Last Night’s TV – Tower Block of Commons

by Lynn Connolly

What do you get if you put four MPs onto council estates? Four ex-MPs mayhap? And judging by the results of last night’s first outing of Tower Block of Commons, the MPs featured – most of them anyway – really shouldn’t be MPs, given that they’re purporting to represent ‘the people’. Turns out, they’ve not got clue one about ‘the people’ or how they have to live.

In case you didn’t see it, the premise of the show was something akin to Wife Swap; Life Swap maybe…

Four MPs were given the task of living as the proletariat do, complete with chav-wear and dingy council flats. Those MPs were Liberal Democrat Mark Oaten, Labour’s Austin Mitchell along with Tim Loughton and Iain Duncan Smith, who’re both Conservative.

Quite why two Tories were chosen wasn’t made clear, however, Duncan Smith only lasted one day living life at the poopy end of the stick, but in fairness, this was because his wife was diagnosed with cancer, so I’ll have to let him off for that.

Austin Mitchell, being in his seventies, demanded a flat of his own for himself and his wife, while the remaining MPs faced the challenge of kipping on someone’s sofa for the week.

Each MP had a sort of mentor who showed them the ropes of living in a high rise and surviving a trip to the shops. One very awkward moment for Oaten came as a group of youths taunted him about his much publicised rent-boy debacle, and I couldn’t help but think – and excuse me if this is stereo-typing and under estimating those youths – that they’d been prompted by the show’s producers into singling Oaten out.

In all honesty, how many of them would’ve been politically aware enough to know a) who Oaten was and b) to know all about his fifteen minutes of unwelcome fame?

However, that aside, this was not only an entertaining documentary, it was also a rare insight into just how wide the gulf between Them and Us is. What I found most surprising is that the MPs seemed clueless about what it’s really like to live life as the people on the estates featured live it.

How can they be so naïve?? Do they never read the headlines or watch the TV? One can only assume they skip blithely past the unpleasant stories of gun and drug cultures to get to the financial section.

I was especially disappointed in Austin Mitchell; I’m a staunch Labour supporter – always have been, always will be – and his staggering, and frankly insulting lack of knowledge about the problems of inner cities did the Labour party no favours at all. To his ‘mentor’ Selina – ex-prostitute, ex-drug dealer – he said wide-eyed, “You’ve still got older people living in the same block of flats as druggies?”

It was truly shocking to know that a man who purports to be a man of the people could be so clueless.

But there, he’s not alone in that for we saw Loughton tentatively enquiring of a barricaded and heavily protected newsagent, “Are you out of Telegraphs?”

I’m sure there’s a real run on Telegraphs every day…

In fact, the only one of the MPs to come out of last night’s programme with a shred of respect was Oaten. He was so appalled by the conditions he and his hosts were living in, he started a petition to get the block torn down. Though in all honesty, I can’t see that happening simply because he’s behind it; I suspect he’ll be as ignored in the upper-echelons of government as much as his defeated new friends are.

But irrespective of the weightier issues, this programme was entertaining if only because it’s always rather amusing to see the human equivalent of fish out of water, and these fish were gasping…

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.