Friday, August 27, 2010

The Any Questions Experience (2)

Well I'm in the BBC car driving the 300 miles back to Kent (no, there are no trains at this time of night since you ask) reflecting on my second experience of Any Questions. And seeing as I won't get back to Tunbridge Wells until 3am I thought I'd write a little missive about appearing on Any Questions.

I suppose that given our hosts in Newcastle were the Workers Education Association I shouldn't have been surprised to get a hostile audience, but it comes to something when you're booed before you even sit down! And frankly, they didn't get any friendlier. By the end I reckoned I could have told the funniest joke in the history of joketelling and not got a laugh.

My fellow panellists were Deborah Mattinson (Brown's pollster), Matthew Taylor (Blair's head of policy) and Adrian Fawcett (CEO of the General Healthcare group).

The warm up question was asked by a lady who wanted to know if the coalition would still be in place by the time the Cameron baby starts nursery school. We all gave slightly formulaic answers and all agreed the coalition was probably there for the long term. At the end the questioner came up to and thanked me for my eye contact. She didn't like the fact that none of the others looked at her.

And at 8.02 Eddie Mair welcomed the Radio 4 audience and off we went. The first question (I think) was predictably about the IFS report. I made a lightly nervous start and I seem to remember being booed a couple of times when I defended the coalition's economic approach. But in the end I think the sparring got me into my stride.

Next came a question on health and how the system should be financed and structured. I thought this was probably my best answer and I seemed to make the audience think a little judging from their faces. I talked about how the NHS could never meet all the demands made on it and we had to get away from the 'public good, private bad' prevailing attitudes. I said it wasn't structures that were important, it was outcomes. I also questioned a system which spends £4 billion on gastric bands but can't provide muich needed cancer drugs. As I hadn't had a boo yet, I then suggested some people who wanted gastric bands ought to eat less. Cue the boos!

We then had a question about the cat woman and who or what we'd like to put in a wheelie boin. Deborah Mattinson stole my answer. She said she would put Mrs Bale in it. Bugger, I thought, what do I say now? I said that I'd put Mrs Bale in the Big Cat enclosure at Whipsnade Zoo for 15 hours as I am a believer in restorative justice. Not a titter. OK, not that great but any other audience might have at least pretended to laugh. Not this one.

There then followed three questions which none of us could have predicted - on paternity leave, adult education and library cuts. I don't think any of us gave particularly insightful answers, although I did have a brief spat with La Mattinson when she professed to be deeply suspicious of the Big Society, implying that volunteering was bad if it meant taking over the functions of the State. Matthew Taylor talked a great deal of sense on this and deprecated the left's knee jerk response to the Big Society.

We finished with a question about Twitter from someone who turned out to be one of my blogreaders. Bless you, sir!

So all on all, I'd call the whole thing a bit of a score draw, with the audience possibly winning on points for the level of booing. I certainly didn't enjoy it as much I did on my first appearance a year ago in Ottery St Mary, and I suspect the audience didn't either. Far too much agreement!

If you didn't hear it, the programme is repeated at 1.10pm on Saturday and is then available on iPlayer.

There, only four hours to go now. Time for the iPod and a zzzzz I think.


OldSlaughter said...

I chuckled when I heard her job described as 'Gordon Brown's Pollster'.

That is now entering my top ten worst jobs ever. Think about it:

Your boss is part of a clan whose sole priority is day by day popularity, he is a renowned thrower of Nokias and all round poor taker of bad news, and every morning for two years you have to go in and say

'er... Gordon, bad news I'm afraid'.

She really drew the short straw.

Unknown said...

A Question on Health in Newcastle!!!

Bill Quango MP said...

I did hear it and i was surprised by the booing. It sounded like just a few. A bit like the question time teacher gang in the front row the other week. All the panel were OK. You did OK, but there's not much you can do when the activists are in.
Defeats the point of the show really.

Roland Deschain said...

A stacked BBC audience? Well, I never!

freddo41 said...

My dad - from Newcastle - was a long-time member of the WEA. He, and his fellow members were from the 'decent' left.
The idea of booing someone just for being a conservative - not even an MP - is, I'm afraid, another toxic legacy of 13 years kneejerk tribalism of Gordon Brown and his malevolent mates.
When Matthew Parris told you the other day that Alastair Campbell had been a great force for evil, this, among other things, is what he was talking about.
I hope we can row back from here. If we can't, this nation will be a much less pleasant place - for people and politicians - than it was in 1997.

John M Ward said...

That's what it's like for all of those on the Right who participate in such events, particularly in the Beeb's favoured locations such as the obvious Labour heartlands.

I do hope this will help to "calibrate your thinking" (as my brother termed it) regarding such programmes. It will turn out to have been a valuable exercise if it does have that effect.

OldSlaughter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JS said...

The person responsible for hosting it went to great lengths to get a balanced audience.

He apparently flagged it to the regional headquarters of the three main parties (although I'm not entirely sure who they invited!) and also contacted me to pass on to Conservatives in Newcastle, which I did.

If the audience was imbalanced, it wasn't for the want of trying to be fair.

Osama the Nazarene said...

I listened diligently as I try to most weeks. General impression was that the panel was much too bland. Predictable buttons were pressed by the lefty members (to get cheers) and yourself (to get boos). You, of course, were in the lion's den and the only one with a sense of humour. The rest were much too earnest.

Be it nerves, or whatever, your response to the IFS question lacked robustness and skirted around the edge of the issue. Given your earlier tweet about Neil O'brien's article in the Torygraph you made very little use of it. This made you look like you were much more in agreement with the Blairite!

Also with that audience the gastric band quip was bound to bring out the boos as an emotive response. There was a doctor who appeared on Sky today who indicated that this op came after exhaustive attempts at dieting, exercise etc. AND that it saved the NHS having to deal with much more complicated and expensive diabetic treatments in the future.

gmc said...

Obviously a missed Q tonight - how were all yr car rides back going to cost the licence payer??

On the evening of Mark Thompson's speech??

"In a year or so's time, there will be a debate about the future level of the licence fee. For the BBC, I believe this will be a moment for realism and a recognition of the scale of the challenge facing licence payers and the country as a whole."

"Do not believe anyone who claims that cutting the licence fee is a way of growing the creative economy... A pound out of the commissioning budget of the BBC is a pound out of UK creative economy. Once gone, it will be gone forever."

"Radical and rapid change inside the BBC is... essential."


(Just Googled & rang up a minicab firm & Newcastle & got a quote for "Around £375" to London: trip duration 4-5 hrs.)

(Granted, you are in a'staff car', rather than a minicab, but hey...)

jkr said...

Sounds like it was tough, will check out the show on I player I am sure you did a great job.

I see you are a light night blogger like myself lol

That`s if you fancy a read while listening to your I pod and before you Zzzzzzzzzz

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry that you wanted to stick May Bale in a wheelie bin. FFS, the Coventry family at the centre of this don't even want that. But you and your peers on Question Time want to loose a lynch mob on her. How low! How utterly irresponsible! What are you going to say when she's found dead with her legs sticking out of a wheelie bin? That you didn't call for it?

Iain Dale said...

Old Slaughter, I haven't deleted or edited any comments.

Frank Davis, lighten up. It was the funny question and was not meant to be taken seriously.

Johnny Norfolk said...

So many Labour supporters are just so pig ignorant, booing you before you sit down. They are never prepared to think out of their little narrow boxes.

Anonymous said...

I'm sick of the BBC! Mark Thompson wonders why Sky is so sucessful! Could it be that they don't slant everything towards the "Leftys"? The BBC is supposed to be impartial?lol.

Eddie Strange said...

Iain, I`m sory to say thought you lost it with your gastric band comment. There`s loads wrong with the NHS, but no political party dares say so before an election lest they are painted by the left as uncaring. You can make a case for most treatments, even cosmetic ones or fertility treatment, on the NHS given unlimited funds, as say even a slight disfigurement can affect a person`s wellbeing. I`m fine with this sort of thing as long as the basic treatments are being done well and the money`s there-eg life threatening conditions, hygiene. That they are clearly not in many hospitals and given the dire state of public finances argues possibly for a refocus on them by local management and a clear sense of a new strategic direction from the centre.

Not a sheep said...

A Conservative booed by a BBC audience, how surprising! You say 'I suppose that given our hosts in Newcastle were the Workers Education Association I shouldn't have been surprised to get a hostile audience', but ask yourself how often the audience is composed in such a way and how often it is from a Conservative background?

The BBC know that people interested in politics listen to Any Questions and watch Question Time and use the composition of their audiences to set the political landscape much further to the left than it is in reality.
You should ask yourself if by not challenging their bias you become an accomplice to it?

Dick the Prick said...

It was all a little bit odd in that they booed you for apparently nothing. How very cheap.

Unknown said...

I'm astonished that no-one pointed out that the IFS report agrees the Budget is progressive until 2012, and deems that it might be regressive from then until 2014, given the assumptions they were making.

The key point is that, with at least 3 Budgets between now and 2014, no-one has the faintest idea whether the overall burden of taxation will be more or less progressive or regressive - nor will the vast majority care!

If taxes begin to fall, the economy is recovering and waste in public services is seen to be being cut, then the Coalition will be swept back in to power.

If things go mild wrong, they can blame NuLab/Gordon, and they may we still win.

It's only if things fall apart that the Coalition will be blamed and the omens for that not happening are looking good thus far. Strategic decisions have been good ones and only presentation has let them down - and their Civil Servants, by supplying faulty data to (eg Gove).

Anonymous said...

So the usual BBC audience then.

Anonymous said...

I see that a minister is said to be about to act over unfounded claims of gay affairs.

its clear that there is a campaign of smears already against the coalition and predictably against the Tories. Funny sense of morality the left have.

I note in juxtaposition that guido has been named top libertarian blog.

what a load of bollocks.

Anonymous said...

Sounds to me like the typical militant socialist audience you expect to see/hear from the BBC. I do wonder sometimes if they have speacial contacts with trade unions to get a certain quota of load socialists in the aidence to intimidate everybody else! That Quoata being about 20-30%!

The BBC needs privitising at the very least and when I post complaints about their bias they don't really respond anymore.......

rob's uncle said...

Re: 'I also questioned a system which spends £4 billion on gastric bands '

Overstated by 2 orders of magnitude [= 100-fold] - a slip of the tongue or pen, perhaps?

' . . A national study revealed that the number of overweight patients having gastric surgery has reached record levels  -  hitting 4,619 in the year to June last year . . A band costs between £5,000 and £7,000, while gastric bypasses cost from £8,000 to £14,000. Based on an average cost of £7,000, the burden on the NHS would exceed £32.3million a year . . '

Daily Mail Aug 28

Tapestry said...

You were the only one who was interrupted as you were speaking.

CGT, VAT hit the rich harder. Not even taken into account by the IFS.

Salmondnet said...

Just listened to the Saturday repeat. Apparently 80% of the audience had visited a library in the last year. Yeah right. if this is true they were clearly not representative of any part of this country.

bonetired said...

As gmarkdc pointed out, wouldn't it have been a damn sight cheaper for you (actually for us - the license payers) to stay overnight in a reasonable hotel and then travel back the next day?

This where the BBC really really has to look at itself ...

Unknown said...

What exactly is the Right's answer to obesity? I can see a couple flaws Iain's answer of "people should eat less"

Unsworth said...

It's turned into a a bear-pit now, hasn't it? It's the opportunity for a select group to express its views on anything and everything - that is the audience, of course. Are they there to listen or to impart their opinion? It now seems that BBC audiences are expected to be participants.

The BBC has lost all sense of balance - both the audience and the panel being carefully chosen to reflect the BBC's views. I'm not impressed.

However, I was impressed by your performance. It's difficult to retain good humour in the face of such an obviously biased audience and you managed that with good grace.

Iain Dale said...

Bonetired, we were given that option. I wanted to come back home so I could have a full day at home on Saturday as I am working at LBC on Sunday and Monday. If I had stayed in Newcastle most of my Saturday would have been wasted on travel time.

Demetrius said...

So you were in the North East talking about Gastric Bands. Taking coils to Newcastle?

Patrick said...

Ah, the venue..... that explains the booing. cant quite remember anyone being booed so much right from the outset...

* your cat joke was not very funny. sorry; but was more interesting than the other replies.

* thought your gastric band comment was spot on. Thought that everyone would agree with your common sense answer!!

well done! thought you had the most to say.

Unknown said...


I'm still confused about the gastric band answer. The answer to obesity is "people should eat less"

Isn't that like saying the answer to alcoholism is that people should drink less?

Deborah said...

You did well Iain.

We all know the bias of the BBC. We know that when they ask audiences for their political views it is to ensure that the Left are well represented.

Did you notice that after you finished speaking if Eddie thought that anyone might applaud he quickly moved on to the next member of the panel?

Gordon Brown said...

Tut tut Iain. Telling an audience of benefit dependants, sorry, claimants to get off their arses and get a job - did you expect them to cheer with enthusiasm?

Cynic said...

Funny that being gay is a natural thing but being fat is all down to sloth and gluttony?

Anonymous said...

In an interview in May's Adults Learning magazine, David Cameron said:

"Learning isn't just about consuming chunks of knowledge in order to be able to do a job. It's about broadening the mind, giving people self-belief, strengthening the bonds of community."

"Adult learning has a really important role to play in encouraging active citizenship. I'm not just talking about what people learn about specifically, but how that learning makes them feel. Going along to college means meeting people, discussing what's going on in the world and boosting your belief in what you can do. It's that self-belief that leads people to get involved in their communities and become more active citizens."

Hear, hear.

Newmark said...

Iain, we haven't heard much about your weight recently.

How is the weight-loss programme going?

Iain Dale said...

Quite well. Down to 17 and a half...

People keep telling me I have lost weight so at least it is showing!

Mwmbwls said...

Like "Just a Minute" it takes some time to get used to the rules of the "Any Questions" Game. You are still a new boy but at least you are now two shows up the ladder on any other newcomer.
It would be easy to dismiss the audience's mind set as being politically biased but I think that would be a facile assessment.

The North East has history - the decline of basic industries such as ship building,mining and the steel industry still resonate there. Its much cherished initiative to get into financial services via Northern Rock has probably suffered irreparable damage.Without wishing to drop into stereotypical descriptions everybody in the North East knows somebody who is not only affected by the current recession but also the last one.There is a sense of unfairness over regional economic disparity with both the South East (Home of Iain Dale) and Scotland - beneficiaries of the discredited Barnett formula. The threat of cuts is perceived to hang more strongly over the region than in London.

You will find similar out of sight out of mind sentiments widespread in the English regions - for example if your next appearance is west of Bristol - think peripheraliy and rual social exclusion
Alan Heeks in his book "The Natural Advantage" suggested all experiences good or bad should be treated like compost - let last night rot down in your memory to become an essence of wisdom and then apply it sparingly on your next appearance on Any Questions.

Aplogies if you feel I have teaching you how to suck eggs - please feel free to tell me to buzz off.

Martin said...

You Tories really don't get it about the BBC do you? THEY HATE YOUR GUTS DALE