Sunday 15 March 2015

The School of Westminster

Last night's The Public Philosopher (Radio 4, 8pm) was an interesting if somewhat frustrating take on the question, 'Why democracy?' 

Prof. Michael Sandel's audience was a selection of MPs, peers and "members of the public". 

"MPs and peers" turned out to mean party politicians from the three biggest parties in parliament. They said largely what you'd expect them to say. 

Unfortunately, "the public" turned out to be students, student activists and reps from the National Union of Students (mostly from London universities, apparently). What they had to say was even more predictable than what the politicians said (the need for equality, too many white, middle-aged men, 'we're hard-done-by', etc). 

The debate, therefore, was basically between establishment politicians and students. Genuinely surprising views were not to be heard (except from John Stuart Mill, who's been dead for well over a century).

I suspect it might have been much less predictable - and, possibly, much more insightful - if a far broader range of political and public opinion had been represented. 

This is, perhaps then, just another instance of what philosophers call the 'BBC Studio Audience Problem': How do they manage to seem so out-of-kilter with public opinion, and why do they appear to be weighted down by political activists?


  1. "Democracy" means different things to different people. It meant something different to the Greeks than it did to the US Founding Fathers. It meant something different to them than it did to the French. It means something different to us than it does to the Occupiers and students the BBC loves so much. To them, it means "getting what we want", because they, of course, hold the best values and naturally everyone should want what they want. Other voices should be suppressed because alternative views harm democracy.

    If this show is produced by the same crew who produce Question Time, we know how the audience is skewed because they state unequivocally on the QT website that they invite activists deliberately when it suits them.

    1. The proper meaning of democracy is pretty clear and only Switzerland comes close to that proper meaning.

      What we have in most industrialised countries are "elected oligarchy".

      We need more direct democracy. If we had had direct democracy there is no way the mad programme of mass immigration could have been pushed through in the UK.

  2. You are braver than me to listen to this man.

    After only a few minutes I find that my hand has gravitated to the "Off Switch"

    1. :- (as they say!)

      The concept behind the programme is OK. Prof. Sandel's closing summaries do have a strong whiff of Jerry's Final Thought from the 'Jerry Springer Show' though.

  3. "Unfortunately, "the public" turned out to be students, student activists and reps from the National Union of Students"

    That does seem to happen a lot, reflecting the nation-wise.

    1. The producers say on the BBC website that they will invite them in if it feels like there aren't enough for whatever mob scene they want to create for the evening. Defenders of the indefensible like to pretend that doesn't mean anything, but it does. According to an impartial assessment of the local political landscape, naturally.


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