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A Question Time carve up
The producers of BBC programme Question Time on 28 May, on the European elections, had decided not to include RMT union leader Bob Crow as a panel speaker from 'No2EU - Yes to Democracy', on the grounds that it was not an important enough party. However, three Socialist Party members were in the studio audience. Clive Heemskerk reports on their experience.
The programme started with a 'warm-up' question, not transmitted, on whether London Underground workers should be allowed to strike. Amazingly, the UK Independence Party spokesperson, Nigel Farage MEP, suggested that the strike is an RMT 'stunt' to "get publicity for the RMT's general secretary Bob Crow, who is standing in the elections for No2EU - Yes to Democracy"!
Three million Londoners depend on the underground every day, someone else said, and the RMT shouldn't be allowed to 'hold them hostage'. So perhaps 'Bob the hostage-taker' isn't so unimportant after all! Both Sarah Sachs-Eldridge and myself spoke, as did other audience members, to defend the RMT and its right to strike and to challenge No2EU's exclusion from the panel.
Then the programme proper started, and soon moved on to MEPs and MPs' expenses. Sarah was called into the audience discussion after the entrepreneur panelist PY Gerbeau had criticised MEPs' allowances but then attacked the EU as 'socialistic', and 'curbing enterprise'. Sarah made the point that in fact EU directives call for the privatisation of public services like Royal Mail and that's why she would be voting for No2EU. This was kept in the transmitted version. But her immediate next point, linked to the expenses issue under discussion, was that No2EU includes candidates like Dave Nellist, the Coventry South East Labour MP from 1983 to 1992, who had only taken an average workers' wage as an MP. This was censored out.
So how did Sarah's first point mentioning No2EU slip past the censors' knife? Because, fortunately, the Green MEP panellist, Caroline Lucas, trying to claim the mantle of opposition to the EU's pro-market policies, explicitly attacked No2EU - Yes to Democracy! It would have looked odd, even to the most zealous BBC editor, to have kept that in without Sarah's comment.
The discussion moved on, to the question of whether MPs who are going to 'retire' at the next general election as a result of the expenses scandal should resign now, with by-elections called. Points were made about the right of recall and then I was called into the discussion.
I started by supporting the right of recall, proportional representation, and MPs receiving only the average wage, "like Dave Nellist did when he was a Labour MP in the 1980s...". "We've already heard that", interrupted David Dimbleby. "So why didn't the panel respond?", I replied. "If it was good enough for Dave Nellist, why not for them?" This was all edited out.
I then continued, saying that the right of recall is important, but there needs to be an alternative to vote for, or it would be like California, where the Democrat Gray Davies was recalled in a referendum in 2003, only to be replaced by Arnold Schwarzenegger - hardly a step forward! "None of the mainstream parties represent working people, just the bankers and the rich".
This was kept in. But my next immediate line wasn't: "That's why it is so significant that people like Bob Crow and Dave Nellist are standing in this election for No2EU".
I can't claim total recall of everything that was said but I am confident that nobody's contributions were cut like ours. For example, comments from the audience by the ex-Tory multi-millionaire Sir Paul Judge, the registered leader of the 'Jury Team' party, were kept in full.
The BBC has moved on from the 'mission statement' of its first director-general, Lord Reith, who during the 1926 general strike said: "The BBC must be for the government". But our experience confirmed that it hasn't moved that far!
It now graciously cedes the right to criticise the government, but allowing a fair representation to an alternative to the whole capitalist establishment is another question.