One doesn’t tend to learn much about one’s political beliefs when watching Question Time these days. Any ‘discussion’ which takes place between the panel, moderated by David Dimbleby, usually descends into ill-tempered one-upmanship and soundbite spouting, with little room for thoughtfulness or any genuine insight from either guests or audience members. For those of us masochistic enough to watch the show now and again, I’m guessing that this has one of two predominant effects: we either have our pre-existing biases and opinions further reinforced, leaving us ever more enraged and frustrated at the pig-headedness of our ideological adversaries; or we simply find ourselves more muddled in our thought and more despairing of our society’s politics than we were prior to watching, resulting in us feeling still more dispirited and disempowered with regards to our ability to actually change anything.
Thursday night’s edition was no exception. The panel consisted of, in order of my own personal preference: the impressive but constantly harangued Labour MP Emily Thornberry; the dull but well-meaning Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael; the dull and cynical Conservative MP Chris Grayling; the surprisingly right-wing American author Lionel Shriver; and, last and least appealing, ‘journalist’ and TV ‘personality’ Piers Morgan. Discussion revolved, predictably, around Theresa May’s much-heralded recent Brexit strategy speech and the coming into reality of those two surreal words, President Trump, though towards the end questions on the crisis in the health service and on foreign aid spending saw the show return to less uniquely 2016/17 territory.
The Brexit section was predictably unilluminating, with panellists relishing the opportunity to expound for doubtless the millionth time their respective unoriginal pet theories concerning the whys and hows of the vote. Morgan (a remain voter) in particular took immense pleasure in pontificating sanctimoniously on topics including the virtues of our wonderful democracy, the “pathetic” behaviour of remainers, the dazzling negotiating prowess of Theresa May and the worldly brilliance of our loveable Minister for Foreign High Jinks Boris Johnson. Rather hilariously, Morgan seems to scent an opportunity to carve out a new niche for himself in the post-Brexit media landscape in the UK, that of the shooting-from-the-hip man of the people not afraid to throw some much-needed common sense in the faces of the clueless ‘liberal elite’. The level of success he attains in this venture will rise in direct proportion to my desire to fly as far away as possible from this rainy island and never come back; thankfully, the early evidence suggests his more likely fate is that of the attention-craving celebrity Twitter troll.
The next segment, on Trump, revealed a more insidious aspect of Morgan’s new persona, namely his obvious reverence for the newly-inaugurated proto-fascist President. Morgan, like his fellow Brits Michael Gove and Nigel Farage, relishes playing the role of smug sidekick to Trump’s playground bully, and he wasn’t about to let this prime opportunity to pay tribute go to waste. Amongst more predictable appraisals of Trump’s alleged populist virtues came one assertion I found particularly bizarre: we needn’t worry about Trump wreaking any havoc abroad in the next four years, Piers assured us, because Trump wouldn’t look at warfare as a “good deal”. Yes, I’m entirely sure that Trump – who used his inaugural address to restate his commitment to wiping Islamic terrorism “from the face of the earth” – will employ this cool-headed reasoning in the event of any attack upon the United States. I’m definitely sleeping easier at night now that Morgan’s impeccable logic has reassured me that the prospect of nuclear calamity is as distant as ever. Yupp. Definitely.
The final sections proved demonstrative of how left-leaning most people are when it comes to questions regarding economic justice and the health service. Audience members were particularly impassioned during the debate on the NHS, showing just how close to citizens’ hearts the institution is. The panel was also (sheepish Tory MP aside) mostly united on the need for greater funding to resolve the crisis in the NHS, with even Morgan making a decent populist left-wing case for its maintenance. The closing minutes also saw audience members express much concern over the socio-economic problems that blight British society, including homelessness. It’s a travesty that the oligarchic media, most notably the Daily Mail, seems to be having some success in diverting popular concern over these matters towards anger at our miniscule foreign aid budget, rather than at the vast reserves of unearned wealth sitting in the offshore bank accounts of the super-rich.
While Question Time is of little help in providing us with clarity on political issues, then, watching the show does at least shed some light in helping us understand the state of British politics at present, and in particular the current predominance of May’s Conservatives. Political discussion continues to be dominated by the often-grim vaudevilles of Brexit and the ascent of Trump. With regards to the former, the Tories are in an infinitely preferable strategic position to Labour, enjoying the luxury of being able to decide its stance – clearly now in favour of a ‘hard’ Brexit – unconstrained by such quaint matters as the competing principles presently driving the internal conflict over Labour’s approach to the issue. However, the latter part of the show illustrated that people still crave remedies to our societies’ multifarious social and economic ills – and all the jingoistic huffing and puffing in the world from likes of Piers Morgan and Donald Trump will contribute nothing to the solving of these fundamental problems. As long as this is the case, there remains hope for an imaginative, brave and radical progressive left in our politics.