A good honest debating chamber. That’s how Question Time is billed. In fact it’s an unseemly gold-rush for applause. The panelists are a set of needy egos with semi-fictionalised hairdos. And the audience is composed of wonks and party activists posing as disinterested voters.
Last night’s episode was particularly fractious. The crowd was keen to hear about the Daily Mail’s attack on Ralph Miliband ‘as the man who hated Britain.’ But the first question concerned benefit reductions for the under-25s. Quentin Letts, of the Mail, seemed uncharacteristically nervous. He said his ‘prejudice’ would be to target cuts on the young rather than the elderly. He meant ‘preference’. Rather a shaky start.
Then the ghost of Red Ralph rose from the grave. Letts chose to defend his paper with playful and ironic subtleties. ‘Tabloid headlines,’ he said, ‘are not known for their understatement.’ True enough but the audience was in riot mode. It wanted to hear itself baying for blood. And Letts failed to feed the beast. ‘Ed Miliband’s father was an intellectual philosopher and Marxist,’ he rambled, ‘at a time of the Cold War when Marxism was the code and creed of the Soviet Union, and it’s difficult to analyse someone’s beliefs without coring into their personality.’
He paused. ‘Was it out of order?’ he mused.
‘Yesss!’ yelled the crowd before Letts could supply an answer.
In stepped Mehdi Hasan, a left-wing enthusiast whose contribution to recycling includes a biography of Ed Miliband. Hasan knows how to conduct an angry mob like a maestro. He got their juices flowing with a reminder that the Mail’s owners had ‘sucked up to the Nazis’ during the 1930s. He then reeled off a check-list of prejudices penned by Mail columnists over the years.