SOME of Swindon’s sharpest minds got to put politicians on the rack during the town’s first-ever appearance on BBC Question Time.

The BBC One current affairs programme, hosted by David Dimbleby, was recorded at New College in Walcot around an hour before it was broadcast on the flagship channel at 10.35pm on Thursday .

The panel included Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, Shadow Health Minister Liz Kendall, former leader of the Liberal Democrats Charles Kennedy, author Jeanette Winterson and philosopher Roger Scruton.

This Is Wiltshire:

Charles Kennedy, pictured above with Jeanette Winterson, who was the first to answer a question from the audience, was pleased to be able to take part in Thursday’s episode.

He said: “I have been to Swindon a number of times over the years but it is the first time I’ve been back in a few years.

“I am very impressed with this facility at New College and I hope the production company have taken note, since it is the first time it has come to Swindon.

“The audience is half of what makes the programme and it was a brilliant, vibrant audience, so hopefully people will enjoy it.”

The panellists were put to the test by audience members on a range of issues, including benefit fraud, the increased use of foodbanks, whether we should use Chinese methods to teach our children maths, and whether ‘yobbery’ in Prime Minister’s Questions is acceptable.

Phil Webb, of Waverley Road, was one of the audience members who had an opportunity to ask a question.

He said: “It’s something which I said that if it ever came to Swindon then I would try to go on.

“It was great, there were lots of different topics discussed.

“I asked about building on flood plains. Tadpole Lane, Blunsdon and Wanborough are all flood plains but they are building on them.”

Albertine Davies, from Eldene, was one of those fortunate enough to get a spot in the audience.

The 34-yeaer-old said: “It was brilliant fun.

“There was a really convivial atmosphere.

“David Dimbleby spoke to us beforehand to tell us how it was going to go and we got to ask him questions like, ‘have you ever had to throw someone out’.

“I watch it occasionally at home and like when you watch a live show it was better to see it live. Rather than sitting at home shouting at the television it was good to be able to be there.”

It is the first time the programme has been recorded from Swindon, and New College were thrilled to be able to host it.

New College principal Graham Taylor said: “This is the first time Question Time has been to Swindon and we are delighted that they have chosen New College and our Phoenix Theatre as the venue.

“The BBC kindly allowed our media make-up and media studies students to shadow the programme and help the panellists.

“The Question Time format is a great learning tool for our Debating Society students and students taking government & politics, general studies, critical thinking – in fact the humanities in general, which all involve debate, understanding and appreciating different viewpoints and aiming to construct and present arguments based on facts not prejudices.”

Lively debate took in a wide variety of subjects

The debate focussed around four specific questions which sparked lively debate and further questions.
Some of these included:

  • Do Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms represent a “moral mission”?
  • Have people been exploiting the benefits system?
  • Are people on low incomes but in work and not entitled to benefits in poverty?
  • In view of recent events, why are we still planning to build on flood plains in Swindon and elsewhere?
  • Is it the farmers’ fault?
  • Has Philip Hammond given up being Secretary of State for Defence in favour of being Secretary of State for Floods?
  • Does “yobbery” of MPs during Prime Minister’s Questions give the best impression of the political elite?
  • OECD reports our best maths pupils lag behind poorest Chinese students. Should we adopt Chinese-style teaching to raise standards?
  • Should engineers teach despite not having teaching qualifications?