Spineless BBC has forgotten our proud history of mocking politicians, writes JOHN MACLEOD

In her manly suit and surrounded by her grovelling Cabinet, Margaret Thatcher is dining out. How would she like her steak? ‘Raw, please.’ ‘And what about the vegetables?’ The Prime Minister looks scornfully around her colleagues. ‘Oh, they’ll have the same as me…’

That Spitting Image moment is fondly remembered from an age of robust but honest politics and biting satire. We had Week Ending on Radio 4; Private Eye sticking it to politicians and Press magnates everywhere without fear or favour; Yes Minister – a rare instance of centre-Right comedy – sending up supine politicians and arrogant Whitehall mandarins.

Scabrous cartoonist Gerald Scarfe ruefully recalled the day he was presented to Princess Margaret. ‘Which was a bit awkward, really,’ he confided, ‘because a week earlier I’d drawn her as a warthog.’

Margaret Thatcher’s puppet on Spitting Image from the golden age of biting satire

In these islands we have a long, joyous and venerable tradition of sending up those who rule over us; tearing assorted paper tyrants from their cardboard thrones. The caricaturist Gillray pitilessly slammed the Prince Regent, and the late Michael Cummings made hay with Harold Wilson.

In its early Sixties heyday, That Was The Week That Was even dared to tease the Royal Family – or, more accurately, the fawning coverage afforded them by the likes of Richard Dimbleby – with a skit on the royal barge sinking. ‘And now the Queen, smiling radiantly, is swimming for her life.’

It’s not always funny. Often it’s cruel, prejudiced, pompous and scatological and sometimes it has backfired. The cartoonist Vicky tried to destroy Harold Macmillan by sketching the toothy old thing as ‘SuperMac.’ To his chagrin, the Prime Minister loved it and the nickname caught on.

On occasion, the jeering might actually have changed things. 

To this day, Liberal grandee David Steel is convinced that Spitting Image derailed him for the 1987 general election, constantly portraying him as an annoying little Scot in David Owen’s breast-pocket.

However, the knockabout has always been accepted as part of public life’s rich tapestry. 

Until now. 

Yesterday it emerged that BBC Scotland panjandrums, panicked by the Tweeted invective of some of the most pompous bores in Holyrood, have axed social media animations promoting Radio Scotland’s Noising Up.

So we cannot now enjoy ‘Limo Lorna’, in her green dress and big hair and Canadian accent, ‘Minister for green skills, circular economy, biodiversity, short-haul flights and maple syrup’ and no less than co-leader of the Scottish Greens and the worst Scottish Government minister since Frank McAveety of fading memory.

‘Join me for my new streaming series,’ burbled Limo Lorna, ‘Lorna Slater’s Great Green Limousine Journeys, where I’ll be changing my climate from Holyrood to stretch-limo on a 3,000-mile taxpayer-funded journey around Scotland.’

Laugh? We nearly did. But, as usually happens nowadays in the new Scotland, Ms Slater’s pals at once launched a pile-on. ‘Dreadful,’ cried Christina McKelvie. ‘This is unnecessarily nasty,’ wailed Emma Roddick. ‘What’s funny about needing a car to do your job?’ stormed Mark Ruskell. Ruskell is Green. The two women are Nationalists.

Pacific Quay fast fell to its knees. ‘It became clear over the weekend that the animations were not working as intended,’ pleaded BBC Scotland spokespersons, ‘and having reflected on the reaction we have made the decision to remove them from social media while we review their use and assess the programme’s social media presence.’

The cartoons may not have been that funny. And who, these days, listens to Radio Scotland anyway?

But broadcasters and journalists must never be intimidated by politicians, and it is an unnerving reminder of the vast Nationalist mob who converged on BBC Scotland’s Glasgow headquarters days before the independence referendum, toting suspiciously well-made banners and genuinely frightening many staff.

For days afterwards, Jamie McIvor could not go shopping without ladies at the check-out asking if he was OK and the stomach-churning spectacle lost Yes Scotland untold thousands of votes.

There has been far too much of this sort of thing under the SNP ascendancy. Journalists attending its national conferences deliberately corralled in the midst of hostile activists. 

Humza Yousaf – then Justice Secretary – tweeting where to buy milkshakes on the day Nigel Farage came to town.

 The cartoons may not have been that funny. And who, these days, listens to Radio Scotland anyway?

And the day in May 2020 when – broadcasting live – Sarah Smith dared to tell BBC Scotland viewers that Nicola Sturgeon no doubt ‘enjoyed the opportunity to set her own lockdown rules’.

The First Minister, doubtlessly clutching a large onion, promptly wailed that she in fact found the Covid pandemic ‘stressful and unpleasant’, even as the CyberNats were unleashed. Untold trolls set hideously about Sarah Smith and the BBC received more than 4,500 complaints.

Unwisely, in my view, Smith quickly apologised, but it did not save her from ongoing harassment while filming on this or that street, or men leering out of their cars and snarling things like, ‘What f****** lies you’re going to be telling on TV tonight, you f****** lying bitch?’ Just as men, through the ages, have always sought to howl down women who step out of line and utter inconvenient truths. Let the witch burn.

In fact, if one really wanted to ridicule Lorna Slater, we have ample ammunition from her own inglorious career.

She only sits in the Scottish parliament because of a ridiculous electoral system that, in 2021, gave the Scottish Greens two regional-list seats in Lothian with just 12.7 per cent of the vote. Ms Slater is only a minister because Sturgeon subsequently cut a coalition deal with the Scottish Greens in the grandiosely styled Bute House Agreement.

Slater has not since impressed with her work ethic. In January 2022 she was widely derided after an email was leaked from her office anent her wishes during COP26 in Glasgow. ‘The minister doesn’t want to do any more than two things in a day given there will be other work to do in and around that.

‘It may be feasible to do three things in a day if they are all nearby one another and don’t require much preparation. Consideration should also be given to any evening events in Glasgow where the minister may be very late (post 10pm) getting home in which case there should be a later start the following day.’

Well, I suppose one should feel for the poor lamb, who is – after all – paid a mere £98,045 a year. But Slater has been more than once criticised for her heavy use of cars.

Earlier this year, for chartering a boat to visit the Isle of Rum, at the eye-watering cost of £1,200. A ticket for the regular ferry would have cost but £10 – but then, you suppose, she might have missed that night’s River City.

Even these are but peccadillos against the backdrop of her staggering uselessness as Minister for the Circular Economy.

Scottish businesses, their hapless employees and the taxman this summer were left with bills for more than £86million after the collapse of the firm overseeing the Scottish Government’s flagship recycling project.

Slater had steadfastly ignored all warnings, all expressions of concern about her hopelessly framed legislation. 

Yet, incredibly, she is still in her job. It seems that even lame radio comedy is forbidden to tell the truth to power and, when Nats attack, BBC bosses cower in a corner and wibble ‘please don’t hurt me’.

In all their gutlessness, they have let us all down and forgotten American scribe H L Mencken’s dry decree that journalist is to politician as dog is to lamp-post.

Leave a Comment