How Lockdown Saved “Question Time”
The BBC's flagship political debate programme had started to resemble 'Jeremy Kyle' until it was restricted to Zoom
I’ve long been a fan of ‘Question Time,’ and often apply to be on it, but in recent years its flaws had really started to come to the forefront. The ‘Question Time’ audience lend themselves to parody, with their stereotypical and unoriginal opinions and comments, parodied very well by comedians and impressionists such as Harry Enfield. The panel’s increased need to have someone controversial or reactionary is also well parodied in British comedy, going back to Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge parody Lieutenant colonel Kojak Slaphead III.
‘Question Time’ doesn’t even need to be parodied at all to be funny in this aspect. And I don’t pretend that I don’t enjoy watching it. I also don’t oppose the inclusion of people other than politicians and journalists on the panel, provided the extra guest actually wants to make the effort and have opinions and show an interest. But it had started to resemble its parodies a little too strongly.
To illustrate what I mean by this, you only have to start by considering the title. It’s called ‘Question’ time. The radio show that it evolved from was called ‘Any Questions?’ So if you’re going to go on the panel, you have a duty to be ready to have something to say on whatever it is you’re asked. And I like it for that. It gets rid of the awkwardness that happens when you want to talk about politics at a party, but you can’t just jump straight into it. One thing I do not miss about social gatherings is the guy who can’t stop putting the world to rights after one pint. But on this show, members of the panel are there for that purpose. They’re politicians, journalists, and people with an interest in politics for some other reason related to their career. They engage in such issues in newspaper columns and the like. But face-to-face political discussion is still an annoying thing to jump to. So ‘Question Time’ saves the day. Unlike a column or party political broadcast, the opinions can be discussed. And it’s guaranteed that the audience will want that to be the case. Here the audience is full of people who really want to hear what they have to say. Except that had largely ceased to be the case.
Instead, it seems that the audience is made up of entirely of those people at at parties who can’t stop going on about what the perfect world should look like and how their opinion is the right one. They stick their hands up on the program and instead of asking a question, they (usually through the medium of inane shouting) tell the panel that they know exactly what should be done and how it’s "DISGUSTING" that nobody seems to understand this. I can only conclude that my inability to make it past the phone call stage of the application process was that I didn't harbour such strong views, and was just mildly interested in education or something.
And the reactionary guests kept getting more ridiculous every week. People who have nothing to do with anything but would get a reaction were invited on. This time last year it was actor/musician Laurence Fox. And his argument with an angry audience member went viral. People can draw their own conclusions about Mr Fox's subsequent foray into politics, but quite honestly, altercations like his caused me to question whether the BBC had made an executive decision to move into the gap in the market that was left after the 'The Jeremy Kyle Show' was cancelled.
Instead of ‘Question Time,’ we had ‘Statement time.’ And honestly it was often hilarious to watch. As I say it lends itself easily to parody. But for goodness’ sake it’s supposed to be a serious program. And it said something to me about the decline in the necessity of proper debate in this post-truth world where angry statements are favoured over genuine enquiries. I longed for 'Question Time' to return, and my prayers were answered in the form of its forced move to the platform of Zoom. Gone is the inane shouting, gone is the jeering, and the reactionary guest slot seems to have mysteriously vanished. Yes, people can still put their hand up, but the nature of it all being digital means it is far easier for Fiona Bruce to request pre-written questions from virtual audience members. We have ended up with a genuine political debate programme, and with everything that is going on in the world right now being so serious, it couldn't have been more timely. Little miracles. I still haven't made it past the phone call stage but I'm working on that.