Billy Bragg has had a busy week at the Beeb, appearing on Newsnight one day and on Any Questions the next. (Well, 'fairly busy' anyhow).
His Newsnight discussion about 'Englishness' with Peter Hitchens was refereed, less than impartially, by Kirsty Wark who - as is her way when interviewing a certain kind of artist - kept smiling at him like a schoolgirl with a crush. [Which Side Are You On, Kirsty?]
Similarly, his Any Questions appearance was untroubled by any challenges from Jonathan Dimbleby, ending with a question about protest songs which Jonathan asked him and only him to answer, to cheers from the audience. [Which Side Are You On, Jonathan?]
Any Questions was actually good fun though, despite Jonathan Dimbleby's tendencies to interrupt and challenge 'from the Left', and despite the inevitable 'BBC audience problem'.
The guests - the aforementioned Billy Bragg, Claire Fox, Trevor Kavanagh and Benedicte Paviot - made a good, varied, not always predictable panel and the discussion was never less than interesting - and, in the case of the 'Of Mice and Men/Michael Gove' question, positively fascinating with some wonderful, inspiring contributions, especially from Claire Fox.
If you are about to listen to the programme, listen out for the Northanger Abbey bit. Billy Bragg didn't enjoy being taught Northanger Abbey and hammed up his horror at the mere mention of that great novel. As a result Any Questions almost turned into that episode from Blackadder- the Third where the word 'MacBeth' eventually reduced a couple of rich Mockney protest singers to gibbering wrecks as nasty Mr Blackadder kept repeating it to them, again and again and again.
The 'BBC audience problem' arose midway.
The programme, broadcast from a state comprehensive school in deeply Conservative Steyning, West Sussex had an audience that applauded left/liberal-pro-EU sentiments and gave only tepid applause (at best, and only sparingly) to right/conservative/anti-EU ones - i.e. a typical 'BBC audience' that seems completely out of place!
|The People's Republic of Steyning|
Trevor Kavanagh and Claire Fox both sensed that the audience weren't going to be keen on praise for Michael Gove, and said so. They were quickly proved right as boos greeted the statement that Mr Gove was a great education secretary.
Jonathan Dimbleby then did his irritating 'audience poll' thing about Michael Gove and, unsurprisingly, got an overwhelming anti-Gove show of hands.
Amusingly, Trevor Kavanagh didn't just sit back and take it though. He intervened and asked his own question to audience: How many of you are teachers?
From the reaction it seems [over the radio] that quite a few of those Gove critics were indeed teachers - though a somewhat defensive-sounded Jonathan Dimbleby protested that it wasn't a huge number.
Perhaps Trevor should also have asked them: How many of you are party activists, student activists or trades union activists?
Still, worth a listen.
P.S. If you were wondering, in the wake of JD's other 'show of hands', yes I've read Of Mice and Men and, er, I can't remember whether I liked it or not. I remember something about a mouse in the Abominable Snowman's pocket, ("I will name him George, and I will hug him, and pet him, and squeeze him".)
Plus, I can also remember that I liked Northanger Abbey, but I'll grant Billy that it is the weakest link in Jane Austen's major novels. He should have been taught Emma.
I had a teenage crush on Emma Woodhouse.