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Crawley Question Time: part one

January 23rd, 2009 · Posted by Skuds in Life/Politics · No Comments · Life, Politics

The BBC's Question Time at the Hawth theatre, January 22nd 2009

The BBC's Question Time at the Hawth theatre, January 22nd 2009

That’s ominous isn’t it?  “part one”…   It is not that I intend to go on and on at such great length that it requires two parts, though I can’t promise that I won’t, it is just that I want to separate comments on the content of the show and a description of the mechanics of the recording which may be of interest to those unable to get in, or going to future shows.  This is the one about the content.

By the way, the show is available on the BBC’s iPlayer for the next week.

One thing you will not have seen last night was me saying anything, and there are several good reasons for that.  The first and most trivial reason is that, from videoconference experience at work, I know exactly how damn fat I look on TV and don’t wish to draw undue attention to that.  (So why was I sitting right at the front?  That’ sin part two!)

The second reason is that neither of my pre-submitted questions was selected.  Everybody submits a couple of questions beforehand which are sorted into topic and the producers choose a question from each of the most popular topics.  As it happens, the questions I wanted to ask were asked by others, sort of.  For the record, my questions, as far as I can remember, were:

Do the panel think that MPs’ expenses should be published in full, or are 26 categories enough?

Maybe a little off-message for a Labour PPC, but I genuinely interested in what justifications could be given for the different points of view, since my own opinion on this is so fluid at the moment.  I tried to make the question neutral.

The other question was:

Last month Ken Clarke said “the need to work with Obama will influence my party’s position on Europe”.  Was he right and does the same apply to other parties.

OK, slightly calculated to be an opportunity for some stirring up of the Tories’ internal conflicts on Europe in the hope it would open up some old wounds but a fair question.  It just so happened that Chris Oxlade had virtually the same question and his one got picked.

I was quite pleased with the question.  I thought it was better than trotting out the party line on something – and then I got home later and found my daily email from Labour head office contained very similar comments from Caroline Flint – so I was inadvertantly intending to trot out the party line anyway.

Had I the opportunity for a third potential question it would have been something like:

Having followed the elections and handover of power in the US, are there any elements of the US system that the panel would like to see introduced over here?

Personally I like the idea of a handover period for the outgoing regime to tie up loose ends and the incoming to prepare themselves, I like the fixed terms, and I like the way US presidents can choose their staff rather than having civil servants of unknown sympathies and commitment foisted on them.  I throughly dislike the so-called midnight legislation and presidential pardons.

The other reason I was not seen to speak comes down to a sort of shyness, or reluctance to be pushy and force my own view on everybody – probably a bad trait for someone standing for election, but never mind.  I get that sort of thing out of my system here.   Also some of the things I would have most liked to say would not have been helpful, being at a slight tangent to the debate or only worth saying if they could be said immediately.

For example, when Christopher Meyer said that the bonus culture is totally wrong and nobody should get a bonus just for doing their job.  One response to that is that it depends on the job.  Some jobs have a basic salary set at a lower level in expectation of a bonus.  I have seen pay negotiations where a company has resisted, say, a 5% claim saying they couldn’t afford it, then offer 2% plus a 5% bonus if results were good enough that they could afford it.  The unions have accepted it as a decent compromise, and so on – but the nature of QT doesn’t lend itself to lengthy or detailed debate.  It is all in shorthand and dumbed down to an extent.  Everyone takes it for granted that bonus = fat cat bankers getting million pound lump sums.

Remember the show is only an hour long and they can cram in 5 or 6 main questions, so such weghty issues as the entire economy have to be dealt with in an average of ten minutes.

The sort of response that would fit into the QT format would be:

  • If Christopher Meyer doesn’t believe anybody should get a bonus for just doing their job, does he ever leave a tip when he eats out or takes a taxi?
  • If it is wrong to reward somebody for just doing their job, why is the honours system used to reward civil servants for just doing their job SIR Christopher?

Meyer seemed like a nice bloke, but I think they are both valid questions and I was biting my tongue not to try and make the last point.

The only other time I felt that I had something to say that nobody else looked like picking up on, I just couldn’t think of a way to phrase it right and succinctly enough. (There was another time, but I’ll come to that)

Liam Fox (and how disappointed we were to find out it was not the *real* Doctor Fox on the show) had spoken about how loyal Kenneth Clarke is and how he would recognise collective responsibility and not speak out against the official party position on Europe – whatever that is.   He said this twice in two different ways and it sort of seemed like he was saying that the real reason Clarke was on the front benches was to do with the old phrase about wanting somebody inside the tent pissing out rather than outside the tent pissing in.

Was he really suggesting that Ken is in the shadow cabinet primarily to shut him up?

Dimbleby gave up all attempts at subtlety in his attempts to look inside Caroline Flint's jacket

Dimbleby gave up all attempts at subtlety in his attempts to look inside Caroline Flint's jacket

When they were talking about the detail of the Northern Rock agreements, and seeing Caroline Flint struggling a bit I was sitting ther wishing she would have the guts to say something like “at the time I was spending 12 hours a day on the detail of the housing portfolio so how the bloody hell should I know?”

I do sometimes despair of the climate of debate where it is seen as a crime to not know everything.  If government was so simple that any person could hold all the details of it all then we wouldn’t need ministers and departments but just one really clever bloke in charge of everything.

Otherwise, general impressions: Christopher Meyer seemed like a decent sort but then as an ex-diplomat you could assume that a key skill of his is to make people like him.   Laws seemed OK too.  I’m glad he raised the point about the Guantanamo detaineees being innocent until proven guilty – I had been on the verge of overcoming my aversion to the spotlight to make that point because I think it is important.  Obviously I like Caroline Flint, and not just for the obvious reasons.  Foxy I thought came across as OK for a Tory, though a bit lightweight.  The journalist woman didn’t make much of an impression at all.

As for Dimbleby…  he was not as rude as he was last week.  I caught part of the programme last week and while one guest was in the middle of an answer he turned his back on them to ask a question of another.  Mind you, knowing the nature of politicians on a platform and of the public in a large meeting, it is not an easy job he does and despite being no Robin Day, he does it well.

Did I watch the show when I got home?  Part of it.  I went up for a shower halfway through, leaving Jayne to point and laugh whenever my belly was in view.  As far as I was concerned it was a repeat!

Overall I thought that the people of this area came out of it all quite well.

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