Banal Newsnight debate throws little light on London’s mayoral options

The Newsnight debate with the leading candidates for London’s mayor was of little help to London’s voters. As an example of a format designed to produce little enlightenment, the programme could hardly be bettered

These were not stupid people. Jeremy Paxman is not a stupid interlocutor. The BBC is not as an organization lacking in skills at putting on political debates. So why was the production so devoid of information?

Social structures

One explanation can be found if we look at the notion of social structures which come in various degrees of stability. A social structure produces a pattern of outcomes which help replicate the original structure. The Newsnight design seems to be rather dysfunctional, with the staged mock-agressiveness of Jeremy Paxman and well-rehearsed messages of the protagonists. The set combined hi-tech perspex podia with garish backdrops. The lighting made Boris look as if his hands were bloodied from some earlier bit of violence.

The back story

The back story is of a debate the day before in which Boris and Ken exchanged claims and counter-claims about tax arrangements. They carried on their dispute in public afterwards in a lift taking them to their next photocall. Boris is reported to have been particularly violent until the cameras started again.

Twitter and the Elevator bitch

One element within the previous encounter was that twitter traffic during the debate was used as a crude barometer of public opinion. Boris seemed to have lost ground as judged by Twitter, and that was considered as contributing to his elevator bitching afterwards.

The Newsnight messages

You can read a summary of the Newsnight event in a Guardian blog by Hélène Mulholland

A space fit for egos?

For balance, the BBC had four contestants in the studio, and mention was made of the other mayoral candidates. In practice, it might have been billed a battle of the egos as Ken and Boris grabbed airspace.


The image from shows Ken Livingstone getting the finger from Brian Paddick. It also shows the Newsnight set with its perspex Podia. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a picture showing Boris and his bloodied hands.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: