The Unbelievable Truth is a radio show presented by writer and comedian David Mitchell of Channel 4’s Peepshow fame. Two or three times a year it fills the teatime quiz slot on national BBC Radio 4.

For those who haven’t heard it, the format has three contestants trying to sneak five truths past the rest of the panel hidden in a scripted essay consisting of wall-to-wall lies.

It got me thinking how close the format was to last night’s Sky News and Channel 4 Cameron and Miliband Live TV interviews.

And, for that matter, how it might relate to the follow up multi-party TV head-to-heads, and all the electioneering and speechifying we will be subjected to in the next 40 days in the run up to the General Election.

Even though there were just two “contestants” last night aiming to score points off each other in their attempt to win or draw — ready to form a coalition with anyone who’d have them — the Cameron-Miliband version is just that little bit different.

For a start, it was rather spoiled by one of the contestant bending over backwards to manipulate the rules to suit himself.

Last night’s The Unbelievable Truth: The Battle for Number 10 was harder to score than its radio cousin since it had less-defined rules making it difficult to spot the unrestricted number of false promises buried in a miasma of semi-truths.

We all know that the party leaders’ claims to deliver certain outcomes on the future of our economy, on building houses, on the NHS, on defence, and on Europe are not much more than speculation and beyond their and their party’s control.

Big business, distant events and chance will continue to be the main drivers that will determine our fortunes and how we float as flotsam on the globalised marketplace.

We also know that the pantomime in Westminster will continue no matter who gets in, still kidding us that what goes on in that building is controlling our destiny.

I was reminded of an encounter I had with the retiring MP for Great Grimsby who leaves the House of Commons this year after serving 38 years on the back benches.

Austin Mitchell (no relation to David) had recently married the producer I worked for at Granada TV, Linda McDougall, and the circumstances of our meeting in 1977 were informal and unreported.

The brand new MP gave vent to his frustrations based on his first impressions of entering the House of Commons.

The place horrified him. He viewed the building and its institutions as a kind of gothic farce brimming with irrelevant pomp and tradition that fought against any sensible way to run a chicken farm, let alone a country.

His big idea, even then, was to suggest swapping the role and function of the Palace of Westminster with the eponymous Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre just a stone’s throw away across Parliament Square.

MPs would then be able to run Britain from a modern functional space leaving all the film-flam, garters, gaiters, and arcane practices behind.

Meanwhile, the old Palace could be transformed into a money-spinning international conference facility able to attract investment to preserve and upgrade it and fully exploit its prime riverside location.

Four decades later, no such swop has taken place although quite a lot of its power and decision-making is slipping away to Cardiff Bay and Holyrood.

According to the Speaker of the House, John Bercow, the Palace of Westminster faces a refurbishment bill of £3 billion to stop the structure from falling to pieces.

It starts to make the cost of the (at the time, shocking) £414.4 million spent on building Enric Miralles’ Scottish Parliament look like a bargain.

Westminster is stuck firmly in the past with a first-past-the-post voting system which offers only a hopelessly simplistic choice based in part on the few believable truths that can be gleaned from the TV debates.

With an unreformed and unelected House of Lords and a building about to fall apart, the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament (and maybe even Stormont) look more capable of rising to the challenge of serving a modern democracy than the crumbling edifice in London.


Garfield Kennedy is a local Lib-Dem politician in the south west of England

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