Mary Beard and Question Time – Clash, Discussion or Dialogue?

 

Lincoln Green   

Professor Mary Beard

Copyright Rose of Academe

Following the appearance of Mary Beard on the BBC’s Question Time broadcast from Lincoln on 17 January 2013 there has been an outbreak of largely anonymous abuse, directed at the Cambridge University Professor of Classics, originating from discussions which took place on the programme.

The website ‘Don’t Set Me Off’ which included some particularly offensive comments has subsequently been closed down by the website moderator who commented that friends and colleagues of the academic had been “trolling” his site and bombarding it with Latin poetry.  He also commented that Beard ought not to seek to curb freedom of speech.  Beard suggested that it was desirable to have a consensus on appropriate behaviour for on-line postings and that the nature of boundaries regarding what is acceptable should be considered.

As well as reflecting on the personal impact of the abuse on Mary Beard, a number of more general issues arise from these incidents and are perhaps worth considering: the relationship between the comments and the debate which actually took place; the quality and accuracy of reports on the debate made by sections of the press; the reasons which underscore the various controversies created by the programme; the potential inhibition of democratic debate and the willingness of individuals to place their heads above the parapet in a public forum of this type.  Read more of this post

Question Time – Democracy Lite?

Lincoln Green 

BBC Question Time

Copyright UK Parliaments photostream

I was an audience member in the BBC Question Time broadcast from Lincoln on 17 January 2013, when David Dimbleby chaired a panel which included Mary Beard (Professor of Classics, Cambridge University), Nigel Farage MEP (Leader of UKIP), Caroline Flint MP (Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change), Roland Rudd (Chairman, Business for New Europe) and Grant Shapps MP (Conservative Party Chairman).

Whilst the aim of the programme is to entertain and to provoke, attendance prompted thoughts about broader issues and about the underscoring attitudes which inform opinion and which programmes such as Question Time by their very nature fail to address.

Perhaps the most well debated issue was not actually broadcast but took place earlier, chaired by the floor manager to warm up the audience and to check the broadcasting systems.  The theme of responsibility for diet was discussed for almost an hour, raising issues such as personal responsibility, education for change, busy working parents and child care, and most pertinently the nature of the food industry.  Even with the luxury of extra time allotted only hints of the real issue were addressed – that the function of the food industry is to make a profit, and the easiest way to do this is to create something on which people will spend plenty of money (junk food) which is very cheap to produce and highly addictive (fat, sugar and salt).  Read more of this post

The NHS reform bill is reckless politics

Tom Bailey

Image © UCL Conservative Society

The former Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer, Nigel Lawson, famously called the NHS “the closest thing the English have to a religion.” This oft-quoted truism is once again doing the rounds as the furore over the Health and Social Care Bill boils on despite continuous opposition from almost everyone in the profession and large swathes of the public. Ed Miliband even had a good soundbite in PMQs when, citing supposed (and since refuted) opposition to the reforms from the Tory Reform Group, he hit Cameron with the line that ‘Even the Tories don’t trust the Tories on the NHS.’ Lawson’s judgement remains an apt assessment of how important the NHS is to the British people and the corresponding distrust of creeping privatization into this most popular institution of the welfare state. For an example of this instinctive distrust of marketisation of the NHS, last week’s Question Time saw the American business woman, Julie Meyer, jeered by the audience when she suggested that we should turn it into a ‘trillion pound British healthcare industry.’ Perhaps this response was unsurprising given how America somehow squanders away 16.2% of its GDP on healthcare (as opposed to 9.3% for the UK) and yet leaves around 50 million people, or approximately 16% of its population, without healthcare. However, I want to focus on the bad politics surrounding this bill. I lack sufficient expertise and willpower to dissect or examine the 367 page bill itself.

Firstly, this bill was not democratically mandated. The much cited Coalition agreement set out that the government would ‘stop the top-down reorganisations of the NHS that have got in the way of patient care.’ Further to this, the Tory 2010 manifesto stated that ‘more than three years ago, David Cameron spelled out his priorities in three letters – NHS. Since then, we have consistently fought to protect the values the NHS stands for and have campaigned to defend the NHS from Labour’s cuts and reorganisations.’ Occasionally there has been an attempt by the government to claim it is not top-down but bottom-up change. However, one Tory MP argued that ‘stripping out primary care trusts (PCTs) and strategic health authorities is as top down as it comes.’ Even if certain clauses in manifestos gave hints of coming organizational changes, no radical transformation was openly offered up at the last election by either the Tories or the Lib Dems. Instead, the government is open to accusations of dishonesty and hypocrisy given the record of both the Tories and Lib Dems in critiquing overly zealous top down New Labour reforms of the NHS.

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