Tonight I shall be appearing on BBC’s Radio 4’s Any Questions. This, I should explain for the benefit of non-British readers, is about the closest thing we have over here to an Arena of Cruelty now that bear-baiting, public executions and feeding Christians to lions have all been banned.
With Any Questions – as on its TV equivalent Question Time, and indeed on any current affairs programme conducted by the incorrigibly liberal-left BBC – the chief victim is always the same: whichever member of the panel of politicians, media commentators and celebrities who comes across as the most right wing.
This is why, when Conservative MPs appear on these programmes they often sound so disappointingly limp. I remember one ghastly Any Questions episode when a Tory MP started backtracking wildly after initially daring to suggest that perhaps council tenants are less inclined to take care of their properties than home owners. This is a self-evident truth. A total no-brainer. Of course ownership makes you more likely to take care of something because financial interest and pride will compel you to do so. But the Tory MP – I forget his name: luckily for the craven berk! – went into squirmsome denial mode as soon as a Labour MP on the panel affected umbrage at this outrageous slur on the famed character and decency of the council tenant class.
Having done Any Questions a couple of times myself, now, I know exactly why these Conservative cowardy-custards behave as they do. No one likes being jeered at and booed by an Any Questions or Question Time audience; everyone likes being clapped. And the problem with Any Questions and Question Time audiences is that you’ll almost never get a clap if you suggest any of the following: Anthropogenic Global Warming is an expensive con; the Israelis are not evil, murdering bastards; the NHS isn’t perfect; we can’t afford unlimited immigration; Islamism represents a major cultural threat to British life, not just a physical one; the European superstate is one massive socialist conspiracy to boss us around and bleed us all dry…. To name but a few.
Perhaps I’ll get a slightly better night tonight in Middle Wallop than I did in the slow-motion train-wreck that was my first Any Questions a few years back in Hay On Wye’s literary festival, where I was all but beaten to death with rolled up copies of the Independent and the Guardian. I chose Middle Wallop because, being on the edge of Hampshire and near Wiltshire, in country where I have sometimes gone foxhunting, and where there are numerous retired colonels and military bases, it’s ever so slightly less likely to have an audience stuffed with rabid pinkos.
But you’re never really safe with the BBC. (An organisation for which, in a weird, masochistic way, I have a powerful love: even for quintessentially lefty programmes like Today). I quite believe them when they say their studio audiences are not pre-selected in any way on political grounds. It may just be one of those facts of life that while left-liberal types are drawn to spending their Friday nights in theatres, town halls (or in tonight’s case The Museum of Army Flying) listening to people like me burbling on about current affairs, conservative types prefer to play bridge, or watch TV, or snort cocaine from silver trays balanced on the heads of dwarves.
I can’t say it makes it any less nerve-wracking, though, going on to these shows and knowing that your job, as the token right-winger on the panel, is to be eaten alive by the studio audience. It’s one of those few occasions in my life where I wish could be the kind of tiresome, faux-lovable lefties that will always get an easy ride on these programmes. Tony Benn, say. Even, heaven forfend, Michael Moore.