THE most shaming thing about the first of the three-part series Laura Kuenssberg: State of chaos (BBC2, Monday of last week) was realising, for someone who takes a lively interest in our nation’s political life, how much I had erased from my memory — out of pure shame. For this account of the Government’s twists and turns since the 2016 referendum mandate to leave the EU records something worse than chaos.
Kuenssberg presented — and, as the BBC’s then political editor, she saw everything, both public and behind-the-scenes — an appalling downward spiral of incompetence, betrayal, and mendacity. Her unrivalled range of contacts paints an apocalyptic picture of traditional certainties, and even courtesies, collapsing. The triumphant Brexiteers were shocked by their success, and had no clear plan of how to proceed; all their energy was focused on what they didn’t want rather than a coherent and costed strategy of what the future outside the EU would look like.
Successive Conservative governments (five Prime Ministers in seven years) undermined themselves with in-fighting and suspicion, even hatred, of Whitehall, and increasing radical ugliness in what they said about each other, fuelled by social media’s ineradicable tendency to foster and harden extremism. What most shocked me was not Boris Johnson’s requiring the Queen to prorogue Parliament so that he could force through his No-Deal policy without parliamentary scrutiny, but, rather, how right-wing mass media supported him in excoriating the High Court judges who thwarted him, labelling them “traitors”.
In curious juxtaposition, another key BBC political figure, its splendid Europe editor Katya Adler, launched the next night another documentary analysing contemporary politics: Living Next Door to Putin (BBC1, Tuesday of last week). In this deadly serious programme — despite employing some of today’s celebrity presenter tropes, as the production team showed off her impressive skills as skier, racing-car driver, fighter pilot, etc. — she travelled from Poland to Norway, reporting how each of the countries bordering Russia is reacting to Putin’s war with Ukraine.
Russia eagerly exploits every opportunity to destabilise its neighbours. They demonstrate such grim new determination, solidarity with NATO, and desperate foreboding that, if President Putin was successful in Ukraine, would they be his next target? This was sobering, necessary, emotionally charged TV.
Coco Chanel Unbuttoned (BBC2, Friday) was far more interesting and significant than I imagined possible. Determined to weave a web of alluring mystery, she hid having been brought up and taught to sew in a convent; but her revolutionary black-and-white palette and rosary- bead strings of pearls revealed, subconsciously, how much she owed to the nuns.