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Question Time and the the BBC’s problem with black people

David LammyDavid Lammy early this month made waves in theQuestion Time obsessives’ community by pointing out how limited the panel composition is. He wrote:

Within the meagre 9.2% of Question Time slots filled by a BAME panellist, there is a staggering lack of diversity. Black women have appeared just 16 times in five years, and 12 of those appearances have been made by Diane Abbott. Another two appearances were by South African black female politicians during the Question Time South Africa special in 2013. Bonnie Greer has appeared twice. There are about 1 million black women in Britain.

Similarly, almost 50% of the appearances made by black men were by Chuka Umunna. Together, it means that just two people have filled well over half of the slots given to black guests since 2010. As talented as they are, Diane and Chuka cannot speak for the entirety of Britain’s diverse black communities, just as Alan Johnson and Caroline Flint should not have to be the sole voices of the white working-class.

There is a similar lack of diversity when it comes to guests of Asian heritage. Again, the same few names dominate: Mehdi Hasan and Baroness Warsi, for example, have filled almost a third of the guest slots filled by British Asians. Analysis of the available data shows that, of the 63 appearances made by British Asian guests, just four have been by people of Hindu heritage. That’s 0.3% of total guest slots – five times less than we should expect given the UK population is 1.5% Hindu. Britain’s half a million Sikhs are also woefully under-represented.

David is basically right. Looking at Question Time seasons since September 2009 to July of this year, here are my figures:

2009-10 2010-11 2011-12 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15
G/S 10/13 10/16 15/19 13/15 18/21 11/16
M/F 2/8 6/4 9/6 9/4 12/6 6/5
G/S % 7.3/6.6 7.1/8.5 9.3/9.6 8.8/8.2 11.4/11.1 8.1/8.5

G/S is number of guests and number of slots.
M/F is male/female
G/S % are the number of guests and number of slots occupied by black and minority ethnicity guests.

I haven’t broken guests down by self-reporting ethnicity, but there are obvious under-representation issues here. According to the 2011 census some 12.8% of the UK self-describe as a non-white ethnicity meaning there is still a bit of the way to go for Question Time to give racial minorities proportionality. 2013-14 was the year we came closest to it, and then it was thanks to the programme’s first majority black panel in its history as it sojourned to South Africa for an episode.

On the point about overusing guests, David writes “Question Time executives use their power to perpetuate the small “chumocracy” of white, patrician, Oxbridge-educated men making the same arguments, and excluding other voices that deserve to be heard.” Yes, and no.

What Question Time does, as I argued earlier this year is a bias towards the establishment. Where it comes to party representatives, it is my understanding that the whip’s office normally picks guests for the show. Take the case of Sayeeda Warsi, for instance. There was a time when she was almost as ubiquitous as Nigel Farage, but she hasn’t appeared for a while. Why? Well, she fell out with Dave. Her place in the Question Time Tory pantheon has got filled by Sajid Javid who, as far as the PM is concerned, is a very safe pair of hands. That said, I have no doubt the producers favour politicians who are prominent in some way which; under the ancien regime, Chuka Umunna certainly was.

In a series of to-be-published papers, I will be setting out how since 1979 the guest pool has contracted from a guest list drawn from politics, journalism, industry (business and trade unions), academia, public servants to one more or less confined to politics, journalism, and celebrity – in other words, people who are in the extended networks of the show’s producers. This general pattern is reflected in the composition of BME guests since 2009 – if they’re front bench or have had occasion to grace other BBC programmes, they’re in. For example, just eight guests are responsible for 56 out of 100 slots taken by BME guests in the six year period. Incredible. So yes, let’s see some more variety on Question Time.

At a time when (centre-left) politics has been shaken by a huge protest against an out-of-touch consensus, it’s perverse that the BBC’s flagship programme remains ridiculously narrow.

This article first appeared at All that is Solid


  1. swatantra says:

    Good article.
    Its true that Di Abbott and Chuka Umana cannot speak for the whole BAME community; in fact Di and Chuka only speak for themselves; they are self publicists extraordnaire. And so is David Lammy.
    And isn’t it time that QT was taken off the it is so jaded and tired and worn out, including its Presenter. It needs a drastic makeover. If for example Anita Anand took over as the Presenter then at least we the BAME community would get a look in every week.

    1. Billericaydickie says:

      What exactly is the BAME community apart from a few parasites who chisel money from gullible white liberals?

      1. Shirley Knott says:

        What a disgusting comment.
        How would you support your “argument”, and does it differ in any way to the reasons for which most white guests are invited?

  2. Robert says:

    Well past it sell by date and worthless time to say good bye to the rubbish.

    Disabled people are now I would say a largish size minority how many of us have been on TV or in politics .

  3. Dave C. says:

    David Lammy, you are a racialist Sir, trying to force your ethnicity onto other people.
    I don’t see colour but I do see a racial bigot that has to much time on his hands.
    I have never been picked for the Question time panel but I don’t think it’s the colour of my skin and don’t have a chip on my shoulder about it.

    1. Billericaydickie says:

      Only white people can be racists Dave. I thought everyone knew that.

      1. Shirley Knott says:

        Yes. Because racism is a matter of structural power. In the UK, as in the US, the default is white.
        But anybody of any colour can be bigoted, prejudiced or biased.

        1. John P reid says:

          Whats tructral power,does that mean political power, or the employmant power, or community,

          if there’s no go area for police and a gang runs the estate,then they have the POWER

          If there was a council is run by BAME people and have positive descrimination policies unwittingly , and it bromate whit people then the have the POWER?

          If a black paper ,like th voice ,ignore prejudice to white people from black people they have the POWER

  4. Chris says:

    They clearly don’t discriminate against minorities, so what you want is for them to discriminate in favour of them.

    That’s not socialism. That’s centrist PC liberalism of the sort we’re trying to destroy.

    1. Shirley Knott says:

      How is the current system of white middle class, probably privately educated bbc team inviting the kind of people they meet at dinner parties (with an occasional maverick thrown in) not highly discriminatory?
      I’m white, not part of any comfortable little bubble and definitely want to hear more diverse voices and views.

      1. The panel chosen is never rightswatantra says:

        The Panel chosen is never right; they never get the right mix, and maybe the format is outdated.
        And the polticians on it usually peddle the Party line, and don’t seem to have an independent thought in their head. We would be more interested in knowing what their own personal views are. not words spoken by robots.
        The audience really should protest more and fight back with harder interjections and not put up with the dross fed to them.
        I would also like to see less of Owen Jones and Yasmin Ali Bai Brown on QT.

      2. John P reid says:

        Structural power,?, does that mean political power, or the employmant power, or community,

        if there’s no go area for police and a gang runs the estate,then they have the POWER

        If there was a council is run by BME people and have positive descrimination policies unwittingly , and it bromate whit people then the have the POWER

        If a black newspaper ,ignore prejudice to white people from black people they have the POWER

  5. Bazza says:

    I don’t watch Question Time, it rarely has a panel of critical thinkers and I think is more about light entertainment.
    But then again when it comes to selecting candidates to be potential Labour MPs.
    As a Left Wing Democratic Socialist I want us to pick the best Left Wing Democratic Socialists as potential MPs.
    I don’t believe in positive discrimination but I do believe in positive action – encouraging more working class men and women (from the lower categories of the Registrar Generals Social Scale – by occupation of parent/parents) and BME members, disabled people and LGBT members to apply (with support if needed I.e. day schools) – so Left Wing Democratic Socialist MPs may reflect more the population.
    But if I am honest I am really disappointed with women only shortlists which it could be argued assists mainly middle class female careerists and I am disappointed at the results of this tokenism – apart from a few (those who supported Jeremy) – where are the Rosa Luxemburgs?
    We do need diverse Left Wing Democratic Socialist MPs who want more than crumbs for the working class/working people and who will challenge Neo-Liberalism (unlike perhaps 70% of the Parliamentary Labour Party) but if 50% of members in a CLP want to reselect their existing MP because they work hard for the oppressed then I have no problem with a shortlist of one (why waste peoples’ time).
    But in all seats with no Labour MPs all those who are interested in standing should be allowed to register their interest on the CLP website 3 years before the election and include their manifesto so we can judge people on their ideas (we may need to have a maximum that you can register for say 6?).
    We should also encourage local people to apply!
    Then 2 years before the election the CLP whittles this down to say 6 (?) but this is where diversity rules should apply.
    At least 2 of the 6 should be working class, and at least 2 should be female, but also 2 of the 6 should be BME/LGBT/Disabled and then may the best Left Wing democratic socialists win.
    I would then vote for the best Left Wing Democratic Socialist amongst the 6 whatever their background.
    But we also need to select candidates 2 years before the election so they can start fighting campaigns and getting themselves known – we need to get these pro-capitalist Tory legal robber barons out!

  6. Bazza says:

    Ooops! Meant at least 1 should be BME/LGBT/Disabled – don’t want to discriminate against Labour’s middle class men (often the great men of history?)
    So all social groups can have a fair crack at the whip.
    But I am human and biased ‘Only Left Wing Democratic Socialists Need Apply!’ Ha! Ha!
    Merry Xmas & A Peaceful New Year!

  7. David Pavett says:

    I could not understand the data tables in this article. I am far from innumerate by I just could not make sense of them. I asked a friend (also far from innumerate) and he had the same problem. It doesn’t seem to have bothered anyone commenting on the piece. So would someone like to spell out what the data in the tables means?

  8. John P reid says:

    And this week the show after QT, had Diane Abbott in it every week from 2001-2011 there’s only been about 10 appearances by white males from the Labour Party in the last 4 years, Alan Johnson, and a couple of times each, Charles Clarke, Alan milburn, maybe James Purcell once,so this week is bias haunts Socilist White males

    Does Qt having Asian females count Shami Charkrabati, Salma Yahhob, and Priti Patel,have been on there many times

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