21 OCTOBER 1972, Page 8

A Spectator's Notebook

Televising the House of Commons has seemed to me to be most desirable, and Robin Day is to be commended for plugging away at his campaign to have the proceedings televised live. The House of Commons, understandably perhaps but, I think, unwisely, has been nervous of this and has sought ways of controlling whatever parts of its proceedings are to be broadcast. The Commons itself, or a committee of members, or an official appointed by it for the purpose, is not really in a position to determine what should or should not, be broadcast. One alternative is a ' flat' or ' deadpan' continuous live broadcast of the proceedings of the Commons, requiring its own channel (which in the mornings and during recesses could be used for educational programmes). Such a course would avoid the question of editorial selection; and it would be easy enough to lay down ground rules for the behaviour of the inquisitive eyes and ears of cameras and microphones. The other alternative is a videotaped recording of the proceedings, with the copyright vested in the Commons, from which news and current affairs programmes would select extracts and which, from time to time, could be broadcast almost live. David Wood, the Times's political editor, suggested this as the likeliest approach earlier this week. Its advantage is that it is the easier to do; its disadvantage that the problem of editorial use of the material will provide, I suspect, constant friction between members and the broadcasting authorities. If Hansard were a headlined, edited, selected account of the proceedings, it might possibly be more interesting but it would certainly be far less valuable, and it would also be impossible for it to retain its present authority. The choice, if Parliament is to be televised, is between a broadcasted Hansard on the one hand (which I would prefer), and some kind of Today in Westminster, together with newsy snippets and the major set-pieces on the other (which is what I fear we will get).


All those anxious candidates and prospective candidates and others who failed to catch the chairman's eye during last week's Tory Party conference can take some small comfort from the plight of Sir Desmond Plummer, leader of the Greater London Council. Twice he prepared a speech; twice he failed to catch the chairman's eye. Only after a good deal of fuss was he able to speak during a third — and basically inappropriate — debate.

Over our dead bodies

Some friendly, but warm, exchanges took place in Blackpool lobbies between Sir Desmond and Environment Minister Peter Walker. The GLC does not like the DoE's projected Elephant and Castle office block: a great brutish giant of a thing, which probably reflects the Department of the Environment's view that the Elephant and Castle area cannot be saved anyhow. The two, however, seemed to be agreed that the proposed new Parliament buildings are disastrous, and the sense of their exchanges on this were, "Not while I am at the Department of the Environment" and "Not while I am leader of the GLC." The Westminster Tories took a similar line. Of course, the new buildings are not a matter for the DoE, the GLC or Westminster County Council; but for the Members of Parliament themselves. My own view is that there are too many MPs, and that the way to improve the conditions at the Palace of Westminster is to reduce their number, rather than to put up eyesores. The Palace of Westminster was able to support governments ruling a great Empire; why should the Commons now seek to expand when Parliament has legislated itself into a regional European assembly?

Incidentally, I was astounded to find myself talking to a member of the Westminster Council who vigorously defended the Knightsbridge barracks as an object of beauty, even though he hated the Hayward Gallery. I dare say that the Knightsbridge barracks might look all right elsewhere, and if it were not used in part to house horses; but that is not the point. The affront it causes is because it is what it is and is where it is and does what it does.

Job wanted

Geoffrey Rippon congratulated one of the more aggressive Monday Clubbers on his attempt to move the reference back of the Report. 'I tried that back in 1946,' said the venerable old statesman, who is now admitting to a certain anxiety about his future employment. He wants a proper job; and what is more, despite his Ugandan flop, he deserves one.


John Davies, I thought, sounded a particularly lame duck in defending his new policy of helping lame ducks to swim instead of allowing them to sink (or whatever it is that lame ducks do). However, he produced one sparkling phrase that deserves to be preserved. Answering a clever young red-haired chap who had argued in favour of more Toryism and less Socialism, the Secretary for Trade and Industry roundly declared, "Now, Mr Speight, refute you utterly I must.'

Picking up pieces

A very senior Tory asked me how I thought the Conference had gone "from our point of view" and I said, "Very well, except that the Powell vote was bigger than it looked." "We couldn't understand it" said the very senior Tory — "only a couple of hundred votes at the most, I thought he'd get. They knew what they were doing when they demanded a ballot." I agreed: Enoch Powell's total of 761 votes was most surprising. I said, "Enoch can only win, I think, if you are beaten at the polls."

"Yes," said the Tory, "and he can pick uri the pieces." The way he said this made me ask "You mean you think you have not only to be beaten, but to be beaten badly, for Enoch to come out on top?"

"Yes. We've got to be smashed. And then he can have the pieces."

Badges for men

A surprising number of grown men went around at Blackpool wearing badges, like children and Americans do, proclaiming, 'I'm a European Democrat ' or some such slogan. When I remarked to one particularly eager young chap that he ought to wear on the other side of his manly thrusting chest, "We are the Ovalteenies," he appeared somewhat put out.

Elegant, delicate?

Most old, films wear badly; or it may be that seeing them on television removes a requisite sense of occasion. But last weekend I saw The Third Man and thought it had survived remarkably well, except for

the zither: I had forgotten how sloppy and sentimental the ' Harry Lime theme' was; or it may be that it was not sloppy and sentimental then, but has become so since (like, say, Wagner). And The Seven Year Itch, too, wore well. It provoked a family argument, my wife, a son and his girlfriend taking the view that the word Marilyn Monroe constantly used to express her appreciation of something was 'elegant,' another son agreeing with me that the word she kept using was 'delicate.' The interesting thing about the argument was that both sides knew that they were right. The ensuing discussion, If that is the word, could by no stretch of the imagination be called either elegant delicate.