As I said in the paper last week I was in two minds about whether to do Thursday night’s Leave voter-only Question Time, as it can hardly be described as balanced when only one side of such an important issue is represented in the audience. But then again I know from my own experience travelling the country how many people have shifted or are shifting their view and I wanted to see whether that was the case in Clacton.
I found the audience in the main very friendly and open to argument. There were far more people nodding at the anti-Brexit points I made than shaking their heads. And one of the producers told me after the show that I had had the most applause over the course of the evening.
I thought it was pathetic and disrespectful to a place they pretend to care about that the government did not field anyone. Surely on the eve of their so-called Independence Day they would have been out loud and proud, defending their great achievement.
There was at times a depressing lack of awareness of the factual basis of the key arguments but then given the level of propaganda and gaslighting by the media and the government that is perhaps to be expected.
To me the most telling audience contribution was from the small businessman called Lewis, who explained how added red tape was hitting his business. Ben Habib (the former Brexit Party MEP) told him he was wrong.
I was really pleased to have done a school visit en route to the event. Clacton Coastal Academy is a school that has had real challenges, several heads in a few years, and covers one of the poorest areas of the whole country. The teachers were great and so were the kids and it was so heartening to get their views. We had a vote and all but two said they would vote to be back in the EU.
I sensed the producers were hoping for more fireworks on the programme. But I was determined not to lose my rag or get into one of my shouting matches – not easy with Habib and John Redwood – and also I had the advice of one of the students, Annabelle, in my mind: “Stay calm, don’t trim your views but show respect to people. Persuade not criticise!” That was the approach I tried to take.
I would like to have had more time to focus on the future rather than the past but in shows like this there is never enough time. I don’t suppose they would think about having a remain-only audience, but then maybe we should take that as a good sign.