Reblog of John Plunkett’s review in The Guardian, January 29th 2015, of Michael Cockerel’s documentary of the same name to be broadcast on BBC2 on February 3rd.
There is precious little in Michael Cockerell’s documentary about the House of Commons to encourage Russell Brand, should he watch it, to cast his vote after all.
Cockerell portrays a “mother of all parliaments” in which MPs vote against their instincts to avoid ending up in their whips’ black books, and where Tory MPs use a precious opportunity at Prime Minister’s Questions to ask a question emailed to them by Conservative high command.
Granted unprecedented access, the cameras on the floor of the Commons make the bear pit of PMQs feel louder and more raucous than it does from the bird’s-eye view we see on the news. Up close and personal, they look almost human.
“The behaviour in there is just disgusting, really embarrassingly juvenile, screaming,” is the verdict of Labour MP Sarah Champion, who is still adjusting to her surroundings three years after taking office. “The fact it’s men in their 50s and 60s doing it – it’s just distasteful.”
But while much of Cockerell’s film focuses on Champion and another of the newcomers, Tory MP Charlotte Leslie, as they attempt to get to grips with the “bewildering codes and customs” of Westminster (including, until recently, free snuff for all members), it’s the big beasts we want to hear from.
Neither David Cameron nor Ed Miliband display the sort of enthusiasm for PMQs that you might hope – or expect – to see.
“Once you’re in it, you forget about the nerves and it’s ‘Try and do the best you can,’” says Miliband. “The anticipation, I find, is worse than the reality.”
“There isn’t a Wednesday that you don’t feel total fear and trepidation about what is about to happen,” adds Cameron. No wonder he’s not keen on the TV debates.
George Osborne also appears, but he isn’t interviewed in this first episode. Maybe it’s just the music, but there’s something about the chancellor’s pre-budget prep talk – “We’ve got a good budget, we’re going to go out there and sell it” – that feels like a scene out of The Apprentice.
Cockerell, who has previously cast his all-seeing eye over Whitehall and Tony Blair’s 10 years in power, has more affection for the building than the people who work in it.
But the palace of Westminster is falling apart, including the famous tower that houses Big Ben, and requires repairs that could run into millions of pounds. It’s not just the facade that’s crumbling.