The anniversary edition of Any Questions? was the usual, bootless, surface programme

Most striking was just how ingrained are a politician’s locutions and phrasing.

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“Who says the young don’t care about politics!” Such was the week-long build-up to the anniversary edition of Any Questions? – featuring an audience (“for the first time!”) of under-25s – expectations of a swarm of seething revolutionaries were high (1.10pm, 13 October). Jonathan Dimbleby – more used to looking out at an audience of red-faced men in yachting caps, then down a panel of steady drinkers avoiding his gaze – was instead faced with a row of measured speakers, each under 30, including Danielle Rowley (Labour’s youngest MP) and Lara Spirit (from Our Future Our Choice). From them came no sighs, snorts, headlines, or scraps. No insults, no drawled mockeries.

The only moment of explicit preening was Tom Pursglove MP (29) on the subject of mental health, noting that the Twitter handle Eye Spy MP had reported he was “out running this evening. If you’re fitter in body then fitter in mind.” No agitated scoffing – merely watchful silence.

It was pretty dull. We learned that climate change is “very worrying”. That “the future will be meat-free” but that “we’ve got to show global leadership on this”. That social media is “a huge concern”, especially “the foul language, the bullying”. There were muted calls for another EU referendum, but it was agreed that the young do not hold ultimate sway. (“It’s dangerous to suggest one person’s vote is worth more than the other.”)

Most striking was just how ingrained are a politician’s locutions and phrasing. Despite the discombobulating politesse, this was the usual, bootless, surface programme (which reached its peak in the late Nineties, when you could still kid yourself that it was like listening to Be Here Now, ie it appears terrible, but everybody might secretly know what they’re doing). Perhaps the producers had been too swingeing in their casting. No sharp-tongued iconoclasts, radical academics or unwitting recruiting sergeants for the hard right, just a room united in meticulously demonstrating their hearts were in the right place. Was I wrong to miss the embarrassingly hostile sentences, and wrong-end-of-stick-gettings, the pompous monologues? Without that to grate, there’s (plus ca change!) not much to like.

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She presents The Film Programme on BBC Radio 4. She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 19 October 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Europe’s civil war

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