I rarely watch BBC Question Time these days, but last night it came from Chichester, a pretty pocket-city in Sussex and I was winding down after a late meeting.
The star of the show was young Tom Hawood, a journalist for the blog site Guido Fawkes, for bursting several of the panellists’ personal bubbles. The rest of the panel were the usual rent-a-bore crowd and, in the BBC’s usual version of balance were all Remainers, all but Tom, and the audience with him.
We had Vicky Ford (Conservative MP, ex-MEP, voted Remain but now says we must come out), three identikit lefties whose names I did not bother to note (one non-party, one Green and one Labour – I think she was the one with wild, dyed hair) and Tom Harwood.
The stand-out moments were not from the usual bores – they were there to mouth platitudes and did so. As long as you get some in the audience to applaud, you need not think. The usual pop standards were there; about Tory cuts, which statistics do not bear out, and how the two Tory candidates’ spending pledges do not add up (which is fair enough) followed by wilder demands for spending.
Then came the sugar tax. Four of five took the lazy line that since obesity causes cancer so sugar must be taxed, but Harwood shocked them by a dissenting voice, noting there is no evidence it has any effect at all, which you would think a clincher. The Green (or Labour; they are basically the same) asserted that the tax has caused drinks companies to change the formulae of their products to reduce the sugar.
Then a man spoke from the front of the audience – a dying man. He told the panel he has a few months to live, his cancer caused by artificial sweeteners in the Diet fizzes he used to drink. Yes – to reduce obesity, drinks companies have replaced the sugar with carcinogenic compounds. This should have halted conversation, redirected thought. Apparently not.
I should have said that Vicky Ford was there as part of Team Hunt, and on was faced with Jeremy Hunt’s words.
The first subject was uncomfortable in the hostility: foxhunting. No one actually wanted to discuss it, and the subject was rushed over by all – from the panel because it is a distraction from Brexit, which is itself distracting government from all the things it should be concentrating on, and from audience members who did not want the debate opened up or hunting even considered. Yet here is a culture-war battlefield where resentments still burn. Most of those in vociferous opposition to hunting have no idea of the realities, at least not going by what they say about it. The word “cruelty” trumps all but misrepresents every aspect of the sport. Jeremy Hunt was right to champion re-legalisation of the sport after which he is named, but maybe this is a topic for later discussion there the discussion was suddenly shut down by mutual consent.
It was here though that the blow came for Jeremy Hunt, and again it was the young journalist who landed it: it was not from the narrow issue, but the repeated times that Jeremy Hunt has spoken, and then immediately retracted on hearing the reaction: whether hunting, or abortion reform, or taxation, or of course whether he would bring the United Kingdom out of the European Union without a deal: he was portrayed as a man who has said that in office he would not do the things he wants to see. In that case, if Jeremy Hunt does find himself in Number 10, are we to expect the Jeremy Hunt of this week, or the Jeremy Hunt of six weeks ago or six months ago, or the man of six months hence? He is portrayed as the solid, reliable candidate (for which read ‘boring’) but can he now be considered reliable?
- Tom Harwood on Jeremy Hunt, taxes and on turning your back on the EU’s ‘national anthem’:
Books by the candidates
- The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History
- The Dream of Rome
- Have I Got Views For You
- The Spirit of London
- Johnson’s Life of London: The People Who Made the City That Made the World
- Seventy-Two Virgins