Why are the audiences for political debate programmes so unrepresentative of the voting population? By which I mean, why are they seemingly always stuffed to the gills with Corbynista maniacs? On Any Questions? and Question Time, the best way to get a loud cheer from the crowd is to suggest we should decapitate the Queen, or invade Israel. Is this because of BBC bias?
Two contrasting views in the papers these last few days. One from the right-wing journo Allison Pearson, who had to suffer a ‘leftie hell’ on Any Questions?, and who wants the BBC to make a better effort to balance the audiences. And one from media consultant Chris Birkett, an old mucker of mine back when we were at the BBC. Both are partially right, both partially wrong, I think.
Let me explain. I’ve been involved in two debates near my home recently, neither of them anything to do with the BBC. The first was a sort of mock Question Time at a church in Wye, to raise money for repairs, the second a debate about the EU at a grammar school in Faversham. In both cases, the audiences were overwhelmingly middle-class lefties. In the latter debate the bias was quite astonishing. Faversham is a Tory seat with a typically high (for Kent) Ukip vote. At the last election the combined vote for Tory-Ukip was more than 72 per cent. And yet when polled before the debate, only five or six people out of the more than 200 present expressed a wish to leave the EU. The rest, all of them, were fervently for ‘in’. Incredible. To get a cheer from these well-heeled, vacuous, liberals, all you had to do was say something sentimental and misguided about the ‘refugees’, or immigration generally, or express the view that Jeremy Corbyn was a really bloody good bloke. Wye, incidentally, is also in a rock-solid Tory constituency.
So the fault does not lie with the BBC, even if the corporation is undoubtedly biased. But neither is it a case that, as Birkett put it, one section of the audience simply likes to get ‘stuck in’. It is more fundamental. It would seem that the only people interested in these sorts of debates are the relentlessly involved, affluent, jabbering, middle-class liberals. Often working in the public or third sector. It is nigh on impossible to get them to shut up for a minute, so we can hear the views from the vast majority……………………..