I fear this rab­ble-rous­ing Leftie bear pit has had its day

Daily Mail - - News - By Stephen Glover

WHEN it started nearly 40 years ago, BBC1’s Ques­tion Time set out to give au­di­ence mem­bers the op­por­tu­nity to put politi­cians on the spot, as had hap­pened for many years on the ra­dio with Any Ques­tions?.

Un­der the chair­man­ship of the late Robin Day dur­ing its first decade, Ques­tion Time re­ally did suc­ceed in en­hanc­ing demo­cratic de­bate. It was al­ways spir­ited but sel­dom petty or ran­corous. Cour­tesy was usu­ally main­tained.

One fondly re­mem­bers ap­pear­ances by ‘big beast’ politi­cians such as Nor­man Teb­bit and Enoch Powell on the Right, David Owen and David Steel in the cen­tre and Tony Benn and Peter Shore on the Left. As a young jour­nal­ist, I of­ten felt I could learn some­thing from the pro­gramme.

No longer. In re­cent years it has, frankly, be­come a bear pit, char­ac­terised by bay­ing au­di­ences that don’t po­lit­i­cally or cul­tur­ally re­flect the gen­eral pub­lic, and of­ten thir­drate pan­el­lists who can’t be re­lied on to know any­thing about pol­i­tics, or for that mat­ter, much else.

Its ur­bane 78-year-old chair­man, David Dim­bleby, has looked in­creas­ingly un­com­fort­able as he tries to keep a lid on tur­bu­lent pro­ceed­ings. He bears an ex­pres­sion which is half-amused, half-dis­ap­prov­ing, as though he knows in his heart that he has wan­dered into a mad house.

But in its long de­cline, the pro­gramme has never sunk as low as it did on Thurs­day. Af­ter its ten-week sum­mer break, it re­turned with a line-up that would have hardly flat­tered a vil­lage de­bat­ing so­ci­ety, and an au­di­ence in Lon­don’s Strat­ford East that seemed typ­i­cally skewed to the Left.

It has, af­ter all, been an event­ful sum­mer. No one could deny that this coun­try faces great chal­lenges. Why couldn’t the BBC — or Men­torn Me­dia, the pro­duc­tion com­pany re­spon­si­ble for the show — have risen to the oc­ca­sion and pro­duced a panel of sub­stance?

Bat­ting for the gov­ern­ment was David gauke, the Work and Pen­sions Sec­re­tary. He is a very de­cent fel­low but his dogged and not in­vari­ably rapier- like per­for­mances will never set the heather alight. One sus­pects that, com­ing from his lips, our tri­umphant vic­tory at the Bat­tle of Trafal­gar would have seemed like dis­ap­point­ing news.

Also on the Right was Ju­lia Hart­ley- Brewer, a ro­bust and flu­ent jour­nal­ist who comes across bet­ter on the screen than she does on the page. Although on two oc­ca­sions she used the pro­gramme to plug her rather ob­scure ra­dio show, she sounded rea­son­able and sane.

The Left — and I mean the pretty Hard Left — were ac­corded three rep­re­sen­ta­tives by the BBC in what was surely an ex­am­ple of the Cor­po­ra­tion’s deep- seated and in­stinc­tive Left-wing bias.

Dawn But­ler, the Cor­bynista Shadow Min­is­ter for Women and Equal­i­ties, turned out to have as much un­der­stand­ing of eco­nomics as I do of par­ti­cle col­lid­ers. An­other pan­el­list, Kirsty Black­man (a self-ef­fac­ing young woman who has much to be self-ef­fac­ing about), is the Scot­tish Na­tional Party’s deputy leader in the Com­mons. Isn’t it bizarre how of­ten eco­nom­i­cally il­lit­er­ate SNP politi­cians pop up on Bri­tain-wide BBC po­lit­i­cal pro­grammes de­spite their party get­ting only 3 per cent of the na­tional vote?

The third Leftie was one of Aun­tie’s favourite new pets — the nov­el­ist Will Self, a lugubri­ous and su­per­cil­ious char­ac­ter who likes to present him­self as a man of the peo­ple de­spite hav­ing at­tended a well-known English pub­lic school and be­ing im­mensely pleased with him­self. Most fa­mously, he was sacked from the Ob­server news­pa­per af­ter snort­ing heroin in the lava­tory on Prime Min­is­ter John Ma­jor’s jet while part of the Tory leader’s elec­tion cam­paign press party in 1997.

As for the mem­bers of the au­di­ence, to judge by their re­sponse to a ques­tion about the pub­lic sec­tor ‘pay cap’, which took up about a third of the pro­gramme, they were also heav­ily in­clined to the Left, though Men­torn and the BBC are sup­posed to en­sure that they are po­lit­i­cally rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the wider elec­torate. I don’t re­call a sin­gle per­son in the au­di­ence who didn’t think that the gov­ern­ment had ei­ther been wrong to ap­ply a pay cap in the first place, or was mis­guided in lift­ing it only for the po­lice and prison of­fi­cers.

On the panel, Tory min­is­ter gauke was pretty hope­less, and made lit­tle or noth­ing of the record fig­ures for em­ploy­ment pub­lished ear­lier in the week. Labour’s Dawn But­ler wanted ev­ery­one in the pub­lic sec­tor to have a pay rise im­me­di­ately, and claimed that there were enough ban­knotes on Jeremy Cor­byn’s magic money tree to pay the ex­tra £9 bil­lion needed a year.

The Scot­tish Na­tion­al­ist woman thought much the same.

But for sheer nas­ti­ness, nei­ther woman could com­pete with the rab­ble-rous­ing Self, who was busy stir­ring up class ha­tred. ‘Why don’t you print some more money like you did for the bankers?’ he sneered at David gauke in a par­tic­u­larly non­sen­si­cal heckle.

He also as­serted, to ap­plause, that ‘the poor have got poorer, and the rich have got richer’. In fact, this is not true — not that truth is of much im­por­tance on Ques­tion Time th­ese days.

The in­de­pen­dent and re­spected In­sti­tute for Fis­cal Stud­ies re­cently pub­lished a re­port which showed that in­equal­ity be­tween the rich and the poor has nar­rowed since the 2007-08 re­ces­sion. In Lon­don, there has been a ‘dra­matic’ fall in in­equal­ity.

If Will Self is a typ­i­cal Left-wing in­tel­lec­tual, god help the Left-wing Es­tab­lish­ment. Be­lieve it or not, he is Pro­fes­sor of Con­tem­po­rary Thought at Brunel Univer­sity. We must pity his poor stu­dents.

It was much the same dur­ing the dis­cus­sion on Brexit, where Ju­lia Hart­ley-Brewer was the only pan­el­list who had voted Leave, though there were sev­eral mem­bers of the au­di­ence who spoke out against the ma­jor­ity panel view — namely that Bri­tain is doomed.

Apart from the sheer vacu­ity of ev­ery­thing, what was so de­press­ing about this de­ranged zoo was the ab­sence of rea­soned de­bate and knowl­edge and ba­sic ci­vil­ity. This was the 4th XI at play, and, in­stead of bats, they were wield­ing lumps of wood.

One les­son I draw from all this is that if Tories are go­ing to par­tic­i­pate in such rum­bus­tious bear pits, they had bet­ter pro­duce spokes­men who are more elo­quent and in­tel­lec­tu­ally fleet- of- foot than poor David gauke. He may well be an ex­cel­lent min­is­ter, but this was not his fo­rum.

A deeper ques­tion has to do with the fu­ture of Ques­tion Time. Hasn’t it lost its point as it has di­vested it­self of se­ri­ous­ness and the com­mon cour­te­sies? It no longer con­trib­utes much, if any­thing, to the demo­cratic process. Whereas Ra­dio 4’s Any Ques­tions? re­mains in­ter­est­ing, lively and in­for­ma­tive (with David Dim­bleby’s brother, Jonathan, al­ways quick to chide un­ruly mem­bers of the au­di­ence), BBC1’s Ques­tion Time has, in ef­fect, be­come a form of feral, re­al­ity tele­vi­sion.

More­over, the ap­par­ently in-built bias to the Left ( al­ways ab­surdly de­nied by the BBC) is an­other af­front to democ­racy. Dur­ing a spe­cial elec­tion edi­tion of Ques­tion Time at the end of May, mem­bers of a sup­pos­edly bal­anced au­di­ence jeered when­ever Jeremy Cor­byn was crit­i­cised. Even the oh- so-right-on pre­sen­ter Mishal Hu­sain was heck­led when she pointed out that Cor­byn had strug­gled to cost prop­erly Labour’s flag­ship child­care pol­icy.

David Dim­bleby’s heart is plainly no longer in con­trol­ling this cir­cus, though he is doubt­less un­will­ing to give up his stu­pen­dous earn­ings, which, un­like the ma­jor­ity of BBC salaries, still can’t be pub­lished be­cause he is tech­ni­cally paid by Men­torn.

Yet I won­der whether new blood would make much dif­fer­ence. Ques­tion Time in its present form has be­come so de­based and dumbed down that I doubt a new chair­man could save it.

Thurs­day’s edi­tion was sham­ing and dispir­it­ing. Bri­tish democ­racy ur­gently needs a pro­gramme which ful­fils the role of Ques­tion Time. We just don’t need the pro­gramme it has be­come.

A new low? The Ques­tion Time line-up on Thurs­day

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.