I talked about this afterwards to the lady who vets the audiences [on 'Question Time']. It's an urban myth that before each show the BBC sends a coach to pick their audience up from the Socialist Worker's Party Social Club, Hizb ut Tahrir and the EU Commission. In fact – and I totally believe this – they are rigorously screened and pre-selected to reflect the political spectrum.
I am one of the few people who can’t really complain about the editorial policy of Question Time having been on it 26 times since I was first elected in 1999. In terms of the coverage it gives Ukip I have found it fair and in the past few years the programme has even started accepting Ukip panellists other than me!
But there have been a couple of programmes in which my colleagues and I have faced a hostile audience which in no way represents how Ukip is normally received or which are representative of the opinion polls. I am not pointing the finger of blame at the QT team but the question I want to ask is whether the Question Time audiences are being exploited by the hard left?
This is precisely what Left-wing activists in BBC Question Time audiences do, by the way. Whenever I’ve been on the panel, I have been struck by it. The audience is not, as the folks at home often think, overwhelmingly on the Left: it is just that the Leftist groupies have positioned themselves around the room and are causing enough ruckus to intimidate those who disagree with them. The producers of this hapless programme always claim that they screen out activists with their advance audience questionnaires. So let me tell you something else about committed political agitators: they tell lies. And they do that – I mean this quite charitably – with the most honourable intentions.
I’ve often heard conservatives complain that the BBC packs the audience with lefties so they’ll jeer and hiss whenever the Tory on the panel uses a stock phrase like ‘long-term economic plan’. Not true. The makers of the programme bend over backwards to try to ensure the audience contains a broad cross-section of political views. By definition, a majority of them won’t be Conservative voters, so in all likelihood I’ll be given a hard time. But that’s the country’s anti-Tory bias, not the BBC’s.
Each of them has a somewhat different take on why the audiences on the BBC's 'Question Time' appear so overwhelmingly biased towards the Left, but they all seem to agree on one thing: that the people who produce 'Question Time' for the BBC aren't to blame.
Toby Young, appearing on this week's edition from Glasgow, also notes something that backs up Janet Daley and Nigel Farage:
....lots of SNP activists are deeply suspicious of what they perceive to be the BBC’s anti-independence bias, so they may well use subterfuge to smuggle their way in. On Monday a Twitter account calling itself ‘Scotland for independence’ tweeted a link to the website inviting people to sign up to be in the audience, accompanied by the following advice: ‘I recommend pretending you’re a red, blue or yellow Tory so you can be hand-picked by the British Biased Corporation.’
Wherever 'Question Time' goes, it appears, activists (of the Amy Rutland variety) will attempt to hijack it.
And sometimes, presumably (pace James Delingpole and Toby Young) in order to try and balance the audience, 'Question Time' will go out and invite other local activists to attend.
So whether there's much space in the 'QT' audience for anyone who isn't some species of activist is a moot question!