Each Monday night on LBC we covene a panel to debate what we think is going to be one of the big issues of the week. Sometimes we have panellists that no-one has ever heard of. Sometimes we deliberately invite younger pundits. On Friday my producer, Sophie, and I agreed that Brexit was likely to dominate the week. A few hours later she came back to say she had booked Andrew Adonis and Ian Dunt, and who would I like to balance them from the Brexit side. I suggested Suzanne Evans and Kate Hoey. Both were free, so job done. I knew it would be a feisty panel and be difficult to control, and so it proved!
Controlling a four way debate is always a challenge for any presenter. I always ask the panellists before they go on air not to all talk at the same time or talk over each other because listeners find it difficult to work out who is talking and what they are saying. Frankly, I might as well save my breath because it goes in one ear and out the other.
There’s always a fine balance between intervening to restore order and allowing a freeflowing discussion. I usually err towards the latter, but of course this runs the risk of then being accused of being a useless chairman. I tend to think that the audience is quite clever at is identifying who the miscreants are. In the end, it’s not about the presenter, it’s about the participants and the audience.
Of course the other challenge in chairing a debate like this, where you have a 2-2 balance of Remainers and Brexiteers, is to try to remain impartial yourself. People know my views on Brexit, and there were times when I wanted to step in when I felt that Kate or Suzanne weren’t giving the fullest of answers, but I resisted. I think I held them to account in the same way as I did the Remainers on the panel.
Yes, at times it was like herding cats, and I had to call a halt to the interrupting, but overall I think it was a very entertaining hour of radio. Did the discussion change any minds? Probably not, but we’re almost beyond that point now.