Michael St George: New Question Time panellists, same old bias

Complaints are perennial about the sometimes blatant left-‘liberal’, pro-EU, pro-Green bias of BBC Question Time, in the selection both of panels and audiences. However, they have recently been given significant backing, at least as far as allegations of the programme’s institutional anti-Brexit bias is concerned, by some old-fashioned investigative journalism.

In summary, since the EU Referendum, Remainer panellists have outnumbered Leaver panellists by nearly 2 to 1, and no fewer than 86% of the panels have been Remainer-dominated.

So it was intriguing to come across this article in The New Statesman by former BBC grandee Roger Mosey, on how the programme format might be changed by its new editor.

In fairness, Mosey was one of the very rare voices at senior level in the BBC, not only to detect its innate metropolitan-‘liberal’ bias but also to go public with admission and criticism of it. It won him plaudits from journalists with no reason to sanitise it.

But his New Statesman article alludes to the bias issue only very obliquely, and the changes it suggests would, in effect, not so much alleviate, much less eliminate, the bias as invite it from a different source, under the guise of improving the quality of the programme’s output.

Briefly, he suggests panels with fewer politicians, largely ignoring those from outside the two main parties, and spending more time on ‘major topics’. But, significantly, he also favours inviting more experts, academics and scientists ‘who know their subject inside out’, to explain things more clearly.

There are some glaring flaws with this. Presumably, however, the BBC – apparently so out of touch with the vast majority of the country that doesn’t inhabit the politico-media bubbles of Westminster, North and West London that it was utterly shocked by the EU Referendum result – would think we non-metropolitan proles would be too dim to notice them.

First, as we’ve had demonstrated to us all too vividly over the past two years especially, but also before that, the so-called ‘experts’ are frequently – and sometimes spectacularly – wrong. The polling experts told us a defeat for Remain was unthinkable. The Treasury experts warned us it would cause a year-long recession. They were both wrong.

Going back further, the CBI experts harangued us that for the UK not to join the euro would be a disaster. They were wrong: the true disaster has been near 40% youth unemployment in the Southern European economies. Economics expert David Blanchflower in 2009 predicted 5million unemployed if UK public spending was cut. He was wrong too.



Central banking expert and Bank of England Governor Mark Carney assured us an ‘immediate and profound economic shock’ would follow a vote to Leave. Not so. ‘Pensions expert’ Baroness Altmann (still, incidentally, using her peerage in the unelected House of Lords to try to derail Brexit), predicted a fall in equity markets after a Leave vote. They rose instead.

Next, apart from their prediction errors, the experts, academics and scientists are just as prone to bias in their judgments as politicians. I wrote on this site only a month ago of the massive Left-‘liberal’-Green bias among UK academia, and particularly of its pro-EU bias.

Couple that with the BBC’s inherent Left-‘liberal’ pro-EU bias, and it isn’t hard to guess the direction that most experts, academics and scientists invited on to a new-format Question Time by the BBC would probably be coming from.

There are other objections. It would be interesting to analyse all the questions asked on the programme over, say, the last two years. My guess would be that between half and two-thirds were questions whose answer had to be based on a value or moral judgment, in contrast to factual data or empirical evidence. In other words, purely political.

Which leads on to two other factors. Although there’s been a constant trend in recent decades of elected politicians outsourcing their legislative and even administrative decision-making powers to unaccountable outside bodies – whether externally such as to the EU and UN or domestically to tribunals, quangos and NGOs – actual policymaking still largely rests with them, certainly more than it does with academics and ‘experts’.

So shouldn’t it be primarily the politicians’ views that we need to ascertain, certainly on what, for all its faults, is the most-watched political programme? As it is, we have precious few means and opportunities even to semi-hold them to account, isolated from their party scripts and special advisers. That shouldn’t be diluted further by replacing them with substitutes who are immune from democratic verdict.

Additionally, if the programme is always by its nature destined to be more political than empirical, the suggestion of excluding minor parties looks almost designed to entrench two-party hegemony. Insurgent political movements challenging the established parties are at a disadvantage anyway under our First Past The Post system: restricting their access to prime-time political TV just looks anti-democratic.

If the BBC wants to change the composition of Question Time panels, it could do worse than dropping the vacuous celebrities whose bien-pensant virtue-signalling might send a frisson of excitement through the BBC’s metropolitan culture-warriors, but who contribute little else.

Padding Question Time panels with experts and academics, though, is the wrong answer, and on several levels: not least that it substitutes bias from one source with bias from another one, less easily discernible.


  • Tethys

    Cobblers.
    Don’t moan about the colour of the chairs: win the argument – if you can….

    • paul parmenter

      The whole point is that you cannot win any argument if you are not invited to the table to argue it in the first place.

      • Tethys

        But QT is not a single-issue programme.
        If so insecure as to want that level of debate, then you might support the call for a second referendum.
        After all it is only logical and democratic to have a vote with more complete and accurate information.
        What is there to be afraid of?

        • paul parmenter

          Sorry I cannot make any sense of your comments. Whether the programme is single issue or not, my point still holds good. This is not any sign of “insecurity”.

          I am only aware of one “level” of debate worthy of the word, which is that all sides are allowed a fair say without being intimidated, shouted down or no-platformed. Or do you have a number of other levels that might be applied?

          And what all this has to do with justifying a second referendum is beyond me. Mind you, there would be one thing that I would be very afraid of in such a scenario; which is setting a precedent that allows the losers of any vote to set aside the result and have another run at it. Presumably until they get the result they want, at which point it miraculously becomes both legitimate and final. Now that would be truly scary, because it would mean the end of democracy and surrender to those who shout the loudest and/or who have the biggest muscles.

          • Tethys

            The only precedent would be in having an informed and therefore credible vote.

  • KilowattTyler

    If 100 university departments have the same expert views, 99 can be abolished with no effect on human knowledge, regardless of whether those views are true or false.

  • Shaunr19

    It’s a stupid idea. Which is why the BBC will probably adopt it.

  • Reborn

    The problem with the BBC is that it is “independent” in that it is paid for by the taxpayer, regardless of whether said taxpayer supports its overt political bias.
    Talking of “independent”, the BBC’s bias is identical to that newspaper, whose sales were
    so low that it closed down.

    • Tethys

      No, it is constitutionqlly independent.

      • Reborn

        Sure.
        Like the Democratic People’s Republics are all democratic & for the people.
        The BBC, like many branches of our education system, uses claims of
        “independence” to promote a range of questionable & downright vile attitudes.

        • Tethys

          The best places for ‘questionable and downright vile attitudes’ are the niche websites masquerading as news providers, where people go to get their prejudices reinforced.
          Breitbart for one.

          • Paul Robson

            I don’t think they are any worse than their left wing equivalents, and these days most of the US media displays the same bias.

          • Tethys

            But in the UK the reverse is true…

          • Reborn

            Which is why I don’t access Breitbart.
            Neither amI required by law, to fund it.

          • Tethys

            Sure, good for you, but without the [relatively] neutral BBC, the likes of Breitbart, EDL-type sites, religious sites, and the rest will soon become mainstream & then it’s rampant polarisation and goodnight Vienna…

          • fluffywabbit

            Does that apply to left wing websites and prejudices, as well?

          • Tethys

            Yes.

  • David R

    Oh to hark back to the days of The Brains Trust when the likes of Ralph Wightman and Professor Joad gave us the benefit of their wisdom.
    On another point, the questions on QT are not random. Every member of the carefully selected audience has to submit a question and the BBC decides which ones are asked, and this is perceived as amother source of bias.

    • RobertRetyred

      It is perceived as another of the checks and balances, by the BBC. 🙂

  • ancientpopeye

    Sell off the constituent parts of the BBC, thereby getting rid of at least half of their employees and abolish the licence, a tax by another name.

  • evad666

    University staff are not biased just bigoted. They see their self entitled position as being under threat here I cite:- http://delacourcommunications.com/dont-forget-the-grassroots-in-the-pursuit-of-internationalisation/

  • LoveMeIamALiberal

    Whilst QT panelists are clearly not representative of public opinion on matters such as the EU and immigration, the audiences have become noticeably more ‘off message’ in recent months. You can’t fool all the people all the time and more of the public are prepared to challenge the received wisdom of the great and the good.

    • Paul Robson

      I’ve noticed this. Someone like JRM would get booed simply for being a Tory (even if it was made in Sevenoaks ….) but the remainers like him even in Labour areas and see through the “policy” Labour have on Brexit, which is apparently done by rolling dice.

  • Mandy S

    I wonder how the teachers would feel about Brexit if there was a large annual influx of Polish teachers taking teaching jobs in the UK at a lower salary than the British incumbent teachers?
    But there isn’t, so hey ho.

    • Reborn

      Ditto if BBC staff were to be replaced by East Europeans sleeping 40
      to a 4 bedroomed house.

    • Ed McA

      I don’t know the answer but you may be incorrect in that there could presently be many.

      • Paul Robson

        But correct in that it wouldn’t reduce the salaries significantly, because they are fixed. A pecuiarity (to everyone else) is that rare-as-hens-teeth Physicists get the same as common as muck humanities teachers. They would decrease the employment rate amongst British teachers, though.

  • Labour_is_bunk

    Sorry to hear about Ros Altmann being one of the anti-Brexit club. She always seemed to me to talk a lot of sense on pensions.

  • Neiall Mullery

    Other things that the BBC will not do to question time.
    1. Lengthen broadcast to 90 or 120 minutes to ask more questions, or delve into topics a touch more
    2. Poll viewers at home, by implementing a “press the red/green/yellow/blue button on your remote control’ to show an opinion.
    3. Enlarge the panel.

  • You know, I’ve stared aghast at the British (and American elite) respect for experts for years. Maybe this is why: I was pretty close to ending up a factory rep for center pivot irrigation machines, with the largest manufacturer in the world – to the point that they would call me nearly as often as I called them. But one day I noticed as I was driving about a hundred miles to work on a customer’s machine that there was a competitor’s (same brand) truck about 5 miles from my shop, and I was going to about 10 miles from his shop. Pretty inefficient, ya know. But the thing is our seperate customers both thought they were getting the best expert service available, and depending on the respective problems, maybe they were.

    In any case it reminded me of the old American definition of an expert, somebody that read the basic textbook and most importantly is at least 50 miles from home. In a fifty year career in the real world, I’ve never had cause to seriously doubt that definition.

    Are there some real experts? Yep, and 80% of the time nobody knows what the heck they are talking about anyway. Let alone how to apply it. Common sense is much more important. And that we will never get from broadcasters (or politicians, for that matter).

    • paul parmenter

      If we had anyone who was a genuine expert in making politics work to the benefit of everyone, then you have to reckon such a person would have emerged by now, proved their point beyond doubt, and led us to the land of milk and honey. The fact that so many people in that field regard the ideology of a nineteenth century German thinker and revolutionary, that has repeatedly led either directly or indirectly to unspeakable suffering and millions of deaths, as still being the correct answer that needs to be tried again and again, suggests that we are still as far away as ever from finding such an expert.

      • I’m inclined to think that the guy who came closest rather got overshadowed by events elsewhere the year he published, nor did it help that he was in the relative backwater of Edinburgh. But for clear writing, solid research, and a correct view of the future, he’s hard to beat, especially in 1776.

    • Ed McA

      I like that 50 miles from home quote.

      • Thanks, although quote is perhaps slightly off what it is. Folk-wisdom would be closer, I never met an operating department guy in the US who didn’t agree, and a good many professional engineers, as well.

      • fluffywabbit

        …a camel is a horse designed by committee, is a favourite of mine.

  • mark taha

    How about asking the public to write in their choice of guests?

    • paul parmenter

      You trust the Beeb to tell us who won that vote?

  • UKCitizen

    Ex is a has-been and a spurt is a drip under pressure!
    Someone may well be an expert in Nuclear physics but that doesn’t necessarily mean he can fix my plumbing or have any common sense when it comes to social matters.
    Many will probably be borderline Asperger’s.

    • RobertRetyred

      If only there were some with experience in Nuclear Physics or even Nuclear Engineering: we might know how to kick start our nuclear industries. There are many avenues, but paying an exorbitant amount to the French to build Hinckley C, using Chinese money, isn’t one of them.

  • Ed McA

    The BBC also promote, with their liberal left agenda, the LGBT community with numerous guests, presenters and LGBT emloyees, the latter some 11% to 14% of the organisation and far above the general population.
    The short series Gunpowder, with its inherent violence, appears to be anti-protestant but that’s not surprising as writer Ronan Bennett has been twice tried for kiling and explosive offences! Additionally, Kit Harrington a descendant of Catesby, appears to have an inbuilt prejudice.
    Where are the BBC mainstream programmes dealing with the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, one of the most explosive issues in human history? Laughably, within the last week, BBC Northern Ireland presented a Reformation programme Luther agus An Domhan Gaelach. This translates as ‘Luther and the Gaelic
    World’ and was described as a “documentary in which Dr Art Hughes
    (Reader in Irish at Ulster University) examines the impact of Martin
    Luther and his ideas on the Gaelic-speaking peoples of Scotland and
    Ireland.”

    • I’d guess it was dross, but it could have been an enlightening program. Luther had an impact all over what we used to call Christendom. Not least in the Catholic lands, whether they will admit it or not, without Luther, Trent would not have happened. For that matter, neither would have Cromwell. And without Melancon, we might never heard of Copernicus, because the only student Copernicus ever had was on leave from Melenchon’s University of Wittenberg.

  • Odo Saunders

    From its earliest inception I have detected political bias and have never watched it.

  • On last night’s Question Time, the panel featured Daniel Hannan, who recently claimed that the Nazis had murdered only 17 million people. That little bit of revisionism, to put it euphemistically, is popular among the more pro-NATO elements in Eastern Europe. But it has come to something when it is not considered sufficient to disqualify one from a seat around the Question Time table. Or, indeed, from a column on the Daily Telegraph.

    If it is not Hannan, then it is Barmy Ben Bradshaw, who is peddling his pitch for a bad James Bond parody that would be far below the wit of Kingsman or even of Austin Powers. Again, though, all the broadcasters apart from RT are lapping it up and regurgitating it, while the senior newspaper of the Anglophone liberal tradition has become completely hysterical in its propagation of this lunacy.

    Notice that everyone who believes it also believed that the 9/11 attacks came from Afghanistan, that there was an entity called “al-Qaeda”, that there was a “global terrorist network” encompassing all and sundry, that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, that the rebels in Libya and Syria were a cross between the Lib Dems and the Boy Scouts, and that the same was true of those who staged the coup in Ukraine. To this day, they sincerely believe in the existence of an Iranian nuclear weapons programme, in that as a threat to Britain, and in such a threat from North Korea. How are these people still permitted in public life? How are they permitted, or even able, to go about the basic tasks of daily life?

    • SimonToo

      How many people did you think that the Nazis murdered? I am puzzled by what you say is Hannan’s figure. After removing the conventional figure of 6 million for the Holocaust, that leaves 9 million other murders. Obviously there were some who were murdered under the commando order, but not enough to make a significant dent in 9 million.

      Have you a link or source for Hannan putting forward that figure?

      • http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/10/29/100-years-100-million-deaths-later-communism-still-has-converts/

        Hannan’s figure is of course far lower than the number of Soviet citizens alone who were killed by the Nazis. And that, of course, is the point. NATO now makes films for popular consumption in the Baltic States and elsewhere depicting as heroic Resistance fighters the men from those places who joined the SS. It also suits certain political interests to cite an absurdly low figure, because then, as you illustrate, the Holocaust (of the Jews; even that figure is higher when you include everyone else) looks like a huge proportion of the total.

        • SimonToo

          Killed, fair enough: but you said murdered, which is a more particular thing.

          • If the Holocaust counts as murder (it was, after all, perfectly legal), then why not other things?

          • Colonel Mustard

            Strange how “moral” and “legal” are selectively used by lefties as to how they best suit their agenda. Therefore leftist moral “outrage” can trump the law and any presumption of innocence but when it comes to murdering millions of Jews suddenly any outrage is to be militated by the assertion that it was all “perfectly legal”.

            With that you have sunk to depths even lower than the other tribal leftist/Labour/commmunist troll currently masquerading under your name and who promotes Stalin as a “hero”.

          • SimonToo

            It was the deliberate killing of particular people, which distinguishes it from the more generalised, perhaps more random, killing of warfare.

    • fluffywabbit

      All numbers of deaths in the World Wars are estimates at best, ‘educated guestimates’ at worst. Six million Jews murdered is trotted out as though it were a number exactly calculated – there is no basis in specific fact for this, most sensible quotes say ‘up to’ six million, but I have seen figures of 4.2 million, five-and-a-half million – now, that is a big difference from six million, – half-a- million fewer, or 1.8 million fewer, almost a third less. Of course, 6 million sounds so much more appalling than any lower figure and plays into a certain narrative from self-interested parties. I would suggest people do their own research for any ‘fact’ given, on any number trotted out, rather than gorgeing on and spewing out received opinion.

  • PierrePendre

    I haven’t heard any UK panel programme since the late 1980s when Thatcher was still in power. The format was always the same, one each from the Tories, Labour, the LibDems and one other with the latter three ganging up on the former. The result was a shouting match that usually overwhelmed the Tory. That’s more more or less inevitable when programmes claim to represent all shades of mainstream political opinion but conservatism is the only representative of the Right (and is itself barely respectable to many on the liberal left). On the other hand, having three people screaming their opposition to the right doesn’t mean that three times as many people are going to be convinced by them. Tory governments get elected despite the BBC and when they are defeated, it’s usually due to their own incompetence rather than the malign influence of the BBC.

  • Snowdrop

    Much of the damaging stagnancy of QT is reinforced by a dismissive and faux chin-stroking sagacity from senior politician panellists like Hezza, Clarke, Benn et al, increasingly copied by younger politicians on the make, like Umunna, Lucas and Nandy, who mutter brow-furrowingly about how terribly complex each talking point is and ‘how we mustn’t oversimplify things’ in discussing the most urgent issues, again becoming part of the ideological duck and weave employed when it comes to the more exposing questions. i.e. The questions that Tories don’t want to appear ‘nasty’ on and which Labour don’t wish to appear ‘economically naive’ on (difficult given their ideological position, I grant).

    This then usually translates into a spectacle of what Adam Curtis calls ‘Oh Dearism’, in one of his short films, and provides life-support to the depressing and useless narrative of powerlessness and managed decline that is driving the UK nuts.QT has really become an active enabler of this kind of corrosion. Dimbleby, in between answers, then takes hit-and-run sideswipes at right-wing views mainly, disguised as questions ‘challenging’ those panellists, although this is notably only focused in one direction, while left-liberalia is allowed a free pass.

    I would favour a scored debate approach coming in where the audience hears opposing ideological sides (which they should now probably organise team-wise by broad principles, so as to avoid the ‘Tory throwing other right-wing panellists under the bus early on to avoid looking nasty’ situations) and then votes on persuasiveness/merit before and after the panel speaks, so the programme has an end destination of visible results each week that keeps people wanting to watch and which gives a barometer of audience sentiment rather than the fudge of Dimbleby-steered brawling.

  • fluffywabbit

    For all the hot, contentious air blown on ‘Question Time’, has it actually achieved anything in its own right? Are we getting worked up over nothing? The people who appear on the panel and comprise the audience aren’t going to have their opinions changed, the viewers who watch may or may not agree with views aired, and,all that seems to happen, even with ‘controversial’ broadcasts, a week or so later it’s all but forgotten. The much bigger problem, in my opinion, is the constant dribble, now turning into a steady flow, of social engineering via soap operas and other left wing ‘message’ vehicles, also the placement of BAME in programmes, however anachronistic or incongruous which leads me to think we are no longer allowed programmes with a exclusively white cast – something I suspect angers many white viewers.