Sunday 15 December 2019

Darragh McManus on radio: Bore draw for Boris and Jeremy in UK election debate


Boris Johnson, Julie Etchingham and Jeremy Corbyn in the studio prior to Election head-to-head debate on ITV
Photo credit: ITV/PA Wire
Boris Johnson, Julie Etchingham and Jeremy Corbyn in the studio prior to Election head-to-head debate on ITV Photo credit: ITV/PA Wire
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

Us media types love a good debate, don't we? Actually, I don't include myself in that - I'd sooner rewatch Aliens for the thousandth time than sit through an hour of politicians arguing across one another - and presumably I'm not the only one.

But in general terms: media people love debates. Naturally, then, this week's leaders' debate between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn was all over radio the next morning. I must have heard clips from Tuesday night's TV event on at least three separate radio shows, including Pat Kenny (Newstalk, Mon-Fri, 9am).

Pat took the unusual decision not to have others analysing or commenting on the debate, but simply to let the two men's words speak for themselves. I wouldn't have done that; neither said anything too interesting, and the piece needed a bit of waspish humour or blind-in-one-eye polemic, from someone, to make it interesting for listeners.

"No big hits and no gaffes," Pat reckoned afterwards, declaring the showdown to have been, ultimately, "a draw". Yep, and if it was soccer, it'd have been Ireland grinding their way to another 0-0.

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I quite enjoy British elections usually, though. Their politics is a little more OTT, baroque and ridiculous than ours (those are all good things); the drama is heightened; it can feel almost fictional at times.

And no better place to follow the unfolding action than BBC Radio 4, so this week I went between their Leaders Lounge and Electioncast podcasts. The former examined whether these debates really have that much of an impact on your campaign, vis-à-vis election pledges and manifestos; the latter read through the entrails of Tuesday night.

Laura Kuenssberg captured the contempt many people feel these days for politics, and politicians, when saying: "The audience laughed at both of them. I've worked on a lot of those sort of events and don't remember an audience being quite so willing to laugh at both candidates in such a ready way. People are looking at them and thinking, 'Really? Is that it?'"

She concluded: "People are fed up with what they've seen over the last few years." You said it, sister.

Finally, returning home, Egg Money (Newstalk, Sun, 7am) was the latest piece by a woman who is, for my money, the finest radio documentarian working in Ireland today, Patricia Baker. She turns 'em out at a ferocious rate but the quality just doesn't drop.

This one, like all of Baker's documentaries, was clever, curious, thoughtful and very charming, as she heard the stories of elderly rural women who had basically kept the country going for decades. Egg Money rescued them from the 'Irish Mammy' stereotype and paid generous homage to a pretty remarkable generation of women.

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