It's such a long time since I was last on Radio 4's Any Questions programme that when I read an email inviting me to the programme at St.Endellion Church in Cornwall on July 26, I thought I was being asked to be a member of the audience. But no: this was an invitation to join the panel: Lord (Roy) Hattersley, now aged 80, former senior Labour politician; Jacob Rees Mogg, a Conservative MP , Philip Collins, a Times columnist - and me!
The form hasn't changed. One is picked up by car and delivered by 6, in this case to a hotel near Port Isaac, to meet the chairman, Jonathon Dimbleby, and the team over dinner. Everybody is ultra-friendly and convivial though (perhaps excepting Roy Hattersley) not quite concealing their stage fright. I realised later that the others - or at least the two politicians - had access to some kind of party briefing book, giving the proper responses to any potential question. I had had a long telephone conversation with the programme's producer, who had listed the 10 subjects most likely to come up, suggesting that I prepared opinions on them. So I was all ready with wit and wisdom about such hot topics as Britain's relationship with the EU, British interests in the Middle East, the UK's nuclear deterrent, discrimination against women in the BBC and so on.
Not one of them came up.
The church was packed full, and presumably the audience had handed in a pile of questions on all these and many other subjects, but to my dismay (and terror) I was quite unprepared for those chosen for the live programme. The Church of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury and payday loans; the internal politics of the Labour party and unions; the alleged economic recovery. None of these were subjects on which a non-economist, non-Anglican, non-socialist has much useful to contribute. Mercifully we moved on to the easier topics of royal-baby-mania and house prices in second-home-land, and those I could talk about. On the whole, I'd say it was fun, but not my finest hour.
But was it good publicity? Will anyone look for and buy my books as a result of hearing me on Any Questions?
And to that question I have no answer at all.