Friday, February 25, 2011

Calder on Air: What Queston Time tells us about British politics

My Calder on Air column from today's Liberal Democrat News.

Against my principles

I have not gained much wisdom, but there are two principles I try to live by. The first is to enjoy things while you have them, because these are the times you will look back on with nostalgia one day. The second is never to watch Question Time (BBC1).

You know what it’s like at Liberal Democrat Conference: if you wander into the hall and sit down at random, you always find yourself directly in front of someone who applauds, very loudly, all the points made from the platform that you most disagree with. Well, the entire audience for Question Time is made up of people like that.

Actually, it is worse. There are times when an edition of the programme convinces you that Britain is ripe for a Fascist takeover - probably by next Tuesday. But watching the show last week convinced me that it is not the audience that is the problem but the panel.

And that despite the fact that, though this edition of Question Time came from Barking, it was actually less barking than usual. The panel was almost distinguished. Michael Heseltine is an elderly, toothless lion who needs 14 days’ written notice before he can roar, but a lion none the less. Vince Cable was his usual professorial self: able to appear above the fray while putting the boot in when it is required. Yvette Cooper has a high reputation... but more of her later.

Outside the three main parties, there was Nigel Farage. You can imagine him being fun to have a drink with if you found a new local. The first time. By the end of the week you would be giving his saloon bar and his saloon bar prejudices a wide berth. About five miles, to be safe.

The fifth member of the panel – the obligatory non-politician – was Victoria Barnsley, the chief executive of HarperCollins. It is a sign that something is wrong with British politics when one of Rupert Murdoch’s cohorts emerges as the voice of liberalism.

Take the first question, which was on the British Supreme Court’s decision that those placed on the sex offenders register should be able to have the decision reviewed by the courts. Without being melodramatic, the principle that it should be possible to challenge what the state does is pretty much the one that people have been dying for in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

It is not like that on Question Time. There was agreement between most panellists and most audience members that it was an outrage that this sanction should ever be open to review, but that if it really, really had to be reviewed then it should be by the police and not by the courts. It was taken as axiomatic that all sex offenders are paedophiles and the whole exchange suggested that wider society has adopted the morality of the prison system where, however wicked you are, you can cheer yourself by looking down on nonces.

Nigel Farage, of course, blamed it all on the European Union. Vince Cable and Michael Heseltine had the grace to remain largely above this debate. Yvette Cooper had no such scruples. Though she was careful not to commit herself to any coherent position, she sounded fierce.

And boy did she talk. She talked and talked and talked. Verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs, old boots, gerunds. It was just the same on the economy. She did not explain how Labour could possibly borrow more, but she talked and talked. Look out, it’s the kitchen sink!

Living with Ed Balls can’t help. If the milkman called at their house about the bill he would get a lecture on the iniquities of Tory farming policy and another on the need to invest in new floats, but he wouldn’t get his money.

So you learn a lot from Question Time. It’s just that you don’t learn it in the way the producers intend.


Z said...

"If the milkman called at their house about the bill he would get a lecture on the iniquities of Tory farming policy and another on the need to invest in new floats, but he wouldn’t get his money."

A beautiful quote.

Anonymous said...

Haha, brilliant!