Many people complain about the political mix on the BBC’s panel shows; Question Time and Any Questions. Indeed, it is difficult to understand the basis upon which the panelists are chosen. I think it would serve the BBC to be open in relation to its selection methodology.
The BBC not only fails to convince that its mix between parties is fair but, in my view, it falls into the trap of being Westminster centric. This failure over the decades has been a contributing factor in the Brexit result. The reason is that they both overwhelmingly concentrate on one level of government. We have four levels of government in this country (I’ll put parishes to one side because they are usually considered non-party political): Europe; Britain; upper local tier; and, lower local tier. Each week AQ and QT should have one person from each of these tiers. As QT has five members on its panel it can have a wild card as well.
One might think that by having a specific formula for the panelists the vigour would go out of the debate. Far from it. I think that reverse would be true. There would be a welcome injection of fresh perspectives. There are around 30,000 politicians in Britain and for each place in the panel there would be a variety of people to chose from. The methodology below would simply provide a group of people for each panelist chair from which the producers could still choose a specific range of people to add sparkle and energy to the debate. However, the overall mix would reflect the realty of politics today.
Instead of Westminster politicians having the virtual monopoly to lambaste Europe or local government, representatives from the European parliament and local government could counter these often monochrome arguments.
For many people, the outcome of the Brexit vote was caused by Westminster MPs blaming Europe when an informed Martian knows that most of the problems that concerned leave and remain voters alike (NHS, school places, housing, jobs, immigration) were caused by the British government and not by the Scottish parliament, the European parliament or local government. Yet for decades AQ and QT has not challenged the Westminster monopoly.
My method of choosing panelists would be as follows.
Politicians. All panelists on QT and AQ should be politicians. Pundits are interesting but they have not been elected. They have not been in the position of having to make difficult – sometimes nigh-impossible – choices between options. Often with little time and insufficient information.
Gender. Always two women and two men. In extenuating times the balance could be different but then it should corrected as soon as possible.
Heritage. The panel should reflect the self-styled make-up of the country. How people describe themselves ethnically. Preferably avoiding the catchall word “British” if possible in the categorization. According to the latest ONS figures, out of every hundred guests: 73 would be English; 7 Scottish; 4 Welsh; 2 Northern Irish (split); 2 Indian; 2 Pakistani; 2 African; 4 other European; and, 4 other world and mixed.
First Panelist – Europe. This person should be a member of the European parliament and should be selected in proportion to the votes cast in the last election. Out of every hundred guests for this seat in the panel: 32 should come from the Peoples Party; 27 from the Labour party; 10 from the Conservative party; 10 from the Liberal Democrat party; 8 from the Left party; 8 from the Green party; and, 7 from UKIP. The interesting aspect of this particular member of the panel is that although the People’s party is the most numerous party in the European Parliament it does not have a single MEP in Britain. They could provide a very interesting perspective in upcoming debates.
Second Panelist – Britain. This person should be a member of the British parliament (either house) and should be selected in proportion to the votes cast in the last election. Out of every hundred guests for this seat in the panel: 37 should come from the Conservative Party; 30 from the Labour party; 13 from UKIP; 8 from the Liberal Democrat party; 5 from the SNP; 4 from the Green party; and, 3 from others.
Third Panelist – upper local tier. This chair of the panel would be chosen from the Scottish parliament, Welsh and Northern Irish assemblies and English counties. I do not have the resources to work out what the party political proportion would be for this tier but I suspect there would be fewer UKIPers and more Liberal Democrats and independents.
Fourth Panelist – lower local tier. This chair of the panel would be chosen from the districts and unitaries across Britain. Again, I do not have the resources to work out what the party political proportion would be for this tier but I suspect it would be similar to the upper tier with proportionally more independents.
Other characterizations. It is possible to extend these descriptors to cater for age, orientation, faith and disability etc.
Allocation. You might think that with 30,000 politicians in the pool for the two shows the job of allocation would be difficult. Getting the data into the system is relatively easy. Writing the computer programme to suggest members for each chair would be a simple task for most programmers. The programme would automatically suggest, say, twenty people for each chair and the producer would select those that would make for the best programme.
I think that rating for the programmes would increase – at the very least, I would begin to watch QT again.