On Wedndesday 7 March, I was invited to attend the first show of BBC Three's Free Speech. This dynamic, live, new debate show was certainly of interest to me.
Aimed at the younger end of the voting demographic, I was soon pondering as to why a youth based political show hadn't come to fruition sooner. With a blissfully simple premise, and from the makers of Question Time, I had high hopes for the show.
Upon arrival at the filming location, I was overawed at the level of fervour and good-willed discussion. However, I was soon left reeling after a firm boot to the fragile male ego; I was promptly asked by a polite audience member:
"Did you lie about your age?"
After I coyly explained that I had been invited (and wondered if I needed to use Oil of Olay), I ended up involved in a salient series of discussions that ranged from the armed forces, to bike lanes, and the state of highways. Scattered within the discourse, the group also made it abundantly clear that they were politically shrewd, but egregiously repulsed by the establishment. No surprises there then, but I feel this goes much deeper than a crass use of a stereotype.
We're far to ready to dismiss the younger members of society, implying that they have no will or engagement of politics and societal issues. I've long held on to the theory that it's the lack of voice and platform that lends itself to malaise - and far from being apathetic - the Free Speech crowd were firm in their views and ready to air them. I felt a true sense of vigour at the smorgasbord of political affiliations; it was overtly apparent that the big three political parties were not spoken of in favourable terms.
Come air time, I ended up asking a question about alcohol controls. Other topics included: road safety for bikes, the war in Afghanistan, the controversial WorkFare scheme, and body image.
Free Speech is hosted by Jake Humphrey, and the celebrity panel on the first show consisted of: Esther McVey MP, Radio 1xtra's, Gemma Cairney, Entrepreneur, Dominic McVey, and the BAFTA award winning, Adam Deacon.
Eager to find out the reaction post show, I spoke to Gemma Cairney. With a noticeable enthusiasm, Gemma said,
I found it an exhilarating experience to hear impassioned conversations about important and current stuff. I learnt a lot from the audience.
Evidently, the experience was also positive for Gemma.
Someone at work said they enjoyed seeing a young woman speak from the heart. Also, I was in my local shop in Hackney, and a group of teenage girls asked me if I was 'that girl' from BBC Free Speech. I said yes and asked them what they thought; they were fizzingly positive about the idea of a programme where people like themselves get heard. This is why I said yes to being part of the panel.
And would Gemma encourage more Free Speech?
Yes, yes and yes. Many of the frustrations from so called 'young people' (the term sometimes annoys me as many are exceptionally free thinking, bright individuals, though it's one we'll have to stick with for now) come from a sense of feeling divided from the establishment. There are too many inaccessible people talking about social action & change on the telly, and in newspapers. EVERYONE should be discussing it everywhere.
It's with gratitude that Gemma raises another important point. The terminology is perhaps oblique, and maybe even vulgar: 'young people' - 'youth based debate shows...' - it's of course patronising and condescending to categorise in such a manner. I guess I am also guilty of lazy phrasing too. The disengagement of the younger voting demographic could well stem from languid semantics, and it's something in which we do need to exercise caution over so as to not unduly ostracise. So, how do we address political snobbery so as to avoid polarisation? Gemma replied:
I think that having a place for people to off load is good start. I wrote a blog just as I'd come off stage too. You can read it here: link to blog.
For a first show, Free Speech certainly has proved that we need a full and fruitful discussion, inclusive of everyone. It's clearly not deliberate to ignore or patronise any section of society, but I've learnt that dusty establishment ethics unintentionally disengage those who do have a voice, and they are our next hope of a diverse and fortified democracy. For these reasons, I hope that Free Speech will continue, and strive for the prominence that it deserves.
The next episode of BBC Free Speech airs on BBC Three on 4 April.
Follow Jason Reed on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jasontron