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17 June 2016

The elusive Springsteen, when debating gets nasty, and an NHS for women

Victoria Derbyshire’s diary.

By Victoria Derbyshire

I can’t believe I’m having to miss Bruce Springsteen again. The first time was when he was playing at the O2 a few years ago – because of a special programme about the 75th anniversary of the World Service, which seemed very important then but not now. Six months ago, when we bought tickets for this tour, I didn’t know I’d be hosting a TV audience debate on the EU referendum in Manchester the morning after his gig, so while my boys and partner were singing along to “The Ties that Bind” and “The Promised Land”, I was due to talk about much the same thing at the old Granada TV studios. Bruce, who by all accounts was brilliant, has taken his own position on Europe: his next gigs are in Holland, Germany, Denmark and Sweden. I won’t be seeing any of those either.

We’d booked a panel of women for the programme, which was more difficult than we expected. Both Leave and Remain struggled to provide us with female guests, even though both sides thought it was a good idea. Six women were confirmed just a couple of days before the broadcast (politicians and businesspeople) and we hoped it would redress the balance in a debate so far dominated by middle-aged blokes. Jane Collins, a Ukip MEP, was booed by the audience of 145 (mostly northerners), as was Labour’s Yvette Cooper, briefly. She was the most high-profile MP there and had caught the early train after saying goodbye to one of her children who had exams that day.


Spare a thought for the “undecideds”

I love it when voters are brought together to talk politics on TV or radio: they’re usually sensible, articulate and cleverer than some politicians give them credit for. I’ve hosted audience debates during general elections, the AV campaign, party conference seasons and the Scottish independence referendum, and it’s clear that there’s little deference from voters towards the political class, a consequence of the expenses scandal. What strikes me as different about the EU debates is that the discourse between voters on each side is now as acrimonious and visceral as the discourse between rival politicians. It reminds me of any conversation on Israel/Palestine – most of those who have made up their mind aren’t truly interested in trying to “debate” in a measured way: they just want to barrack the other side while the undecideds in the room get increasingly peed off. Or those relentless online debates, where the only thing anyone wants to do is bludgeon the opposition with their view, adding EXTRA CAPITALS to show how loudly they’re typing.

I felt slightly anxious for the Don’t Knows in the audience (“The politicians haven’t risen to the challenge”; “I don’t know what to believe”). Some told us they were weighed down by the responsibility of reaching a decision – so burdened that they might not vote at all.

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At 9.07am, minutes into Monday’s debate, I received the kind of text you never want to get from your 12-year-old, having just gone on air in a city 200 miles away: “There WAS school today”, accompanied by the panicked emoji face. I’d thought it was an inset day tacked on to half-term.

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Taking a healthy attitude

Never having been to the launch of an all-party parliamentary group on anything before, I was happy to be at the birth of the APPG on women’s health at Portcullis House. It seems extraordinary that there isn’t one already – a point made by Dewsbury’s MP, Paula Sheriff, the chair of the group. She decided to set it up after her own poor experiences in the NHS and she explained that it had two main aims: to help empower women to choose the best care and treatment for them, and to ensure women are treated with dignity and respect. Katie Piper was impressive. A victim of an acid attack, she’s had countless operations and wondered why the NHS still insists on issuing those standard cotton gowns, tied
at the neck and open at the back. “Dehumanising”, was her verdict. My own recent encounters with the NHS were none of the above. I can express only grateful admiration for the expertise, kindness, care and dignity with which I was treated.


At home with David Baddiel

My consolation prize for missing out on Bruce was to see David Baddiel’s remarkably good one-man show “My Family: Not the Sitcom” at the Menier Chocolate Factory in south London. It’s not a one-man show at
all, it’s a one-family show. David celebrates the life of his mum (who died 18 months ago)
and his dad (very much still with us but stricken by Pick’s disease, a form of dementia).
It’s poignant, loving and very funny. His mum had a long-lasting affair with a bearded golfing enthusiast and was quite upfront about it, though David is convinced his dad never knew. It was a charming evening and the question-and-answer session with the audience afterwards was a warm touch, with
absolutely no bludgeoning going on at all.


Gracie gets broody

Our black cocker spaniel, Gracie, turned one this week. To be honest, taking her to the vet to be spayed didn’t feel like a very appropriate birthday present. Anyway the op had to be postponed because it turned out she’s having a phantom pregnancy and may start stealing socks to build a nest for the litter she isn’t going to have.


Haunted by football

I’ve tried not to get too enthusiastic about England’s chances in a football tournament for about 16 years now. After covering countless internationals when I worked at Radio 5 Live, I still haven’t got over being at the stadium in Shizuoka in Japan watching Beckham, Owen and Scholes lose to a ten-man Brazil. The verdict from the friends and children we watched the game against Russia with on Saturday night? As the cover of Private Eye this week suggests, it would appear England are heading for a speedy Brexit. 

Victoria Derbyshire’s current affairs show airs on BBC2 on Wednesdays (9am)

This article appears in the 14 Jun 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Britain on the brink