Quest On

Not every quest on Question Time is an enduring matter. If, as a piece of media, it succeeds (or falters) from time to time in terms of relevance, the pertinence (or deviation) can be attributed to a highly dynamic popular situation; the current affairs show Question Time on BBC1 is read from a cascade of angles, from the audience as seen on TV, to the chairman’s summaries of the politicians’ speeches, to radio and TV follow-up news and discussion programmes, not to mention you and me. The people ask questions, and the spokespeople’s statements raise comment and are debated until the schedule threatens to be belated.

Whatever the particular nature of the quest, an episode of Question Time is concerned with discovering answers, with a caveat: there are no tidy answers in politics. Political conflict resolution involves bringing together multiple parties and as such, plural viewpoints. Question Time endeavours to represent the main stances on topical issues through the agency of a panel of politicians and commentators, and collides it, live, with public viewpoints manifested in the questions and comments of a studio audience. It’s about opinion. - That is, if a fact is something we can all agree on.

It seems wise to introduce someone to Question Time along with the advice that they should keep an extremely open mind while listening to the individuals on the panel…you might have your favourites, but can you be sure who is going to play the sharper political tennis? Or find favour with the studio audience? If not staunchly set in a mode of polar (and more or less stubborn) opposition to any opposition to ‘one side’ of the debate, and if the contenders evidently  have political weight - it really is like watching a sport, rooting for your favourites, conceding points, finding fault in the technique (e.g. too much spin (that was a low shot (alright there’s no need to hammer it home))). Every now and then, not very often, hardly ever, a Member of Parliament falls to his hands and kneels on the floor of the studio, confesses his sins to the camera and begs forgiveness for lying outright into the faces of the electorate…in your imagination. It happens quite often when I think about it…

Chairman David Dimbleby is the one constant in terms of human presence on the screen over a season. Mr Dimbleby I read has been presenting the show since 1994, and I don’t recall seeing or hearing about a guest presenter in that time. He has a highly strung position there on QT, right in the centre of the foci of the various audiences (smack in the middle of the panel of politicians). A political commentator’s party affiliation plus public ‘status’ (popularity; fame; authority) is factored into their selection for, or ‘invitation to appear on’ the debate, and he, in turn as he takes the floor, can flip the crowd, or sections of it, for or against an idea or a motion (occasionally through cleverness; occasionally through honest good intentions verbalised; and occasionally through just totally accidentally ending up with his foot in his own mouth).

Enacting crowd control of the political commentators can involve attending to some relatively heavy-weight oratorial sophists, and you have to admit, he does a bloody good job of staying out of the firing line. Not perfect (but I don’t think he’s the type to be an idealist). And I can’t think of anyone who could fit the bill more naturally. Jeremy Paxman springs to mind, I think he could match David in understanding, knowledge and intelligence…but what about ability to remain relatively unemotional and unbiased? Would make for fucking interesting TV now I think about it. Excuse my English.

Political umpire Dimbleby’s net is set at a height which is consistently maintained, and not too low or too high, which is remarkable after such close contact with the establishment for so long, which I would have thought could sour to cynicism or possess with idealism any well-meaning individual. How does he remain so impartial I wonder. He does get roused, argumentative and play language games in the midst of altercations with panel members, but seems genuinely unperturbed by a disagreement once ‘where you stand on the matter’ has been established. The politician has her view and so long as she’s being clear, consistent and explicit, Mr Dimbleby has no personal issue. Strictly non-judgemental is the angle. Can you have unbiased criticism? Sounds like one of those oxymorons, so I’ll call it ‘logical rigour’. He won’t let someone contradict themselves without pulling them up on it, making the fault ostensible to the audience…or eliciting from the dastardly politician a backtracking, devious, underhand, political manoeuvre involving doublespeak of the most sinister vein to overturn the accusation of blatant incoherency…well, now and then maybe.

Little changes in the format, apart from the geographical location in the UK, and therefore venue for the studio from week to week. The makers keep the show procedure more or less as it is, developing it in small increments according and proportional to change in the structure of the institution of Question Time (I think that’s fair to say) - like getting a Twitter feed, modernising the set, updating the opening music and generally ‘moving on’ with the style of the programme. The thrust of novelty about QT consists in the gradual, or sometimes rapid evolvements in political and public opinion, (and also therefore in the language being used within a topic), about which the show is oriented, like a piece of observational performance art which chooses itself as well as its subject to represent, and interacts with the audience in an endeavour to improvise the script, if you can get your head around that one.

Watching Question Time will bring you as close as any other medium to a conclusion amidst the cross-section of TV political debate. The quest is on Thursday nights, David Dimbleby will be your guide, and vision will aid you in your search for enlightenment. - It sounds like a trailer for a fantasy historical drama entitled ‘King David And The Knights Of The Question Able.’

Caution 1: Can induce a reaction, may require periods of abstinence in some cases to reassess the TV situation.
Caution 2: Statistical statistician-style speech by the spokespeople, god they are SOO superior with their STATISTICS, still a BILLion is a BILLion, however hard you say the ‘BILL’ bit. Make no mistake: the statistics say what the politicians want them to say, according to an interpretation, and a limited number of instances. Like a bill-, like a bill-, like a BILLion. A billion is, or is it not, a finite number? A billion out of a billion is STILL a finite number. ‘Well now we got 4 out of 5 in favour of that Phil, which is 80% - an overwhelming majority. Actually, Ian, do you know what? Ignore Paige, she let the team down on this one. This is brilliant. 2 out of 2, plus 2 out of 2 - isn’t that 200%??!!!’ Whoever is telling you the statistics, whatever you do, make sure you see right through it - to the agenda of the advocate - they are validating their own views by virtue of these numbers. If food for thought often, they are open to re-evaluation and distortion always. Always always. Give me a statistic I can’t twist the interpretation of and I’ll give you an alternative reading of the data.




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