I'll be on TV tonight. Don't worry, it's not a repeat of 'Bar Beat'. I'm in the audience for ITV's "You Decide" show in which the three main candidates for the job of London Mayor took questions from the public. You'll be relieved to learn that I didn't ask a question.
The real shock of the night for me was the lack of security. My name was not on my ticket. Indeed I don't think the friend who acquired our tickets ('The Beirut Correspondent' from an earlier article about Lebanon) even had to forward my name at all. I was never frisked or searched and never went through any kind of metal detector. I've had more trouble getting into pubs. Anyone who got a gun into the studio could have shot the politician / policeman of their choice.
You'll see most of what was recorded on the show tonight. It's a one hour broadcast and they didn't record much more than that. I'll be interested to know how much of the audience noise comes across. Two seats to my left was a very pretty blond right-wing Tory who shouted 'Liar' at Ken more than once. With a bit of luck that'll get the camera pointed at me at some stage. If you do see it, ask yourself whether Alistair Stewart's introduction of Ken Livingstone was a bit biased (against him). Boris and Brian didn't seem to get such a hard landing. I'll be curious to know whether they include the question from the black man in the audience who said that Boris had claimed that blacks had low IQs. This turned out to be a reference to an article by 'Taki' in the Spectator during the period in which Boris was editor. I also want to know whether anyone clapped when Ken took credit for bringing London the Olympics. I'm sure some of us jeered.
In a lot of ways, the whole thing was a waste of time. The warm-up man asked us during the interval whether anyone had changed their mind. One hand went up in a crowd of about three hundred. Of course the studio audience isn't representative of Londoners as a whole. I didn't hear anyone speaking in Polish for instance. Viewers at home, who don't have a strong political allegiance may look for more subtle tonal clues. From where I sat, Ken was the one who looked like he wanted the job the most. The other two had a certain hollowness to their conviction. Ken had a mildly better grasp of detail, but that is inevitable given that he's the incumbent and has had to deal with the day-to-day issues for eight years. Boris has a flustered look about him which is endearing in many ways, but which makes it look like he doesn't have an answer to the question even when he has. At one point, Ken lost his cool a bit and ranted about SUVs and sports cars having no place driving through London. If you've ever dreamed of driving a Lotus or a Porche through Knightsbridge, there's no place for you in Ken's utopia. Alas I think he said that after filming stopped when they took extra questions from people who'd not been selected during the recorded portion.
The problem with the whole debate, if it can be called that, is that the job is so narrowly drawn that it's hard to have wide differences in ideology. The show was split into four parts - Transport, Crime, Housing and Fitness for Purpose. Inevitably all were in favour improving the first, decreasing the second, increasing the third (hurray!) and claimed to be most fit for the job. Thus the whole night was spent on technical matters about the costs of restoring Routemaster buses, the best methods to reduce anti-social behaviour on buses and how to punish councils that fail to build more houses. The audience didn't believe Boris's tranport costings or Ken's crime figures. These are of course matters of fact rather than opinion or judgement.
Sadly nobody suggested that there was no need for a London mayor.