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david mitchell

Stevie H

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loving this guy's writing at the minute.


Whatever next - a man with an opinion?

David Mitchell



Sir Alan Sugar, the government's new "enterprise tsar" (calling him "captain of the enterprise" would have been more fun) could lose his TV show if the Tories get their way. Jeremy Hunt, the shadow culture secretary, reckons BBC rules would be broken if Sugar continued to front The Apprentice while working for the government.


Apparently, presenters of BBC shows are supposed to be impartial. I'm not entirely clear what that means. It is sensible that people presenting programmes shouldn't secretly be in the pay of McDonald's, Ukip or the Pipe Smoker of the Year organisation. But presenters are allowed to appear in adverts, so it seems that some transparent partiality is OK (thank God).


No one's afraid that Gary Lineker is covertly putting a cheese and oniony spin on the football results.


So if an openly held bought allegiance wouldn't stop Sir Alan being a presenter, then surely an equally open set of political opinions should be fine?


Not according to Hunt, who said of Sugar: "The idea that he is politically neutral is a bit of a joke; he has written in the Sun, the Mirror, the News of the World criticising David Cameron and the Conservatives in a highly partisan way."


Who is "politically neutral"? Do the Tories really expect all BBC presenters, even of programmes as trivial as The Apprentice (we're not talking about Newsnight here), to hold no opinions at all? Has it not occurred to Hunt that, in expressing his anti-Conservative views, Sugar isn't revealing himself to be part of an insidious cabal, but merely saying what he thinks? He is demonstrating that he's someone who, like all of us except a few morons, holds opinions.


The fact that these opinions are to do with party politics doesn't make them invalidly "partisan". They're still his views about what is right and wrong - the same as if he'd said he regards theft and murder as immoral. And I don't imagine the Tories would criticise him for writing an article that was openly anti-BNP - and that's a party political view, however much it's self-evident to all but a few thousand weirdos.


But as soon as the opinions become subtle enough to be of any interest, the Conservatives claim Sugar shouldn't be allowed to express them, merely because he hosts a pantomime version of a business show. It would help no one if every TV face were chosen from the tiny minority whose views are so bland that they tread a perfect median between left and right.


What is Jeremy Hunt's real fear here? Does he think that Sir Alan will start adding a quick "Vote Labour!" every time he says: "You're fired!"?


He can't be genuinely worried that the show will turn into a party political broadcast, because people would stop watching if it did.


No, the Tories are just desperate to rob Labour of its little publicity coup because Sir Alan Sugar comes across on TV as exactly the sort of c**k who Tory voters like. His brand of "no-nonsense" nonsense and second-hand rhetoric, and his public affirmation that wealth makes what you say more important, are perfectly judged to appeal to the sort of idiot who thinks David Cameron talks a lot of sense, even though all he does is repeatedly bleat "change" like a tramp in a doorway, and his only stated policy is "to become prime minister".


I'm now sounding like exactly the kind of person who the Tories think shouldn't be allowed on the BBC. But let me assure Jeremy Hunt that it's not because I'm "biased" that I say that David Cameron is a chancer who's even more woefully unfit for government than Gordon Brown. It's because I sincerely think it - just like I think that grilled tomatoes are nicer than tinned and Sean Connery was the best Bond. I honestly, unpromptedly believe it. Maybe I'm wrong. It looks like I'm going to get the chance to find out.


The real problem with Sugar's new appointment is that it's such an obvious and grim attempt at populism. Gordon Brown is either so short of ideas or so despises the electorate that he thinks the best way to demonstrate that the government is coping with the biggest business crisis in a century is to make it the responsibility of a man whose day job is telling self-regarding mediocrities that they should take off their Mexican hats before trying to put on their jumpers. A man who has made himself rich, but whose career as a tycoon has gone sufficiently quiet that he's got time to do TV.


Top-end billionaires are too busy for that - Rupert Murdoch and Richard Branson don't have their own programmes, they have their own channels. Alan Sugar is no longer primarily a businessman - he portrays one on TV. Brown might as well have given the new tsardom to the bloke who played Boycie in Only Fools and Horses


What is even more depressing than Brown thinking that this might impress people is that the Tories, the only plausible alternative government, agree. That's how to survive in politics: don't focus on the country's problems - get someone shouty from the telly to talk stridently about them. And then go on GMTV and say you're personally concerned about Susan Boyle's health "because she's a really, really nice person".


Does Brown honestly believe that's how to get people to respect him? To make them think that, in the middle of the greatest crisis in his career, he's still taking a personal interest in the health of a random middle-aged woman he hardly knows? Does that kind of prioritisation play well with voters? What is still more depressing is that it might.


Sir Alan Sugar is perfectly suited to the job of "enterprise tsar" because it's not a job - it's an exercise in presentation, just like his role on the BBC. In less bewildered times, an ambitious opposition would welcome the opportunity to ridicule such a disastrously craven government appointment. Instead, they're meanly trying to block it because they're annoyed they didn't think of it themselves.

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