Bearing down: Miliband used the phrase so many times it was like being in a maternity ward. Photo: Getty
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Bearing down: how Ed Miliband got tangled up in jargon

Antonia Quirke reviews World at One on Radio 4.

World at One
BBC Radio 4

Some praise for Martha Kearney. One of the memorable things about her lunchtime interview with Ed Miliband (16 May, 1pm) was the quiet, untriumphant way she stood back and allowed the politician to tie himself into knots with his favourite new phrase: “bearing down”. “The idea is to bear down on low-skilled immigration,” he said. “It’s important we bear down . . . I’m gonna bear down, er . . . I believe we should bear down as a country.” He said it no fewer than six times. It was like being in a maternity ward.

At least Miliband came over as a human being. Perhaps this was because Kearney, as his interlocutor, is evidently a well-balanced person not remotely interested in making World at One all about Martha Kearney – unlike Eddie Mair on PM, which has long been about the presenter fancying himself as a comedian and dropping all manner of “deadpan” routines into the show.

I suppose it is the destiny of all newsrooms to wind up a little like The Day Today. But John Humphrys’s Today interview with Nick Clegg on 15 May, on the subject of an EU referendum, only made him sound even more like a strange, Rumpelstiltskin figure who would fit right into Ron Burgundy’s crew in Anchorman, ever twisting the debate into yes-and-no questions and yelping victoriously when Clegg – perhaps foolishly – used the word “unpatriotic”.

Kearney managed to get Miliband to move from flatly refusing to “make false promises” about immigration to articulating a firm election pledge during the interview: that newcomers will have to “wait at least six months, if not longer”, before they can claim benefits.

She managed to achieve this in under two minutes. Often, she simply applies the word “perhaps” to the end of her sentences, opening the door to compromise. “With the freedom of movement, perhaps?” she  might say to Ed, building up to the more insistent, “What about now?”

You could sense Miliband’s pulse slow,  his natural discomfort fading, and he started to drop some of those unyielding phrases. (“No, I don’t think so. And let me tell you why!”) Kearney’s tone is key: it’s serene and never smug. But in truth her secret weapon as an interviewer is simply that she listens.

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 21 May 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Peak Ukip

HELEN SLOAN / THE FALL 3 LTD
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The Fall is back - and once again making me weary

Five more episodes to go, after which its “feminist” writer (his word, not mine), Allan Cubitt, should pull the plug on it at last. Plus: Damned.

It is with much weariness that I return to The Fall (Thursdays, 9pm), the creepy drama that still doesn’t know whether it wants to be a horror-fest or a love story. I’ve written in the past about what I regard as its basic misogyny – to sum up, it seems to me to make a fetish of the violence committed against women, a preoccupation it pathetically tries to disguise by dint of its main character being a female detective – and I don’t propose to return to that theme now. However, in its early days, it was at least moderately gripping. Now, though, it appears to be recovering from some kind of nervous breakdown. If in series two the plot was wobbling all over the place, series three has misplaced the idea of drama altogether. Nothing is happening. At all.

To recap: at the end of the last series, Paul Spector, aka the Belfast Strangler (Jamie Dornan), had been shot while in police custody, somewhat improbably by a man who blames him for the demise of his marriage (oh, that Spector were only responsible for breaking up a few relationships). On the plus side for his supposed nemesis, DSI Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson), before he fell he led them to Rose Stagg, the ex-girlfriend he’d locked in the boot of a car some days previously, and she is going to live. On the minus side, Spector’s injuries are so bad, it’s touch and go whether he’ll survive, and so Gibson may never see him brought to justice. Of course, the word “justice” is something of a red herring here.

The real reason she wants Spector to live is more dubious. As she stared at his body in the ICU, all tubes and monitors, her expression was so obviously sexual – her mouth opened, and stayed that way, as her eyes ran over every part of his body – that I half expected her to reach out and stroke him. Just in time for this nocturnal visit, she’d slipped into another of her slinky silk blouses that look like poured cream. (Moments earlier – think Jackie Kennedy in 1963 – she’d still been covered in her love object’s blood.)

The entire episode took place at the hospital, police procedural having morphed suddenly into Bodies or Cardiac Arrest. Except, this was so much more boring and cliché-bound than those excellent series – and so badly in need of their verisimilitude. When I watch The Fall, I’m all questions. Why doesn’t Stella ever tie her hair back? And why does she always wear high heels, even when trying to apprehend criminals? For how much longer will the presumably cash-strapped Police Service of Northern Ireland allow her to live in a posh hotel? Above all, I find myself thinking: why has this series been so acclaimed? First it was nasty, and then it was only bad. Five more episodes to go, after which its “feminist” writer (his word, not mine), Allan Cubitt, should join Gibson in the ICU, where together they can ceremonially pull the plug on it at last.

Can Jo Brand do for social workers in her new comedy, Damned, what she did a few years ago for geriatric nurses in the brilliant Getting On? I expect she probably can, even though this Channel 4 series (Tuesdays, 10pm), co-written with Morwenna Banks and Will Smith, does have an awfully inky heart. Hungry children, drug-addict parents, a man who can go nowhere without his oxygen tank: all three were present and correct when Rose (Brand) went to visit a client who turned out to be a woman who, long ago, had nicked her (Rose’s) boyfriend. Ha ha? Boohoo, more like.

Damned is basically The Office with added family dysfunction. Al (Alan Davies) is a hen-pecked wimp, Nitin (Himesh Patel) is a snitch, and Nat (Isy Suttie) is the stupidest and most annoying temp in the Western world. This lot have two bosses: Martin (Kevin Eldon), a kindly widower, and Denise (Georgie Glen), the cost-cutting line manager from hell. And Rose has a plonker of an ex-husband, Lee (Nick Hancock). “I’ve been invited to the Cotswolds for the weekend,” he told her, trying to wriggle out of looking after the children. “Is that why you look like a knob?” she replied.

Jerky camerawork, naturalistic acting, a certain daring when it comes to jokes about, say, race: these things are pretty familiar by now, but I like it all the same.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories