Reaction to my bit of number crunching earlier today has been interesting. Benedict G commented that “From that graph it looks like we’re overrepresented on Question Time.”
A valid viewpoint, I can see where it comes from. But it also doesn’t ring true to me (surprise surprise!). Here’s why.
Any conception of a “balance” in guest booking must be based in some conception of what that balance looks like. How does one go about doing this? One idea might be that the guests over the course of a series should reflect the balance of public opinion. It looks as if that’s what the producers have indeed been doing. At the 2005 election, the polling went 37/33/22/8. When you multiply that proportion by turnout (61.3%), that means that of the total electorate, the proportions who put their vote to the use of a particular party were 23/20/14/5. Question Time, meanwhile, has, since 2005, booked guests such that its proportions go 21/21/15/5.
So no, I don’t think we’re over or under represented, if you accept that this is what balance means. Certainly no more than the Tories are. And arguments addressing the idea that the proportion should follow our seats in parliament is ludicrous, since it accepts a fundamental tenet of FPTP which we, as Lib Dems, do not accept.
The problem comes in the presence of the wildcards who make up the other guests on each panel. Because so many of them are columnists, or journalists, from the national press, we end up with an awful lot of people expressing opinions which march in much closer step with the Conservatives than the guests who might be more sympathetic to Labour or Lib Dems do with their respective parties.
So here are my suggestions, if we’re accepting that model:
No more programmes where you have effectively two tories or two labourites. That seems silly no matter what arguments about balance one puts. And it wouldn’t affect the balance much anyway.
Greatly reduced presence of Littlejohn.
That is all.
But I’m not convinced that that is the model of balance that we should be accepting.
There is such a thing as a “main party”, at least, that seems to be what the BBC believes – they use the phrase often enough. Surely, then, it is the role of the BBC, in its public service remit (and I feel certain that they claim Question Time as part of their public service time), to provide equal platforms to the “main parties”. They seem to broadly agree with this, they have more or less a guaranteed place on the programmes for a Tory and a Labour person each week – even though simply the idea of “balance” doesn’t require that this be the case (you could have weeks where nobody from the government was present, for instance, and more weeks when there were two; at least then the sense that the other two parties are in some way “entitled” to these places, but we aren’t, would be removed).
The BBC simply doesn’t accept that the Lib Dems are a main party. If it did, I feel sure it would be allowing us on each programme.