Saturday 22 October 2016

No news isn't good news for election debate

Eilis O'Hanlon

Published 03/05/2015 | 02:30

Stephen Nolan
Stephen Nolan

Parkinson's Law of Triviality states that any group of people tasked with making important decisions will waste most of the time on comparatively trivial issues. Coverage of the UK election appears to bear this out.

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Take Listeners' Election, which had the bright idea of asking BBC Radio Four devotees what causes mattered most to them. The result on Monday was a debate on that most pressing question: "Who picks up that crisp packet?"

Surely no one decides how to vote based on a candidate's policies on litter? The programme was only 12 minutes long. I managed four of them before losing the will to live.

Then there was Men's Hour on BBC Five Live, which cemented its reputation as the most ridiculous programme on air right now by asking, last Sunday, if there should be a Minister for Men. It's all just an elaborate parody, right?

There hasn't been much coverage of the UK election on Irish radio either. Between Monday and Wednesday, Morning Ireland, Today With Sean O'Rourke and News At One ignored it completely.

Even bearing in mind that this week also saw the Spring Statement and the earthquake in Nepal, that was a remarkable run of silence.

It was only broken on Thursday because of British Labour leader Ed Miliband's interview with former comedian turned anti-globalisation protester Russell Brand; and of course, Sean turned to Michael Crick of Channel Four News for a comment on that.

Why is it always the supercilious Crick?

At least Radio Ulster has been filling the gap nicely, with both Talkback and The Stephen Nolan Show providing daily updates on the campaign as it unfolds in Northern Ireland.

Nolan, in particular, is a nightmare for any politician who thinks soundbites can take the place of real answers.

On Tuesday, he asked one guest from Sinn Fein whether he'd prefer to see Miliband or David Cameron as Prime Minister. The man replied that the Tories had been a disaster in government.

So he'd prefer Ed in No 10 then? That's not what he said, the SF man insisted.

"Why can't politicians just talk like the rest of us?" said Nolan in exasperation.

Comedian Sandi Toksvig had it easier on Thursday's Woman's Hour as she explained why, after nine years, she's standing down as presenter of Radio Four's News Quiz. Disappointingly, the reason is so that she can set up the Women's Equality Party, which she says will take a more "pragmatic, female approach". Whatever that means.

She clarified eloquently how, after years of making jokes about politics, "I need to participate" - but it's sad that Toksvig doesn't recognise comedy as the more noble calling. On Dead Ringers, there was a joke about Scottish Nationalists infiltrating the country "by being a part of it in the first place" which was worth a hundred earnest reports on the rise of the SNP.

You And Yours, meanwhile, posed a question of its own. "One in four teenagers is obese. What might help?" Strangely, the answer "eating less" didn't make the cut.

Sunday Independent

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