Question Time . . . "and the prize for the prettiest panellist goes to . . ."
Last Thursday I was a panellist on Question Time, the tv equivalent of Any Questions and just a bit more scary. That's partly because it's television and so if you make an idiot of yourself, it's entirely VISIBLE (though it is slightly pre-recorded so if you commit libel or blasphemy, they can cut it out). And it's partly because it's a bit more hard line politically, so presumably just a bit edgier for the professional politicians on the panel.
Actually (and predictably enough you may say) I much enjoyed it, as well as being terrified. Like Any Questions, it's rather like doing exams -- which I also remember with a combination of pleasure and fear. You have to question spot, do your revision, get your facts sorted in your head. The difference is that in the case of Question Time, the revision consists in reading all the newspapers I don't usually get time for (or wouldn't want to be caught reading), not in mugging up the set texts.
There's also that familiar sense of annoyance when the revision comes to nothing. On this occasion I had invested several hours in mugging up the British football crisis. I knew the Tory proposals for bringing back competitive school sport (just think how awful that would be ... it was, remember, competitive school sports before the 1970s that put most of us OFF exercise). And I knew what Fabio Capello earned, and what his possible severance deal was supposed to be -- and I had calculated the annual wages of the squad and how that compared to the annual grant of the British Museum (you can see what my point was going to be . . . why doesn't this country invest in what it is good at (art, music, culture), rather than football, which it isn't?
But the similarities only go so far. The other panelists didn't actually seem much like fellow candidates -- and sprung some surprises.
I had expected to like Camila Batmanghelidjh -- and indeed I did.But if you had told me a week ago that I would take great pleasure in meeting Simon Heffer or that I would find Iain Duncan Smith clever and sensible, I would have been entirely disbelieving. But that is exactly what happened: not, I think, because I am drifting generally to the right (hope I'm not), but because distant prejudices can be very misleading about how people actually are in the flesh. For that matter, Alan Johnson wasn't the bruiser I expeced him to be either.
But there was another, bigger surprise. Until I did a bit of pardonable self-googling, I had no idea that tweeters keep up a running commentary on Question Time, through the programme -- then afterwards when they are watching on iplayer (you can get a flavour here, though you might have to search back a bit). Now the good side of this is that you can get some idea of what a (not very) random group of viewers thought of the whole thing. There were plenty of good comments about the irony of finding IDS more reasonable than Alan Johnson, and some smart things for and against yours truly. Fair enough.
The creepy side, though, were the number of comments that simply homed in on what Camila and I looked like (a witch in my case!). Eventually some of the female tweeters raised the red card on this... why weren't the comments directed to what we had SAID, not our appearance. Or as one eventually aptly put it.. "next week why dont we just ask which panellist we'd like to shag".
Phew, there are some friends out there.