposition’s opposition, UKIP are a part seemingly populated by Boris Johnson gaffe prone lookalikes who can’t seem to go a day without accidentally getting themselves into a sticky situation. Oh, and The Greens – I need to mention them to not look like an out of touch media type. Anyway, the gist of my point is that in this time of political upheaval with MPs switching sides; messy attempts to topple party leaders before elections; mad dashes to try and fix immigration; and makeovers that look like bad plastic surgery, surely it seems like a good time to look back at the politics of yesteryear and see if they are relevant to how politics is done today? More specifically, the political satire of yesteryear.
The New Statesman
Broadcast between 1987 and 1992, The New Statesman were the chronicles of Conservative backbench MP, Alan B’stard (the character repeatedly makes clear to the many characters who inadvertently – or on purpose, call him a bastard) and his dim witted sidekick Sir Piers Fletcher – Dervish (played by the brilliant Michael Troughton) as B’stard attempted to crawl up the greasy poll of politics and gain power.
B’stard was a smooth and slick operator who was able to manipulate the media and other politicians to get his own way. He would often murder, maim and one occasion slaughter people who got in his way. B’stard’s slickness was something that hadn’t been seen in political satire before, he embodied a new media conscious type of politician. He is in fact closer to the media obsessed politicians today than his own 80s contemporaries. B’stard represents the savvy, slick and shadiness of today’s MPs more than any other show then or now. The thing that The New Statesman does so well is that it manages to show the many sides of B’stard: his public image that shows him as an acceptable man of the people; his murderous and villainous side that is shown to his sidekick Sir Piers, his promiscuous and double crossing wife, Sarah (played with great gusto by Marsha FitzAlan) and constituents; the cold and calculated political mind that attempts to grab power at the first opportunity -in other words, B’stard is just like a real politician.
Spitting Image ran from 1984 to 1996 for an astonishing 18 series. Satirizing not just politics but also all aspects of life with modern culture from Kylie Minogue to Alastair Burnet and many more besides. However, the series did have a certain political bent and would often spoof then Prime Minister, Margret Thatcher, leader of the opposition Neil Kinnock and the, erm, opposition’s opposition the SNP and Liberal Alliance (lead by David Owen and David Steel).
Spitting Image was merciless in its attack of the political classes. The problem, however now is that many people won’t remember Neil Kinnock or Regan or Gorbachev, let alone David Owen and David Steel. While Spitting Image’s satire is still as biting, then as it was now the history of the time is very important in being able to get the jokes and to be able follow the sketches. If, for instance you didn’t know about a certain event that is discussed in a sketch then today it could alienate the viewer from enjoying it. While The New Statesman takes place in a world similar to the world it parodies it does not follow the same events, with only brief and occasional references to political events the audience might not be aware of. However, watching Spitting Image is still important even if you have to look up the odd fact or person, because once you get yourself into the world and know what the puppets are talking about, it is fantastic. It is extremely comparable to today’s political system as it shows that even 30 years ago politics was as crooked, complex and interesting as it is today.
Overall, The New Statesman and Spitting Image are still relevant today because in thirty years politics hasn’t changed that much. It is still a slippery, deceitful yet fascinating subject.