“ Broadcaster: Channel 4 / Politicians swap their comfortable homes and move into council estates across the country. „
I'm not quite sure why the MP's felt they would get anything but grief from this show. Ostensibly it is supposed to be a show which introduces MP's to the life of people on Council estates and allows normal people to identify with MP's, but as with any of these programmes, the area they are forced to go to is at the most extreme side of British culture, therefore they are forced to survive on a Council Estate with the bare minimum of social support.
Shown on Channel 4 and now 4Od, the show puts MP's including the disgraced Mark Oaten and the outspoken Austin Mitchell in worlds so far away from their own that it is difficult to comprehend.
The four MPs were Mark Oaten (Lib Dem), Austin Mitchell (Labour), Tim Loughton and Iain Duncan Smith (both Conservative), unfortunately Mr Duncan Smith had to withdraw before the programme began as his wife was diagnosed with Cancer.
In many ways the show is using the MP's as punchbags, allowing ordinary people to show their disdain to pampered MP's, but in many ways this is entirely unrealistic.
It asks the MP's to presume they live on such an estate and adapt accordingly, however one of the MP's argues that his beginnings were not easy but by working hard in school, avoiding multiple pregnancy and getting a good job, they have avoided the lives of some of the subjects of this show. This is a simplistic view but it does balance out the programmes desire to paint its subjects as victims deserving of the MP's constant praise and pity.
Austin Mitchell has been portrayed as the villain of the programme as he refuses to live with the local showing him around and leaves regularly for dinner parties with friends, however the guy is in his seventies and the idea of totally living this life doesn't give you any more reason to understand the surroundings.
Oaten and Loughton put themselves into things more, taking abuse from locals, wondering about the security and lifestyles of locals and hopefully may have something to take back to the House of Commons in understanding people in rough areas. Overall I found the show simplistic and a bit like a glorified Wife Swap rather than an effective social experiment, but it made good, interesting television.
Channel Four- Now available to view online 4oD
URL Link - http://www.channel4.com/programmes/tower-block-of-commons/episode-guide/series-1
*Fact-File - The word 'programme' is only spelt this way when referring to television media content*
Tower Block of Commons concluded this week; it potentially was a banana skin for the parliamentarians to slip over and break their ailing careers for good. However in words of "Baldrick" played by actor Tony Robinson from Black Adder, "It wasn't supposed to happen like that!" - Tower Block of Commons blatantly missed a trick, as all parliamentarians came out of it unscathed and able to fight another day. The programme was a huge opportunity to place these termites whereby scarring for life was part of the platter. Instead the 'expense fiddling abode flippers' equipped to the task much better than anticipated. The loathed quartet shone out to the audience as paragons of serenity, almost symbols of Mother Earth, full of integrity and well meaning.
Channel Four broadcasters had an almighty chance of depicting the true nature of these beings, but the masks didn't fall, well, on camera anyway. The programme criteria emulated "Benefit Busters" which for me was a flag-ship snap shot of our benefit culture. Tower Block of Commons somehow identified there was an underclass system in-place that was seen at first-hand and by the people who help make it happen. Getting to the core of the facade was aimed to humiliate the politicians, by not going far enough was the biggest shame Channel Four has encountered in their twenty eight year history.
A phrase such as "see how they cope" echoed in type cast narration without anything tangible to connect the four words to. It needed a broadcaster like Andrew Neil to energize some scornful Scottish low tones to create an atmosphere, which psychologically would throw in a left-arm googly now and then, perfect for a sticky wicket that the Politicians are unmistakably on. The poor who work all the hours that God sends, is given poor incomes, didn't have the strength to hit home the major flaws in their decrepit human state. It is all part of the human master-plan so that the tiers of wealth continue to widen further between 'rich' and the 'poor'. Low paid working traps encase a 'needy' 'weary' lifestyle that the rich relish. The cheaper the better, this is why UK has closed shop to British workers, in favour to foreign labour. Tower Block of Commons was the first programme of its kind to embrace these facts. Is it a step forward? No, more like a shuffle forward with a long fleeting look backwards.
I was waiting for a smart Alec from the dark corners of inner city life to embark on a tirade verbal assault armed savagely with an acid tongue and wit, similar to a prize fighter Paxman. Smack heads notoriously couldn't piece together two sentences without the words 'like' and 'alright'; so a rather poor show on drug research there, I felt if Channel Four really did intend the ignorant pigs to fly into the career demise liquidator. Instead the Parliamentarians were just confronted with a whining idle who just wanted to say "Hello Ma" at the camera. Hardly cock sure debating and this I felt undermined Channel Four's whole programme criteria to stimulate a serious debate on a translucent, new Parliamentary Constitution that is so heavily needed, to start off this new era of democracy, which we are not currently having.
*Meet the new cheats on the block*
Old Tory Toff MP Tim Laughton eloquently spoken with a hint of earthy tones, treaded ever so carefully, without disturbing any animals did actually ok when it came pointing out his values and plights. Helped along too well in my view by his nice temporary landlords; didn't they read the script? It practically made the show pointless. In the light now, probably was. Empathy was served up by the bucket loads along with slow nodding at intervals. Laughton was an old timer. It was like watching Da Vinci sketching out a flying machine concept, a marvel to watch, he surely is the master of 'empathy' - The only oddity and insincerity was who Laughton is ,and that is a 'Tory Toff' wanting your electorate votes, to do exactly the same as the present government. You don't fool me.
Mark Oaten, the Lib Dem hopeless candidate, a Guinea Pig in personae and in the show simultaneously. The highlight was when the two words 'Rent' and 'Boy' was blurted out in his direction, that brought his over active tear ducts into action. I imagined it. All dressed for the occasion in a puffer jacket, all what was required was a match and we had our 'Guy' made up early for bonfire night. Oaten, who once hid out under his bed for three nights with his teddy in a bid to escape the Paparazzi; took on the BNP hunting ground Barking. I wandered if he had taken Jacqui Smith's advice and wore a stab resistant vest; apparently you can get them with the Union Jack on the front, it would fit in quite well in BNP territory. I hope he remembered his manicure set. Oaten all flustered and did beaver away without doing anything notable or of importance, so it was a normal day in the office.
Austin Mitchell, a 'power-house', no sorry 'power station' due to excessive cigar smoking, did his own production of the show and broke every 'no smoking' law in the town and that being Hull. It didn't really matter. This was one guy who didn't change his personality for the sake of the programme aim and was entertaining for the wrong reasons; but Mitchell would claim it was carefully choreographed in the script pitter patter. What describes Austin well is if he was asked to provide the main event in the Brit award ceremony, he'll jump onto the stage with an air guitar, slip up, adjust his smoking jacket, no real smoking one, due to the now wonky cigar and set the fire alarms off, only to proceed to claim it was all planned. Dell Boy would be proud son.
House flipper Nadine Dorries, another Harriet Harman feminist type except has more upfront physically, after stuffing wads of notes down her bra, obviously trying to create a talking point with the 'down and out' lad she was hooked up with, poor guy. Being a smack-head he is more interested in getting her to cook for him after a rather eventful day taking drugs and having attitude. Nadine who relishes a challenge throws back several fascinating quips herself that supposedly was aimed to hit a nerve, if he had any. I expect Nadine will put down this down and out address to claim back some expenses considering she actively did live in this poverty stricken neighbour hood. Having now got one dependant child, she is determined to give her child a better upbringing than she had, on a council estate. House flipping certainly is the means to do it, soon she will be flipping a coin whether to have an extra heating bra, sorry bar on, or to feed her child.
The conclusion was that the MP's potential banana slip up, stroke car crash TV was worth the gamble, the public now have seen them in a different light. I hasten a guess they have warmed to them as semi entertainers, just like bar maid Tracy on Eastenders; but heaven forbid don't vote for any of their values nor parties. The mainstream parties won't give us the UK public the Parliamentary Constitution we deserve. They haven't done for over three hundred years, enough time for one don't you think.
It is fair to say that the reputation of MP's has taken a bit of a battering lately and while they have proberly always been viewed with a slightly sceptical eye by myself that negative perception has been increased significantly with some of the expenses claims made so a programme like this which takes some MP's and puts them on a sink estate so that they can gain an understanding of what life is like for the residents by living with them for a period of time supposedly cut off from their Commons priveleges.
Some of those on the show have had their fair share of problems as well such as Lib Dem MP Mark Oaten who had to confess and apologise very publicly to his constituents and wife over his consorting with rent boys, he ended up in Barking which to be honest is an apt description for any MP opting to take part in this show.
Originally Ian Duncan Smith was in the show and he was the only MP that I had heard of however his wife was diagnosed with cancer during filming and he promptly departed to be replaced by Nadine Dorris who claims to be a single mother bought up on a housing estate but does not mention the fact that her children go to private school and she was caught flipping houses in the scandal, she is not one of David Cameron favourite people and a bit of a fruit bat. She is in an East London estate.
Another Conservative Tom Loughton ended up in Birmingham while for the labour party Austin Mitchell was sent to Hull si I assume he upset someone.
The show certainly has a certain voyeuristic quality to it and given that the MP's have to survive on benefits in the form of the same amount of money as the dole pays (presumably Dorris claims loads more for her single parent status) it at least makes an effort to feel the poverty that people endure as they liove with families that are hand picked for their suitability for TV and to infuriate the Daily Mail viewer, lots of kids, ciggies and kids then oh and dare I say it, people of colour, I can just see the Daily Mail reader about to explode with indignation and the BNP rubbing their grubby little racist hands.
The funniest thing to happen so far is that expenses cheat Dorris was caught cheating again when she hid £50 on herself as an emergency back up proving that even if you take the cheats out of the Commons you cannot take the cheating out of the cheats.
I have enjoyed this show mainly because they have moved the MP's around so you get to see different families and on different estates, in almost Big Brother style Oaten is placed with a gay couple in Manchester. Sure the host families have been picked as they fit a stereotype but then again that is to be expected as it makes for the TV that people expect, none of the MP's exactly cover themselves in glory however hopefully none of them will get re-elected so they can get back to living the poverty lifestyle for real, somehow I doubt they will.
With the joyous revelation that 50% of all burglars who left a footprint at the crime scene were wearing Reebok Classic trainers (presumably the agreed shoe of choice in the criminal community to confuse the police), we visit that same criminal fraternities choice of breeding place in this Channel Four documentary, the sink estate loser always likely to draw a decent poverty tourist audience, especially with MP's being abused along side.
As to date the 'Tower Block of Commons' is Channel Fours only concession to those expenses fiddling MP's, the news team on this particular channel the ones that broke the cheating stories back in 2008. The basic premise here is various MPs get the chance in election year to publicly flagellate themselves on television by living on a council estate for a bit to show they are 'down with the people'. The Members of Parliament in question say they are doing the show to learn about sink estate life and its problems whilst, coincidentally, the same MPs on the show are mostly the ones who did the biggest expenses fiddling and so facing the chop by the same electorate in May. Like the BA Cabin crew they are not the most popular people in recession right now.
-The MP's in the show and their relocation-
Lib Dem Mark Oaten, he of the rent boys, bravely took on Barking, a rare BNP stronghold in multicultural London.
The likeable Tory boy Tim Loughton was assigned to Newtown, Birmingham, a mostly black estate in the south of the city sprawl.
Braces wearing, cigar smoking Austin Mitchell was dispatched up north to the single parent capital of Europe, Hull.
Ian Duncan-Smith earned a predominately black estate in Stratford, East London, having to be near his wife under-going tests for cancer, which she was quickly diagnosed so he had to leave the show straightaway. Ian was replaced by house flipper Nadine Dorris for the Tory's, a single mum bought up on a housing estate, and heading back there soon we hope after skimming the expenses.
There are four in total and we are at number three this week. The first was all about the introductions to the people they will be staying with and their grubby environment they will have to explore and live in on £6 a day, what the average person on the dole has to spend each day. These are places where failure is expected and subsidies are forthcoming to feed that, as long as they vote Labour.
As expected they are placed with cliché poor families straight from central casting with plenty of fighting dogs, small kids and ashtrays littered around the flats. These people are hooked on to the heroine of the benefit system and have kid after kid to stay on it, the constant complaint for bigger accommodation a gripe throughout. Our MPs are not to keen on pointing out the possibility that perhaps the escape from these places is not to have more kids.
Poor old Mark Oaten is dressed in a shell suit to avoid what his hosts call an "egging" and seems to blend in for about thirty seconds, before some Chav's spot him and shout rent boy abuse, reducing him to tears. Austin Mitchell is less keen to mix with the locals and demands Channel Four give him and his wife (clearly the brains behind the operation) there own grubby council flat so they didn't have to mix with the proles 24/7.
Just as Ian Duncan Smith was getting going his wife was diagnosed with cancer and he left the show. I have no reason to doubt his wife's diagnosis was on the same day as filming started. Nadine Doris took his place and was soon in the wars. She had hidden £50 in her bra for emergencies, against the rules. She's not a bad looking girl for an MP so there may be offers to fish it out. She does have the feminist look about her so I expect a slap for whoever suggest that.
Episode two and some of the MPs are getting into the swing of it and trying to get to grips with their host families, Tim Loughton a real surprise. He quickly got down with his African-Caribbean single mom and enjoyed dancing with the booty girls in a local bar enjoyed by the black community. Miriam had a job and wanted to work for her living whilst many of her friends didn't have the same pride. She was lovely.
Nadine was clearly frustrated in having to do the show as she had come from, and escaped, the very same council estates she was now having her nose rubbed in, losing her temper with her half-caste mentor Cheryl, who was determined to go and on about the crime of stealing the expenses. Cheryl whinged that new immigrants had taken her council house when she lost her job, and now she didn't have enough money to live on, even though Cheryl was nearly 17 stone and clearly eating well and felt wealthy enough top keep having kids.
Austin Mitchell was re-housed to get him into the spirit of the thing with a young unemployed family. Dad Chris was the most intelligent of the sink estate crowd featured on the show and had an opinion, an ex chef who hadn't worked for three years clearly discovering he could get the same money on the dole with half the hassles. The war of wages is not about what people are worth in society but how much their skills can demand. The big employers know they can pay minimum wage as there's plenty of bodies out there to take the work, and if there isn't they get the government to source them from abroad. What they don't want to do is pay people enough to enjoy life. They know the government will pick up the extra through working tax credit and unemployment benefit.
Austin was given baby sitting duties and tasted the past whilst the wife decided that she would organise a 'dinner party' for her new family to let hem know how the other half live. Austin was supposed to be living on a fiver day like the rest but insisted that was unrealistic and carried on as normal, that avarice the arrogance that drew them to exploit the expenses in the first place one suspects. The disconnection from the people they represent is huge. But maybe that escape from poverty and then contempt is what drives people to become MP's?
Mean while Tim was blown away when the mother of his 'specially selected' family for the show spent £42 of her dole money on cigarettes for the week. Her pothead partner Paul was not adverse to the odd vice either, a spliff and a can of Tennants always on the go, between trips to the betting shop. There's only one way to fight boredom in these places and that is the vices, what they were invented for, recovering government handouts from poor people, the lottery particular cute at this. I read the other day that the so-called 'lottery lout' winner Michael Carrell had blown all his £ 9.1 million win and was now back on the dole. Some people are just built to do well in life and some not.
Episode three and the MP's cards are shuffled and they join new host families, Mark Oaten placed with a gay couple in Manchester. Mark would like it to be known he's not gay and the rent boys were an indiscretion. Nadine pairs up with a pensioner, who has seen her beloved British Legion club replaced with a Mosque for the Somalia's. It's rather packed and the cars are parking on the yellow lines. Local resentment is high. Like when you get a traveller wedding at your local cathedral, traffic wardens are hard to find on Fridays outside busy mosques where hundreds of tickets could be handed out but keen enough to ticket people parking in town who are two minutes over on the ticket or it's upside down or something silly. Nothing focuses the mind more than political correctness.
Mark Oaten started to revel in the challenge of a local housing campaign until the BNP turned up at a meeting. The residents of a grotty tower block wanted to know when it was being knocked down and so they could be re-housed, presumably the deterioration and problems caused by people like them in the block. You got the impression Birmingham City Council would indeed like to knock the block down but with them in it. A tower block like this in Spain, however poor the residence, would be respectfully treated.
Tory Tim Loughton was put on a gang ridden black estate, but again impressed, quickly getting to grips with gun and knife culture. The vast majority of fatal gun and knife deaths in England (not Scotland) are in just 10 inner city boroughs from our four major cities in ethnic communities and yet any politician who points that out is castigated, Tim wisely not pointing that out. I have said before that if you don't take on the problem it will get worse, a decision not to challenge it already taken it seems. As well meaning as Tim was on this one I fear he too will steer clear once the program has finished to avoid being called a bigot. I would vote for Tim!
As far as forward thinking and creative TV goes, this wasn't, purely a honey trap for yet more MP's to think they are getting something for nothing, their egregious expenses theft something they will never escape. The residents of the estates didn't exactly help their reputation by resorting to all the underclass clichés and we learnt very little about solutions for poverty from the people who create it in the 5th richest country in the world. They still smoke, take drugs and have babies (as do their poor Staffs) and they wonder why their lives are crap.
As that poverty tourism TV genre like Shameless, Wife Swap and The Royal Family goes this was all very agreeable to those who watch that telly for that reason. If it's a toss up between seeing MP's humiliated and very poor people failing to cheer us up most would now go for the former and for once the politicians are on the back foot enough to make them actually grovel for our vote, which is all rather nice, as it is to know some people are not as clever as us on those sink estates and will only ever be on the breadline on sink estates not chasing our jobs, something many forget when they put down the underclass. If these guys did get help and educated it would be a very different world and documentary telly far less rewarding.