Joel Weiner: how I got on the leaders' debate

The Jewish teenager who took on BNP leader Nick Griffin about the Holocaust during an edition of the BBC’s Question Time last year has taken centre stage again during the first party leaders’ televised election debate on ITV.

Joel Weiner, 17-year-old son of Masorti Rabbi Chaim Weiner and a sixth-former at JFS,  asked a question about what prime minister Gordon Brown, Tory leader David Cameron and Lib-Dem leader Nick Clegg would do about improving education. The teenager said pupils were being over-examined and under-taught, not enough money was being spent on schools and that in turn led to bigger class sizes.

The day after his second appearance on national television, Joel revealed that he had become a minor celebrity on his return to school – but also had to deal with some irate teachers, who didn’t think much of his “under-taught” comment.

Joel said: “Some of the teachers teased me about that and they were not too happy. But I explained that it was an attack on the system and I was very positive about my teachers. “It’s always very exciting having someone on television in front of a lot of viewers. There was a very good, positive atmosphere in school today and a lot of people congratulated me.”

He also revealed how he became a member of the audience, even though one of the 76 rules laid down by the party leaders stipulated that the audience should come from within a 30-mile radius of the host city, in this case Manchester.

Joel explained: “I applied on the ITV website. There was a link and I sent an e-mail with my question. I thought they might read out the question. I really didn’t think it would result in me being asked to be in the audience. I think the question might have attracted their attention.”

He said 200 people came from around Manchester “but there were a handful, maybe three or four, who were asked because of the question they submitted. I was very lucky,” said the teenager.

He showed he was passionate about the education question he asked, saying: “People are being crammed with knowledge that will go directly towards their examinations but won’t equip you for later life or society. It’s all about getting good grades and writing what the examiner will like rather than what is true. It’s
not a good way and that’s what my question was about.”

And he was not particularly satisfied with the answers he got. “They all managed to avoid it in their own way. Mr Clegg talked about small classes, Mr Brown about higher achievement – which was what I was complaining about – while Mr Cameron attacked bureaucracy.”

He agreed with the general consensus that Mr Clegg “was the most impressive”.

Joel sprang to fame during the edition of Question Time in October last year when BNP leader Nick Griffin was on the panel. He challenged Mr Griffin about his history of Holocaust denial. Mr Griffin claimed he had changed his mind about it but European law prevented him from saying why.

“That was actually more nerve-wracking because I was asked to speak as a point from the audience. This time I had the question on paper in front of me,” he said. “However, it is very nerve-wracking to have a camera pointed in your face. At least I wasn’t standing up there for 90 minutes.”

Joel said he did have a party allegiance but did not want to reveal which one he supported. “I can’t go out canvassing because I have exams coming up,” he said.

He is planning to study history at university but doesn’t want to be an MP. “I might want to work in some political realm behind the scenes, maybe as a diplomat, but I have plenty of time to think about it.”

His first thought, though, was another appearance on television – an interview on BBC London.

    Last updated: 1:05pm, April 21 2010