Image Credit: BBC
This Christmas election has received a vast and unique response from the media. The BBC launched the most “ambitious debate series” it has ever done in order to cover all bases. Part of this series was the BBC Question Time under 30, that only included audience members between the ages of 18 and 30 in order to focus on issues directly affecting the younger generations. Hosted by the BBC’s Emma Barnett, who explained how young people must not be “forgotten” in the upcoming election, it was held at the University’s very own Ron Cooke Hub on Heslington East. It was a full house across the panel which included representatives from all seven parties. It consisted of Robert Jenwick for the Conservatives, Angela Rayner on behalf of Labour, Humza Yousaf from the SNP, Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson, leader of Plaid Cymru Adam Price, Co-leader of the Green party Jonathan Bartley and leader and founder of the Brexit Party Nigel Farage.
The 90 minute special was kicked off with discussions on electoral reform when a question was posed by an audience member asking how could her voice be heard if she lived in a safe seat constituency. She also raised the issue of tactical voting, which has certainly become a hot topic in the lead up to polling day. Jenwick responded first emphasising the importance of voting in principle, as many have laid down their lives in order for the public to have this right. This soon moved on to electoral reform and positions on the first past the post system. Bartley accused Jenwick of avoiding the question, as he then outlined the negatives of the current system. Although, it seems predictable that Bartley would take objection here as first past the post tends to benefit the two main parties during elections. The need to reform of the House of Lords was also raised, which Farage claimed he would abolish.
Predictably, it was not long before the panel were soon asked about what Barnett deemed the “B word”; Brexit. Price accused the Conservatives of introducing the referendum with no firm plan for what would happen if ‘Vote Leave’ were to emerge victorious. He continued to explain how, when accused of denying the will of the Welsh people, that he truly believed we would be worse off after Brexit. Barnett was able to quip back asking him how he knew this, when we haven't “brexited” yet? Swinson also came under fire from a similar critique when an audience member asked how could she be trusted to deliver on the vote of a second referendum, when they had achieved so little after the first.
The discussion then turned toward what The Economist has called the first casualty of the election; truth and mistrust. Although, once again Brexit played a role in this. Across the panel all became victims of the audience’s lack of faith in Westminster proceedings across the political spectrum. When a question was sent in via twitter asking what would they do to bring trust back into politics, Price, Bartley and Yousaf floated the idea of a bill being put to parliament to make lying by politicians a criminal offence. Jenwick returned the debate to Brexit by inferring that preventing it was the biggest mistrust in the current political climate. Rayner simply said “I won’t lie and I will call out those who do”.
Housing was also a dominant topic of the evening. Angela Raynor laid out in detail Labour’s housing plans, which included 100,000 council homes and rent being controlled in line with inflation. Jenwick and Price were quick to challenge her however, citing Labour’s poor record on council houses in Wales. Jenwick claimed that last year Labour had built 57 Council houses and the year before that they had built none.
The special was only given 90 minutes airtime, so naturally some topics were neglected a mention. Interestingly for an audience of this age range, the issue of tuition fees took a fairly minor role. After the Labour party policy to scrap tuition fees, which has now been matched by the Green party, attracted popularity amongst the younger generation it seems curious that it was missed. When the issue of fees were raised it was an attack on the failure by the Liberal Democrats under Nick Clegg to vote against the tuition rise, which Swinson now had to defend. The NHS and security, which were large components of the head to head leadership debates also took a backseat part in this Question Time special. This is to be expected given the target audience present. Yet, it appears to be forgotten that today’s youth will be tomorrow’s older generation, and that areas like the NHS and security do affect all ages.
A feature that was present, sadly, was the similar bitter tone that has been dominant in Westminster since the 2016 EU referendum. As the Question Time special unfolded, tensions were running high. Regardless, this makes it hard to forgive the amount of shouting, interruptions and at times, disrespect shown on the panel toward one another. Swinson and Farage bickering backwards and forwards in a heated argument over dishonesty and false claims during the 2016 EU referendum campaign, was just one example of the style in which proceedings took place. On several occasions Barnett asked the candidates to let each other finish their point as it was impossible to hear 7 people speak at once. In the end, she laughed and exasperatingly stated that she now “knew how John Bercow felt”. BBC political correspondent Sean Curran deemed it a “bad tempered debate” that held little power to change minds. As this seems to be the case, political engagement and research amongst the younger generations has never been more vital.