Official: BBC Question Time’s pro-Tory bias

Time to revisit BBC Question Time’s political balance… 10 days ago, you may recall, Andrew Hinton’s Mindrobber blog questioned the omission of a Lib Dem representative from the panel, following on from a Lib Dem Voice thread. Andrew crunched some figures, which suggested parity between the Tory and Labour parties, with a lower number of Lib Dem panellists.

This seemed to lend some reasonable plausiblity to the BBC’s defence that “The programmes try to achieve balance over a reasonable period and certainly have a firm commitment to political balance over their series as a whole.” It’s worth noting, however, that party election broadcasts – a good benchmark against which to judge political balance – are allocated on a 5:5:4 ratio between Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem. On this basis, Lib Dems are under-represented on QT.

But the omission of a Lib Dem wasn’t LDV’s main whinge – our gripe concerned the inclusion, for the fourth week in succession, of an unofficial Conservative representative on the panel alongside the official Tory representative. So we took a second look at the data.

Normally, when you measure political balance, you don’t just consider MPs and peers from a party, but also include its other declared supporters. So when measuring QT’s political balance, it is only reasonable to include in each party’s totals the other declared supporters of that party, particularly when these figures include people such as a former senior employee of a party or a party’s prospective general election candidate.

On the basis of the recognised 5:5:4 ratio, you would expect a split between Tories, Labour and Lib Dems of roughly 36%/36%/29%. But is that what we found? Nope. Question Time graph

As you can see from the graph, over 40% of QT panellists are Tories, either official or unofficial, compared with a little more than 20% for the Lib Dems.

Even if you disagree with our notion of an appropriate level of Lib Dem representation, it is hard to see how the BBC can justify such a sustained bias in favour of the Tories and against Labour.

We’ve emailed the BBC with the link to this story, and will look forward to seeing whether we get anything more than a standard response.

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53 Comments

  • On what basis is party affiliation decided? For example, does being a right-wing columnist get one included as a Tory? Similarly for left-wing papers? And if so, therein might lie one of the problems for Lib Dems. I’d argue that while Sarah Sands and Amanda Platell are right-wing, they aren’t “unofficial Conservative spokespeople” – they are right-wing political observers who may be in agreement with the Tories at some point, but not at others. I’d certainly like to know how one qualifies for inclusion – from earlier statements it seems to be like the bar for being considered a Tory, and to some extent a Labour spokesperson, is much lower than for the Lib Dems.

  • I was pretty shocked the other week when there was a Tory MP and a Tory PPC on and no Lib Dem at all.

    Since they went to 5 panalists a week we seemed to be getting someone on every week apart from in Scottish, welsh etc places where Nationlists take up extra places on the panel. However recently this no longer seems to be the case and I think the BBC should explain why.

  • Gosh, Duncan, I don’t remember you at the birth of Newsnight – I worked it too, in 1978 with a certain Andrew Neil… those were the days! I was an AFM, and my husband Tim a video engineer (we met on Playschool). QT this week is in Watford, and we’ve been told that the audience will reflect the political position at the last election. To our knowledge, only five local LDs have had their applications accepted. (Watford is our third target from Labour nationally, and I only need 1148 votes to win next time). They haven’t replied to my application, and I understand that is normal for current ppcs in the area.

  • Cassandrina 13th Feb '08 - 9:12am

    Laurence is absolutely correct in it is quality not quantity that rules the programme.
    Lib dems of stature are not thick on the ground but have to be catered for.
    Also bear in mind that the Chairman can show a great deal of bias, generally left of centre, which is why when he is away the new chairman is diligent in not showing bias for the very short period of his tenure – unfortunately Ed Sturton was quickly bundled away for JD to retain his sinecure.
    We all know that the BBC is left leaning so it is no surprise to me that this article does not mention when TWO labour leaning people are on the panel.
    Lib Dems should stop whining and get a decent line up of quality candidates.

  • passing tory 13th Feb '08 - 9:45am

    Nice to see that the Lib Dems dubious use of bar charts continues apace.

    Maybe QT should ascribe slots according to the number of MPs each party has. By that count, Lib Dems are massively OVERrepresented on QT 🙂

    But do you really think that, with consistently less than 20% in the polls over the last year or so, there should be on average more than one Lib Dem on the QT pannel each week?

  • “Also bear in mind that the Chairman can show a great deal of bias, generally left of centre”

    Are you suggesting that Dimblbore or is left of centre?

  • passing tory 13th Feb '08 - 12:40pm

    Simon, if you are on for diversity then I don’t think that adding more Lib Dems is going to help much. If you are really chasing diversity you would have to bite the bullet and chase some of the fringe parties (anarchists, communists, BNP; that sort of thing), plus maybe a few more bishops / mullahs (mad or otherwise) / overseas politicians.

    Of course if, by diversity, you mean getting your point of view a greater airing then by all means lobby for more Lib Dems, but that isn’t a very objective standpoint.

  • Perennially Bored 13th Feb '08 - 12:50pm

    I would actually like to see more diverse views – my dream panel would be one representative of all 3 main parties (imho they should be going for representing a range of views rather than mirroring the current political status quo, which means that there should be a labourite, a tory and a liberal on each panel, to ensure a range of views and a decent discussion), plus two ‘others’ who represent genuinely different views.

    I don’t want to give the BNP that legitimacy, but there’s no good reason not to have UKIP, or the Greens, or representatives of think tanks and campaigns – maybe more people from the charitable sector e.g. the British red cross, who do an enormously diverse range of work in this country as well as abroad. There are plenty of these that represent genuinely different views to the parties (like that crackpot Douglas Murray guy they have on there sometimes), and campaigners from particular areas, including muslim groups – possibly at the same time as Douglas Murray, that would be fun! As for overseas politicians, it would be interesting, but surely most of them wouldn’t particularly want to come – not much opportunity to expose themselves to their own electorates.

  • passing tory 13th Feb '08 - 12:56pm

    in terms of overseas, I was particularly thinking of European politicians (and commisioners, for that matter, although most of them have political backgrounds). Given the influence of European politics on domestic lawmaking I think it would be extremely interesting (and useful) to have such people make their case on QT.

  • Perennially Bored 13th Feb '08 - 1:13pm

    OK, I get you – well in that case, definitely agreed. EU politicians keep far too low a profile – which is partly why its so easy to portray them as power-grabbing bureaucrats.

  • passing tory 13th Feb '08 - 1:24pm

    of course it may just reinforce people’s opinion of them as power grabbing bureaucrats :-), but it would start to address the democratic deficit that is, IMHO, the largest single problem with the way the EU runs currently.

  • I’m still unclear as to what actually qualified someone to be placed in a particular column. It seems to me to be quite subjective. Yes, Platell may be happy to describe herself as a ‘Conservative’. But if she isn’t an MP or on the party payroll, then she is in a different position entirely to, say, Ed Vaizey. Now, you’d still want a balance between right-wing and left-wing voices on the panel – but that is different to there being a ‘Tory’ bias. You can’t just say someone is a Conservative representative on the panel because you don’t like them. And also, might it be that there are more ‘left-wing’ voices on the panel overall, but trying to make a distinction between Labour and Lib Dem representatives muddies this somewhat?

  • Caption to the bar chart: Only Labour can beat Tories here! 😉

  • This week’s Question Time from Watford was meant to have Baroness Shirley Williams on the panel. She has now been replaced by that well-known liberal Melanie Phillips!

  • David Morton 13th Feb '08 - 6:07pm

    I love the Party dearly but I did nearly fall of my chair laughing when I saw this issue had manifested its self as a dodgy bar chart.

    We can’t just moan, we need to give the BBC alternative names. I suggest we get behind the reigning and previous LD bloggers of the Year. They both have things to say and might just dare to say it in an interesting manner. We can’t expect a greater number of slots for hacks.

  • Hywel Morgan 13th Feb '08 - 7:21pm

    “if we’ve got at least one and preferably two liberal/libertarian”

    That does quite nicely illustrate the problem though. For example David Starkey might hit some of the libertarian buttons but isn’t really a liberal (though he is very informed, entertaining and would make a superb QT panelist IMO).

    It is pretty easy to characterise people as left & right. Less easy to characterise them as liberal/authoritarian.

  • Hywel Morgan 13th Feb '08 - 7:28pm

    What did she say? I’m sure there are other liberals who hate Shirley AND Shami Chakrabarti – though I’m not sure they’ll be able to form an SAO 🙂

  • Bullingdon Bertie 13th Feb '08 - 8:14pm

    But won’t this help the Lib Dems, now that Nick Clegg is going to turn them into Tories ?

    I would have thought you would be in favour of this ?

  • Martin Land 13th Feb '08 - 8:52pm

    I just can’t help wondering why this really matters; as only Tories and bores (is the ‘and’ necessary?) seem to watch QT, it’s quite understandable that the makers reflect the opinions of their viewing audience. In more than 30 years canvassing, no one has ever mentioned QT to me on the doorstep. Time to take off your anoracs and get on doorsteping.

  • Cassandrina 13th Feb '08 - 9:00pm

    Have any of you realised that your message on the blogosphere lose cogency the longer it goes on?
    Tonight I listed to the Moral Maze and realise this is the first time that the panel and chairman do not understand the message from the Archbishop and the issue on hand.
    The Party Political System is defunct and needs to be replaced – but we are not mature enough to handle it and have no answers as yet.
    Could the Archbishop be the first of the Wise Men to raise their head above the parapet????

  • At the risk of dragging this issue beyond it’s utility. No one seems to have mentioned the other bias on QT namely Dimblebores selection of speakers within the panels. He invariably leaves the Lib Dem speaker last and has frequently not asked them to speak at all. As for his personal bias I remember how he quickly changed the subject when someone raised the question of Camerons Bullingdon club group photo.He was of course a member of this bunch of yobs himself.

  • Sal [not B] 14th Feb '08 - 6:19pm

    Laurence Boyce : the voice of reason….yet again.

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