Why is Nigel Farage on Question Time so often?

After tonight, the UKIP leader will have appeared 14 times on the programme since 2009 - more than any other politician.

If it feels as if Nigel Farage is rarely off Question Time, that's because he isn't. The UKIP leader is a "late addition" to tonight's panel in what will be his third appearance this year (the most recent was 25 April). 

In fact, after tonight, Farage will have appeared more times on the programme than any other politician in the last four years. Phil Burton-Cartledge ranked the top five for the NS last year and here's an updated version: 

Question Time appearances since 2009

1. Nigel Farage (14 after tonight)

2. Vince Cable (13)

3= Ken Clarke (12) Caroline Flint (12)

5= Peter Hain (8) Caroline Lucas (8) Theresa May (8) Shirley Williams (8)

It's easy to see why Farage appeals to producers. He's charismatic, inspires debate and helps them to fufil their requirement to give representation to smaller parties. But by any measure, 14 appearances is an overrepresentation.

I don't buy the argument that because UKIP has no MPs its representatives should be given no more airtime than those of the Greens or Respect. Broadcasters have to reflect public opinion as it is, not as it was in 2010 and UKIP has been outpolling the Lib Dems for months. And those liberals who campaign for electoral reform can hardly cite the distorted outcomes produced by first-past-the-post (UKIP polled 3 per cent at the last election and won no MPs, the Greens received 0.9 per cent and won one) as a reasonable guide for producers. But should the BBC's premier political programme have allowed the leader of a political party this much coverage? Undoubtedly not. If UKIP is to be fairly represented, give some of the B-team a chance (the party has 11 MEPs), rather than simply booking the star striker. 

If David Cameron, Nick Clegg or Ed Miliband had appeared three times this year, their counterparts would be understandably furious. We shouldn't hold Farage to any other standard. 

One of the most common sights on a Thursday night: Nigel Farage on Question Time.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.