Apologies this has gone up late…our editor is entirely to blame!
In case you missed it I was on Question Time the other night. Up until I got my invitation, this was something I’d vowed never do.
Why? Because short of being lowered slowly by a rope from a helicopter into a school of oceanic whitetip sharks in a feeding frenzy or crashlanding on a remote island and discovering the only other survivors are Owen Jones and Polly Toynbee I find it quite impossible to conceive of a situation more horrible and terrifying.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to play the evil right-winger in front of an audience and on a panel and with a film crew almost entirely comprised of foaming leftards. And however you decide to handle it it’s a lose lose lose situation.
Option 1. (And I’ve seen quite a few right-wing types do this). You soft-pedal your arguments in order to make yourself seem kinder, more caring, less shrill, more reasonable. This, you persuade yourself, isn’t because you’re chicken and are afraid of being hissed and jeered at by the audience. It’s because you feel it’s important to put across right-wing ideas in a way that makes them palatable to as many people as possible.
Result: all the conservatives and libertarians at home who were rooting for you feel utterly betrayed. They wanted red-meat and you gave them tofu.
Option 2. Play it for laughs. Not quite as nakedly as the token, official comedian on the panel does – that’s his job not yours. But gauge it right and you might just do what Rod Liddle and Boris Johnson often manage – making a serious political point but sugaring the pill with humour.
Result: you almost certainly won’t gauge it right. There’s only a short time to get your point across on Question Time and David Dimbleby is often quick to squash any attempts at levity – so what’ll happen is that your joke will fall flat because you haven’t had time to develop it and at the same time you won’t have had time to get on to your serious point because Dimbleby will have cut you short by then and thrown open the question to the audience.
Option 3. Fearlessly make your right wing points using facts and figures and arguments and stuff. After all, at least three of the other panellists will be making left-wing arguments so it is your duty above all else to provide a counterweight.
Result: the audience will jeer and hiss you; you won’t win hearts and minds because hard right-wing facts and arguments, unless seasoned with humour, never do.
I haven’t yet mentioned the other option yet – the option I shall call Option 4. Of the four this the most superficially attractive because it neatly sidesteps Options 1, 2 and 3 and guarantees that you will not make a fool of yourself.
Option 4. Just say no.
Result: You will hate yourself forever for, like it or not, Question Time is the blue riband of politics TV. To be invited on is an honour – a sign, more or less – that you’ve made it. The fact is, almost no one enjoys doing Question Time. The money is totally rubbish (£150 – plus, admittedly nice travel and accommodation) which might seem fair enough for an hour’s programme – except it’s not really an hour, is it? It’s at least half a day’s travel, plus two or three days’ assiduous preparation, plus a week’s worrying, plus a terrible night’s sleep before (with anxiety) and afterwards (from nervous tension).
“So why do we do it?” I asked my friend Douglas Murray, who has done it many more times than I have.
“Because it’s our fucking job,” he said.