Tag Archives: question time

Biased Question Time? Bring it on!

It has to be said, the BNP has a point. The BBC did change the format of Question Time. It was almost all about the BNP’s policies, the audience was somewhat more ethnically diverse than the UK average.

Fair enough. Instead of pretending he got fair treatment, let’s be equally unfair to all the parties. Let’s have a similarly formatted show with Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg. Throw in Nigel Farage, Caroline Lucas and the nationalist parties for good measure.

Of one thing I am absolutely certain: while they might flounder here and there, none of them will come across as badly as Griffin did last night. Not even Brown and his evasiveness. Not even Farage (although I suspect it will be a close run thing).

It would almost certainly make for better television than Question Time normally. Seeing how our political leaders face up to adversity is frankly more of a test than a programme attempting to maintain the semblance of balance. Frankly, right now I am struggling to come up with a downside.

Rolling news and the BNP

I’ve been watching the BBC’s news coverage. Since 5pm they have had one new story – Nick Griffin. This despite the fact that the Royal Mail strikes are ongoing, 6,000 Sri Lankans have been released from internment, another soldier has been killed in Afghanistan and Ethiopia has asked for food aid.

Why are the BBC so obsessed with, um, the BBC? In fairness to them, the UAF have been doing all they can to feed the media beast by protesting outside TV Centre, invading the building and helpfully coordinating parallel protests outside all the other BBC offices around the country.

Throughout the hour broadcast there was just one short two minute item which went into what Nick Griffin actually believed – pretty much everything else was talking heads and process. This isn’t news – it’s noise – and the only two memorable images to come out of it is a bunch of students being dragged around shouting something incoherent and silly about Nazis and a grinning, avuncular Nick Griffin entering the studios from the rear.

I think the BBC are right to have Griffin on Question Time. I’m a bit concerned at the format. In common with all political broadcasting in recent years it has become more soft focus, featuring celebrities and members of the commentariat to voice their often empty headed opinions. I am concerned that if the mix of questions is got wrong then Griffin will be let off the hook and allowed to express reasonable views on an assortment of fairly uncontroversial issues. I still think however that he is likely to get a harder time on the programme than I’ve seen any BBC interviewer give him – most notably Gavin Esler this afternoon.

But if every time he goes on a programme like this the UAF and the BBC decide to turn it into a day-long event then how he looks on the programme itself will be irrelevant. All people will remember is a big row which they can spin into their narrative about standing up to a wicked and venal establishment. Both organisations really need to consider their policies here and what exactly they are trying to achieve.

I’d rather have politicians interrogating the BNP than the BBC

The debate surrounding Nick Griffin’s imminent appearance on Question Time is hotting up. I’ve been intrigued by today’s events which, to cut a long story short, has resulted in Griffin suggesting that the army chiefs who have stood up to him today ought to be hanged.

It is an idiotic thing to day and something he will no doubt be challenged over on the programme on Thursday. And related to that, Sunny Hundal has some good suggestions of points that Griffin’s fellow panelists ought to challenge him with.

Here’s the thing though. I’m quite confident that Jack Straw, Chris Huhne, Bonnie Greer and even Sayeeda Warsi will be briefed up to the eyeballs and give Griffin a hard time. If anything, I’m worried that in their enthusiasm they may give the impression that he is being bullied. Sadly however, I don’t have the same confidence in the BBC to do the same, either before or afterwards.

The treatment meted out (or rather not) by Radio 1’s Newsbeat to Mark Collett and “Joey” perfectly encapsulates this. But generally, the BBC tends to talk up the chances of the BNP’s prospect and talk down quite why exactly they are “controversial”.

It isn’t just the BBC. The media generally tend to report the BNP as a phenomena without actually examining what they stand for in detail, leaving that to organisations such as the UAF, Hope not Hate and Nothing British.

My own encounter with Mark Collett was a case in point. A lifetime ago (well 2000-2002) I was the campaign organiser for the Leeds Lib Dems. Collett was standing in Harehills ward against one of our sitting councillors in a ward hotly contested by Labour. The Yorkshire Evening Post were obsessed with this, and convinced that Collett was about to march to victory. This despite the fact that the ward was only 60% white. They were putting him up on the front page every other day, screaming about an imminent BNP invasion. At one point, out of frustration, I bet a journalist that Collett would get less than 5% of the vote. Sadly we did not agree terms regarding money (I certainly needed it at the time): he got 3.8% of the vote (pdf).

The BNP are certainly a threat in Leeds now, having maneuvred themselves into the largely white parts of the borough. Their influx would have been slowed somewhat if only the media had been willing and able to keep some perspective.

So, far from condemning politicians who agree to go on Question Time, I’m hopeful that they will do a rather better job than the journalists who interview them – with less controversy – on a daily basis.

In defence of Eric Pickles

Longtime readers of this blog will be aware of my glowing record of defending Conservative politicians – especially Party Chairperkins. But I do think there is a danger in going overboard in criticism of Eric Pickles after his car crash performance on Thursday’s Question Time.

I do actually think that an MP with a constituency 37 miles away should be entitled to have a place to stay overnight in central London. MP’s do often work very long, very unsociable hours. Most companies that expect their staff to work in such a way do allow them to claim for overnight accomodation.

There is a danger that by concerning ourselves too much with Pickes’ lamentable performance that we end up with a more iniquitous system which would shrink the pool from which MPs are likely to be drawn. As I have written several times now, there is a very simple solution: allow MPs to buy second homes on their allowances as at present, but ensure the equity is owned by the taxpayer. That way, if they sell up the money (including any profit) goes back to us. It might give them a roof over their head but never again could it be claimed that they were simply doing it to fiddle the system. What’s more, it is already established practice for certain categories of public sector staff.

It is a very simple reform and I have yet to come across a serious argument against it. From the tax payer’s point of view it is actually better than forcing MPs to only rent property or this crazy dormitory idea that people talk about from time to time (just think of the additional cost of security). Indeed, I believe it was actually discussed by MPs themselves last year – and rejected.

This gets to the heart of the problem. The political class appears to have become incapable of reform, even if it is in their direct interest to do so – enlightened self interest has been trumped by immediate self-gratification. This is just one example, and it is linked to the cheapness with which they are prepared to sell our liberties. There is a word for that sort of thing – decadent – and throughout history we have seen what happens when a country’s elite becomes so chronically out of touch. The courts of Louis XVI and Nicholas II spring to mind.

Revolution is an idea that excites the puerile imaginations of socialists and anarchists – many of whom will be taking to the streets today and next Wednesday. The truth is though, they generally hurt the most vulnerable in society as much as the most powerful, and the insurgent political class is typically far worse than its predecessor. Fortunately, we aren’t at that point yet and there is still time to turn it around. A few more years of recession though and things might be very different.

But every time an MP puts in a preening, arrogant performance like Eric Pickles did this week, it enrages yet more people. This wasn’t so much a case of “let them eat cake” as “who ate all the cake?” If Cameron has any sense he should slap him down hard.