Yesterday, the team at BBC Question Time went north to Motherwell, perhaps hoping that a trip north of the border would get them all away from the controversy that has dogged the new series more or less since it began. Sadly, this was a campaign that developed not necessarily to the Beeb’s advantage, after they were called out on audience selection.
What triggered the bullshit detectors of seasoned Scots Question Time aficionados was the appearance in the audience of a loud and opinionated man wearing a red jacket, especially after he tore in to SNP MSP (and, indeed, Minister) Fiona Hyslop. Not only was he allowed to ridicule Ms Hyslop, he was allowed to carry on for a whole minute saying more or less the same thing. No interruption from the chair for him.
Rachel Morgan had seen him before, and included a photo of him previously wearing an orange jacket. “#BBCQT Season ticket for the show is it, pal?” she observed. Another Tweeter mused “He’s been in that often his name should be on the credits at the end of the show”. Ms Morgan agreed. “His name is Billy Mitchell and he's a failed UKIP candidate. He's definitely been on before tonight's episode”.
Which would explain his antipathy to the SNP. What would also explain that antipathy was highlighted by Ian Fraser: “This bloke is no random member of the public but Billy Mitchell, a failed UKIP candidate, who's reportedly also a loyalist drummer. He's been on #bbcqt at least three times & was seen chatting to the panel at start”. And that explains the none-too-subtle orange jacket he wore to a previous Question Time appearance.
But what was that about talking to the panel? Kelly Macdonald was on to that: “This is the BBC QT plant before going on air . BBC being impartial .... aye right!” The Tweeter known as Lord Prefab had another snap of Mitchell talking to Tory peer and hardest of Brexits enthusiast Michael Forsyth. But not talking to Ms Hyslop.
Broadcaster and former SNP MP John Nicolson also recognised Mitchell, and indeed recognised his allegiance. “Last time I was on @bbcquestiontime this #OrangeLodge activist (subtly declaring his allegiance with his jacket) was in the audience & was called to deliver a mini speech. He’s on again tonight. There seems to be some debate over whether this his third or fourth #bbcqt appearance”. And it got worse for the BBC.
Chris Frew from Kilmarnock had also identified Mitchell, as well as confirming those Loyalist credentials. “Mr Billy Mitchell, former UKIP candidate for the North Lanarkshire Council by-election in Electoral Ward No. 9 (Coatbridge West), held on 28 February 2013; founding member of the Livingston True Blues Flute Band; and regular member of the #bbcqt audience”. Fiona Hyslop may be watching these developments with interest.
Question Time audiences are frequently stuffed with what look and sound like plants. South of the border, there tends to be a surfeit of variously clueless Tories and anti-Corbyn members of the Wall Of Gammon™. But Billy Mitchell’s appearance was rather worse than those: he’s been on before, he’s known to the team, and he’s got his own agenda.
Perhaps it’s time for a new audience selection person at Question Time. Just a thought.
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