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There is a serious problem with the level of topical debate in Britain. It has become facile, childish and in many ways irrelevant. Rather than sharp, fact-based discussions, we are now regularly presented with two people of completely opposing views who feel content to talk until someone tells them to stop, changing no one’s opinion in the process. Politically engaged people often wonder why so many do not even bother with politics, yet for an outsider the thought of watching one of our many current affairs programmes fills them with dread and I can quite understand why.
Question Time, almost a national institution in itself, has become tired and boring. I speak from the perspective of a Politics student who used to live for 10.35 on a Thursday night. I’m not exactly proud of that fact, though. Question Time has become too predictable and formulaic as the guests are habitually recycled. David Starkey, whose intelligence is matched only by his ignorance, appears every now and then to get Twitter foaming with outrage and increase iPlayer views. Similarly, George Galloway is given a lot of airtime for someone whose party received less than 1% of the vote at the last general election. And don’t even get me started on Nigel Farage – a veritable fountain of uninformed opinion – who has appeared on the program a whole 16 times since 2009: far more than any other MP. I’ll admit that Question Time does have its moments. Mehdi Hasan gave the Daily Mail a gruesome going-over for their disrespect at the height of the Ralph Miliband saga last year. That same year, when an audience member asked whether political parties were dying, it was treated with insight and impartiality by some, if not all, of the panel. However, these rare bouts of passion do nothing for the bog-standard debate which is now too predictable and has turned this unashamed fan-boy off the plodding panel show.
A reduction in quality of debate is also seen in Parliament. Prime Minister’s Questions, as many people have protested, is not fit for purpose. It’s almost comical that our forum for holding people to democratic account is treated like a pantomime or a place to execute some genuinely appalling jokes, but instead it’s just sad that the most important moment in the Commons turns into a farce nearly every week. Parties appear tribal and end up trivialising their own discussions. The debates reached their nadir in the chamber last month when Rachel Reeves, shadow work and pensions secretary, used part of her speech to try to shame Vince Cable for not voting in the National Minimum Wage Act almost 16 years ago. After politely declining to answer why he wasn’t present for the vote, Cable was forced to reveal that he was actually with his wife at the time, who was terminally ill in hospital. Reeves’ attempt to play politics with a debate that changed the lives of millions of people in the country was an illustration of how far political discourse has been removed from the very point of the subjects people are talking about. Cases like these are neglectful of an MP’s duties and they should be made to confront those non-voters disgusted with their faux-adversary so that politics can regain some respect.
An even more potent illustration of the degradation of debate is the fact that so many people know and care who Katie Hopkins is. The former reality TV star is becoming a worryingly frequent appearance on political chat shows and debates, giving her opinion on the ‘Big Benefits Row’ despite having no obvious experience in pros and cons of social security. Important discussions like this should not be carried out on television by people with neither the facts nor the willpower to engage in reasonable debate. It is the responsibility of the media to seek out as many diverse and informed opinions as possible, something they are clearly failing to do. It might be too much to ask but, before TV executives decide to hire Hopkins, or before Cameron feels like telling another one of his awful jokes instead of actually answering the question, it would be refreshing to see them give sense a chance.