Lost in Yonkers

I sometimes wonder how David Simon feels about politicians. He’s definitely critical to the point of cynicism of the machinations of politics, as he is of so many of the systems we create, but having watched The Wire, Treme and now Show Me a Hero, I’ve come to the conclusion that he doesn’t hate politicians altogether, except for a certain kind of politician interested only in self-enrichment. With some of them, I actually think he feels sorry for them.

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Realpolitics TV

We’ve been watching The Politician’s Husband, a BBC three-parter about the machinations of two married Westminster politicians starring David Tennant and Emily Watson – and, truth to tell, it’s not a particularly good series. It’s got good actors (although – forgive me, Whovians – I’m not seeing what’s so great about David Tennant, although that may be due to the writing), but even they can’t do much with the generic, clichéd writing. Guess what: politicians are either corrupted by their position or they’ve been corrupt all along! They’re more busy playing power games than they are working on improving things for their electorate! They’re manipulative, shallow and don’t deserve your votes! Yeah, I know… That’s some amazingly new insight into politics, or at least TV politics, and it’s in no way cheap cynicism, eh? Anyway, even that sort of thing can work as a TV series, but The Politician’s Husband is written in a way that can only be called lazy, hamfisted and self-congratulatory.

The Politician's Husband

To be fair, though, I don’t know that many series that manage to turn politics into good television, let alone films. It is possible, though, to come at this complex and often-maligned issue in more interesting ways, so let me mention my three favourite politics-themed programmes, in no particular order:

1) The West Wing

The daddy of them all. Yes, it’s a liberal, centre-left fantasy, but it’s got wit, heart, a willingness to face up to the ambiguities of politics and a fantastic ensemble cast. Does it get weaker after Sorkin leaves? Definitely, but it remains a good show, and it becomes genuinely great again in its final years as Jimmy Smits and Alan Alda (as a Republican!) cross blades in the race to the White House.

2) The Thick Of It

I’ve only seen season 1 (and a lone episode from season 3, watched on a long flight), but if The West Wing is too idealistic, this is the perfect antidote, and Peter Capaldi’s Malcolm Tucker is one of the most memorable characters in all of TV. The thing is, while The Thick Of It is viciously satirical about politics, I don’t think it’s glibly cynical – its criticism is more of the systems that grind even hopeful into political duds, rather than LOLpoliticians! And have I mentioned Malcolm Tucker?

3) House of Cards

The BBC original, that is, not the Netflix reimagining. Ian Richardson is the perfect political descendant of Shakespeare’s Tricky Dick the Third, making the audience his confidant. The two following series get progressively weaker, and especially The Final Cut is a pale shadow of the original, but has Richardson has ever done anything sharper, more droll or more chilling? I couldn’t possibly comment.

And now… a political broadcast

Those of you who are Swiss or live in Switzerland already know what I’m going to say. Those of you who aren’t, or don’t, won’t get it. But it has to be said anyway.


Christoph Blocher is no longer in the Federal Council. Who is Christoph Blocher? He’s one of the big names of the SVP, the Swiss People’s Party. They’re part of the political system, but their right-wingedness has turned more and more into out-and-out racism, misogyny and political bullying. Their ads imply that foreigners, more often than not, are parasites, as are those receiving a pension for invalidity. Their implication has been that they are Switzerland and that they alone give voice to the Swiss people, cows, cheese’n’all. (No cuckoo clocks – that’s an invention of Harry Lime.)

Ding dong, the Christoph’s gone!

So, what happened? The Swiss parliament voted on the seven Federal Councillors, which Blocher was one of for the last four years. Since the SVP is successful with voters, they’ve been accorded two seats. But, oh no! The parliament voted two SVP members into the Council, but neither of them is CB. Instead – listen to this! – they voted for… a woman!

Putting it somewhat bluntly, the SVP is the sort of party that thinks proper women should be mothers and should be at home, looking after the kids, because otherwise you get broken families, youth violence, high school shootings and the like. And now an SVP woman is voted to one of the seven highest positions in the country. What a slap in the face for the old, white buggers… (Note for linguistically interested non-German speakers: her name is Widmer-Schlumpf, “Schlumpf” being the German word for “Smurf”.)

No Smurf she!

Irony of ironies, the demonstrators on the federal square in Bern, 99% of them on the political left, cheered when Widmer-Schlumpf, an SVP politician, accepted the election.

Now, what did the old fuddy-duddies do? They chucked both W-S and her other SVP colleague on the Federal Council from the party, so now there’s no one from the SVP on the Council. And then they went on to announce that “this was a black day for Swiss democracy” and that they’d been forced to go into opposition, because after all the rest of the kids didn’t want to play with them.

Okay, realistically speaking I don’t expect anything much to change. But still, it’s oh so satisfying to see the xenophobic old fogeys from the SVP end up with egg on their faces and stomping out of the sandpit because they think the others are being mean…