Despite feeling like death warmed up on waking – am on antibiotics for a chest infection and anti-depressants for Le Chien Noir – I enjoyed the BBC Big Questions debate.
I know Nicky – no relation – Campbell inspires mixed views, but I think he holds the ring in live, and lively debates, really well. And with issues as varied as the right to protest, the role of happiness in politics, and sex education all on the agenda, there was certainly some lively debate. Nicky even managed to squeeze in that he had read – and enjoyed – The Happy Depressive. (Memo from Beeb bosses – one Campbell plugging a book is probably enough).
What I really enjoyed about today was all the weird agreements breaking out.
Last night, in between coughing and watching J Edgar (Leonardo di Caprio is brilliant by the way) I was doing an email interview with an Armenian magazine who inter alia asked me what qualities I valued in a person. Among them I said ‘strong and enduring values but matched by a mind open to new ideas and arguments.’
There was certainly a lot of that going on in the Harris Academy in Peckham today. Even before the programme started I found myself deep in conversation with George, a leading light in the Occupy London movement, and more often than not – even if we expressed ourselves differently – we were in deep agreement too. He talked about the failure of neoliberalism and the need to hasten the collapse of a falied capitalist system. I talked about the need to recognise that if we are serious about the extension of happiness and well being to the majority, then the prime focus has to be closing the inequality gap between top and bottom, with our energies focused on the bottom. We agreed David Cameron was right to add happiness to the list of factors government policy makers should address when devising policy. And we agreed he was talking the talk without walking the walk. In fact I would go so far as to say that if you distilled the very different words we were using, we had something close to a seven and a half out of ten agreement across the piece. He clearly sees Parliament as something of a failure. I don’t.
But then – weirder and weirder – when it came to the programme’s discussion on the right to protest, I said I agreed with a lot of their arguments and they were having an impact – for example all three party leaders were last week making speeches about responsible capitalism, and they might be able to take some credit for that. But I felt they were making a mistake in going on about the way they felt they were being harrassed by the authorities, because in comparison say to the miners under Thatcher, or the civil rights protest movement in the US (I quoted the J Edgar film on the subject) they were getting a prettty good press and fairly soft policing.
I then found Mark Littlewood, a right wing free marketeer from the Institute of Economic Affairs, who pre-programme was extolling the benefits of abortion clinic ads on telly, saying ‘I never thought I’d say this but I agree with everything Alastair Campbell said.’
Meanwhile Nicky said I was ‘with the government’ on the happiness agenda (which I am up to the point of the somewhat important question of policy proposals) and after a pretty lively debate on that – this time with the free market fundamentalists arguing that wealth creation was the route to happiness, me arguing that it was not the be all and end all – we moved on to sex education. And I found myself agreeing with Nadine Dorries rather more than I had expected. She is the Tory MP who has carved out a niche in Parliament speaking out about issues like abortion, sex education, the sexualisation of youth. We have never met before so, given the image I had of her as an anti-sex puritan right-winger, I was a bit taken aback that she kissed me on being introduced. Only a light mwah mwah on each cheek, but you know, enough to challenge my preconeceptions.
Once she persuaded me that she was not saying her call to talk of the benefits of abstinence in schools applied only to girls not boys, but the girls were the ones who had to live longest and hardest with the consequences of unwanted pregnancies, and once I realised she was not saying abstinence should be taught at the expense of teaching about relationships, love and sex, then I found myself nodding more than shaking my head as she spoke. Again, about seven out of ten.
Afterwards, I had three members of the audience come up to me and say they had expected to disagree with everything I said (because they opposed the war in Iraq) and ended up agreeing with almost all of it, and asking where they can get the book. (I must say this digital only thing is a bit of a problem but Digital Dan from Random House says I must persevere because ‘it’s the future’.)
So why did I enjoy the programme more than most that I do? Well, so much of media debate does not really have the time and space for real debate. News for example tends to have a headline, a proposition, a point in favour, a point against, then a glib conclusion rfrom a reporter. Most chat shows skate over surfaces.
In an hour it is impossible to cover three big debates in huge detail. But I thought Nicky and his Big Questions team did a pretty good job.
I usually come away from telly feeling there had not been enough time, there was more heat than light and people just had a fixed position and stuck to it whatever subject came up. I sensed people in today’s programme – myself included – feeling their own conventional wisdoms and paradigms shift a little.
A programme which has Occupy protesters tweeting afterwards that I talked sense, me saying so did they, Mark Littlewood agreeing with me more than he expected to, me agreeing more with Nadine Dorries than I expected to may sound like dull telly – but when the agreements are all unexpected, it is actually quite refreshing. And interesting.
And before I was home, I find QPR’s Joey Barton and I engaging in a twitter conversation about God, Nietzsche, Proust and football. This because I had tweeted while en route to the programme that the biggest questions of all were ‘To be or not to be?; is there a God; and has Joey Barton read Proust. (He told me he hasn’t, and he hasn’t read Nietzsche’s books but he knows enough to quote him) … Funny old day.
Now I’m home to rest up before I toddle down to The Emirates to see my mate Fergie put one over on Arsene (who, Gooners may be interested to know, is quoted in a key section of The Happy Depressive.) By then, I am also hoping my mate ‘Arry – we’ve played golf together don’t you know? – has put one over on Roberto.
The morning has been full of surprises. So might be the afternoon. As Nietzsche said ‘it’s a day of two halves Joey’.