An open letter to the BBC about tonight’s Lib-Dem-free Question Time

Here’s an email I sent to the BBC’s acting Director of News, Fran Unsworth, last night. Hat-tip to Richard Morris for highlighting the issue.

Dear Fran,

On the front of the 2010 Liberal Democrat manifesto were four priorities. The first of these was a pledge to deliver “fairer taxes” by raising the threshold at which people begin to pay income tax to £10,000.

In his Budget speech this week, the chancellor stood up in the House of Commons and announced that next year the coalition will deliver this policy in full. It would not be an understatement to say, therefore, that this week is one of the most significant of the parliament for the Liberal Democrats.

It does not take much predictive power to guess that the panel taking part in this week’s episode of Question Time will discuss the details of the Budget at length. Yet, astonishingly, there will be no Liberal Democrat there to do so.

I understand perfectly the need to achieve balance across each series of Question Time, and that that means that some episodes will not feature a Liberal Democrat. Yet to not have a representative of the junior governing party on the panel not only in Budget week, but in a week when one of the party’s key policies was delivered, is extraordinary.

I’m sending you this email 24 hours before this week’s Question Time is broadcast. That is ample time to find a Liberal Democrat MP who can take part in the show. I would urge you to do so.

Best regards,

Nick Thornsby

* Nick Thornsby is a day editor at Lib Dem Voice.

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  • Don’t fancy your chances with that one. BBC are biased and unlikely to make the effort to find a Lib Dem. Useless company – supposed to be impartial!

  • We’ve got a former Lib Dem on it; not sure if that’s a positive or a negative.

  • If Question Time wanted to be truly fair, there would perhaps be some weeks in which there were no Tory MPs or no Labour MPs? Why not? After all, if you selected three MPs (for example, if there are two non-political guests in the other seats each week) at random based on the share of the vote (and also depending on whether broadcasting from England or one of the celtic nations who have more political parties) then statistically you would have to find the odd occasion in which one of the two larger parties were not represented. If one were to say it’s fair to drop a Lib Dem from the panel in proportion to their share of the national vote, the same has to be true of other parties too – but at a lower frequency because they both polled more votes than the Lib Dems.

    So, when was the last time that there was no Conservative MP on the panel?

  • Hear, bloody, hear.

  • They also promote UKIP without any MPs.

  • Question Time,
    The BBC seems to be olanning a post-budget Question Time without any representative ofLiberal Democrats. This already happens far too frequently, even allowing for balance across a number of editions,.
    The raising of the Personal Allowance ahead of schedule is down to LibDem persistence. And the beer changes are put down, by people in the trade, to a LibDem MP’s determined campaign.
    As for This Week…

  • Sent formal complaint. Text above.

  • steven Lambert 21st Mar '13 - 10:30am

    The way QT has dealt with us in Government has been woeful and makes me want to go and protest at the recordings when a Lib Dem is not in the panel. To do it this week of all weeks, proves that they are dancing to a different tune…. A Labour on at that

  • Paul In Twickenham 21st Mar '13 - 10:49am

    Cockup or conspiracy? We seem to have reached a settled view of “conspiracy”.

    As evidence for cockup I would point out that the most monumental political and economic event of the year happened on Saturday morning when the Eurogroup instructed the Cypriot Government to seize a fraction of the value of every savings account in Cyprus in order to bail out 2 banks that over-exposed themselves to Greek debt during the credit boom.

    The ramifications of this decision for everyone in the Eurozone with a bank account are breathtaking and yet for 12 hours the BBC flatly ignored it and then ran a story along the lines of “Cypriot tax to affect ex-pats” in which they repeatedly used a nonsensical formulation of words about Cypriots being “asked to make sacrifices”.

    Repeated experience such as yesterday morning’s BBC headline about “budget cuts” when in fact the story was about reallocation of money rather than cutting spending, have long convinced me that the BBC is pro-Labour. But it’s also subject to the universal human frailty of messing up (of which I am frequently guilty) and sometimes it’s hard to tell the two apart.

  • The BBC has been anti LibDem for as long as I can remember, but post-coalition it has got much worse. The BBC at all levels is full of Labour party members and supporters like Kirsty Wark. Another pal of Woolas. Who, of course, also worked on Newsnight.

  • can you give a link to the address you used to write to them please ?

  • Ugh, a Conservative Peer is just the same as a Conservative MP in that respect. So, Baroness Warsi aside, are there any Tory-free editions of QT?

  • When are we going to stop complaining & take direct action ? I am up for it if its in London. Theres no point complaing to the BBC, you might as well send the letters to Labour HQ, its the same in the end.

  • Aren’t the BBC terrible and biased and aren’t Lib Dem members so completely unbiased and rational.

  • It could be worse, they could have invited Danny Alexander on 😉

  • Here’s an interesting article on QT panel participation between 2008 and 2012:

    The most frequent panelists:

    Vince Cable (12)
    Nigel Farage (11)
    Ken Clarke (10)
    Caroline Flint (10)
    Peter Hain (8) Caroline Lucas (8) Theresa May (8)

    Overall party slots:

    Tory: 137
    Labour: 148
    Lib Dem: 109

    I fail to see how the Lib Dems are under-represented to be honest. However, there is a bias towards men, right-wing journalists and business-people, and against union representatives. Perhaps the extra number of right-wing non-politicians is there to counter the slightly higher number of appearances by Labour members, but the overall bias is still right-wing (especially if you consider that many Labour members have shifted way to the right compared to decades ago). I’m just speculating here, but the right-wing bias is probably there because they’re afraid of appearing biased to the left given the constant accusations from the right about the un-evidenced leftie ‘bias’

  • Peter Watson 21st Mar '13 - 2:29pm

    @Caron “It’s a shame because it would be a much more interesting programme if our point of view was represented.”
    I agree entirely. However, I am not convinced that a Lib Dem MP on QT is likely to represent “our point of view” (secret trials, etc.). Rather than a Lib Dem MP who is indistinguishable from his Tory coalition colleague, I’d much rather see a non-parliamentarian Lib Dem activist. If we are to wheel out David Laws or someone of his ilk, then it would be more interesting if the Conservative representative is from the right of that party. Too often I find myself in the uncomfortable position of watching QT and feeling sorry for the Labour rep sitting between two coalition conformists singing from the same hymn sheet.

  • I am astonished so many of you watch Question Time, vast majority in the country do not and are not interested in it,

  • Personally I’d prefer to see the celeb/media commentator dropped ( weary of being bored by right wing rentagobs) and the main parties being reprsented each week, with a rotating 4th place for the minor parties. But much of the above outrage seems a bit synthetic to be honest, the party has 8% in the polls but seems to be represented most weeks.

  • Tony Dawson 21st Mar '13 - 9:08pm

    What concerns me more is that the BBC’s ‘choice’ of Lib Dem ‘representatives’ is not at all representative of the Lib Dems.

  • Helen Tedcastle 21st Mar '13 - 10:59pm

    Michael Gove, Mark Littlewood – ugh… 🙁

  • You could also make the point that, in the week when the date of the Scottish independence referendum was announced – something which could change the UK forever and which had been trailed for some weeks – there is no Scot on the panel either. Indeed, you could make the case that this programme could and should have been moved to Scotland. However, this is symptomatic of the way the BBC regards Scotland and unfortunately plays right into the SNP’s hands each time.

  • It.s not great, but I dispute the idea that BBC news coverage is biased towards the Left. It’s political slant is actually biased towards the establishment conservativism. Most weeks Question time will feature a journalist from one of the Righties, a Tory, sometimes Nigel Farage, one labour Mp and a Lib Dem. It is followed by a program presented By Andrew Neil. Generally speaking BBC News coverage is pretty much public school dominated.

  • I’m more cross about This Week which usually follows with a Tory and a Labour.

    Based on the first 15 minutes, I doubt the absence of a Lib Dem this week on QT did us much harm, thanks to the Green leader going on and on about how she opposed any spending or benefits cuts, and failing to mention the environment!

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