This Week can now keep well over a million people up and watching long past midnight in an age of gazillions of channels. Both programmes have won a number of national and international awards, which is rare for political programmes which have no special category in the luvvie and media firmaments. So happy birthday and well done to all who’ve sailed in the good ships Daily Politics and This Week since first they floated.
A great deal has been constant for both programmes. Andrew Neil has presented throughout. Diane Abbott and Michael Portillo have remained the mainstays of This Week. The approach for both hasn’t altered, which is to concentrate on people not process, be brave and have fun. People still say they don’t really feel like BBC programmes, and I still take that as a compliment.
But a great deal has changed too. We’ve seen two Labour prime ministers, three Tory and four Lib Dem leaders. Several wars have come and gone; we’ve survived the Hutton Report and general elections both real and imagined. The BBC has thrown at us ‘Make it Happen’, ‘Value for Money’, ‘Creative Futures’ and now five more years of budget cuts.
When we first launched The Daily Politics I was convinced that a set involving green satin seats, pink cushions and a yellow lighting wash would make for an exciting and politically balanced look. The first review remarked on how Andrew Neil looked like the cherry on a particularly nasty knickerbocker glory.
We’ve gone all staid since. Daisy Sampson, Andrew’s first co-anchor became Daisy McAndrew and left for ITN, to be replaced by Jenny Scott. Laura Kuenssberg is now a regular on the Six and Ten O’Clock News. Ed the Bookie has had his day. And the competition for the mug – the great Daily Politics mug – was suspended last year, though I hope it will return next week.
Not everything has gone right. When we first launched This Week, Michael and Diane were an emergency pair because Oona King had pulled out on us with a week to go.
My original plan had been to replace both Michael and Diane with another pair for the summer term, and to try yet another pair for the winter after that. We’d already signed Ann Widdecombe for the summer – but Michael and Diane proved so irresistible after the first run we didn’t use Ann as promised.
To this day this great media stalwart won’t appear on any of my programmes. The This Week election titles with Andrew in a feather boa miming to a satirized version of ‘Show me the Way to Amarillo’ wasn’t universally acclaimed. And the odd guest, like Shane McGowan from the Pogues, has provided endless hours of fun for the TV blooper programmes.
But both programmes have also provided some vintage moments: for The Daily Politics my personal favourite was Andrew’s scoop that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and his questioning of the party leaders during their election press conferences; for This Week it was last month’s Christmas special with Vince Cable and Alesha Dixon dancing the waltz together (which you can watch here). If you have some vintage moments of your own you can go to the programme websites here and post your nominations.
As for the future, it’s steady as she goes; more of the same with a little less money. I know the programmes aren’t to everyone’s taste. Luckily the BBC has a plurality of political programmes, something for everyone – while the competition now seems to have none. But this year, after five years, I’m beginning to worry whether the programmes are as cutting edge for politics as I once thought them to be - still as relevent and challenging – or whether after all this time they could benefit from a fresh eye, a new look, and a different approach. If you have a view, let’s hear it.