Decline of Question Time down to second-rate politicians - not Fiona Bruce: Tom Richmond

Is Fiona Bruce to blame for the poor quality of debate on Question Time?
Is Fiona Bruce to blame for the poor quality of debate on Question Time?
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THE 30TH anniversary of the collapse of the Berlin Wall reminds me of my first encounter with Tory grandee Douglas Hurd shortly after he had been made Foreign Secretary in the wake of Nigel Lawson’s resignation from the Thatcher government.

Even at this period of political tumult, he still attended my former school to take part in a Friday night politics programme that was broadcast by Anglia TV and very similar to the BBC’s Question Time.

Fiona Bruce is the first female presenter of Question Time.

Fiona Bruce is the first female presenter of Question Time.

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As well as wondering beforehand how many spies had slipped through the Berlin Wall, I asked him if he felt that he had more pressing duties at such a momentous time.

No, he said, because it was important that senior politicians, like him, helped to inform the debate, engage with voters and, crucially, report back to 10 Downing Street on the public mood.

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Douglas Hurd had just been made Foreign Secretary at the time of the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

Douglas Hurd had just been made Foreign Secretary at the time of the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

Now Lord Hurd of Westwell, he explained that he could learn much more from sitting on a platform, and surveying the faces and reactions of the audience, than he could from a political focus group and such like. I was reminded of this as BBC viewers continue to turn their ire on Fiona Bruce for her handling of Question Time every Thursday night. Yes, she’s certainly not helped by the fact that there are five panellists all trying to get their view across to prove a point.

But they’re largely second division politicians and public figures – it is now very rare, except at election time perhaps, for the occupant of one of the ‘great offices of state’ to participate in such exchanges for fear of their own inadequacies, and lack of conviction, being exposed.

As such, I can only conclude that it is the politicians – and not Fiona Bruce – to blame for Question Time, once a great institution becoming the political equivalent of a reality TV programme.

I HAVE been left totally humbled by A Day Like Today – the captivating memoir of former Today presenter John Humphrys which charts his life from childhood poverty in Cardiff to becoming the number one scourge of all politicians.

Outgoing Today presenter John Humphrys has just published a new memoir.

Outgoing Today presenter John Humphrys has just published a new memoir.

It certainly explains his scepticism of the Establishment with his repeated interruptions. Yet I did smile at the aside when he interviewed Ken Clarke, the then Tory chancellor, after one particularly robust exchange.

Humphrys presented his bemused guest with a calculator and said: “Well, I thought it would help you keep track of the number of times I interrupt you and if I exceed 32 you can shout ‘Bingo’ or something.”

Clarke’s response? “Do you know something? I’ve never really figured out how to make one of these things work!” It’s probably explains why the Tory grandee, who presided over the election of a new Speaker before taking his leave of the House of Commons after 49 years uninterrupted service, was so highly respected for is stewardship of the economy at the very least.

UNSURPRISINGLY there’s just one reference to the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ in May At 10 – political historian Anthony Seldon’s inside story of Theresa May’s premiership.

It claims there were Downing Street plans in March 2017 to broaden out former chancellor George Osborne’s initiative “beyond Manchester to include other Northern industrial cities”.

“Progress was much swifter here than on the more contentious areas of corporate governance reform,” it adds in reference to promised overhauls of the banks and so on.

Surprised? I’m not when just four references are made to Mrs May’s campaign manager Chris Grayling whose tenureship of the Department for Transport stopped the Northern Powerhouse in its tracks.

I can only assume the former PM was so consumed by Brexit, as her government lurched from one crisis to another, that the shortcomings of ‘Failing Grayling’ were never brought to her attention. Do correct me if I’m mistaken.

SOME blame for Theresa May’s reckless decision to go back on her word and call an early election in June 2017 is now being laid at the door of Tory grandee William Hague, the former Richmond MP.

The much respected former Foreign Secretary had written an article on March 6 arguing that a snap poll could enable Mrs May to put her Brexit plans to the people. “No 10 were quick to shut down speculation after the article, but it made its impression on thinking,” the May At 10 tome observes.

IF a moratorium on fracking is in the public interest before the December 12 on the grounds of public safety following a number of earth tremors near Blackpool, why does Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom want the decision reversed after the election? Election opportunism?

ANOTHER election leaflet-cum-newsletter from the Lib Dems. It is headlined: “Jo Swinson: Britain’s next Prime Minister.” Even with a raft of Tory defections, her party only has 21 MPs. Talk about being presumptuous.

BELATEDLY catching up on the previous week’s edition of The Apprentice, I despaired when one dim group of contestants weren’t certain of the years when the Second World War began and finished. It doesn’t inspire confidence on this remembrance weekend unless this was a sorry stunt by the BBC to boost ratings.

GREAT to see the horse called No Trumps, owned and named by none other than the Queen, win for the first time when bolting up at Wetherby’s flagship fixture last week – an early tip for next year’s US Presidential Election? Do tell Ma’am.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk