Alastair Campbell was the guest host of Have I Got News for You this week. While the bright young comics of 10 O’Clock Live were downright obsequious towards him Ian Hislop was at least a bit disdainful: firing off gags about Iraq, state secrets and the manipulation of public opinion. Therein lies the problem. Those are subjects that deserve more than gags. Campbell giggled over each of the veteran satirist’s jibes because he knows the programme has all the teeth of an octogenarian with an 8 can-a-day coke habit. There’s no moral power to its comedy: warmongering is treated with no more seriousness than dodgy tax returns and either will have been forgotten once they’ve reached the missing words round. It’s essentially a roast: the panelists insult the visiting politico but they win affection or, at least, grudging respect by showing their ability to have a laugh at their own expense. And, being rational enough to grasp that mild embarrassment is a small price to pay for this, they giggle like schoolchildren. So, you helped to plot a catastrophic war, Alastair? Giggle, titter, chortle, guffaw et cetera.
Our political culture is unpleasantly forgiving. Not that I’ve got anything against forgiveness; it’s just it’s expected, in any other context, that the object of one’s pardon should first accept responsibility for their wrongdoings. In politics, however, where misdeeds are of the greatest consequence, what happens in Westminster or Washington tends to stay there. Thus, Paul Wolfowitz, an architect of the Iraq invasion, chatted about Syria on yesterday’s Newsnight while Campbell, a vicious bully whose indifference to the truth allowed him to help con us into joining it, cracked jokes on Have I Got News for You and the only mentions of the war elicited laughs.