Over a long political career I have appeared on BBC Question Time innumerable times, but I have never had such a horrible experience as I had in Derby last week.
I am not a “snowflake” on these matters. Most of my appearances have been with David Dimbleby as chair. Dimbleby could never be mistaken for a socialist. He ruled the programme with an iron hand and was capable of some very sharp interventions indeed. But he had a huge depth of knowledge about politics and tried to treat each panellist fairly.
I also spent 12 years appearing alongside Andrew Neil on BBC This Week. He is not everybody’s favourite presenter. but he was supremely well briefed. You know when you sit down next to him on a Thursday evening that he had read every poll finding, every blog and every newspaper article about the issues of the day.
By contrast Fiona Bruce, who has taken over from Dimbleby as presenter on Question Time, does not appear to be well briefed. She got the polling for Labour vs Tory wrong. She (or her researcher) appears to have got their figures from a Conservative Central Office handout. Above all, it seems she is not afraid to appear unfair as a presenter.
I was interrupted more than twice the number of times that Tory MP Rory Stewart was interrupted, even though he spoke more times than I and for a longer period overall. I was not allowed to respond to a blatantly abusive remark from the audience. I’m also told that she made unpleasant remarks about me to the audience, before the programme was actually recorded, although the BBC has denied that “any of the panel was treated unfairly either before or during the recording”.
A number of people who were there have reported that the audience was wound up against me before I even stepped on stage. It would be wrong to blame Fiona Bruce for all this. Question Time has had a new editor for some time, and seems more interested in entertainment than politics. In particular her holy grail appears to be clips of red-faced men abusing politicians, which then go viral on Twitter. With David Dimbleby gone, she is now off the leash and we are faced with the spectacle that you saw in Derby.
The question is where does the BBC go from here. First of all it needs to stop treating Jeremy Corbyn and his shadow ministers as if we are not legitimate political actors and try giving us the respect that they automatically give to Tory ministers and Labour MPs on the right of the spectrum. In the current abusive political climate, TV production teams need to reflect before they wind up live audiences against particular politicians. It may result in “good television” but it can easily turn ugly.
As for Question Time itself, there may be a market for a political version of the Jeremy Kyle Show, but that is not exactly what the production company Mentorn was commissioned to make.
In all my life I have never asked for special treatment, only fair treatment. But many viewers and people in the audience for last week’s Question Time thought that the way I was spoken about before the programme, the way that I was treated during the programme and the chairing of the programme were decidedly unfair.
And who could blame any young Bame women with an interest in politics and a left-of-centre ideology seeing the way that I was treated on Question Time and deciding that politics is not for her?
I have always been up for robust debate. But Question Time in Derby went beyond that and I hope that the BBC reflects and learns the lessons.
Diane Abbott is shadow home secretary and MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington
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