Wednesday 31 May 2017

BBC election debate audience shocker

This little owl didn't watch it either

I'm not watching tonight's election debate on BBC One. I'm watching Springwatch instead, with one eye on Twitter.

The eye that's on Twitter is finding something of a consensus out there: namely that I made the right decision!

The commonest view is that it's been a ghastly, tedious shambles with a terrible format (and even worse politicians). Its end couldn't come soon enough for most people. One tweet I read said, Twitter before a debate: "There must be a debate, leaders must face public scrutiny!" Twitter during a debate: "This is totally shit." 

Another very common view is that the audience has been wildly biased, even by the standards of BBC studio audiences. Even George Eaton, the political editor of the New Statesman, noticed. His tweet provoked an immediate response from the BBC (who shifted the blame onto ComRes): 


  1. If these are the results of the methods used by polling companies to gauge public opinion, I think we can safely conclude May is going to get a thumping majority! The blatant bias of the audience towards Labour and the "progressive alliance" was plain for all to see. I thought the funniest moment was when Mishal assured us that the audience was also balanced to reflect the Referendum result...with it being a 50-50 split, reflecting the BBC official position that the Leave campaign did not win the Referendum fairly and squarely 53-48!

    1. Yes, that's worth quoting in full:

      "Our audience was selected by a leading opinion polling company to ensure they are representative of the country as whole. They support different parties, some are undecided voters, and they are also equally split along the lines of last year's EU referendum - half voted to leave the EU and half to remain."

    2. For the sake of accuracy 51.9% - 48.1%.

    3. Yep, sorry! Anyway not 50-50.

    4. Craig -

      Those Captcha quizes are taking away some of the pleasure of commenting on this illustrious blog. I just had to work my way through about 10 of them, lots now where you have to keep clicking till vehicles are nowhere to be seen. The pics are so small you can't always complete the tasks easily. Is it just me? Or do others experience the same?

    5. This comment has been removed by the author.

    6. That's odd, I had no problem with the captcha.

      John - London.

    7. Some can be very tough to answer, even if the image were to be full-screen, 'mountains' that like small hills, 'signs' that just fringe the next cell, 'shops' that could be houses with sun shades etc.
      Actually if one is using a tablet it is near impossible to scroll up to find the 'question' without inadvertently submitting wrong answers,

    8. Yes, that's my experience. A lot of them, you have to think "Well most people are going to ignore that tiny bit of a sign in a square". Or you wonder "Is a pole part of a sign?" Or you have to cope with Americanism like "store". We might think of a warehouse as a store, they probably think of it just as a shop.

      I don't mind when it's just the one question, but you can be there for minutes sometimes.

    9. This is really bad, but I had absolutely no idea that we had Captcha on the blog. I'm guessing it must be automatic for anyone commenting anonymously because we have 'Word Verification' set to 'No' on our Settings in order to try and make it as easy to comment as possible. (So much for that then!) I'll try and work out if there's a way round it.

  2. Do the BBC ever get it right when rounding up a well balanced audience? Never. I'm surprised that after last Summer's Euro Debates that Farage didn't sue the BBC over their treatment of him, not forgetting Dimbelby's aggressive attitude to the UKIP leader.

    Tonight's Debate was not very well handled by one of the BBC's less heavyweight newsreaders. I simply couldn't watch anymore once the Leaders started shouting over one another. Maybe the Prime Minister did the right thing by avoiding the Debate.

    But like you I also turned over to watch Sprinwatch.

    I really don't think that the UK electorate are getting excited about this Election, no matter how hard the BBC tries.

    John - London.

    1. There was one balanced audience on QT (proving it can be done) as I recall and that was after the Farage farrago, which I think embarrassed the BBC at the time as the bias was so obvious. Of course given the Referendum result it seems they are determined never again to select an unbiased audience...they've learnt their lesson.

  3. BBC News website this morning:

    'Pollsters Defend BBC Election Audience'. Clearly nobody was to blame within the BBC commissioning process!

  4. Couldn't bring myself to watch the debate - the 6pm news was bad enough: Kuenssberg giving Corbyn a treacly,almost flirtatious,smile (Yek!) & asking him if he'd given any further thought to taking part in the debate. It was quite clear that she had been tipped off that he would take part & & equally clear that the whole thing was a ploy by the Corbyn camp.

  5. In the 2015 debate, where there was a similar controversy, there was over-sampling of the SNP and Plaid Cymru - this was done to provide 'representation' but inevitably resulted in a skew to the left. I'd be interested as to whether a similar method was employed here.

  6. Could this clearly biased audience leave the same image in the minds of voters watching, that the Sheffield rally had back in 1992.

    Could this be Corbyn's, Kinnock moment. It wasn't pleasant to watch and at times it was verging on bullying Amber Rudd.

  7. The bias of the BBC seems to have gone into overdrive at the moment, a "new:story of 1984 TOTP" contained loads of anti-Thatcher clips, coverage of the miners strike, Northern Ireland and South African aparthied from a left wing position.
    Then a usually left wing HIGNFY (hard left Coren and the communards vicar).
    Maybe the BBC has decided to to all out for a Corbyn victory as if there is a large Tory victory, the corporation will be in for "one hell of a beating" by the next government.

    1. Yes you are probably right there. I think their initial strategy was "Big Up Farron and Splity the Tory Vote"...when that didn't work they were at a loss really but then Corbyn's sudden rise in popularity (something they did little to assist since they are of the Soggy Left not the Hard Left) created the current opportunity - so I think they are just looking to minimise a Conservative majority by boosting Corbyn, recognising that for the time being they have no hope of securing a Soggy Left leadership.

    2. Hunt the Black Maria rules apply.

      It's in their DNA.

  8. I'm finally watching this now. Apologies in advance for the length (and breaking it up into three comments due to character limits), but there is much thinking aloud, and I've been wondering about this specific event for quite some time.Not sure I accept the common opinion that the audience is heavily slanted to the Left, never mind the worst ever in BBC history. What is clear so far is that Labour voters are angry and thick, with little substance to their questions (mainly political statements sort of framed as questions).

    Best question of the night is from Dimbleby, who is apparently the first journalist ever to ask Theresa May if she's changed her mind about Brexit being a disaster. She waffled, danced around it, tried the 'The people have spoken, they need a strong government to deliver the Brexit they want," but Dimbleby got it right, didn't let her get away with it. She looked very chagrined.

    I don't think anyone has publicly asked her this before, yet it's perhaps the most important question of her premiership.

    One interesting Brexit note, though was when the Sikh guy asked if maybe there should be a second EU referendum because the vote was so close. Low murmuring and a couple boos from the audience. I had the impression that this wasn't a particularly pro-Brexit audience already, but maybe there is something to the notion that even a lot of Remainers have accepted the result and just want to get on with it and get it right.

    The BBC - and yes, it's the BBC supervising it this time, not just the impartial third-party production company - certainly made sure the correct issues were brought to May's attention. Even when not selecting questions from his cards and just pointing to raised hands, Dimbley is picking all from the Labour middle section for Theresa May.

    May really has nothing to say, can't promise anything. The only issue on which she spoke remotely passionately and in an informed way was when she went all Socialist about 'fairness across the generations' regarding the social care/dementia tax issue. The only thing separating her from Brown and Miliband on any economic issue is that she will say there's no magic money tree. Not sure she believes it, really, but at least she's saying it.

    But two different people who have 'failed' the mental health assessment in the audience? Does that mean they're told the have to work, or that they failed and shouldn't be allowed out of the house? Both in the Labour section, coincidentally....

    Vocal Corbynistas in the audience. The fact that they're much louder isn't an indication that more will vote for him. But they really are over-emotional and thick.

    May came off rather badly. I don't think she convinced the Tory supporters, never mind anyone on the fence.


  9. What's the point of picking a pro-Brexit question to right away? Corbyn is actually a Brexiter who had to pretend to support Remain for campaign purposes, while May is a Remainer who has to pretend to be a Brexiter now for the same reason. And Corbyn had already said the vote is done, he will get on with it.

    Interestingly, the first thing Corbyn mentioned when asked by DD to explain what Brexit means was that there was no more EU sovereignty over British law. How different from May's boilerplate, or the BBC narrative about what it means. When asked about the Single Market, Corbyn said the goal should be presented as a tariff-free access to it, which is fair enough. And again, better than anything May has said.

    Another Brexit question, about human rights and 'climate change'. Corbyn got the former right about making it about British law (no applause from his fans) and then wrong about climate change, with the obligatory shot at Trump (rapturous applause).

    It makes a difference when a politician believes in something other than being a politician.

    The selected questions for Corbyn were not the same kind of attacking ones selected for May. Challenges on issues, yes, but not ideological attacks phrased in question form. And no properly challenging Corbyn on his history of supporting terrorists, or his Marxist economic policies. Interesting.

    Corbyn is going to lose votes with his evasion of the question about Livingstone, which ended up as a defense of Jews and saying the Holocaust happened and was very bad, without including the suffering Palestinians in his remarks.

    Somehow Corbyn managed to turn a question about Trident into a climate change issue and another chance to bash Trump. Medium response from the audience this time, not such a good effect. Fortunately, Dimbleby correctly pressed him on Trident, and never using it no matter what. The audience noticed, not a good sign for him. Biggest fail: an audience member asked if he'd let North Korea or Iran bomb Britain, and Corbyn's response was to say how important it was to

    Another thick, emotional Labour voter followed this by saying, gosh, she can't understand why so many in the audience are so eager to kill millions of people. Rapturous applause, but obviously only from a small, very vocal group. Her real question was an emotion-based anecdote about her foreigner husband not allowed to stay due to work permit issues. Blah, blah, we'll reunite families, blah, blah, blah.

    It does seem like questions - for both leaders - from the Left are emotion-based, either personal stories or just angry ideological statements, while questions from the other side are more substantial, issue-based actual questions. Very telling.

    A poor response to the challenge about the IRA, and he got away with it. Very tiny applause for the next question about why trust him in No. 10 when he supported the IRA and Hamas, etc. Maybe the audience is more skewed than I think it is. Much stronger applause to Corbyn's "we must talk with everyone" pablum.

    Finally a wide shot after Corbyn repeated his avoidance of saying he wouldn't ever retaliate with a nuke, only half the audience applauding at his nuclear disarmament waffle. Maybe not so skewed, and Dimbleby did allow the audience to press him further when he could easily have stepped on it and moved on.

    Another easy Brexit question for Corbyn. Well, easy if you're actually for Brexit and have thought about the basics of trade and manufacturing outside the Single Market. This is a Bizarro election in some ways.

    Mostly, Corbyn's and May's answers have reflected the commentariat opinion on their respective manifestos. May was mostly vague, promising nothing, dancing around points and at times just unable to really give a good answer. Corbyn, on the other hand spells things out, saying what he's going to do where possible.

  10. Corbyn's supporters were already convinced. He could have bitten a baby's head off and kicked a puppy and they would have knocked down their own grandmothers to vote for him anyway. Did he convince anyone else? Doubtful. I don't think the undecideds were all that undecided.

    Conclusion: Ever since the Leaders' Question Time in 2015, I've made it a point to notice how these audiences - when the BBC rigs it honestly rather than for a pet issue or against a guest - accurately predict the election result. It did with the 2015 election, and it did for Brexit. This time, the BBC rigged it in a slightly different split than in 2015. No Lib Dems this time, so the allegedly undecided voters were a full third. It's pretty obvious they weren't all undecided, either, so that will skew results.

    The difference in quality and substance of the questions for both leaders also color my impression of the audience reaction. But the more I think about it, maybe not very much.

    The biggest difference this time, really, is that this time the Tory voters are supporting the party leader very reluctantly, while the Labour voters are fervently eager to vote for their Dear Leader. Quite the reverse of 2015, when Labour voters were basically begging Miliband not to be an idiot and give them a reason to vote for the party, and Tory voters were more secure in their support for theirs.

    Resulting Prediction: It's going to be a lot closer than it should be. But mainly because Theresa May is so crap. I don't see a Labour majority, and not even a loss of the small Tory majority. But it will be close. I've learned to trust these audiences over time, even against my own instincts. Maybe this time I'll get it right.

  11. PS: I accidentally cut out the rest of the sentence about Corbyn's poor response to the question about North Korea and Iran. He said that's why it's so important to support Obama's Iran deal: which gave them all their billions back to support terrorism in the region and develop the @#$^ing bomb so they can destroy Israel. And nobody really noticed what that meant.


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