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Young Voters' Question Time

With Richard Bacon replacing Big Brother presenter Dermot O’Leary in this second instalment of Young Voters’ Question Time, the BBC were clearly responding to the negative press the new program attracted back in 2010. Dermot was just too ‘down with the kids’ and cool to not be patronising to an audience of newly fledged adults with the serious responsibility of voting.

Celebrities were drafted in on the first show, betraying a clear agenda of dumming down for the ‘ignorant youth of today’ who generally prefer to watch The Thick of It rather than actually follow an intellectual debate about voting systems.

This second try at the ‘Youth’ format was far more positive. Sure, it had a jazzy pink graphic background added to the logo and the theme tune was also given a dub step remix. However it had an engaging panel of MPs alongside a columnist for the New Statesman and the notoriously controversial David Starkey, but unfortunately no ministers unlike its mother program for real adults that generally attracts at least one shadow-minister. Richard Bacon was only occasionally  irritating, with his Blue Peter inclination to help out the kiddies being visibly reined-in as the show progressed and he became more comfortable in his David Dimbleby shoes.

Bacon’s attitude to Starkey throughout was however the most annoying thing in this genuinely impressive program that was on par with the other Question Time two days later that addressed the same issue of the killing of Osama (though in more depth as they devoted the whole program to it). Starkey’s infamous outbursts in his appearances on Jamie’s Dream School have put him, rightly or not, firmly in the ‘conservative old man’ frame recently. He had his moments with several outraged outbursts of ‘shut up’ to various panel members and was initially (rightly enough) quite patronising to Laurie Penny, the New Statesman columnist. However, he quickly corrected himself and spoke very well the rest of the program, unsurprisingly making many very incisive points using as always his encyclopaedic historical knowledge that occasionally became lecturing with ‘when I was your age’ featuring, but generally adding a welcome dose of history to both debates.

The audience had lots of chances to speak their minds, and were more respectful than many normal Question Time audiences I have seen. Bacon read out ‘Tweets’ more often the Dimbleby does, a clear but welcome nod to the ‘young voters’. The debate was fierce, uncompromisingly intellectual and free-flowing as it always is, with the morals of celebrating Osama Bin-Laden’s death and a good discussion of the AV system, the No camp clearly with the upper hand in the discussion against an equal number on the Yes side thanks mainly to some very pertinent audience contributions. The last tweet read out said it all – the panel were more childish than the audience.

Samuel Blausten

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