I have an interest in politics and tend to watch some of the political programs, the Marr Show, Sunday Politics (these on demand as I walk on Sundays), BBC parliament and of course BBC Question Time.
I applied to be in the Question Time audience many years ago but got nowhere. I applied again this time it came to Stoke-on-Trent because union bashing Sajid Javid and shadow education secretary Lucy Powell were on the panel and trade unions and education are particular interests for me. This time I got an invite after a request to telephone them and discuss my views. I was asked to email in a first question, ideally 20 words or less, mine was:
“Do you think the new trade union bill constitutes an attack on democracy, free speech and the right to protest?”
Well I do but I would have liked to see the panel discuss this, although I pretty much realised my question was unlikely to be mainstream enough to be picked. I think the bill is an attack on trade unions. The Government does not seem to realise the value of having a good relationship with bodies that represent and support workers and of having workers with good conditions and support in the workplace. I am retired but maintain my union membership. My union supported me in work and I continue to support them in retirement, indeed they are still there if I should need help.
We were to turn up at the King's Hall, Stoke between 6pm and 6.30pm on the evening. I did a calculation to see if I could get there after the very pleasant 9 mile Stone Ramblers walk from Matlock to Ambergate and decided I could, but in the end it was quite a rush. Nevertheless I got to the car park a few minutes before 6pm to wait with the other tight fisted so-and-sos until 6pm struck to reduce the car parking cost from £2 to £1.
I have been to the Civic Centre in Stoke no end of times and you never really know what door to go in. As the event was in the King's Hall I headed straight to that side of the building, saw a door open and went in that way. The set up was quite impressive in there with the tiered seating but it dawned on me that I wasn't in the right place as yet, had accidentally bypassed any security and could have brought any kind of bomb in with me, not I hasten to add, that I would have wanted to! No other audience member was there, just the TV crew all dressed in black. I was not exactly inconspicuous in yellow trousers and red cardigan but nobody challenged me so I wandered through and into the rest of the council building. Eventually I found the queue I was meant to be in but it was long so I went off to find a mirror, apply some cosmetics and comb and try unsuccessfully to tame my hair, as I'd left home in a rush with wet hair after a rather quick shower. Then I joined the 'security' queue for the belt off, watch off, airport style scanning procedure. I did find it a tad hilarious that we had to go through that rigmarole to access the tea and biscuits and loos, whereas you could just wander freely into the actual studio. We then went through ID showing driving licenses and our invitations and picked up a card to write another question on, these are last minute questions so they can be up to date. I had prepared one “what effect will ignoring electoral commission advice on the electoral registration deadline have on the boundary review?”, but the instructions underlined for it to be provocative so I submitted the question:
“By ignoring electoral commission advice, is the Government guilty of gerrymandering?”
Yes I think they are. If the electoral commission recommend December 2016 for the end of the transition to independent electoral registration, then it seems to me the Government knocking the old electorate off a year early must be for party political reasons. I agree with having a boundary review though it seems illogical to reduce the number of MPs given increasing population. I agree with having much more equal numbers of electorate in the constituencies, though +-5% is a bit tight and makes some of the boundaries geographically a bit difficult to sensibly draw, +-10% might be better as a limit. But the law is what it is and 600 MPs we will have with electorate within +-5% of the electoral quota. By discarding a considerable number of electorate who have not re-registered using the new individual rather than household system early, the Government are gerrymandering. This will affect the electoral quota, the electorate in each constituency and the boundaries. It's an important democratic point in my view though I can sense many people yawning at the geekyness of this issue even as I write. This had been in the media the day before question time but I was pretty sure it was even less likely to be picked. In the end I'm not that pragmatic or strategic but go with what I personally am most interested in.
While we were drinking tea in the Jubilee room David Dimbleby came to talk to us about how things would work. He said they take all of our submitted questions and sort them into topics, then pick a question from each of the most popular topics. He also tried to fire us up, he encouraged us to argue with the panel and each other (even though he later told Alan Barrett off for telling a panel member to shut up). He told us to take the program by the balls! Which I have to say did perk my interest a bit more.
So the way it worked is we had a practice session with audience volunteers as the panel and a humorous chap in charge of the production in the chair and a question submitted to a previous programme on sugar tax. This was so we could practice and the cameras and microphones could be tested. I didn't get picked to make a comment even in that session.
Then we were told who had been selected to ask questions and they were given their questions back. One of these questions, on HS2 having no station in Stoke, was a warm up question, with the actual panel in place and David Dimbleby in the chair, which would not appear on the programme. After that the whole programme is filmed in one go without pausing or editing.
As expected my questions didn't get picked and as expected questions on migration and Cameron's EU negotiations did get picked. The migration question is important but a very difficult issue. But Cameron's EU negotiations are meaningless to me as there is nothing in them that will change my mind, which at present is tending towards vote leave for greater devolved decision making to our nation, to save the EU subscription money and because the EU seems to be falling apart anyway. I'm all for good cooperation between nations, worldwide, but not convinced the EU is the way to best do it. I'm open to changing my mind to vote remain but have heard insufficient good argument for that as yet. David Dimbleby had told us if our question gets picked we should ask that question and not a different one. I had thought that odd at the time, why would you want to ask a different one? But I realise that is the way to do it. Ask the most obvious EU question to get on a popular question pile, ask it in the most catchy way to try and get it chosen from the pile, then when on air, come out with one on trade unions or boundaries!
I did put my hand up to comment during the programme but didn't get picked. I actually realised that you are more likely to get picked if you shout out rather than put your hand up as instructed. I had particularly wanted to comment on the question of whether the Sun was bullying Jeremy Corbyn over his poppy day 'nod'. Well yes and it's a story blown up over very little, but Stig Abel had said it originated from comments from other Labour MPs. I had wanted to comment that it's not just the Sun having a go at Jeremy, it is other Labour MPs. They should remember that it was their own party members who voted, in huge numbers, for their leader, under their own leadership election system. And I heard that it didn't in the end need the extra votes from registered Labour supporters such as myself. So they can say what they like but they ignore their grass roots at their peril. It is that sort of arrogance that made Blair unpopular and pushed their party into decline. I have not voted Labour for many years. I have not joined the party since registering as I like my independence and I do not like Labour locally, on Stoke-on-Trent council the Independent/Tory/UKIP coalition are doing a far better job. But I think Jeremy is giving Labour the shake up it needs and making political debate more interesting. It was interesting for that question that an audience member said David Cameron had had a poppy photoshopped onto one of his photographs, I hadn't heard that before. It was also interesting that even Sajid Javid had no problem with Jeremy Corbyn's conduct at remembrance.
I had also half heartedly tried to comment on the health service question. I do not have much experience to bear on this and many others have, but it did irk me that Sajid Javid kept repeating the lie that the NHS is free at the point of use. Well, I go to an NHS dentist and it costs money, a fair amount of money, and I have to pay up BEFORE I go in for my check up or treatment! Not free at all, not free at the point of use.
Question time was an interesting experience. I spoke briefly to a group of junior doctors and a school student. There seemed to be a lot of young people there, which is good, I think it is important the younger generation get involved, even if they have not reached voting age yet! Would I try to go on the program again? I wouldn't rule it out but probably not. I think I've got pretty mainstream views, but probably not mainstream enough, and I'm probably too reserved and polite for it. I'm a pretty passionate person but I don't look it.