Just a quick one: was anyone else as surprised and delighted as I was by Brian May’s performance on BBC Question Time last night?
I’ve been quite rude about him in the past. Yes, that distinctively shimmery, echoey, almost Venusian guitar of his did provide part of the soundtrack to my youth – I seem to remember getting to third base for the first time to the accompaniment of Night At The Opera – but what I’ve never quite forgiven are his politics.
As a countryman and nature lover, for example, I feel every bit as passionately about wildlife as he does. Which is one of the reasons I’m so much in very favour of the badger cull, as I argue in more detail here.
Apart from the Ford Mondeo the badger has no natural predator, so since in the early 1980s legislation made it illegal to kill badgers, their population has rocketed to unsustainable levels. The consequences have been disastrous: TB in both badgers and cattle has soared; hedgehog and ground-nesting bird populations have been devastated; farmers’ livelihoods have been destroyed; vast sums of taxpayers’ money — the figure last year was £100 million — have been squandered; and Britain is now at risk of having an EU ban on all its beef and dairy exports, at a cost to the economy of more than £2 billion a year.
May, on the other hand, has positioned himself at the forefront of the shrill and self-righteous anti-badger cull movement, which unfortunately has attracted the very worst elements of the animal rights movement, and appears to be motivated more by sentiment and cherry-picked data than it does by hard evidence.
But while I haven’t changed my views on badgers, I’ve definitely shifted my stance on May.
Last night, as the panel’s licensed jester – the token celebrity who can ride whatever hobby horses he wishes – he could all too easily have spouted the sub-Russell-Brand drivel we’ve come to expect on Question Time. Instead, he was a model of decency and sweet reasonableness.
This was especially noticeable in his behaviour towards fellow panelist Nigel Farage.
It really ought to have been a very tough evening for Farage. And it certainly began that way. Every question he had from the audience was hostile, starting of course with one about him being “snarling, thin-skinned, aggressive”. Even if you’re not a fan – which I still am – I think it would be hard to deny how well Farage acquitted himself – never showing signs of umbrage taken, cheerfully getting his political points in a way that, ever so slowly, began to win the audience round and earn him some actual claps.
None of this would have been possible, though, without the unlikely support he got from his fellow panelists. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt – most definitely not rhyming slang, on last night’s showing – led the way with some generous remarks. But what really clinched it was Brian May, who absolutely refused to pick on an easy target and instead took the opportunity to deplore the nastiness of politics in general and, by implication, the treatment of Farage in particular.
This, in turn, gave the audience the permission they needed to stop poking the chained up bear with their sticks.
If you haven’t watched it, you should. Question Time at its best. Almost restores your faith in human decency.