Thursday, June 28, 2012

Last call at Back Benches

Just catching the last train home after witnessing the final episode of Back Benches live from the Shepherd's Arms Speights Ale House in Tinakori Road. It was the busiest show I've attended, with something like 350 people spilling out of the place. Adding insult to injury to the final show was a fire alarm in the middle of filming, which rendered the audience and panel onto the winter streets of Wellington (note the Goodnight Kiwi loitering on the left of the shot:

I've attended many Back Benches shows, mainly as an audience member, and on one occasion as a Soapbox speaker (for the Republican movement) as well as a vox pop or two. Rough and boisterous as the show is, I hope it gets picked up elsewhere as it serves a purpose as well as reaches an audience.

Whether it has been the professionalisation of political communication through media advisors, press secretaries and so forth, or other causes, Politics has suffered a disconnect between the apparatus of representative government and the people. Back Benches has helped mend that wound by bringing strangers and political animals alike back into contact with their alleged representatives.

As David Farrar attests in his autopsy of the show, it has also proven to be an excellent training ground for new MPs to gain their feet in the public. Young people are once again interested in political debate. Collegial talk across the cross benches is not unheard of either.

Unlike Farrar, I believe in audience participation. Peter Dunne earned his boos during the introduction tonight. Witnessing the filming of the Native Affairs election special last year, with its nana hecklers, brought home the important part the public plays in this feedback loop.

I hope Back Benches is reincarnated elsewhere, and that the live pub format is not neutered by some timeshifted slot in some arcane morning slot.