Question Time in Brighton

I was wriggling with joy when David Dimbleby, treasure of the British media legacy and all-round hero, announced with evident pleasure that Question Time was back for a new season of lively discussion on the pertinent issues of the week. Having hosted many hundreds of times since 1994, Dimbleby deserves this praise as throughout he has brilliantly employed his privilege of genuinely challenging his political guests and their frequent attempts at speaking politically skewed truths and occasional lies. He is an exemplary moderator who exerts charismatic control backed with an impressive knowledge of the subject at hand. And almost every other subject for that matter. The opportunity for the people of whichever home the show claims from week to week, to directly address public figures and express their honest opinions, is incredibly meaningful in my opinion. I referred to this show an example of a healthy culture of informative and thought-provoking programming recently and stand by this – despite some rather cringe-worthy elements in this inaugural episode of the umpteenth season of the show.

A general and irritating theme throughout the history of Question Time as I’ve experienced it, is the soapbox aspect. Surprisingly, even when confronted with an engaged and sceptical audience, politicians and other public figures have a habit of rattling out the party line or discussing issues in lame platitudes or with populist drivel. Audience members themselves also occasionally betray a false or unduly influenced understanding of certain situations and it can be frustrating. Thursday night wasn’t exactly an exception although there were some pleasingly redeeming aspects on both sides. And regardless of these criticisms I don’t think they have have ever been serious enough to deny the value of this weekly hour of interactivity.

It has been a busy summer of events however and without the show running for most of June through September there was perhaps more pent up angst than normal. The very first question – Will we see the same level of anger as in Athens and Madrid once the full impact of the UK government’s austerity measures are felt?

I don’t want to personally dissect all the questions put to the panel as in fact the panel do usually, eventually get around to saying most of the relevant and insightful things that pertain to the major perspectives on an issue. I also imagine, if reading this, you might have taken the time to watch the episode yourself and I’d rather focus on the inferences drawn from these episodes. In this case, Alexander, Harman and Rees-Mogg traded interesting thoughts that amusingly complied with their party positions. Alexander with confidence and hint of delusion defended government fiscal policy, Harman threw fairly tired criticisms at him that belied Labours shameless hypocrisy when commenting on fiscal policy and Rees-Mogg scoffed at the notion we would ever behave like Europeans. He did actually make some sense though if we filter out his unfortunate Eurosceptic bent and if you have the egalitarian ability to listen past his archetypal posh accent.

Steve Coogan was actually the first panellist to make the hairs on the back of my neck bristle with anger. He entered the fray with an absolute howler, claiming that the Mansion Tax, despite being economically meaningless, should be put in place just to placate the less well-off in the country. I couldn’t believe my ears but had no need to rewind because he reiterates the point a few bumbling times over before letting Alexander jump back in with some actual financial knowledge. This was the start of what turned out to be a very bad hour for the oddly foul-tempered comedian.

I’ve never watched “Location, Location, Location”, and frankly had no idea who Kirstie Allsopp was until Googling her later, but she ably countered with exactly my feelings on Coogan’s thought. People who are not wealthy do not by default begrudge the wealth of others and it is terribly patronising to suggest they do and would be interested in what Coogan saw as a purely vindictive measure. Coogan, millionaire, can in my opinion not possibly speak to the genuine feelings of an entire economic class and if he believes he can, he is a disingenuous moron. Growing up in a happy working-class environment does not a fucking Karl Marx make (excuse my language). Further, he clearly lacks even a microcosm of nuance as he then added to his opinion that people with mansions vote Conservative so of course the Mansion Tax wouldn’t pass… but of course he was the exception that proves the rule (he is the proud owner of the £2.4 million Ovingdean Grange just outside of Brighton) and would be happy to pay up.

I despise this particular comment of the wealthy liberal, usually a celebrity, that he or she would be happy to pay out these extra taxes. The truth is this – if Steve Coogan doesn’t think he is paying enough tax then he is perfectly welcome and able to pay as much as he wants. His occasional activities with the Rainbow Trust and other charities are nice and surely appreciated but is he aware that he can give his money to his local NHS Trust, school board, council or any other public service of his choosing? Given that the Mansion Tax is unlikely to be implemented, and that’s according to Coogan’s own view, I look forward to reading about his multi-hundred thousand pound donations to a variety of local and national bodies.

At the same time however, I don’t care what Steve Coogan does, the sheer outrage of trying to be a defender of social justice and a super car fetishist at the same time is enough to make an anti-emetic medication vomit.

He spent most of the rest of this episode making similarly stupid statements, along the lines of all Tories believing that everyone not Tory is a “pleb” and that going through private education inevitably makes one a Tory and disqualifies one from public office because how could a toff ever understand the plight of the working man? I could introduce him to a few people. He was vitriolic, unintelligent and ill-informed and I could only chuckle when Dimbleby retorted to his comment that comprehensive schooling did him no harm by asking if it did him any good.

This episode of Question Time caused a small reaction in the journalism pool, notably from Ally Fogg writing for the Guardian. He clearly has a minor case of tumescence for Coogan as he lavished him with praise for his socially agreeable position and describes the actually intelligible (though admittedly uber-Etonian) Rees-Mogg as a “tubular balloon of hereditary privilege” that he would enjoy throwing solid objects at, for saying something he didn’t actually say. Where Rees-Mogg was explaining he wanted state-provided education to be on par with private education so that working in government was more broadly accessible, Mr. Fogg apparently heard, “people with a state school background are simply not up to the job of politics.”

I am tired of the reactionary celebrity or ideologue trying to involve themselves in matters that are totally beyond them. I am even more tired of the notion that the United Kingdom’s antiquated but ever diminishing set of class sensibilities are the responsibility of an oppressive aristocracy. If this episode of Question Time said anything to me it is that, in the least, both sides of the economic line are responsible for this needlessly angry and tribal discourse. I disagree with Rees-Mogg in a number of ways but I respect his intelligence, although often misapplied. I disagree with Coogan in a number of ways but can no longer respect him (where respect was born for his vocal objections to media violations) because he in no way tried to be objective. He stood on his soapbox and spouted unadulterated nonsense.

Featuring: Harriet Harman, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Kirstie Allsopp, Danny Alexander, Steve Coogan

Issues: UK Economic Policy, Public vs Private Education in Government, Andrew Mitchell vs The Met, Rochdale Grooming, Banking and Housing, The Future of the Liberal Democrats

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