George Galloway was a guest on BBC Question Time last night. The programme was recorded in Finchley, North London, former stamping ground of Margaret Thatcher, and is the constituency with the largest Jewish population. Mr Galloway was clearly not destined to have an easy ride.
As it turned out, much of the programme consisted of audience members shouting at Mr Galloway, and his responses often being drowned out by further interruptions. David Dimbleby called for order on several occasions, and finally managed to quiet the crowd when he called for individual comments, though he managed to select two who opposed Mr Galloway, and one in favour.
I've worked with Mr Galloway on radio phone-ins (I took the photo attached to this piece), and though I don't know him well or agree with all his views, I believe he has a perfect right to express them. That's what freedom of speech is about.
The question that caused the row was about the unprecedented rise in anti-Semitic attacks in the UK. It was: “Why is antisemitism rising in the UK and does a certain member of the panel bear some responsibility?”.
In response, Mr Galloway said: "Antisemitism is a foul form of racism that in the 1930s led to the
Holocaust. If I had been born then I would have been the first in the
line in the recruitment office to fight fascism. Everything that has been said here with melancholy about the shadow
cast by the rise in Antisemitism could be said many fold about the
Islamophobia and fear of Muslims in Britain and attacks on Muslim
property. Why can’t we all oppose Antisemitism and Islamophobia? Why not oppose the attacks not only on kosher, but halal?”. That sounds a fair response to me, but audience members kept up their barracking.
I believe the BBC made an error in setting up the show as it did, and the events were inevitable. Question Time is about comments on major news stories, and one of the most prominent, the Government takeover of Rotherham Council after a child abuse enquiry, wasn't even mentioned. Even Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary had an easy ride, after trying to argue that "flat cash" funding for schools was "Not a cut, since the money stays the same". She clearly hasn't heard of the concept of inflation.
No-one wants to watch a boring debate. However, setting up a situation where one panellist is subjected to abuse by a hostile audience is a shameful editorial act. I'm a huge supporter of the BBC when they get it right. This time they got it wrong.
Picture Credit : Alan Stevens