Questionable Use of Time

dimblebyFor those as yet blissfully unaware, Question Time is the BBC’s flagship topical debate programme, and it’s often a harrowing, exasperating, sanity-imperilling watch.

The Bemolution, it has to be said, harbours an intense dislike for all things QT. Really, it’s a way for a self-obsessive, unrepresentative and largely untouchable political caste to tick the ‘public engagement’ box while continuing to live in Westminster la-la land. Important People – predominantly rich white male metropolitan Important People – are asked questions by an audience of electors. But the questions are vetted beforehand to ensure they stick to whatever the mainstream media is presenting as the Burning Issues Of The Day. Anything outside of the Westminster-fixated corporate-friendly mainstream news agenda is rejected.

It’s all made a little bit more tolerable by the straight-talking political outsiders they sometimes have on – Billy Bragg, Caroline Lucas and Owen Jones are usually very good. That said, the non-mainstream spot on the panel is just as often filled by Nigel Farage.

But the most important thing to appreciate about Question Time is that it’s got little to do with the panel members asking the questions they’re asked. The obligatory political outsider/wild-card choice might give a good go at giving a satisfactory response if you’re lucky. But for the mainstream politicos, it’s about drilling their interpretation of recent events into the popular consciousness – or ‘spin’ as it’s more commonly known.

Audience questions are censored and  cleansed of anything not considered mainstream-friendly. Each one usually brings up a different hot political topic. Your standard hour-long QT episode will rattle through a list of topical subjects, allowing the panel members to set out their party’s line on them, ready, aim and fire some pithy sound bites at tomorrow’s headlines, attack their opponents’ records and defend their own. The panel can easily wriggle out of answering the specific questions themselves.

For the news media and the millions of people who get their reality solely from the TV, this is politics – political VIPs chewing over top news stories while the public watches. But in reality it’s just a splash of sham-democratic gloss over our money-pandering Westminster oligarchy.

And thus, this blog is going to grit its digital teeth and start watching Question Time more regularly, with the aim of posting about it at least once a month. It’s infuriating and dismaying, but it’s also significant – as an often-haunting portal into the political caste, and the officially sanctioned mainstream view of reality, it’s sadly too important to ignore.