Two weeks ago, when Dave and I were sat together watching Question Time for the umpteenth time, we heard David Dimbleby announce that Question Time was coming to Newport, Wales.
Dave joked that I would probably end up on the show, I squirmed and laughed at the idea then thought no more of it. This Wednesday afternoon, I received a phone call asking if I was free the following evening to be a member of the audience. Being a long term fan of Question Time and having lots of questions I wanted to ask, I immediately agreed.
After the initial phone call from the audience producer, Alison Pedley, I then had to sort out a myriad of plans in order for me to take part. I would like to thank Dave, Nanny, Granny, Grampy, Jo, Ceri and my kids for helping out and enabling this to actually happen.
I received my confirmation e-mail, and printed it out to bring it along to the venue, along with my Photo ID.
Every member of the audience is asked to e-mail a question to the Editor and also to write a question on arrival at the venue (the idea being to keep the questions fresh and relevant. Questions must be no longer than thirty words.
Ideally, I wanted to bring up a subject that is currently in the hearts of everyone in Pembrokeshire, the closure of our Special Care Baby Unit (amongst many other cuts to essential services such as 24 hour access to A&E and 24 hour paediatric care). To keep it in line with current news, I linked it with the mortality rates in Wales and Mark Drakeford’s refusal to conduct an investigation.
The next day I felt the usual “Mother” guilt. It was a sunny half term day, and instead of having fun with my children, I was packing their bags and sending them off to their Grandparents so I could potentially appear “on the tele”.
I counteracted this guilt with the knowledge that if I managed to raise awareness of the cuts to our health services in the Welsh NHS, then it would be worth it and hopefully of use to my children in the future. Also I knew I could make up for this with a lovely family day out on Friday
Thursday morning was a huge rush. We had an early dinner, tidy up and I needed to be presentable enough to appear on television (not covered in sand, paint, food, snot or worse as per usual!).
I dropped my kids off and began the journey to Newport. The stretch of journey from Milford Haven to Carmarthen was slowed down by tractors, road works and potholes. I was lucky on this occasion that there were no road closures or accidents. However, the more I travel on these roads, the more I realise that our road system in Pembrokeshire is inadequate for people in Pembrokeshire to be expected to drive all the way across county to Carmarthenshire to receive their health care or visit relatives in hospital.
On arrival at Newport, I was impressed with easy access to the Shopping Centre and Car Parks and also the affordable car parking. I only had to pay £1 for my car to be parked from 5pm – 10.30pm, what a difference to parking charges in Cardiff!
The only inconvenience I experienced was not being able to use the Toilet facilities there. I walked into the shopping centre, took the lift down to the toilets and was about to walk into the ladies, when I was stopped in my tracks by a cleaner shouting at me that the toilets are now closed and I am not allowed to use them. She asked me, did I not see the barrier in front of the lifts, I explain that there was no barrier, so I had no idea the toilets were closed, hence me coming down to use them. Of course now that the toilets were both right in front of me and out of bounds, I started to really need them.
This made the walk to the venue and making the star shape of someone about to be scanned and frisked by security quite uncomfortable, but I’m pleased to report that I made it. My bag was checked along with my e-mail and passport. I was given a card on which to write my second question and I could finally use the ladies facilities! What a relief!
As expected, there was a diverse mix of people waiting to join the audience, some had arrived together or already met someone they knew. I couldn’t spot anyone I recognised, but I was pleased to note that I wasn’t the only person to turn up on my own.
I wrote out my second question and handed it in. There was a shared buzz of excitement in the room between everyone present, from the Theatre Ushers, Reception, Security to the soon to be Question Time audience.
As I was scanning the room I finally found one figure I did recognise- it was David Dimbleby of course. I squeaked “Oh look!” and stood waiting for him to address us.
He stood right in front of me and started to talk. It felt reassuring to hear his familiar dulcet tones. He was very pleasant mannered and good humoured, he immediately made me laugh as he proclaimed that he needed to stand on a box. Once he was happy with his makeshift stage, he proceeded to tell us about our role on the show in an amusing style littered with anecdote’s. I took some photos and felt bemused that David Dimbleby was stood right in front of me on top of a box! At one point he thought a gentleman at the back was trying to catch his attention. It turned out that he was just scratching his head. Dimbleby very quickly added that he understood this problem as he had young children himself. I wasn’t expecting Dimbley ancedotes about nits! He then apologised to the gentleman in case his joke had offended him (thankfully it hadn’t!). We discovered that the chosen questions would be concerning UK wide issues, not purely Welsh ones and they would pick the most popular topics. I realised then that my questons were unlikely to be picked. He also offered us some cosmetic advice: To remember to lower our arms before we ask the question, otherwise we may look a bit odd!
He handed the microphone to Alison, who told us a bit more “housekeeping”, we then anxiously waited to be sent through to the theatre.
Walking into the theatre, unused seats were being “blacked out”, my heart quickened as I saw the “Question Time” background and the panel’s desk all ready on stage.
I was shepherded to my seat in the third row between two gentlemen. On my right sat Nick, who was very confident and pleasant. He immediately introduced himself, next to him sat Nicola (if I have remembered correctly!) and together we chatted about our careers and the questions we wanted to ask.
When everyone had been seated, Stan Royle, the Question Time Floor Manager, became the star of the show. Five members of the audience volunteered to represent the panel for our first warm up debate. Our question was something along the lines of “Who is to blame for our country’s obesity crisis?”
Everytime the debate began to get too serious or offensive to a member of the audience, Stan, in the manner of Brian Conley, would interrupt with a seemingly serious point which always ended in a hilarious and often rude punchline. It did the job and really relaxed the audience and helped us to grow in confidence.
We were also really warming up to the Spontaneous Clapping and gave two gentlemen a huge round of applause for swapping seats with a couple at the back who needed to use the Hearing Loop System. There was a great supportive atmosphere.
We were reminded to keep clapping at the end until we were given notice to stop, as this part of the show is shown during the end credits. In past episodes people have put their coats on and walked out.
Alison then came out to announce which audience members had been selected to ask their chosen questions. We all waited with bated breath, either giving a sigh of relief or despair when our name was not announced. The “chosen ones” reacted in a similar way, cries of “Oh no!” and “Oh God!” were heard when some were picked, whereas others gave out a cry of joy.
David Dimbleby then took to the stage and invited the panel on, one by one. During this unrecorded stage we were allowed to cheer (or not!) each one as they came on the stage. On the panel were Anna Soubry MP, Conservative, Defence Minister; Rushanara Ali MP, Labour, Shadow Education Minister; Plaid Cymru’s Westminster Leader Elfyn Llwyd MP, Restaurant Critic and Novelist Jay Rayner and columnist Melanie Phillips.
I had assumed that I would not agree with much of what Melanie Phillips had to say, however, she came across as a very likeable person who spoke a lot of common sense.
Once the panel were “mic’d up”, water was on the table and Rushanari Ali’s hair was brushed we were ready to begin. The first question with the panel was again not filmed. We discussed should the government be doing more to stop “NekNominations” on Facebook. In my opinion, since the well published deaths as a result of Neknominations, I have seen this stop on my Facebook timeline, so I did not realise there was still a need for action. However, this debate then spilled into a discussion over the price of alcohol and licensing laws.
At the end of the question, there was a quick check of the sound levels and we were straight into the main show. We were so relaxed from the warm up debating, that we didn’t even think about now being filmed.
Once Dimbleby had introduced all the panellists, we were then prompted to give “spontaneous” applause. The title music then sounded which gave me goosebumps. I was pleased it was played into the show live, as I had wondered if it was just added into the edit or not.
On with the questions, these were the ones that were asked (they only had time for four in the end):
- Why is RBS paying the bonuses when they have lost money?
- Should the deals made with the IRA still provide immunity from prosecution for alleged terrorists?
- Is it not time that Harriet Harman came out and apologised for her links with the Paedophile Exchange (PIE)?
- Has Britain lost control of it’s borders?
|My concerned for Healthcare in Wales face
I felt a little crushed that health was not anywhere on the agenda considering the current situation in Wales. Then, within the question regarding immigration, I began to see a way in. Someone mentioned the strain on our public services. My hand shot up and I began to frantically think of something to say!
In the end I went with, “Why, with an increase in population (my link to the immigration topic!) are we having a decrease in our health services?”
I assumed that I would not be chosen to ask a question, so Dimbleby had to repeat, “Yes you!” a few times and I only realised that “You!” was “Me!” when I looked up and saw the microphone hanging above my head. Embarassingly, I muttered, “Ooh! It’s me!” before proceeding with my question. Thank you kind Editor for cutting that bit out.
Looking back on this I wish I could go back and improve on it, however Conservative Anna Soubry was quick to respond and knew exactly what I meant from this question. She stated that “In Wales you have a problem with your Health Service… ” (to which I replied, “Definitely!”) “Your problem is you have a Welsh Assembly Goverment who are not doing the job they are supposed to.”
In respect to Pembrokeshire, I completely agree with this. Our Labour Welsh Health Minister, Mark Drakeford, is going ahead with cutting our Special Care Baby Unit, 24 hour Access to Accident and Emergency and our Paediatric Services. In terms of service to pregnant women, we will be left with a midwife led unit. This is great for healthy women who have pregnancies with no complications and give birth to a healthy baby…but potentially fatal for those who do not get this ideal (I know I certainly didn’t).
To put this in perspective, I am currently re-reading a midwife’s memoirs from the 1970’s. In the book, parents-to- be worry as their local hospital is closing and they will now have to travel seven miles to give birth (unless opting for a home birth). This is currently our reality. I have to travel seven miles to our hospital in Pembrokeshire and am happy with that, it is all I have known. What does worry me is forcing the people of Pembrokeshire to travel over forty miles to access aqeduate health care. If seven miles was not acceptable in the 1970’s, then why is travelling forty plus miles accepted today? We should be moving forwards not backwards. The strain this is going to put on the ambulance and air ambulance service is unacceptable and dangerous.
Rushanara Ali, the Labour representative on the panel did not have a clue and looked very uncomfortable. Mark Drakeford should have been sat in the chair answering this question.
Elfyn Llwyd, also suggested a need to investigate the concerning mortality rates in Wales. He also stated that though there are only “Three million people in Wales, those three million deserve a good as service as anywhere else.”
Anna Soubry argued (to jeers) that our health service would be safe in their (the Conservative’s) hands. I don’t care whose hands we’re in as long as we can stop these closures at my local hospital and similar closures happening over Wales.
For every aspect of the Government we can always blame the party in power for their current actions and the previous Government for their past actions, but that shifting of blame does not help. We need parties to step in and help us out now.
Those who did vote for the WAG assumed that they would be supportive of all of Wales, not cut Pembrokeshire off and forget all about “Little England Beyond Wales”.
The Welsh Assembly Government should be an asset to Wales. We should be proud of it, not having to fight them with petitions and protests to protect adequate health care. Our own Conservative MPs, Stephen Crabb and Paul Davies, are also fighting to keep essential services at Withybush Hospital. Crabb discussed it with David Cameron on a recent visit to Pembrokeshire (incidentally the first visit we have had from a serving Prime Minister since 1991). Cameron said:
“Health is a matter for the Welsh Government. I’m very clear that the Welsh Government, controlled by Labour, made a bad decision because they decided to cut the funding to the Health Service. In England, we took the decision to protect the funding for the Health Service. So we’re not making cuts to the health budgets in England, we’re protecting them. Here in Wales, they are being cut; they are being cut by over eight percent and that has had very bad consequences for the NHS in Wales. That was a political decision taken by the Labour Party in Cardiff and I think it was a mistake.”
So it seems that Conservatives outside of Pembs feel free to support Pembrokeshire’s plight…as they know they don’t have to do a thing about it. If we had a Conservative Welsh Assembly from tomorrow, I feel that they would go ahead with the closures while telling us to blame Labour as it was their decision, and Labour would probably change tack and start supporting Withybush Hospital.
I realise that I’m at risk of sounding like the unhappy child of divorced parents, I have chosen to live with “The land of my Fathers” and I’m now wondering if our healthcare would have been safer in the hands of my “Motherland”. However, I really think that, as we are always being reminded we do not have total independence as a country, surely David Cameron is the one person in a position to do something to help us?
Drakeford has refused to meet with Crabb, explaining that a “direct meeting between (us) will serve no useful purpose.” Crabb is now arranging a meeting with the chief neonatologist in Westminster who apparently informed Drakeford’s Decision.
Even the Labour Party seem to have no control over Drakeford’s reckless decisions. In September 2013, Ed Miliband could not even name the Labour Welsh Health Minister.
This debate regarding the Welsh NHS and Welsh Assembly Government continued until Dimbleby spotted that time was up on his very technical stop watch in front of him and rounded up the end of the show. He is such a pro!
As we were clapping for the end credits, Nick was praising my question and the fact that it provoked a debate about the NHS in Wales. I felt proud that I achieved this, but defeated that I didn’t manage to mention Pembrokeshire’s plight in particular or come to any solutions.
On Wednesday, I am attending The Senedd in Cardiff to protest about these cuts in Pembrokeshire. Mark Drakeford has agreed to meet with two Mid and West Wales AMs, Joyce Watson and Rebecca Evans.
Please come along and show your support if these issues affect you.
The theme music was again played. We were given permisson to leave and I began my journey home. I arrived home a couple of hours after the show had been broadcast. I eventually watched the show myself at 3am.
The camera that films the audience is high and out of sight, so I didn’t expect to see such a close up of myself…it was a bit of a shock I have to admit!
I thoroughly enjoyed my evening at Question Time and would recommend others to join the audience at their local shows. You can sign up here.
If you would like to support the people of Pembrokeshire and SWAT to save essential services at Withybush Hospital, then you can sign the petition, e-mail Mark Drakeford and join us at the Senedd on Wednesday.
You can watch this episode of Question Time in Newport here. My question is from 50 minutes onwards.