Late this evening, but Thursday night is Question Time night. Locked down, distanced and audienceless it looks peculiar. It is also peculiar in not turning instantly into a shouting match.
We have Chris Philp, a junior government minister; Andy Burnham (by remote link from Lancashire); Camilla Tominey of the Torygraph; James Graham, the playwright; and Stephen Kinnock’s wife (introduced as the former Prime Minister of Denmark). Long discussion ensued about schools and coronavirus, contact tracing and coronavirus, Denmark and coronavirus. I miss the politics.
I miss the audience and their wild reactions because it part of the entertainment industry – the roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd. I miss those Corbynites too. They went apoplectic at anything, because they genuinely hated anyone who was not them. It sounds too much like a generalisation that Conservatives think Labour are deluded while Labourites think Conservatives are evil – it is true though. It is mad, but it gives a dynamic to the drama.
This week the debate is too subtle and we wait for Fiona Bruce to provide the provocation. She does it so pleasantly, and brutally, as a smiling assassin.
It’s almost pleasant to watch (if you ignore the fact that they are discussing a deadly pandemic. The old format was infuriating – I had to turn away often, to walk into another room, to gnash my teeth and bite my tongue so as not to shout at the screen. QT was revoltingly biased – one Conservative or Brexiteer baited by four malicious opponents, like tying a fox to a gate and letting hounds torment it. It is against everything I believe. Everyone I have heard discuss BBC’s Question Time agrees it is unacceptably biased against right-thinking people: Labour supporters and Conservative supporters are convinced it is weighted against them.
Wind back a little though: it must be that it must be like this. It must challenge and probe, and dig in the gaps in reasoning and policy. What is more, it must generate new thoughts. Opinions and trains of thought which go unchallenged in a safe-space bubble will ossify and self-justify themselves in their flaws. Every so often a loathed opponent will make a telling point, or give the lie to a preconception that overturns a conclusion built on false premise. It is needed.
They have had figures from Theatreland before, but mainly actors and subsidy-junkies. To have an entrepreneur playwright / producer on has been a valued perspective but some insight was missing. There is much talk of how badly the cultural industry has been hit by the lockdown, but it goes beyond the theatre: the audiences for the theatres fill the restaurants and cafés, and they come from across the nation and beyond to fill all the shops and venues of the town – the decline of the theatre strikes at all the West End’s commercial life.
Until there is shouting again there is less life in Question Time but we can hope that within a month or two it will be just as infuriating as it ever was.