It was an unexpected but pleasant treat to be accepted to the audience of Question Time (a topical debate show on BBC One) on Thursday 28th April in Romford in front of 5 guests - Ed Davey, Mims Davies, Bejay Mulenga, Camilla Tominey and Jonathan Ashworth - and the presenter - Fiona Bruce. I loved not just the show but the whole experience of being involved in a television show. The travelling, the preparation, the worries, the debate as a whole, and, of course, my moments of fame! I anticipated that any contributions I was to make would be a relentless attack on our rule-breaking, moral-neglecting Prime Minister. Instead of this, however, I got to have a voice on another issue close to my heart: cancel culture.

Last Monday night I was whittling the hours away, deep in the depressing procrastination in which I all too often find myself, when I got a call. It was Question Time (a BBC One topical debate programme that was first aired in 1979) telling me that I was likely to be accepted to the audience in Romford, east London, for the show on Thursday 28th April. I was ecstatic, and neglected any worries about school work to anticipate how I could make the most of such an opportunity. I desperately desired to hold to account the government minister that would inevitably be wheeled out to defend the indefensible, and excuse the inexcusable. Such excitement was understandably mixed with a few doubts. What if I embarrass myself? What if I don’t know enough about current affairs? What if I say something that I instantly regret? But I constantly reassured myself with the knowledge that such shows don’t look for polished performances from political know-alls. They look for the authentic and raw opinions and experiences of a range of people. I have my personal perspectives, my personal experiences, my personal concerns - and I should own them, unashamedly.

The show follows a very basic structure. Throughout the show, a number of selected individuals from an audience ask questions about current affairs to a panel of politicians and other opinionated individuals. The panel have a discussion on the subject, but the quality that sets Question Time apart from other political discussion programmes is the fact that panel discussion is mixed with audience contributions, meaning the show involves the opinions of real people about real issues.

I had been told I was likely to be given a place in the audience, but there was still no certainty. After hours refreshing my emails, the confirmation message entered my inbox. I started devouring the national news to help myself make sense of the chaotic world that so often overwhelms me. I submitted my questions - on the ‘Partygate’ scandal and the government’s plan to send some asylum seekers to Rwanda permanently.

On Thursday (the day of the programme) I had a bounce in my step - eagerly awaiting my moment of fame on national television! I left my French lesson early - the support of my lovely class and teacher behind me - and made my way to Kingston Station. The journey from south-west London to far east London was about an hour and a half. After three trains and a 20 minute walk, I was there. I had made sure to arrive 30 minutes early, so I strolled around the local area for half an hour.

At 18.00 I entered the venue - a local community centre. I was greeted warmly by the producer before joining the other audience members on an indoor balcony, and I wrote an extra question - one about cancel culture (in particular Piers Morgan’s new TV show which pledges to ‘cancel cancel culture’). The producer approached me and asked if I was happy to ask the warm-up question prior to filming, just to make sure the system and the microphones were working smoothly. Without pause, I agreed. This night was going to be one to remember.

Soon, however, the worry set it when I got a nosebleed minutes before entering the studio. I rushed to the toilet and sought to find some way to ensure that the nosebleed would not start mid-filming. I joked to myself that if I appeared with a bloody nose and shirt in the show it would suggest the ‘civil’ debate took a very different turn! Fortunately, perhaps selfishly, I exhausted the toilet paper supply and made sure the blood would make no guest appearance. Thankfully it didn’t.

I exited the toilet to find Fiona Bruce - the show’s presenter - welcoming the audience to the show on the balcony. This was it. There were no doubts now. I was moments away from making my glittering BBC One debut. After the producer gave some more information and insight into how the show would work, we walked to the studio and took our seats.

Soon after, the panel walked out. On the panel were Ed Davey (Leader of the Liberal Democrats, and the MP for my school’s constituency - Kingston and Surbiton); Jonathan Ashworth (Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and the Shadow Secretary of State for Health during the COVID-19 pandemic); Mims Davies (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment); Camilla Tominey (Associate Editor of the Daily Telegraph); Bejay Mulenga (an entrepreneur who became the youngest recipient of the Queen’s Award for Enterprise Promotion); and, of course, Fiona Bruce (the presenter).

Bruce then called my name and asked me to ask the warm-up question I had been given. Even though this was prior to filming, it felt equally as exciting and I felt so privileged to have this role. I asked my question: “Should the e-scooter experiment end now?” I had neglected the fact that Fiona Bruce might ask my opinion on the question that I had received only minutes previously. I gave an off-the-cuff opinion, taking a hard line against the mode of transport, arguing that they should be banned due to how dangerous they are, and saying that there are plenty of similar environmentally friendly modes of transport such as e-bikes. It seemed the panel were not in agreement with me! They suggested that they should not be banned but that there should be more regulation to ensure safety - a view I should have taken in hindsight. But I relished the opportunity to be in the hot seat, thinking on the spot in front of an esteemed panel and a lively (in a positive sense) Romford audience.

After a good amount of debate, the show was about to start. The music started, we clapped, Bruce introduced, and Jamie (a friendly audience member I had had a conversation with before filming) asked the first question about whether it is time to move on from partygate and focus on current problems. I strongly disagree with Jamie’s (and Mims Davies’) point of view that we should "move on". We cannot move on. We have a rule-breaking, moral-ignoring government and PM, and therefore I worry that in any future crises - such as another pandemic - the government will not be able to curb civil liberties with any moral authority. The argument that the PM should not resign because we have a war on our hands in Ukraine is weak in light of the fact that historically, Britain has a long tradition of changing PM during wars. In WW1 and WW2, Asquith was replaced by Lloyd-George, and Chamberlain replaced by Churchill, respectively. Surely now it is time for Johnson to be replaced by someone? But the Conservative Party, due to its moral bankruptcy, has failed to remove him - a point so well articulated by Ed Davey who echoed my thoughts when he stated, "We could move on, if the Prime Minister did the decent thing and resigned… or if the Tory MPs did the decent thing and sacked him".

The minutes ticked by. There was a question about the misogynistic behaviour rampant in Westminster (in light of the sexist comments made by some Tory MPs, suggesting that Labour’s Deputy Leader Angela Rayner was trying to distract the PM in the Commons by crossing and uncrossing her legs; the news that Neil Parish MP - at the time unnamed - had watched pornography in the Commons beside a female minister; and the less well-known but most shocking claim that 56 MPs are under investigation for sexual misconduct). I felt that Davey, Mulenga, Ashworth, Davies and Tominey all agreed on one thing: this behaviour is terrible and should be stamped out. But how? No answers were given. We fall into the trap of hoping for a better future, but so horribly falling short because we have not found the right solutions. It is very difficult - but absolutely vital - to root out a culture that is so embedded in Westminster, and in the country as a whole.

The Rwanda plan was next up. The plan - pushed through by the Home Secretary, Priti Patel - aims to resettle some asylum seekers in Rwanda instead of processing them in the UK. It has received support from many as the only real solution to fight high illegal immigration numbers and human trafficking across the Channel. But against this it has been condemned as a moral evil, with the Archbishop of Canterbury labelling it "opposite of the nature of God", a view I agree with since the Rwanda plan involves the UK neglecting its duty to process asylum seekers on UK soil and offloading them as human cargo to the most densely populated nation in Africa which has a bad human rights record (for example, in 2018, at least 12 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo were shot dead by Rwandan security forces when they protested a cut to food rations). Further issues were raised by an audience member who noted that "the actual policy is to stop asylum seekers: we don’t know whether they are illegally [sic] or their asylum has been refused". This hits the nail on the head, and was a point echoed by Bejay Mulenga. The UK has a duty to process the asylum seeker to determine their status, and then decisions about their future should be made. As Jonathan Ashworth rightly pointed out, if the scheme is based on the Australian model which sent asylum seekers to Papua New Guinea and Nauru, it would cost around £1.7 million per asylum seeker. The plan simply is not thought through.

At this point I had had my hand up constantly. My aching arm reminded me that time was running out. I wanted to make my contribution, but was going unnoticed. "Will I get the opportunity to make my voice heard?" - this was the thought ringing through my head.

Then the last question came from Clare, "not a big user of Twitter, as in my opinion it is full of a lot of woke people. Do you not think that it is a good thing that Elon is advocating a free speech platform which would enable more people to express their views without being cancelled or silenced?" The word ‘woke’ instantly caused a reaction in the audience. As much as I sympathise with Clare’s fear of ‘cancellation’, I feel that the word ‘woke’ can only cause division and worsen a culture war that our society is engulfed in. It only creates a scenario of ‘woke’ vs ‘anti-woke’, a war, a conflict, unsavoury hostility - something I think is unhealthy for the already polarised world in which we live. In terms of the question of Elon Musk’s control of Twitter, there were fears that this is dangerous. How can we live with one man with so much power? Surprisingly, and this was the one point at which I differed with him, Davey suggested that Twitter does not have as much sway as we assume. I can’t help but think that the 206 million daily users of Twitter are influenced by the both extreme and moderate, unsubstantiated and measured, views present on the platform. I do believe, however, that in spite of the fact that Musk’s power is worrying, I think it is no different to every other social media platform controlled by - you guessed it - rich people! Mulenga and an audience member suggested that we should "let the market decide" whether Twitter thrives. Instead of government regulation, given that we live in a capitalist society, the audience member said that the users can decide if Twitter becomes successful. The conversation returned to Clare who re-stated her worry that she gets "cancelled or shouted down" on Twitter, and that Elon Musk’s stated aim to promote free-speech on Twitter was welcome.


But one thing was obvious to me: I had not yet made a contribution. The programme had nearly ended when, at 58 minutes through (the programme is 60 minutes) Fiona Bruce announced that "we’ve got time just for one more comment, yes… William". (There were a few theories on Twitter that the show was in some way 'rigged' because Fiona Bruce knew my name - of course, unfortunately for the conspiracy theorists out there, this is false, the reason she knew my name was because I had asked the warm-up question.) My emotions switched from the extreme of a selfish frustration that I had not made a comment to a grateful happiness that at the last possible moment in the whole show, I had been chosen! A fantastic surprise to end a fantastic night. I agreed with Clare’s criticism of cancel culture, and tried to approach the issue from a sixth former’s perspective. I said that "I think in society as a whole there is a cancel culture problem. I’m at sixth form at the moment, I would not express certain views because I fear that I’ll be shut down or silenced, I’m very cautious about that, I think that is a real problem, and on Twitter the same thing." This comment stemmed from a fear I have that if I express my opinion, if I make a point, I feel scared that I will be shut down or that people will distance themselves from me. It is very obvious in a sixth form setting, but I think it applies to society as a whole. I don’t have extreme, ‘out there’ opinions, but I still feel that if I put a foot wrong, it doesn’t bode well for me, or anyone who does the same. I want to learn, and learn when I am deeply wrong, so I can change my perspectives when it is clear that I need to. Sixth form should be the place where I can do this. Unfortunately, I feel that I can’t - and that is a problem. 

Bruce responded to my comment with a reminder that we should "disagree without being disagreeable", which encapsulates a lot of what I believe. I desperately want to debate, to humbly listen to other people describe their experiences and concerns, so that I can have more measured and well-founded opinions. I’d hate to be stuck in my own world of thought, oblivious to anyone else. That is precisely why Question Time is such a necessary show. It forces people to interact with other views - and although it can result in hostile and unfruitful debates, it can bear the fruit of respect, understanding, and openness within the audience and panel. That is what I witnessed, and I hope others who watched the show witnessed it as well.

I left the studio with a spring in my step, glad I had made the trek to Romford. Perhaps in the spirit of "disagreeing without being disagreeable", I walked to the train station with Jamie, who had argued at the beginning of the show that we should "move on" from ‘Partygate’. A couple of days after the show, he gave me his reflections. He "thought the show was well run [but] the audience was slightly bias to the left". Personally, I thought the opposite. Twitter also had its theories saying that the show was too favourable one way or another. In my opinion, this range of opinions implies that the show was pretty fair. Jamie was grateful that he was not "shouted down" despite his controversial points, and "overall the experience was good and interesting to listen to different points of view". I agree, the show was well organised. The panel was varied. The audience was involved. The presenter, Fiona Bruce, was engaging and helpful in making clarifications along the way - out of a nostalgia for the days of David Dimbleby, people have criticised Bruce’s style of presenting, however I saw nothing to be criticised and everything to be praised in her handling of the show. These are all the ingredients of a successful show, and this is why it has been running for so long.

The experience can ultimately be described as ‘fun’: travelling to Romford; submitting questions; having a nosebleed (better described as ‘stressful’); asking the warm-up question and thinking on the spot; witnessing the hour of debate in person; and making my own contribution at the very end of the show. I am grateful to the show for accepting my application and giving me the opportunity to have such a fun experience. I had applied to a number of shows before on the off chance I would be accepted, so it was a really pleasant surprise to get the call. I would encourage any eager audience members to apply to the show on the Question Time section of the BBC One website.

Here is the link to the episode that I featured on: