Is reasoned debate becoming an endangered species?

PUBLISHED: 08:20 22 March 2018

David Dimbleby: Who will be there to see that reasoned debate takes place once the Dimbleby brothers have finally hung up their microphones? Picture:Yui Mok/PA Wire

David Dimbleby: Who will be there to see that reasoned debate takes place once the Dimbleby brothers have finally hung up their microphones? Picture:Yui Mok/PA Wire


Is the internet destroying reasoned debate? David Clayton worries that it might be doing exactly that...

What’s happened to opinion and debate? I’m sure I’m right about everything (as you are too) but how comfortable are we with the fact not everyone agrees with us?

Here’s another thing, I’m getting worried about the Dimblebys. Following on from their distinguished father Richard, whose sonorous tones accompanied memorable state occasions back in the day, his two sons David and Jonathan are saddled with today’s fractious topical debates and we seem to have entered a new phase. David holds court on BBC 1’s Question Time and Jonathan on Radio 4’s Any Questions?

A degree of anarchy has broken out on their respective programmes. David has had to eject a noisy audience member after repeatedly telling him to be quiet and now younger brother has been on the end of random off-mic shouts from the radio audience. (Note to audiences: - You might be heard in the auditorium as you rudely interrupt but if a microphone isn’t pointing at you, not to mention a camera, we at home, think some deranged person has broken in!)

When Any Questions? came to Norwich a few years back, I was invited to be the warm-up man, setting the scene before the live transmission from the John Innes Centre. The audience was friendly, intelligent and a lively radio debate was had. I like to think I did my bit to get everyone into the right frame of mind in the fifteen minutes allotted to me.

My reward? I got to dine with the younger Dimbleby and the distinguished panel beforehand. I felt very grown-up, not to mention slightly out of my depth around the dinner table!

However, despite that terribly refined memory in my head, I fear the gloves are now off. Dimbleby Major and Minor are experienced broadcasters, but the world is moving on around them and getting more cross with itself. I blame the politicians – might as well – everyone else does. Them lot over there have gone further that way and the other lot have taken their own ideological lurch, further the other way. Or so it seems.

Then there’s the entrenched and increasingly exasperated Brexit and Remain factions. There used to be some middle ground, but I can no longer hear it, which leaves the Dimblebys slap-bang in the middle of all this like a referee during a Saturday afternoon TV wrestling bout between Mick McManus and Jackie Pallo. (Younger readers - go look on the internet under “grapple fans” or “Kent Walton.”)

I wonder if this social media world, where we can denounce an opinion instantaneously with relative anonymity, is the cause. Too many people now go that one step further and hurl spiteful insults at anyone who dares to express a view. Someone, somewhere, will be diametrically opposed to what you regard as your passionately-held voice of reason and a reply might not pass through a “polite” filter.

This has all left me thinking the unthinkable because when we’ve run out of Dimblebys, what shall we do? To whom shall we turn? Have they seriously been trying out Piers Morgan on Question Time? He’s been a panellist a few times and looks and sounds to me like he wishes he could take it over. He nearly did the other week. He had the full force of an exasperated Dimbleby telling him, quite frankly, to shut up.

Somewhere along the way we seem to be losing our patience with debate. It appears we can no longer wait to hear a reasoned counter-argument or even consider it. The instant gratification of shouting out – or Tweeting is the way it’s going. Has the age of reason and reasoning all but gone?

Someone needs to set an example. We are, after all, home to the Mother of Parliaments where our democratically elected representatives engage in considered, respectful and tolerant………Oh, hang on a minute….

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