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Who's Speaking Up for the Mad-As-Hellers?

30/04/2013 12:15 BST | Updated 29/06/2013 10:12 BST

If you're old enough to remember the 1970s, you may remember an Oscar-winning film called "Network" in which an unhinged television broadcaster played by Peter Finch persuaded thousands of his viewers to open their windows and yell: "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this any more!"

Well, there are, I suspect, many millions of voters who are sorely tempted these days to shout something very similar. So my question for you is this: why do there seem to be so few mainstream politicians prepared to reflect the sentiments of the "mad-as-hellers"?

Let's try to name a few angry politicians: in the UK, Nigel Farage of UKIP and George Galloway of Respect: in the US, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich and a handful of Tea Partyers. In France, Marine Le Pen of the National Front; in Greece, Alexis Tsipras of Syriza. Mainstream, they ain't.

Tony Blair wrote a remarkable piece in the New Statesman the other day, in which he said: "The guiding principle should be that we are the seekers after answers, not the repository for people's anger."

Now, I have nothing against seekers after answers -- I've pretty much made it my life's work to be a seeker -- but what on earth is wrong with politicians being a repository for people's anger? What's wrong with seeking to represent the people who increasingly feel that no one is listening, no one cares, no one understands what their lives are like?

Anger alone, of course, is never enough -- you need to offer credible solutions as well -- but it's not unreasonable, is it, to expect someone other than Mr Farage to try to articulate the rage that a significant number of voters feel about the events of recent years? Banking crash, bank bonuses, corporate tax avoidance, double-dip recession, job insecurity -- yes, and the EU and immigration -- surely it's not so unreasonable to be angry?

It's not easy for parties in government to articulate voter anger -- to do so would naturally encourage the response "So why the hell aren't you doing something about it?" But for Nick Clegg to argue, as he did yesterday, that Labour are "making the classic mistake of opposition" and that "by offering anger rather than hope, [they] are steadily becoming a party of protest", strikes me as frankly bizarre.

Almost as bizarre, in fact, as Boris Johnson's attempt to argue that the rise of UKIP is actually good news for the Conservatives because it confirms that "a Tory approach is broadly popular" and that the Labour party "is going precisely nowhere". Hmm ...

As for Nick Clegg's argument, why can't an opposition party both articulate anger and offer hope? Why should anger be the prerogative of the political fringes? And anyway, I'm not sure I've seen much sign of Labour offering anger; from where I sit, the main Labour message seems to be "we know you don't like what that coalition lot are doing, but we think we may have to do something quite similar if/when you elect us."

I have a theory about why the anger has gone out of mainstream politics -- and it revolves around television. The telly-box is what the media studies people call a "cool medium" -- it is much kinder to soft-spoken, reasonable people with an ample store of pithy sound-bites than to tub-thumping ideologues who could make themselves heard in the far corners of Trafalgar Square without the aid of a microphone.

So Michael Foot has morphed into Tony Blair, and Enoch Powell has become David Cameron. I exaggerate slightly for effect, of course, and it's not exactly irrelevant that neither Foot nor Powell ever won a general election. (Arguably, neither has Cameron, but we can leave that for another day.)

But if UKIP do well on Thursday, let's see how long it takes Ed Miliband to start speaking up a bit more for the mad-as-hellers.