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Ric Bailey | 12:01 UK time, Friday, 30 June 2006

It seemed like a good idea at the time... and I think it still is...

Question Time logoThe teenagers who won the Schools Question Time Challenge (and are producing next week's programme) decided they wanted a Joe Public panellist - and a young one at that.

They also wanted some new-fangled internetty way of finding the right person - get 18 to 25 year olds to send in a video clip of themselves on their mobile phone.

Well, we had a pretty good response in the circumstances. It has to be said, a fair few entries never quite overcame the technological hurdle (or was it our ability to fathom how to access them?). By no stretch could you say those entering were a representative sample of the age group - but it was striking how many said they were Conservative supporters. And each assumed they'd be highly unusual to hold such views when so young. And surprisingly few green types - or is that my middle-age stereotyping expectations? Some Labour supporters - rather fewer actually expressing enthusiasm for the government - and quite a decent smattering of Lib Dems and others not yet committed to a party…

But we absolutely have to do this on merit - sticking them on the programme with four professionals is a huge ask. So we distribute the shortlist to the student producers, some now more absorbed in exams than programme planning - more technical and logistic hitches - but they start e-mailing back their views. Thankfully broadly in line with ours.

Those who almost made the final cut included a brace of Cambridge undergraduates and ranged from an Iraqi medical student to a single-mother voluntary worker.

Anyway, having got the shortlist down to four, we're now organising our own mini "Politics Idol" - run a dummy Question Time (with David D in the chair of course) putting these finalists through their paces. The aim is for one of them then to join the normal-ish Question Time panel, next Thursday and spout their views to the nation on whatever subjects come up.

I say "aim" - frankly, that's my weasel-word way of saying that if, when it comes to the crunch, none of them are quite up to it, then I still reserve the right to protect BBC One from a duff programme - and abandon the whole idea. I keep reassuring myself that it won't come to that and that taking risks (reasonable ones) is part and parcel of keeping a long-running and treasured flagship fresh and relevant.

Ask me again a week from now.

So, assuming it goes to plan and looking on the bright side, expect to see one of the following on the last Question Time of the series, on July 6th:

• Gareth Davies, a 22 year old from Leeds, who, uniquely among entrants, managed, simultaneously, to walk and talk into his mobile phone - and make good sense.

• Louise Box, who's 21, just moving to Manchester and works in retail. One of her hobbies is shouting at the telly every Thursday night.

• Matt Pollard, a student at Exeter who once got to ask a question from the audience on Question Time.

• Sarah Hajibagheri, an 18 year old gap year student who's just had a stint working for an "inspirational" MEP.

Good luck to them and to the Question Time student producers - and I must remember to send heartfelt appreciation to the regular Question Time team, who put a huge amount of extra work into this.


When I heard a young person could appear as a panelist I raced to turn on the computer and go to the Question Time website. I found out that I was too young - Gutted!

Oh well!

I'm really looking forward to this student edition of Question Time. People will be amazed at the level of questionning from the students on the programme and the responses from the panelists....

Shame that we don't have Votes at 16 though, isnt it, where we can't express those views into voting for the government that affect our every day life?

  • 2.
  • At 03:15 PM on 30 Jun 2006,
  • Steve wrote:

Why is it so striking to you Ric, that so many young people are Conservative supporters?

Is it because youngsters are usually quite naively liberal until they grow up?

Maybe because of the internet, kids aren't fed so much of the BBC's news broadcasting and try to seek out some sort of balanced, impartial view that the BBC and most of the rest of the mainstream media seem so reluctant to provide.

One reasons for the high number of people who say they support the Conservatives is that they see week in week out the Labour representative on the pannel getting a good kicking from the audience as when in power you are never popular.

  • 4.
  • At 11:37 PM on 30 Jun 2006,
  • Ben wrote:

Youngsters are usually quite liberal until they grow up - this is normally attributed to young people being less likely to have a mortgage and a family rather than "mainstream media" brainwashing.

This sample is so blatently unrepresentative anyway - it's measuring trends in apathy vs political opinion. People whose political views are in opposition to the government are far less likely to be apathetic about expressing them. And nobody gets worked up like a tory.

  • 5.
  • At 09:46 PM on 01 Jul 2006,
  • Sean Barrett wrote:

'Hmm, well from what I've heard the students have been working extremley hard with their own shows in school and the like - my school took part last year. Good on them, I'm sure they'll do a great job despite pressures from exams!
Also I think having a member of the 'joe public' is a very good idea as it will make the schools Question Time distinctive and add in some new blood.

  • 6.
  • At 12:17 PM on 02 Jul 2006,
  • Paul wrote:

I would have applied, except I had too many exams on. If you ever do another one for young people, try doing it outside the exam period.

I hope the candidate chosen addresses the declining standards of the show. Last week 30 minutes was spent answering the same question in different forms before I had to switch off the television in frustration.

Two people rang me on Tuesday to say that they wanted me to be in the audience for Question Time tonight, but I'm still waiting for an email containing detials!

  • 8.
  • At 05:24 PM on 06 Jul 2006,
  • Michael wrote:

Ben makes a good point about the liberal tendencies of young people by comparison with homeowners etc. However, I do not think that this is because young people are not bill-payers (although that may be a contributing factor). It is, in my experience, because young people are i. often idealistic and ii. nearly always net receivers of publicly-funded services. Socially-liberal political parties such as the Lib-Dems, Greens and parts of Labour are both idealistic and advocates of state power (ergo taxation)

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