Like the vast majority of sane voters I did not watch the BBC’s leaders’ debate last night. These shows are pointless and very boring. Maybe politicians like them, but real people find them extraordinarily tedious, especially now we have to have seven parties represented, all given equal shouting time.
So I can’t give you a first hand account of how the studio audience was made up. Nevertheless, I have seen excerpts of the debate courtesy of the BBC, and I assume the corporation must have tried to choose excerpts which did not give the lie to its contention that the audience was representative of the electorate. Unfortunately, it was all too plain that the audience was predominantly anti-Tory. Whenever Mr Corbyn or the representatives of the other “progressive” parties spoke there was massive cheering from the audience. Whenever Amber Rudd spoke there was jeering or laughter. I think it highly unlikely that 40% or so of the audience was made up of Conservative supporters.
Actually, I have considerable sympathy for the BBC and the polling organisation it uses to try to make audiences representative. The audiences are not large. If the Conservatives and Labour are given their full quota, there aren’t that many places left for all those tiny parties. It is probably inevitable that the tiny parties have to end up being over-represented at the expense of both the Conservatives and Labour. But the problem is, of course, that that leads to the anti-Tories vastly outnumbering the pro-Tories (instead of only just outnumbering them). Five of the seven parties which take part in these ludicrous debates are all desperately keen on high taxes and high expenditure (Ukip is in favour of high expenditure but claims it can all be funded by savings from our contributions to the EU). It obviously follows that they are all united in hating the evil Tories.
When you add in to all this the fact that Left wing audiences are much more vocal (I don’t know why they think their arguments are improved by making a noise) than Right wing ones, you end up with what happened last night. The audience at home is given the impression that the BBC’s so-called representative studio audience is almost entirely fanatically opposed to the largest party in the land.
I wish I knew what the answer is to this problem. It is certainly not caused, I am sure, by any sort of Left wing bias in the BBC. I am convinced that the BBC leans over backwards to try to get genuinely representative audiences. But it is not succeeding in its aim.
But perhaps there is an answer. Why is a studio audience necessary at all? These silly debates are put on, I imagine, for the benefit of the audience at home. Do we really need the assistance of a studio audience made up of noisy party activists in order to follow the arguments?
I suggest, if we are to be subjected to these dreary debates in future elections, that the BBC should just drop the studio audience and treat the few of us who watch at home as being grown up enough to understand what the politicians are saying without help from rent-a-crowd.