BBC Radio 4 Any Questions? broadcast live at Alton College

Members of our local community cross examined some leading politicians on Friday night when Radio 4s ‘Any Questions?’ came to Alton College. What the audience hadn’t quite anticipated was the take over of the programme by one of our students as part of the Children's Commissioner for England's Youth Takeover day which happened to coincide with the day of the radio broadcast.

Jonathan Dimbleby, chair of the programme had expressed his enthusiasm for the takeover and said; "Over the years there have been quite a few difficult moments in 'Any Questions', but now I'm told there's going to be a Takeover. What! An on-air hijack? I'd better be on my toes."

The student selected for the takeover, 18 year old Shahenda  Darwich was very excited about the prospect of being the co- chair of Any Questions? The former Amery Hill student who is currently studying Mathematics, Economics and Government and Politics said “I am very grateful for this amazing opportunity."

On Friday morning she was interviewed by the BBC for news briefings. You can hear her interview by following this link and forwarding to 10 minutes and 30 seconds into the extract. Shahenda said;  “A lot of the time, I think that young people aren’t taken very seriously and people don’t think we are capable of getting involved in things like this. This opportunity will help improve our skills for the future and show them that we can hold our own.” 

Producer of the programme, Victoria Wakley said “This is new territory for Any Questions?, so it’s nice to have a change and inject the unexpected into the programme.”

Following an amusing and informative warm up by Radio 4 continuity presenter, Caroline Brown, the panel was introduced. It comprised Nigel Farage, UKIP Leader, Chuka Umunna MP (Labour), Parliamentary Private Secretary to Ed Miliband , Margot James MP (Conservative), and Bob Crow, General Secretary of the RMT union.

Subjects for questions to the panel included the recent Student demonstrations at Milbank, Ian Duncan-Smith’s referral to being unemployed as ‘sinful’ and a question about whether enough is being done for the families of those who have lost their lives in the service of our country.

It must have seemed an eternity for Shehenda before her moment came and she took over from Jonathan Dimbleby. The questioner asked what advice the panel would give to a student wishing to be an MP. Shehenda posed the question to her panel and handled their responses very competently before handing back the job to the rightful host and looking rather relieved.

Following the successful broadcast, Jonathan Dimbleby said “It was a friendly, but dangerous takeover. Shehenda did really well so I’m lucky I still have my job!”

The broadcast of Any Questions? can be heard in full on the BBC website by following this link. 


Moira Howells, Senior reporter from The Herald Newspaper attended the event. The following is an extract fromher coverage which will be published on Friday 19th.

 A warm-up question prior to going on air was delivered by Deidre Morris who asked which of Austen’s fictional characters the team would like to meet - a question that drew confessions from both Nigel Farage and Bob Crow that they had never read Austen.

On a more serious note, however, the issue surrounding the violence of the student demonstrations at Millbank drew general condemnation.
Chuka Umunna felt it took away from the real debate which was to find a fair way of recovering costs - he being more in favour of a graduate tax.
While believing in “peaceful demonstration”, Bob Crow felt the real vandals were those who were “waging war on our education system”.
Nigel Farage believed that students had been “badly misled” into thinking that higher education should be free to all. In his opinion, the cost of realising a target which would see 50 per cent of students attending university could only put pressure on universities to increase fees.
Margot James said that she had never supported the 50 per cent target believing that many students would be better off pursuing skill-based training rather than lightweight degrees that would not lead to large salaries.

The second question, from Phil Stringer, asked if it was “sinful” to be unemployed. which triggered debate over employment figures, immigrant labour and the benefit system.

Jonathan Dimbleby then handed over to Shahenda Darwich who, despite the pressure of live broadcast, made a commendable job of chairing the debate on the third question, posed by Jane Cockburn, who asked what career advice the panel would give to a student who wanted to become an MP. General opinion was that it was important to get experience working in the real world before going into politics.

Mr Dimbleby took back the reins for Andrew Joy’s question about whether we do enough for the families of those members of the armed forces who lose their lives or are injured in the service of their country. While there have been some improvements the view was that more could be done.  Bob Crow went a step further believing that the best way to look after the troops would be to bring them home.

The final question was put by Peter Dilloway who asked if the panel had anything tucked away in a cupboard that might be of interest to the right Chinese buyer. Mindful of David Cameron’s recent visit, Margot James felt it would be good to have “something to export to China”, while Bob Crow caused most amusement with his somewhat flippant offering of “a Chinese takeaway”.

Producer, Victoria Wakely, expressed grateful thanks to Alton College principal, Jane Machell, to ‘Takeover Day’ student, Shahenda Darwich, to Frances Standen and Nicky Redmond for organising the evening,  and to  the ‘Any Questions?’ audience for supporting the show.