A flagship BBC programme drew what’s thought to be a record audience of 540 people to see a historic broadcast at Reading University.
Radio 4’s lively Any Questions? programme last Friday was historic to a certain extent because it was on the eve of Saturday’s cliffhanger parliamentary Brexit vote.
Associate professor Dr Mark Shanahan spoke of standing on precipices, of fresh hope and a new beginning as he welcomed the audience at the university.
The audience stirred.
Dr Shanahan was, after all, the university’s head of politics and international relations studies. Perhaps he knew a way through Brexit’s can of worms.
Then Dr Shanahan, with a twinkle in his eye, explained his optimism. Any Questions? was being chaired for the first time by BBC politics correspondent Chris Mason. He took over from Jonathan Dimbleby, who had been in the job for 32 years.
The politics-battered audience erupted into relieved laughter.
When students later interviewed Chris Mason he praised the simplicity of Any Questions?
“It’s four microphones and an audience. It’s a conversation,” he said.
The new chair’s easy style went down well. The first two questions were, inevitably, on Brexit. Conservative Brexiter Brandon Lewis’s assurance that Brexit would definitely happen on Thursday, October 31 provoked audience reaction.
Chris Mason raised laughter saying: “That was the full kaleidoscope of sounds from applause to a full range of musical notes in the booing there.”
Urging for another referendum drew loud applause. Both Wokingham and Reading boroughs voted Remain in the referendum.
The other panellists were: Green Party co-leader Sian Berry, Madeline Grant of the Daily Telegraph and Tottenham Labour MP David Lammy.
Laura Shanahan, 25, an editor and translator and daughter of Dr Shanahan, was the first questioner with: “Can any MP who voted against Theresa May’s deal justify voting for this [Boris Johnson] one?”
Programme editor Chris Ledgard said afterwards: “There was a fantastic range of questions prompting a lively debate in the true spirit of Any Questions?”
Much of the university is in Wokingham Borough. Some of its borough councillors submitted questions but they were not selected.
Lib Dem for Hawkedon ward, Councillor David Hare, studied agriculture at Reading.
He wanted to know how the panel saw the UK’s agricultural systems developing without the support of European subsidies.
“Without subsidies, I don’t see how agriculture can survive,” he said.
Lib Dem councillor for Emmbrook – and the party’s candidate for Reading East at the forthcoming General Election – Imogen Shepherd-DuBey wanted to know how the government could help ordinary people tackle climate change.
She wants public transport made more accessible and cheaper to use.
Lib Dem councillor for Winnersh Rachelle Shepherd DuBey’s question was about Brexit.
Several local Conservatives were also present including Cllr Pauline Jorgensen.