Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page:

From The Socialist newspaper, 10 March 2010


Tower Block of Commons

Channel 4

The ivory tower of Westminster politics has seldom looked as far from the struggles of everyday life as it did in Channel 4's 'Tower House of Commons', where four MPs spent eight days living in Britain's most deprived council estates, displaying naivety, dismay, but most of all, a gaping chasm in terms of living standards.

Ben Norman

The series, carefully edited to fit a 'fish-out-of-water' narrative, portrayed the politicians as out-of-touch and depressingly naive when plucked from the comfort of the Commons. It was a narrative the four seemed willing to fulfil as Shadow Children's Minister Tim Houghton struggled to organise a park kick-about in Birmingham, while his Tory colleague, Nadine Dorries, tried to convince 20-year-old unemployed drug addict, Jonathan, that he'd "get on well" with David Cameron.

The alarming depths of parliamentary naivety were found when 75-year-old Labour backbencher, Austin Mitchell, admitted to Selina, a 29-year-old former prostitute and recovering heroin addict, that he thought drug problems on estates were little more than 'folklore'.

Reality for millions

The show may have been seeking laughs, but nevertheless it revealed stark truths about the living conditions millions of people are forced to endure and the political disillusionment and desperation that follows.

In one of the more revealing scenes Mark Oaten, LibDem MP for Winchester, who spent his eight days in Dagenham, talks to a local man who says he used to vote Labour, but has now turned to the racist, far-right British National Party (BNP) because: "They give advice to the working person, but I don't believe in racism, we're all human." Oaten, who previously declared that estate life was about "eating lots of McDonalds and watching Coronation Street", fails to take up the issues, incorrectly suggesting the man supported 'white people first', when in fact he had clearly said 'working people'.

This unwillingness to engage with the issues that drive people towards the far-right is in-keeping with his stance back in his home constituency. In the June European elections he protested the rise of the BNP by claiming: "In my mind those that voted for the BNP are either racist or ignorant."

Remote MPs

MPs like Oaten make no attempt to engage with the electorate and win them away from the racist politics of the far-right. They prefer to denounce and disregard the concerns of working people, while contributing to the very conditions which lead to their desperation.

Oaten, who throughout the show was cast as one of the more 'likeable' parliamentarians, was dismayed at the damp, overcrowded conditions of the estate, confessing that he found it 'awkward' and 'embarrassing' to discuss his own luxurious country home, complete with sprawling lawn and swimming pool.

In comparison one of the women he stayed with, a 45 year old mother of four has never had a garden and calls her home "my prison". He criticised one woman for spending part of her state benefits on cigarettes but his embarrassment increased when she decided to google Oaten's expenses claims.

As with any reality show the series deployed the usual editing tricks to give each of the MPs their own narrative, highlighting their personalities over their politics and the real issues of the estates, yet it still proved one clear truth.

Nice as their on-screen personas may appear, the Westminster MPs were separated from their hosts, not by work ethic, taste or culture, but by a clear class divide that no amount of patronising empathy can cross.

Their inability to understand the struggles people face throughout their everyday lives is a clear symptom of the irrelevance of the Westminster parties to ordinary people and further evidence, if any was needed, that the millions of working people living in similar conditions cannot rely on the parliamentary elite, but must organise politically to represent themselves.

Why not click here to join the Socialist Party, or click here to donate to the Socialist Party.

In The Socialist 10 March 2010:

Fight the cuts, not union members

Don't let Unison democracy go up in smoke!

Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition

Young voters need real change

Socialist Party feature

Michael Foot - the end of an era

Socialist Party news and analysis

Trades Council demo unites Brighton fightback

Riot cops attack peaceful Sussex students' protest

Police clear path for racist EDL thugs

Anti-war campaigner Joe Glenton gets nine months

Civil servants strike

Civil Servants Strike reports (updated)

Solid two-day civil service strike shows anger of PCS members

Socialist Party NHS campaign

Hands off our NHS!

International socialist news and analysis

Palestine: 'The Wall Must Fall!'

Chile earthquake: Natural disaster, state catastrophe

Socialist Party campaigns

Debate on women's oppression: Socialists propose solutions

Waltham Forest day of action: Socialists and trade unionists make a stand

Canvassing for support for socialists in Lewisham

Build solidarity with Sri Lankan Tamils

Solidarity with Yarl's Wood hunger strikers

National Shop Stewards Network: For undivided rank and file organisation

Justice for the Shrewsbury pickets

Socialist Party workplace news

London Underground signals victory

Leeds university rally

CWU to put Royal Mail deal to ballot of members

Socialist Party review

Tower Block of Commons


Home   |   The Socialist 10 March 2010   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate  

Related links:


triangleMay's EU speech kicks the can down the road

triangleLabour civil war re-erupts over Haringey regeneration project

triangleTories on the brink - kick them out!

triangleWestminster sexual harassment scandal

triangleWestminster sexual harassment scandal: symptom of a rotten system


triangleLike rats from a sinking Ukip

triangleVictory! Trump's UK visit cancelled by fear of protests

triangleRoyal wedding exposes them-and-us visa system

triangleGerman elections: rise of the far right and right-wing government will provoke resistance


triangleWhy I joined: "I hope that more and more people are going to join the Socialist Party and the fight to end inequality"


triangleVienna: 50,000 march against racism and austerity

triangleProtest outside Ukip conference against German far-right speaker

Reviews and comments

Reviews and comments



Gripping spy thriller exposes hypocrisy of Falklands/Malvinas war


The Socialist

International Women's Day


Sexual harassment

Fighting sexual harassment in entertainment



The Socialist inbox



The Socialist inbox: International Women's Day



Socialist anti-war exhibition opens in Kingston



The Socialist inbox



What's behind the surge in eating disorders?



The Socialist inbox



In Windsor none of us want to see homeless people on the street



I'm now a 'manager' and I can barely manage!



The Socialist inbox



Darkest Hour: Not the usual flattery of brutal Tory Churchill



Bernie's book shows need for workers' party



GCSE grading game stresses out students - even more than before!

triangleMore Reviews and comments articles...

Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party
Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube



Phone our national office on 020 8988 8777


Locate your nearest Socialist Party branch Text your name and postcode to 07761 818 206

Regional Socialist Party organisers:

Eastern: 0798 202 1969

East Mids: 0773 797 8057

London: 020 8988 8786

North East: 0191 421 6230

North West 07769 611 320

South East: 020 8988 8777

South West: 07759 796 478

Southern: 07833 681910

Wales: 07935 391 947

West Mids: 02476 555 620

Yorkshire: 0114 264 6551



Alphabetical listing

March 2018

February 2018

January 2018