Jeremy Corbyn’s decision to participate in the BBC leaders’ debate certainly seemed to put a big Labour cat (live and kicking, not one of Crosby’s dead ones) among the Tory pigeons.
There was outrage from various right-wing commentators, such as Guido:
To be fair to Guido, the people he was quoting are not exactly bastions of the hard right, but it’s safe to say the author himself wasn’t happy:
The comments under his articles suggested there are a lot of annoyed Tories out there too, although Paul Mason’s pithy observation is worth bearing in mind:
Elite shocked to find UK electorate not all toothy public schoolboys quoting Von Mises from memory and living on daddy's money https://t.co/3edCHWEHLE
— Paul Mason (@paulmasonnews) June 1, 2017
However, there seems to be a lot of misunderstanding of the methodology of putting together the audience for the debate.
What might surprise many is that it was put together by ComRes – a polling company that, according to the Tories’ expense receipts for the 2015 General Election, was hired by the Conservative party to conduct polling. So it hardly has a vested interest in, or track record of, trying to set up the Tories to fail.
The SKWAWKBOX spoke to Andrew Hawkins, the CEO of ComRes about the audience make-up and he was keen to point out the complexity of putting together an audience for the debate, with obvious implications for the lack of understanding of those who have made an issue of it:
The audience last night was not meant to be exactly representative of the UK as a whole. What people don’t realise is that with seven parties represented in the debate – and Brexit to factor in as well – it’s going to be a lot more complex than a simple two-way head-to-head.
Not only that, but we had to make sure the audience was split on Brexit in a way that reflected the referendum result. With regard to party affiliations, we had to look at how people are likely to vote in 2017, not just how they voted in 2015.
While Mr Hawkins did not comment directly on the accusations made by right-wing objectors to the audience composition and reaction last night, he was emphatic that their ire is misplaced.
We worked very hard to make the audience as fair as possible given the nature of the programme and the parties involved. But of the parties represented, five are more or less on the left of the spectrum and two on the right. That means for every opportunity for applause for a comment from the right-wing parties, there are going to be five for the left.
And of course, we can’t control how the individuals selected are going to react to the debate on the night. So using the audience reaction as some kind of clapometer is extremely misleading.
Opponents of the Tories would be well-advised not to make too much of the audience response to the respective party representatives and their statements in the debate, although it was certainly heartening.
Similarly, it appears that those who are complaining about supposed bias in the way the audience was put together would do well to be a little more circumspect or risk revealing little other than their ignorance of the methods and complexities involved.
But perhaps it’s their reaction, rather than that of the audience, that is the most revealing about the state of the campaign and the state of mind of those who want to see a Tory win next week.
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