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When reality sets in

17 March 2017


Robot Wars

Robot Wars

OUR national future has, for some time now, been defined by the slogan “Brexit means Brexit.” BBC2 attempted, in Brexit: Britain’s biggest deal (Thursday of last week), to break into its closed circle and find out what the process is likely to involve.

The BBC’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, proved a helpful guide through a thicket of analysis, opinions, and assertions, all presented with a light touch and illustrated with clips from comic silent films — which, somehow, managed not to undermine the gravity of the issues.

It covered finance, exports, industry, immigration, the importance of foreign workers, Scottish independence, and the relationship between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. She interviewed most of the leading players (except Theresa May) in a manner that I considered surprisingly chummy, until I began to appreciate that there was dark purpose in her apparently guileless method: she was giving them enough rope to hang themselves.

While she was attempting to present an impartial view, it was pretty clear that, personally, she reckons the decision to leave to be foolish and potentially catastrophic, and I hope that it is not merely the working of similar convictions on my part that, to me at least, the keen Brexiteers — Johnson, Gove, Davies — seemed to do no more than waffle and bluff.

All the substance was on the other side: the economists who have worked the trade deals; the politicians who have participated in negotiations; the businesses who have tried and failed to find native workers — all had the ring of uncomfortable truth. One helpful insight from Kuenssberg: the Brexiteers are confident that the EU members will not allow political sentiment to get in the way of economic reality: that is, they will base the eventual deal on the realisation of how much their trading future depends on a good relationship with the UK. Yet it is precisely political sentiments rather than political analysis that underlay the referendum result last year.

Smash-ups on a different scale are the very purpose of BBC2’s Robot Wars (Sundays). This gladiatorial combat between teams who have constructed radio-controlled machines with the sole aim of destroying each other (the machines, that is, not the teams) before a baying crowd might seem the very opposite of anything that should be supported by gentle Christians.

Yet it is somehow curiously innocent: a spirit of garden-shed geekishness drives the teams, who are happy to applaud those who have just chopped their creation into pieces; and, in the pits between bouts, all rally round to help patch up each other’s machines. The hyped-up aggression is a pose, the camaraderie the substance.

What are young people at university really like these days? Clique (BBC3, online only) is much hyped as being a recognisable riff on real Edinburgh-university life. Two episodes in, I beg to differ: it is a preposterous fantasy of drugs, sex, and power machinations far removed from anything our children experience. I hope.

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