The BBC should answer their critics on Question Time panel decisions

I wish I could say that I settled down and enjoyed Question Time this week but that quite simply would not be true.

When I saw two Tories, David Davis MP and Nicky Morgan MP, on one panel I just switched off.

Having two Tories on in one week is brutally unfortunate timing for the BBC when it was already having to defend its decisions on the make-up of Question Time panels.

I wish the departing David Dimbleby well, I genuinely do. He’s a skilful and knowledgeable journalist and excellent host who had done an extraordinary job as chair in the BBC’s flagship current affairs discussion programme.

I remember fondly my solitary appearance on Question Time as I got to meet Billy Bragg, one of my favourite artists. I mentioned that I was a huge Steve Earle fan and Billy pointed out that Steve had once been his support act! It was the same episode when Kezia Dugdale gave an impassioned defence of Labour that was met by a perfect and contemptuous silence – which David Dimbleby described as the first time that he’d ever witnessed.

However, it is time for the programme’s producers and editors to be totally transparent and seek to be more representative if it is to blossom under Fiona Bruce’s highly capable stewardship.

The BBC’s response to criticism is to try and explain away Question Time’s inexplicable obsession, most of all with UKIP.

Why does Nigel Farage appear, on average, more than anyone else? More than Michael Heseltine or Paddy Ashdown or Harriet Harman. It makes no sense.

With 32 appearances in 19 years Farage has been on an average of 1.7 times per year. Ahead on average appearances, just, if the Wikipedia page can be trusted, of veteran Tory MP Ken Clarke.

Not bad from a man who spends an enviable amount of time in the pub, has never been an MP, and who used to run the party now associated with extremist fascist thugs.

The grossly disproportionate level of opportunity and exposure that Nigel Farage has enjoyed since the year 2000 on Question Time has undoubtedly helped propel him – and his views – into the mainstream and, arguably, played its part in getting the the UK into the constitutional mess that it finds itself in today.

The BBC has also tried to explain away its poor treatment of the SNP by comparing us with the present day Lib Dems. I have news for the BBC, that’s akin to comparing apples with pears.

The point we have been making is not with the Lib Dems today, but how the Lib Dems were treated when they were the third biggest party in the year up to the general election in 2015.

Back then the Lib Dems appeared on 22 out of 41 episodes. Yet as the third party at Westminster the SNP are presently getting around a quarter of that number of appearances. So it begs the very reasonable question – what has changed in their formula for having guests on the panel?

This stands to reason and has been a key point in our communication behind the scenes with the BBC in an effort to understand their formula for who appears on the panel.

The SNP are, as we have reminded the BBC, also the second largest party in terms of membership UK wide and the party of government in Scotland for nearly 12 years.

I qualify all of this by noting that the BBC have not published these appearance figures in full and so have been relying on the Question Time wikipedia pages.

We are calling on the BBC to publish these figures in full. Indeed they must publish the data and formulas used for selecting panels and planning relating to their flagship current affairs programme. This complete transparency would help remove much of the dubiety and reveal the true picture for all to see.