RELIGION rules! Wednesday of last week marked a historic watershed in our social mores: the BBC decided to shift BBC News from its customary ten o’clock slot so that they could continue with what they considered far more important: an act of national faith. Unfortunately, the religion in question was not Christianity — or, indeed, any of our sister world faiths: the altar at which most of our countrymen now worship is, it seems, football.
This would have been an extraordinary decision at any time, but, on the day in question, when the Prime Minister and government faced a vote of no confidence, at a historic juncture that (the BBC itself continually tells us) threatens to undermine the fabric of our democracy, I cannot have been alone in thinking that an account of the result and its consequences was of greater significance than the extra-time tussle in an FA Cup third-round replay.
We now know where we stand: when our once-proud island nation finally sinks between the waves, we can turn to the BBC to keep up our spirits with a continuous loop of old soccer.
Far more serious than our self-inflicted national woes were those examined by Revolution In Ruins: The Hugo Chavez Story (BBC2, Wednesday of last week). Chavez was brought to power by the overwhelming popular desire to undo the corruption and rampant social inequality that marred Venezuela, home of the world’s richest oil reserves. He ushered in an extraordinary form of government, rule by popular TV show, where he would sing and dance and read out sports results, in between taking phone calls from members of the public and promising to redress their injustices.
He spent billions on education, housing, and health care, but neglected law and order (too right-wing), sacked all the competent managers (too elitist), and spent nothing on keeping the oil industry efficient and up to date. His admirable social reforms had no basis in anything other than state handouts; so they fell apart. And, as dictators do, he began to treat all questioning as treason. When he died of cancer, the poor were poorer than when he assumed office: inflation now stands at one million per cent.
This documentary could have been a Greek tragedy, but here the focus was less on the flawed hero than on the sufferings of the poor.
“Preparing for Easter” is a title guaranteed to attract our eager attention; unfortunately, what was on offer (Sunday, Channel 5) was not a debate about whether to hold the vigil late at night or at dawn, or how to ensure a fast-lighting New Fire: it was part of a documentary series, Chocolate Dreams: Inside Hotel Chocolat. Increased confectionery consumption is, nowadays, the crucial marker of our Lord’s resurrection.