Any Questions?

On Friday night I was lucky enough to go to the recording of Radio 4’s Any Questions programme – for those of you that don’t listen to it it’s a radio version of Question Time (for those of you out of the UK – it’s a political debate programme). It was recorded at the Minster School in Southwell, where I live.

I really enjoyed going, it was interesting to see how it is all set up and how it happens, but in the end I left a little frustrated – mainly because it’s not actually a political debate programme, it’s a political shouting match and name-calling exercise. I don’t think that this problem is anything to do with the programme itself, instead, unfortunately, it is the nature of modern politics.

The time and space to have reasoned debate seems to have disappeared and with a media (not to mention a Twitter audience) that is hungry to dissect every utterance then politicians always have to be “on-message”. The problem is that they focus on being on-message to the detriment of actually producing a coherent message.

Most issues in modern life are complicated, complex and interlinked – there is rarely a simple or easy solution and there is rarely a single solution. The issue of the economy, or of international terrorism, or of the environment need people to sit down together to work through, they also require everyone to make difficult choices and accept some things that they might not like to create a greater good.

Instead what we seem to get is an almost involuntary dismissal of anything that the other side proposes.

It is childish, silly, unhelpful and in the long-run if it continues is a far bigger threat to the very future of politics than the expenses scandal or any other similar expose.

To bring it back to Friday, here are my “scores” for the participants (from left to right as the panel was sitting):

– Ruth Porter – seemed nervous and slightly out of touch with real life, a little too keen to state her rehearsed point
– Ken Clarke – played the relaxed uncle role well, his demeanour and approach impressed me even if I didn’t always agree with him
– Keith Vaz – toed the party line, but had nothing of real interest to say, I really can’t remember him saying anything of interest
– George Galloway – a non-stop showman which ruined many of his points, I agree with him about Iraq and the start of that war, but he can’t concede a single point which ultimately makes him easy to ridicule and ignore

On a side note, George Galloway actually disappointed me the most. A couple of times he got Ruth Porter’s name wrong during the debate, but instead of acting like a human being and apologising to her after the show, he donned his fedora and swanned out of the auditorium. A human touch would have made me like him, would have made me understand that his aggressive approach was an act he felt necessary to make his political points. Instead it made me think that it’s the limelight and not the politics that he cares about.

I may change my mind on this when I listen again (as you can here) and I’d still happily go to another recording, but all in all it just made me a little sad for the state of politics.

UPDATE – 7th Feb

Not too long ago the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, announced a new policy for exams, recently he changed his mind.

Now I’m not to comment on whether the original policy was good, or the change of mind is for the best, but when a politician does change their mind and nearly all the reporting is about a “humiliating u-turn” you can understand why they don’t do it more often.

This tribalistic approach to politics is why we don’t have more debate, consensus and generally working with the other side. This approach is what makes people stick to bad ideas, want to win no matter what the cost and attack good ideas just because the other guys thought of it.

This is why we can’t have nice things people.

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