Was at Any Questions on Friday night - a rare night out and change from my usual Friday night routine of selecting a new book to read. It was at Wallington Girls and Jonathan Dimbleby chaired Simon Heffer, John Denham, Philip Hammond and Viv Groskop (she's a Guardian journalist). Any Questions is, of course, a far more venerable programme than the more recent Question Time, which nicked the format for television and now adds an extra panellist just to ensure a lack of proper discussion. Question Time has the advantage of offering televisual political theatre, but falls down in the area of interesting political debate, and this is surely where the radio version scores. Shorn of the nuisances of television broadcasting it was a much easier, more straightforward production, with audience participation thankfully limited to the asking of initial questions and providing applause or expressions of disapproval, leaving the main discussion to the usually well chosen panellists. Dimbleby minor interrupts rather less, the audience seems more civilised, and the discussion genuinely interesting to listen to. There were no blinding insights on Friday, but that wasn't really the point - the reasoned airing of differing viewpoints provided insight enough.
Simon Heffer - a perpetually grumpy columnist in person and on page - came into his own with his full throated support for grammar schools, in answer to a leading question from the Wallington Girls Head of Sixth Form. The majority of the audience in this selective school, and from this selective borough, gave him strong support, but then there isn't really a strong educational case against educating students according to their abilities, which is what the grammar school system does. Even Viv Grsokop, wanting from her independently educated standpoint to oppose selective state education, simply had to sit on the fence for that one (although Denham, to be fair, exalted the values of comprehensive schooling).