Thursday, 21 May 2009

A Sign of the Political Times - #bbcqt

It must be a sign of the interesting times in which we live, but the BBC have moved their ‘flagship’ political debate programme, Question Time, from it’s regular Thursday night 10:30pm (after the news) slot to a prime time, before the news, 9pm slot. I don’t know if this is a permanent change or not – I suspect not – but it does tell you just how troubled our democracy is in here in Blighty.

The scandal of PM’s expenses which has gripped the nation for almost two weeks now and has led to the effective sacking of the third most powerful person in the country, is the primary reason for tonight’s move. The last time that I can recall the BBC moving Question Time, was during the last election, when the Prime Minister faced questions from the public (as did the other two leaders, but in a change from the usual format they appeared on the platform individually rather than together. TB wasn’t keen on the idea of an actual ‘debate’ with his opponents).

Last week’s Question Time was the most compelling sixty minutes of television in a very long time. Three unfortunate MPs were offered up for public sacrifice by their parties and were joined on the panel by one of the deputy editors of The Daily Telegraph, the newspaper that broke this story, and the head of McDonalds in the UK. Now, it’s been said many times over the last week by many people, but when the head of MaccyD’s is able to take the moral high ground over the MPs, you know we’re in the crapper.

Margaret Beckett for Labour, Menzies Campbell for the Lib Dems and Theresa May for the Tories, had all obviously done something to upset someone in their parties to be put forward for the show – although I think the Lib Dems thought Menzies might keel over with heart failure and attract some sympathy for their side.

The usually sedate, polite, very ‘English"’ audience were actually heckling the panel, booing and one man got so angry he looked as if a blood vessel in his forehead might explode. I have truly never seen anything like it.

It was such a spectacle that it even made the news programmes on other channels the next day. If the MPs hadn’t already judged the mood of the electorate, then certainly got the message during that fascinating hour. The week since then has continued to see revelations about the expense claims of MPs on all sides - today we learned about the MP who claimed a floating duck house for his garden pond on expenses - and has seen some major political casualties as a result – the biggest so far being the Speaker of the House of Commons, Michael Martin, who was forced to announce his retirement from the position he’s held since 2000 after suffering a cringe-making verbal assault by MPs in the chamber on Tuesday.

I am being very careful here not to let this post spill over into my opinion of this whole scandal and the MPs who appear to have been milking the system for all its worth. If I start, I don’t think I’ll ever stop. Instead, I’ll guide my international audience – who may not know what the hell I’m on about – to the BBC’s coverage.

What I will say is that I' believe we are watching the collapse of a democracy here. The trust that the British people have had for the institution of Parliament (not the MPs within it – I don’t think we’ve ever fully trusted them. I’m talking about the institution itself) is evaporating before out eyes. The ‘Mother of Parliaments’ is on its knees.

I have never known (and I admit, at 35 I wasn’t around during the day old days of the 70s) the mood of the country to be so angry – not just with the government, but with all of them. I only hope that the party leaders who are currently in the spotlight can show some genuine leadership and restore the trust in the oldest parliament in the world.

ps, what’s with the “#bbcqt” in the blog title? Well, it’s to do with “Twitter”. Hastags are used on Twitter to help people find tweets on particular topics. #bbcqt is the tag for anything to do with the Question Time programme, and is becoming synonymous with tweets regarding UK politics in general. ‘Live Tweeting” of QT, where folks at home make comments on the show as it’s shown, has been going on since around February. It’s enhanced my enjoyment of the show no end. Last week, for the first time, the hashtag was ‘trending’. There were so many people commenting on the show and using the tag that it showed up as a worldwide ‘hot topic’. We had people from America asking what it was all about. One even commented “Oh dear, the Brits are trending again”. So, look out for the tag tonight on the search.twitter.com website. 9pm – 10pm BST. It should be interesting to say the least.

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