Denise Robertson: Politics is so important, so why can't we get real insight?

Denise Robertson ponders why good political programmes on television are fast becoming a thing of the past

Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire Former Energy Secretary Chris Huhne
Former Energy Secretary Chris Huhne

Once upon a time This Week was must-viewing for me. Now, I feel it has lost its way.

Andrew Neill’s fulsome welcome back to Diane Abbot was sickly, especially with Michael Portillo doing his dying swan act in the background. Why is he regarded as an expert when his own political career was less than scintillating?

Never have we needed good political programmes more and never have we been more poorly served.

Chris Huhne’s smugness on The Sunday Politics a couple of weeks ago was sickening, Andrew Neil’s fawning on him even worse. Huhne talked like a martyr elevated by undeserved suffering although he lied on his election pamphlet, lied to police, broke the law and caused tax payers to pay huge legal costs because he kept denying what he later admitted to be true. And yet he emerges from prison to a well-paid job with a private company, a newspaper column and a BBC apparently thirsting for his services.

Neil wished they had more time to talk and promised to have him back. Pass the sick bag.

Except that you’d need it if you watched Paxman interviewing Russell Brand on Newsnight. Paxman looked like a man sitting on a cactus plant. What wisdom does Russell Brand bring to the table? He spews out long words in the vain hope that it makes him look intelligent and yet his main claim to fame is that he tormented an old man on air by debasing his granddaughter. Oh what I’d give to have a hero or two in this country.

Alas...if the BBC is driven to falling back on Huhne and Brand...the cupboard must be bare.

:: The country’s most senior family judge has attacked social workers who ignored a court order requiring them to explain why a couple’s two children were being taken for adoption.

They released the information to the parents 45 minutes before the decision was due to be finalised, giving the family no real hope of mounting a challenge.

Do you remember the grandfather I wrote about a few weeks ago? He fought successfully to keep his grandchildren from being adopted but complained about information being passed to him at the eleventh hour, leaving little time to prepare. This couple were even worse treated.

Sir James Munby, who is President of the Family Division, warns that council staff will face the same punishment as ordinary members of the public if they fail, through incompetence or unwillingness, to hand over the required information in time. He accused the social workers in this case of having a ‘slapdash and lackadaisical attitude’ to court orders. Until now, local authorities have been able to manipulate family courts. By contrast, members of the public who have failed to comply with court orders have been dealt with severely. Last week the judge told the court: ‘That the parents should have been put in this position is quite deplorable.

It is, unhappily, symptomatic of a deeply rooted culture in the family courts which, however long established, will no longer be tolerated. The court is entitled to expect – and from now on family courts will demand – strict compliance with all such orders. It is a particularly serious matter if the defaulter is a public body such as a local authority. It is also a particularly serious matter if the order goes to something as vitally important as the right of a parent who is facing the permanent loss of their child to know what case is being mounted against them.’ Never before has a judge been so forthright in defence of families. Sir James Mumby has turned a spotlight on the Family Courts. I am beginning to see him as a Daniel come to Judgement.

:: Listening to BBC Radio last week, I was suddenly taken back to my childhood Sunday school in Sunderland.

My teacher was the formidable Miss Dryburgh, whose sister was a missionary captured by the Japanese and imprisoned in Sumatra. I barely understood the significance of this until, one day, my mother told me to be very nice to Miss Dryburgh because her sister had died in her prison camp.

It would be fifty years before that sister’s heroism was depicted in the 1996 film, Paradise Road. Margaret Dryburgh was the musical genius behind the Vocal Orchestra, where women prisoners took the roles of musical instruments to make a wonderful sound. She rewrote famous scores from memory and worked hard to raise morale in a camp where death from disease and malnutrition among the women and children was common. ragically, she died of hunger and dysentery weeks before liberation.

Today, her memory lives on through the song she penned in camp, the beautiful Captives Hymn. Last week, Singing to Survive, a concert to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Orchestra’s creation, was a sell-out. Hearing it described on radio was, for me, a poignant reminder of childhood and the courage of ordinary men and women. Sunderland should be proud of Margaret Dryburgh.


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