Sunday, 17 June 2018

New-born Open Thread

Tweedledum and Tweedledee

By updating posts from earlier today (which I've subsequently buried under long new posts) I may have I may have inadvertently 'avalanched' myself and disguised the main point of today's posts. 

However much Tweedledum and Tweedledee (Lord Adonis and Alastair Campbell) may accuse the BBC of bias (from 'the other side'), their claims of bias (however frustrating they must be to some people who work at the BBC) are surely useful to the BBC as a whole as they seem to give credence to the 'we get accused of bias from both sides so we must be getting it about right' (complaints from both sides) argument. 

But in reality they don't give credence to the 'complaints from both sides' argument. 

Why? Because the claims of bias from Tweedledum and Tweedledee are demonstrably false. They are fit only for the bin (though they'll doubtless end up in a recycling bin and get recycled ad nauseam.)

There's no substance to them whatsoever. Disproving them is like shooting paraplegic fish in a tiny barrel. 

And worse, when closely examined, their fake claims of BBC bias actually steer us towards the monstrous crow of truth: that the BBC is biased in the exact opposite direction to that which Lord Adonis and Alastair Campbell claim it is.  

David Dimbleby to leave Question Time

So David Dimbleby, after 24 years at the helm, is leaving Question Time. 

Who will replace him? 

According to the BBC, Kirsty Wark is top of the list and "other suggested contenders" include John Humphrys, Huw Edwards, Jeremy Vine and Nick Robinson. (What a thrilling list!). 

Quite why Lord Adonis and Alastair Campbell aren't being suggested in that BBC report is surely prove of the BBC pro-Brexit bias. 

With all due respect to Lord and Alastair though, I'm predicting it will be a woman. The Guardian says there's pressure for it to be a woman, and I believe the Graun about that. The BBC is bound to give in to that kind of pressure (and feel smug about so doing). 

So who will it be? Kirsty? Emma Barnett? Victoria Derbyshire? Katty Kay? 

And who's off down the bookies tomorrow? I'm plumping for Victoria Derbyshire, main presenter of the effortfully worthy Victoria Derbyshire show.

Brexit dividend (3)

Alastair Campbell

I suppose we could just assert that all those wild claims of 'pro-government BBC bias' from the likes of arch-spinner Alastair Campbell (and myriads more on Twitter) over the corporation's reporting today of Mrs May's NHS funding/Brexit dividend pledge as simply the result of the partisan stupidity and utter mendacity of far too many people on Twitter (including Big Bad Al), but I think that blogs like this ought to at least try to do better than that. 

So here's a snapshot of this afternoon's coverage of the story...

You'll find below six lovingly-prepared transcripts of this afternoon's hourly BBC Radio 4 news bulletins. 

Do they prove pro-government bias from the BBC? 

I know I shouldn't ruin it for you with spoilers, but the answer is emphatically 'no'. 

When you see it laid out before you, in print, six hours of BBC Radio 4 reporting becomes sharper in focus. 

Every one of those six bulletins began by framing the story with criticism of Mrs May's Brexit dividend claim. 

All of them gave the the lion's share of the bulletin to reporting the views of critics of Mrs May and her Brexit dividend claim. 

And as for the clips from interviewees chosen, two were from Labour critics of Mrs May and one was from Paul Johnson of the IFS, also being unhelpful to Mrs May. The other (Helen Stokes-Lampard) fell closer to criticism than to praise. None was from someone defending/supporting Mrs May. 

Plus, the only Tory quoted (other than Mrs May) was Sarah Wollaston, who called Mrs May's comments "tosh". 

So there's no reasonable case to be drawn from this whatsoever that the BBC demonstrated a pro-government bias here. They most certainly weren't backing Mrs May and her Brexit dividend.

So does that prove then, as per 'complaints from both sides', that the BBC got it about right?

Well, no. In fact, far from proving that the BBC behaved impartially, I think these transcripts provide compelling evidence that the BBC was actually biased against the government (however right you or might think they were to be so in this instance). 

The framing of the story and the choice of voices were so starkly 'one-directional' here as to leave a massive question mark hanging over Radio 4's impartiality this afternoon. 

Please read them for yourselves and see if you agree...

Update: Though it's aesthetically unpleasing, I've now coloured the transcript to more clearly show the balance (or imbalance) in the BBC's reporting. Blue is for bits that 'help' the Government. Red for bits that 'don't help' the Government. Uncoloured are the bits that are either obviously neutral or which can't easily be ascribed. As you'll see there's much more red than there is blue.

The head of the Institute for Fiscal Studies Paul Johnson has said there is no Brexit dividend to provide more money for the NHS. He was responding to Theresa May's announcement that NHS England will receive an extra £20 billion a year by 2023 in part because of money saved when Britain stops paying into the EU budget. Mr. Johnson said the exit bill and commitments to fund farmers meant that there was arithmetic no money. Labour also dismissed Mrs May's promise as a "hypothetical". The shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry has said it left too many questions unanswered.
Emily Thornberry: How are they going to pay for it? They say that they're going to increase taxes but we've yet to hear who's going to get their taxes increased and how. They say they going to increase borrowing but they haven't told us by how much, and they haven't told us what the effect will be. They've told us they're going to pay for from a Brexit dividend. We don't really know what that means because we don't know what the deal is going to be and what the overall effect on the economy is going to be and, actually, whether Brexit is going to end up costing us a great deal of money.
But the chair of the Royal College of GPs Helen Stokes-Lampard gave the announcement a cautious welcome.
Helen Stokes-Lampard: It's not quite as much as most health leaders have been asking for. The Institute for Fiscal Studies had been pushing for nearer 4% so that we can not just sustain the NHS but really push forward. But nobody's going to be turning their noses up at the 3.4% a year in real terms. So it's how we spend it that will matter.
Separately, the shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said Labour would match the government's funding promise, which he described as "baseline".

1 o'clock
The economic thinktank the Institute for Fiscal Studies has questioned the idea of a Brexit dividend, raised by the Prime Minister when she promised an extra £20 billion a year for the NHS in England by 2023. Theresa May told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show that the country would be contributing a bit more, but she said it would also benefit from no longer sending vast amounts of money to the EU. The director of the IFS Paul Johnson said an extra £20 billion meant higher taxes and/or borrowing. Labour says it will match the government's pledge and go further. Here's our political correspondent Jonathan Blake.
Jonathan Blake, BBC: Making a link between increased funding for the NHS and savings as a result of leaving the EU allows Theresa May to say to Brexit supporters in her own party and beyond that the much-criticised promise on the side of the campaign bus has been met and that the government has gone further. But economists have rushed to point out that once the broader economic picture is taken into account the Government will have less money to spend in the short term after Brexit not more. The Conservative MP Dr Sarah Wollaston called the Brexit dividend claim "tosh" and accused Theresa May of taking the public for fools. Mrs May's suggestion that taxes will also have to rise to pay for this increased spending on the NHS is a significant statement for a Conservative Prime Minister.
Health bosses have welcomed the promise of extra funding, though a number have said more is needed. Concern has also been expressed about the absence of a commitment to provide more money for social care. Here's our health correspondent Dominic Hughes.
Dominic Hughes, BBC: Since the NHS was established 70 years ago its budget has risen by an average of 3.7% a year, but since 2010 that figure has been about 1.2%. At the same time demand for healthcare has been growing, so across the NHS there's a feeling that this settlement is just enough to stand still but it falls short of the 4% budget increase that most analysts felt would be needed to make up lost ground and bring about real change. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will also get extra funds but the devolved administrations will decide how they're spent. This announcement leaves some big questions unanswered, not least the funding of social care, which has such a profound impact on the Health Service. Without those details there are no guarantees even this extra money will significantly ease the long-term pressures on the NHS.
2 o'clock
The Institute for Fiscal Studies has questioned the 'Brexit dividend' quoted by the Prime Minister in her promise of an extra £20 billion a year for the NHS in England by 2023. Theresa May said the country would be contributing a bit more but it would also benefit from no longer sending vast amounts of money to the EU. The director of the IFS, Paul Johnson, said the extra funding meant higher taxes and more borrowing.
Paul Johnson, IFS: If you look at the arrangement we come to with the European Union in terms of paying our exit bill or and if you add to that the commitments that the Government's already made to keep funding farmers and so on there is literally, arithmetically, no money. And, in addition, we know, because the Government's accepted this, that the public finances will be worse as a result of the Brexit vote, the OBR has said by £15 billion a year. It could be a bit more. It could be a bit less. 
Labour said its tax plans meant it would spend more on the NHS and social care.

3 o'clock
The director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies has questioned Theresa May's claim that an increase in NHS funding in England could be paid for with a post-Brexit windfall. Mrs May told the BBC that money saved by Britain leaving the EU would help to provide an extra £20 billion a year by 2023, but Paul Johnson told the BBC the UK's exit bill and a commitment to keep funding farmers meant there was arithmetically no money. The shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said Labour would still spend more on the NHS than the government.
Jonathan Ashworth, Labour: Now the government have announced these new baselines for the NHS we'll match that. That is the baseline that will become accepted, but we're saying you can go further and if the government made the taxation changes we're prepared to make it could be giving even more to the NHS. So Labour will be spending more on the NHS the Tories even after these announcements today.
4 o'clock
There's been criticism of Theresa May's announcement that a Brexit dividend will help pay for an increase in NHS funding in England. Mrs May said an extra £20 billion a year by 2023 could be found partly because the UK would no longer be paying into the EU budget, but the Institute for Fiscal Studies insisted there would be no Brexit windfall because the UK faces a steep exit bill, and the shadow chancellor John McDonnell described the pledge as a publicity stunt. 

5 o'clock
A senior Conservative MP has dismissed as "tosh" Theresa May's claim that a Brexit dividend will help to boost funding for the NHS in England by £20 billion a year by 2023. Sarah Wollaston, who chairs the Health Select Committee, said people were being treated like fools. Mrs May said the country would benefit from no longer sending vast amounts of money to the EU, but the Institute for Fiscal Studies said the Government has accepted that the public finances would be worse as a result of Brexit. 

Questions, questions


I usually try to post tidy-looking transcripts, but this one is too long and I'm running out of time today. So please find below a transcript of the part of today's London section of The Sunday Politics, hosted by our old friend Norman Smith. 

It's taken straight from TV Eyes, with a few corrections from me. I hope it's still easy to read. The bold bits are Norman Smith speaking. The non-bold bits are his various guests. I've indicated who is being questioned at which point by highlighting their names in red

I haven't marked out the interruptions though, but there were quite a few and you'll easily be able to guess where they came. (Look for the balance of bold lettering and non-bold lettering. The closer they are the more interruptions there were. And the longer the length of the non-bold lettering the more the interviewee got to make their point). 

This is for those of you here at ITBB who know a lot more about this than I do and will be able to spot any bias (or lack of bias) much better than me here.

So, dear reader....

Was Norman Smith as factually mistaken about everything as Elizabeth Campbell, from Kensington and Chelsea Council, implied in her often incredulous-sounding responses to his accusatory ('accuse-a-Tory'?) questions?

Did Norman go way too far for a BBC journalist in suggesting that Mrs May "misled" Grenfell survivors (i.e. lied)?

Did Norman's questioning of his two Labour guests provide proper balance? Was he as tough with them as with his Conservative guests? 

Here then is the transcript:

Joining us now is Elizabeth Campbell, from Kensington and Chelsea Council, who took over as leader in the immediate aftermath of the fire. Elizabeth Campbell, your predecessor when he quit, said he was resigning because of the perceived failings of the council. Now, do you think the failings of the council are perceived or real? Well, I think we have to wait for the inquiry. You don't know? Well, soon as I took over as leader the first thing I did was to apologise and to say that actually the council did not cope well enough in the face of an overwhelming national tragedy and I still hold to that. We obviously didn't cope well enough. But as to the details, that's what the inquiry's for. Let me put it to you - the failings are not historic in terms of the immediate aftermath, which many people would say the council failed to get a grip on the situation. They're current in terms of your failure to rehouse residents, and as you yourself promised to do within a year, something like half are still in temporary accommodation. Well, I don't accept that because about 90... But you've broken your promise. You said you would get them... Hold on, let me just finish. 90% of those who need to be rehoused have accepted permanent accommodation now. But the accommodation is not available or suitable. Again, I don't agree. Well, why are they not in the properties then? Because it's complicated. It's very complicated and it's difficult and, you know, having been at the commemoration hearings every day, if you've got a family and you've had the opening of the public inquiry, well, the commemoration hearings for two weeks, then you have the opening of the public inquiry, you've got Ramadan going on at the same time, and yesterday you had the first anniversary. Meanwhile, the children are doing A-levels. When people are ready to move they'll move and we are doing everything we can to support them, help them, to encourage them to take up the flats and properties that are available. Let me put it to you, the facts are against you. If you have a situation where you have 200 or so households and only 80 or so after a year have been permanently rehoused, how in any way can you be satisfied with that? I'm not satisfied with it but I'm saying that it's... There are reasons for it. These aren't just figures that you can just move from one side of the sheet to another. They're individuals and they will have individual reasons. And I'm saying that... Yesterday I was speaking to quite a lot of our staff in the resettlement team, the allocation team, we know everybody, we know them very well. OK, but let's get a sense then, here we are one year on, half have not been put in permanent housing. How long do you think will it be before you will be able to ensure all of them are in permanent housing? Well, I'd just like to pick you up on what you said. You said "When they will be put". It's not a question of us putting them in. Yes, but you know the You know the thrust of my question. Yeah, I do, but I think... I don't think it is about having fake deadlines. But if you are a resident you want to know when you can expect to move into a permanent home. That's not an unrealistic ambition. Well, 90% have accepted it. So when will they actually be in housing which they can go into? They will move when they are ready to move. Well, when you can supply housing that is fit to go in because as you will know there has been criticism that much of the housing you have bought is inadequate, requiring repairs, damp, not suitable for people with disabilities etc etc. Again, I think the story is more complicated than you make out. You know, we went out and we bought 307 properties so everyone would have a choice. Then we have a duty to make sure that those properties are absolutely the best they can be, whether that's from fire regulation, whether that's from gas, whether that's from electricity. If people came to us and said, "Actually, I don't want to have gas in this flat." We'd say, "Fine, OK, we will change it." This is about getting homes for people. It's not just properties. I understand it's complicated... And if people want to say to us, "OK, I'd like a new kitchen, or I'd like a different tile, or I want to change that carpet. You seem to be suggesting that somehow it's the residents who are the problem, that they're too picky and finickity about what they want. No, I haven't said that. I've said... You're saying if they want a different kitchen... I don't think that's being picky. I think if you've lost your home, I think that's fair enough. All right. All I'm saying is that we're doing absolutely everything we can to make sure that, you know, having lost everything that they can have a home that they wish to move into. OK. But if you are a resident you would accept that you would want to have some sort of timeline in which you would feel confident that your family could move into permanent housing. Can you give them any reassurance that by the end of next year or whatever this will be sorted? 90% have accepted their flats. You're not answering the question. I think I am. Because you're trying to say that it's their fault. If I'm a resident I would want to know when I can move into permanent housing - confident that I'd be able to get into it. You can move in when your flat is ready. 90% are ready to move into as well. So, the flats are there. It's up to us to try and encourage people, to support them. Having been to the commemoration hearings, having been to the services yesterday, imagine it was you, imagine you've been married 30 years and you've lost your wife and you're going out buying, I don't know, towels or things for your flat and you're moving in on your own. That's quite a difficult... Let me... Bob Blackwell, let me bring you in. I mean, Theresa May her record too does not stand close examination does it? Because in the immediate aftermath she said, "Don't worry, you will all be permanently rehoused within three weeks." I mean, what a preposterous thing to say! Well, I think Theresa as Prime Minister has apologised. Not for that. Not for that. Not for that. She's apologised for her reaction in the immediate aftermath. In the immediate aftermath. But not for misleading residents about when they would be rehoused. But I do think that we have to empathise with the survivors of this terrible tragedy. We have to remember that they've lost absolutely everything. I understand that. They literally walked out in the clothes that they were wearing and everything else is gone. Now, when you're under those circumstances I don't think there's any council in the country that could have coped with that. Do you think Kensington handled it well? No, I don't they handled it well but I don't think any council in the country could have handled it well. Can I suggest... What I do think is important, however, is that we've got to give the survivors both the appropriate amount of time to grieve for the ones they've lost, and also to get a settled home, which they can call home after their recovery. The point is that we cannot ask the council or the Government to force people to go into homes. But can I suggest to you...? They've got to be offered a home that is suitable for them that they will then be able to regard as home. I don't think you can fix times. All right, but can I suggest to you, there is an obligation on political leaders in the aftermath of such a tragedy to be honest, to be candid with the sort of scale of reconstruction, and time that will be involved? And I would suggest to you that Theresa May, in effect, misled residents by giving them false expectations of when they could expect to be rehoused. And the Government has continued to do so. We have had quotes from Sajid Javid saying - you will be in by Christmas. I mean, that actually is unfair on the residents. Well, I think the clear point here is that the most important thing was that properties were being offered by the council, with assistance from the Government, for those residents to move in. Now, if they felt that those properties were not acceptable to them, they were either in the wrong place or the wrong type, and they rejected them. I think the figures are something like 866 offers made by the council to the 203 households. OK, let me... If that is the case, a lot of those residents have said... It depends what they are being offered. .."Thank you for the offer but it's not acceptable." OK, let me just bring Clive Efford in. I mean, the response of Jeremy Corbyn, too, is questionable, isn't it? I mean, he politicised an already utterly devastating and fraught circumstance for the residents by suggesting that somehow this was the consequence of austerity - the fault of the Government. Well I think that... I mean, clearly this is a... a result of a local authority that quite frankly refused to listen to its local residents. That's not... Hang on a second. These people were disenfranchised. But on this question of austerity, Jeremy Corbyn blamed it on austerity. They are a disenfranchised working class community in a Conservative Borough that disregarded them. And there is no getting away from this. This is a council that couldn't even pick up the phones the following day to answer the calls from other local authorities who were offering assistance. I mean, it was a disgraceful state of affairs. Do you see this... But just let me finish because you've made that accusation. And also the standard of the work that was done on that block, we can only wait for the outcome of the inquiry and police investigations, but I think we all know what the answer to that is going to be. So I think it's wrong to suggest that Jeremy Corbyn politicised this. OK, OK. Now let's hear from the local MP for Kensington, Labour's Emma Dent Coad. The council has to accept that they can't deal with it. They don't have the capacity to deal with it. And they have made some huge errors. They must either invite the Government in to help them or the Government send in commissioners now. They need expert help now to deal with this. The council has made some terrible mistakes by buying the wrong kind of housing for the right kind of people. And this has to be dealt with. Otherwise, people continue to languish in hotels. Trust me, I've been in some of those hotel rooms. You don't want to be in a Premier Inn for a year. Joining us now is James Murray, the Mayor's Deputy Mayor for Housing. James Murray, what on earth has Sadiq Khan been doing? He seems to have been invisible throughout all of this. Right from day one, Sadiq was down there meeting people affected in the local area. What has he actually been doing? Whilst he was out there meeting people who were affected, his team, me and the other people at City Hall were there helping out with the local council, with the other councils who were drawn in to help out, the Government and so on. People from City Hall were seconded to help out with the response effort. And over the last year we have put money in to helping Kensington and Chelsea to buy replacement social homes. The Mayor has launched a fund to help local businesses. The mayor has secure an extension for people who are survivors trying to secure indefinite leave to remain. So, there's been a lot of ways in which the Mayor has been involved The Mayor has also, I think, really found it important to to keep up the pressure on the Government and the council to make sure they don't continue to let down residents. OK. Elizabeth Campbell, have you found the assistance of the Mayor's Office useful? Well, I certainly haven't had any personal contact from Sadiq Khan at all. No personal contact at all? No. But, you know, fair enough... Well, there we are, James Murray, here you have the leader of the Council on the front line of this issue, haven't even heard from you. I don't want to make it too personal here. It's not personal, it's just, are you actually in contact with them? Elizabeth and I have had a number of meetings together. That's fair enough. I've had meetings with her and with her cabinet member for housing both in Kensington Town Hall and at City Hall. Sadiq has been out there being visible right from the very beginning, meeting people, making sure that he's a leader in the local community. There's a broader issue in terms of tower blocks in London. Why doesn't the Mayor issue some sort of instruction, guidance, ultimatum, call it what you will, to say - no more cladding on the side of tower blocks, and that cladding that is there in London should be removed? Because at the moment it seems a lot of tower blocks have still got this cladding. So, let's be really clear the difference here between the Mayor's planning policies, which he has responsibility for, and building regulations which are national regulations. And the Mayor has been absolutely clear the Government needs to get on and issue new building regulations that people can have full confidence in to make sure they ban combustible materials. That they say sprinklers should be mandatory over 18 metres. To say, let's ban desktop studies. The Mayor has been very clear that building regulations need to be updated by Government as quickly as possible to give people that confidence. In the meanwhile the Mayor has some control over planning policy in London and what he set out there in publishing his new draft London plan is a way in which planning policy can ensure higher standards of fire safety. Can you explain this, which I genuinely don't understand, why have tower blocks got flammable cladding on the side of them? That would seem barmy to me. The Mayor has made very clear that he thinks that the combustible material should be banned. As someone who is involved in housing, can you tell me why on Earth it was put on in the first place? There has been a system of building regulations and building control which has not been fit for purpose for some time. And so what the Government needs to do is make sure that all those existing buildings are made safe and to make sure the building regulations for the future are regulations that we can have full confidence in. OK. Bob Blackman, when we had this review, the Hackitt Review, published recently, which seems to have caused more confusion than illumination, saying we don't need to get rid of the cladding. The Government has to act on this? Absolutely. And I think that both the previous Secretary of State and the current Secretary of State have made clear that the desktop studies are going to be either barred completely or very much minimised in terms of their impact. One of the problems we have to face in these tower blocks is, of course, that the reason for the cladding being put on is because of leakage and also the fact that these blocks are often very cold. That's one of the reasons why this was put on. Unfortunately, one of the problems here is to assess at what level materials are combustible. Clearly, we've got to look at what the inquiry says and what the outcome is. The regulations I'm afraid have been neglected by governments for 20 years or more and need to be completely updated. Clive Efford, you touched on this a few moments ago but I want to ask both of you. Do you regard what happened at Grenfell as, in effect, a modern morality tale? About how the poor, the disenfranchised, are treated by those in power? We haven't got much time. Yes, I do. And I think in the aftermath of Lakanal and the report from Lakanal there is no justification for that cladding having been put on that block. Bob Blackman? I think we've got to review this to make sure this never happens again but it could unfortunately have happened in any of the boroughs, which have these high-rise blocks. That needs to be put right urgently so that people don't suffer such a terrible fate anywhere ever again. And, Elizabeth, do you think it is, in effect, a modern morality tale? I think that, as Bob has said, it's something that could happen anywhere. We weren't unique and we just have to be really open with the inquiry. We need to find out what happened. And we just need to make sure that it never, ever, ever happens to anyone else again. Well, that's all we have time for. My thanks to Elizabeth and James, and, of course, to Clive and Bob. And with that - it's back to Sarah. 

Set menu time

As you may know, I think that Radio 4's Sunday programme has a particularly pronounced liberal bias. I used to joke that it took its topics for discussion from a set menu. Among the items on that menu were "the usual airing of Muslim grievances" and "a call for something or other by a left-wing campaign group". This week's edition gave us items on Tax Justice Sunday, why Muslims are feeling victimised in Austria, an evangelical Christian's struggles with her sexuality (she's lesbian) and the Church's issues with LGBT rights, what difference having a female as head of Orthodox Judaism in the UK might make, Windrush and racism in the CofE, and why people in America think God has a feminine, in light of the Trump-Kim summit, an interview with a UK-based human rights advocate who fled North Korea. Very little of that dispels my impression about Radio 4's Sunday's bias. (Not that it wasn't interesting).

I particularly enjoyed the Tax Justice Sunday item - a joint interview with Methodist minister Rev David Haslam and Dr Jamie Whyte from the Institute of Economic Affairs. Ed Stourton's handling of it made me laugh. I think it's safe to say that he was more of Rev David's (pro-tax) party than Dr Jamie's (anti-tax) party.  (Listening to it brought back memories of that scene in The Simpsons where someone's monocle keeps dropping out through shock. Please listen for yourself. It begins at 11.56).  

Brexit dividend (2)

Contrary to an optimistic statement I made in the previous post, you should never put anything past Big Bad Al.

The former Labour spin supremo has been accusing the BBC of "Brexit Dividend propaganda" this morning. (Of course he has. He's got no shame!). It's "the Beeb playing along with Tory spin yet again" apparently. 

Unfortunately, he then goes and spoils his own spin by re-tweeting Paul Johnson of the IFS saying there isn't a Brexit dividend. And where was the IFS man saying that? Er, on the BBC. 

Indeed, the busy Mr. Johnson has been on both The Sunday Politics and the BBC News Channel this lunchtime rubbishing the claim of a Brexit dividend.

Ah, I see that Rob Burley and Alastair Campbell are back at it again!:

Yes, that's exactly what Polly Toynbee did. And anyone who reads the BBC Breakfast transcript in the previous will realise that BBC journalists haven't been far behind her either.

And the RB-AC exchange continues and it gets madder and madder (on AC's part anyhow):
Alastair Campbell: That was just before Mrs May was allowed to blather on about the Brexit dividend without being challenged on her own impact assessments re impact of all Brexit options on growth.
Rob Burley: What’s that scraping sound? Oh, someone’s moving the goalposts. Again...
Alastair Campbell: Answer the question. I’m sure there has been a long meeting to discuss how not to give it the light of day.
Rob Burley: Where are you on the moon landings?
This will probably go on for a while....

Update: And, yes, Tweedledum later joined it too:
Lord Adonis: Disgraceful BBC parroting of Mrs May’s fictional NHS ‘Brexit dividend’: proof of #BrexitBroadcastingCorporation Alastair Campbell: But @RobBurl said @pollytoynbee dissed it on Marr so it’s fine Andrew. A paper reviewer is now the official rebuttal of lies told by politicians on the national broadcaster. Strange times. Rob BurleyNo, you said it wasn’t until late morning you heard the concept being questioned. I pointed out you were hours late. Toynbee questioned it and Marr voiced scepticism in the review and the interview. Sorry but the facts don’t fit the conspiracy/

Brexit dividend

Jonathan Blake

Wonder if Lord Adonis and Alastair Campbell will be retweeting Guido Fawkes today?  The latter writes, "Have to say the Number 10 press team have played a blinder this morning. First they got Marr to agree to an easy pre-record interview rather than a live. Then they got the BBC to lead all morning on the Brexit dividend rather than the fact that the money is actually coming from tax rises".

Is it fair to say that the BBC has acted as Mrs May's lapdog over this? Well, here's an example of how they've been reporting it - a BBC-on-BBC interview on Breakfast
Sally Nugent: We're joined now by our political correspondent Jonathan Blake. Jonathan, so we're hearing about this kind's being framed as money as a result of Brexit, but it's really not as straightforward as that, is it?
Jonathan Blake: No. Things in politics are rarely as simple as the politicians might like to point out. And when the Prime Minister talks about the Brexit dividend, that is something which a lot of people argue doesn't really exist. The UK will stop paying into the EU budget after we leave the EU, but that money may well be accounted for elsewhere if the government wants to keep funding sectors such as agriculture which get funding back from the EU as a result. There is also the rebate that the UK gets back every year as well from its contributions. And the government's own spending watchdog, the Office for Budgetary Responsibility, has said that tax revenues will fall overall as a result of Brexit. The government has accepted that so we'll have less money to spend in general. Nevertheless, that's the detail. It's the message that matters for the government and for the Prime Minister to come out and clearly link the money she apparently thinks the UK will save as a result of leaving the EU to NHS funding is a very powerful thing for her to be able to do. It will please a lot of Brexiteers within her own party and beyond. It's not quite as much as many NHS leaders and campaigners had wanted.  And, as you heard just there, Labour are saying that the government has left the NHS in crisis and it will cost billions to recoup the amount they will have to borrow as a result of spending cuts. And even if we take into account the so-called Brexit dividend, the Prime Minister writing in the Mail on Sunday this morning, saying that alone will not be enough and we as a country will have to contribute a bit more. To translate that Prime Ministerial-speak for you: Taxes will have to go up to pay for this. 
Even Lord Adonis and Alastair Campbell would surely struggle to pretend that that was pro-government, pro-Brexit BBC reporting!

Incidentally, more than one person hereabouts said that the BBC News website completely ignored the the PM's "Brexit dividend" claim last night. Checking Newsniffer, the first version of the BBC's main online report on the story was published at 22:40 and, indeed, didn't mention the "Brexit dividend". It was only at 23:55 that the phrase began appearing in the online report. (Thereafter it's been all over the BBC of course). Checking TV Eyes to see if the TV coverage was any quicker it turns out that Hugh Pym did use it at 22:18 on BBC One's main news bulletin. Make of that what you will!

Long in the Tooth Open Thread

Thank you for sticking with us.

And as a reward here's what every internet site needs - a cat picture.

And next...

In the last-but-one post we found a BBC presenter leading a Twitter mob. In the last post we found a BBC editor on the receiving end of a Twitter mob, and Rob Burley - the BBC's Editor of Live Political Programmes - made a cameo appearance. Earlier in the week, however, Rob himself was on the receiving end of a massive Twitter mob. This one was led by Carole Cadwalladr of the Observer, still fuming over her last appearance on The Andrew Marr Show where Isabel Oakeshott was put on the sofa next to her. Carole was reported as being in tears after the show, after having the accuracy of her reporting challenged on air. Isabel Oakeshott has subsequently released a stash of emails she'd been sitting on for months. Carole thinks those emails reinforce her own case and blames Isabel for sitting on them whilst simultaneously besmirching her journalism on the Marr sofa. The massed battalions of her supporters (the Cadwalladristas) lit their torches and brandished their pitchforks and set out to burn the witch (Isabel Oakeshott). On the way they turned on poor Rob Burley. It all got out of hand for a while, with Rob also copping it over Isabel's invite to appear on this week's Question Time (which went down very badly with the Cadwalladristas), and Ms Cadwalladr ended up having to delete another tweet after getting her facts wrong (not for the first time). 

Attack Dog

Yet more Twitter fun....

BBC Newsdesk and Planning Editor Neil Henderson is known on Twitter for his almost daily posting of the newspaper front pages. 

He posts an image of the front page with the name of the newspaper and the headline written above it. 

It's a service he's been performing for years. 

Of course, not all of the Twitter public like some of the headlines. So guess what they do? Yes, they blame him!

This time, however, an attention-seeking former spin doctor also got involved:

Neil Henderson (BBC): SUNDAY TELEGRAPH: NHS to get extra £384m per week tomorrowspaperstoday
Lando Loves Norwich: Brexit dividend = an utter lie. Nice of BBC journos to punt that one out there unchallenged. Holding absolutely NO one to account.
Rob Burley (BBC): Is this a parody account?
Alastair Campbell: No. All too spot on.
Rob Burley (BBC): So you think by tweeting the front page of a newspaper, the BBC is endorsing the words on the front page of that newspaper? Wow!
Jackie Leonard (BBC): Every. Bleeding. Time.
Rob Burley (BBC): I think he knows that's a daft thing to say but just wants to start a fight. Unless, of course, this is a parody account...
Alastair Campbell: Go to bed. Unless you want to stay up to hear me on @bbc5live shortly talking about the non Brexit dividend.
Rob Burley (BBC): I'll go to bed when I choose thank you very much! Actually, I am, er, going to bed. Better quality control with the BBC bashing tweets please...
Alastair Campbell: Ps glad you recognise that all my precious Beeb bashing tweets justified and properly quality controlled.
Rob Burley (BBC): P.S That's a stretch.

The funniest thing there, of course, is that Beeb-bashing Alastair was just about to go on the BBC yet again. #bbcbias

UPDATE: Here's an absolute gem demonstrating the find of idiocy Neil Henderson finds himself facing. He tweets a headline as normal:

...and gets this back from an #FBPE type:

Black Dog

More Twitter fun...

Nicky Campbell raised a pitchfork-brandishing Twitter mob last night and sent them marching against the Mail on Sunday. His tweet read: "Appalling headline in the Mail Online. Beggars belief". 

The headline in question was this:

Unfortunately for Nicky, lots of sensible people pointed out that BLACK DOG is the pseudonymous name of a Mail on Sunday columnist and the Mail on Sunday has a BLACK DOG column every week and has done for years. 

Of course, lots of less sensible people were already incensed by this stage and weren't for letting this irritating fact get in the way of their outrage. They are raging on.

Nicky, however, deleted his original tweet. He then posted another one (minus any manifestation of contrition): 

The answer, regardless of any silly Twitter debate, is that "it's the name/pseudonymn of the column/journalist and has been for years". End of story.

Another point of view

The 'upskirting Sir Christopher Chope' story (have I phrased that correctly?) is an interesting one. 

The almost universal political clamour (two minute hate?) for the Christchurch MP's damnation (perhaps suggestive of what Douglas Murray was describing on Free Thinking the other night) after he halted a Private Members Bill making 'upskirting' an imprisonable offence for up to two years and, thus, prevented it from passing into law on a lowly-attended Friday nod-and-a-wink vote without a full parliamentary debate has been echoed across much of the media and social media - though I've seen a fair few expected dissenting voices - from Spiked to The Conservative Woman

As you can see from the way I phrased it there, in full-blown biased fashion, it's perfectly possible to put up a defence of Sir Christopher, however bad the signals such a defence might send.

In other words, it's perfectly possible to believe that 'upskirting' is immoral and should be illegal (if it isn't already) whilst also believing that if you’re going to create a law that could put someone in prison, it should be considered worth debating and worth the time of the government’s legislative agenda rather than being rubber stamped on a Friday afternoon when few MPs are there.

Wearing my usual blogging hat, the odd thing that struck me here is that the BBC seems to have given more of a context to Sir Christopher's actions than other prominent media outlets, And, in parallel to that, I've read a few articles and plenty of comments about this and was struck by how many people were also citing the BBC's reporting in their criticism of other media for simply berating him. 

Why? Well, people had spotted the BBC's Mark D'Arcy veteran parliament correspondent reporting that:
Sir Christopher is a leading member of a group of backbench Conservatives who make a practice of ensuring that what they see as well-meaning but flabby legislation is not lazily plopped onto the statute book by a few MPs on a poorly attended Friday sitting. He insists on proper, extensive scrutiny. 
And I spotted a passing reference to that same contextual point on BBC One's News at Six before watching ITV's take and noting its absence from ITV's reporting. 

Yes, from ITV News to The Times, the others I've come across have given that counterpoint far less attention than the BBC. 

It's not a point I was expecting to make and I need to be clear here. It isn't that the BBC hasn't given it great prominence either but that at least the licence-fee-funded corporation has been better at giving the noose around Sir Christopher's neck a little more slack than most of its media confreres.

Saturday, 16 June 2018


According to the comedy website Chortle, Laurence Howarth, the script writer for Radio 4's Dead Ringers, has conceded (a) that his show may have an inherent anti-Brexit bias [you don't say!], (b) that it does more jokes against Brexit than for it [well, know me down with the late Sir Ken's tickling stick!], and (c) that it has a writers’ room that's "intrinsically partisan" because it has more than its fair share of "typically London-centred, broadly left-wing people", who were also predominantly Remain voters [who'd have guessed?!]...

...but it's all OK really because, being conscious of this inherent, intrinsic bias, they can counteract it, and, "overall", the show doesn't have a point of view, and "a natural balance" emerges between and during sketches. (So there you go: there's nothing to worry about after all!)

And why does Lawrence think there are there more jokes against Brexit than for it? Because "that’s what’s happening" and because "the ones doing Brexit are in power".

Hmm. There's a huge effort to stop Brexit, and plenty of the 'stoppers' are also plum targets for satire. And even if we except his "the ones doing Brexit are in power" argument why exactly does that justify there being more anti-Brexit jokes than pro-Brexit ones? It possibly explains the people targeted for satire, but surely doesn't explain the preponderance of jokes against Brexit itself? Or am I missing something?

Anyhow, here's a joke: Took the shell off my racing snail this weekend. Thought it might speed him up. If anything, it made him more sluggish.

Three opinions

I'll set three opinion pieces side-by-side here and let you judge....

North Korea's answer to Fiona Bruce

The first comes from John Simpson on this morning's Today programme:
The exultant voice of Ri Chun-hee, North Korean television's top newsreader. She tells her audience the good news. Apparently even North Koreans find her hard to take. Still, the main thing she announced was - to use a familiar Trumpism - fake news. President Trump had, she said, promised to lift the sanctions on North Korea. Well, no-one knows for sure what went on when the two men were just talking alone together with their interpreters but if he did that really would have been dynamite. Even so Mr. Trump, who'd said beforehand he wouldn't be doing any preparation for the summit, did promise (apparently off the cuff) to stop the joint military exercises which the US has always carried out with South Korea without telling the South Koreans first.
Donald Trump: We will be stopping the war games, which will save us a tremendous amount of money, unless and until we see the future negotiation is not going along like it should.
Until now North Korea has always wriggled out of promises it's made to the Americans and others about its nuclear programme, but, if it suits him, Kim Jong-un could perhaps agree to cut back on his nuclear weapons and even let international inspection teams check that he's keeping his word.
Donald Trump: My meeting with Chairman Kim was honest, direct and productive. We're prepared to start a new history and we're ready to write a new chapter between our nations.
For the leader of one of the very poorest and least democratic countries in the world to meet the American President face-to-face is a fantastic achievement. It wouldn't have happened, of course, if Donald Trump hadn't been desperate for some big diplomatic success. But that just means that Kim Jong-un is lucky as well as daring. But he isn't nice. Already, at only 34, he's ordered the murder of his uncle and, apparently of his half brother too. Hundreds of people have been executed on his say-so, and more than 100,000 prisoners toil under appalling conditions in his labour camps. On Donald Trump's plane home a Fox News reporter daringly put this to him.
Fox reporter: He's done some really bad things. Donald Trump: Yeah, but a lot of other people have done some really bad things. I mean, I could go through a lot of nations where a lot of bad things were done. 
Kim Jong-un, for all his youth and inexperience, knows that the North Korean deal will now become crucial to Trump's presidency and that Trump will have to defend just about everything North Korea does and says in order to keep the deal afloat. 
Donald Trump: I think, honestly, I think he's gonna do these things. I maybe wrong. I may stand before you in six months and say 'Hey, I was wrong'. I don't know if I'll ever admit that [laughter from audience] but I'll find some kind of an excuse!
History, of course, is not on Kim Jong-un's side. The past 30 years have seen dictatorship after dictatorship fall. His overriding concern is to stay in power. But any autocracy is at its weakest when it starts to ease up. So Donald Trump's promise to make North Korea rich is precisely the opposite of what Kim Jong-un wants. The only way he can survive is to keep it dirt poor and easy to control. So what will the rest of the world make of all this? There can't be a single ally of the United States which feels more confident as a result. And Russia and China? Well, Trump's unpredictability worries them too, but mostly they think it shows how diminished America is now compared with its days as the world's only superpower.

The second comes from Martin at Biased BBC:
And on the Today programme this morning another of John Simpson’s highly partisan opinion pieces on Donald Trump, presented in his usual insufferably smug and condescending tone. Notable, as usual, were his sound-bites of President Trump truncated carefully to put him in the worst possible light, and by other careful omissions, effectively broadcasting lies. Simpson again repeating his mantra that the President “reportedly made little preparation” for his meeting with Kim Jong Un, whereas we know from administration reports that such a meeting has been subject of intense Presidential discussions for many months. Again, for example, readers of other (and reliable) news sources know full well that the President’s stated wish to withdraw the military from South Korea is entirely conditional on completely verified denuclearisation of the North (and would obviously have been a matter for prolonged WH discussions between Trump and his military and political staff) but, incredibly, Simpson decided to omit that condition and opine that that policy was apparently made up on-the hoof. Disgraceful. All Simpson’s pieces need fisking line by line and the results published, preferably in a sympathetic newspaper.

And the third is a piece by Roger Boyes in The Times the other day. (I never quote paywalled Times pieces in full, as it's wrong to do so, so this must be a one-off exception.) It covers some of the same ground as John Simpson's closing section - the bit about Kim Jong-un being on 'the wrong side of history' - but Roger Boyes's piece takes a very different line to that taken by John Simpson. It gives Donald Trump a good lot more credit. It's well worth reading in full and then comparing with the piece by the BBC's World Affairs Editor:

Getting North Korea’s leader hooked on cash instead of nuclear weapons might bring peace

All leaders can be corrupted, absolute leaders absolutely. The Trump-Kim summit was framed as an elaborate act of seduction. How the 120,000 labour camp inmates must have applauded when they heard on the gulag grapevine that the US president had described their jailer-in-chief as “very smart”, a gifted leader with the best interests of his country at heart. And yet beneath the strategic if stomach-curdling flattery, Trump was playing a more basic game: he was putting in a bid to buy Kim Jong-un. 
No one, certainly not John Bolton or Mike Pompeo, had any illusions that a tyrant who imposes ten-year jail sentences on people for watching smuggled western films, who has created a network of secret police snitches even denser than the Stasi, would suddenly turn into a great reformer. That would be magical thinking and neither the hard-nosed US national security adviser nor the secretary of state subscribe to that brand of self-delusion. 
It’s a jump of faith to believe that a rogue leader of a hermit state who has used a nuclear programme to grab the attention of the White House would then give up missile development. What happens when he scraps his very last rocket? Will he be pushed aside like Muammar Gaddafi? Or just slip into obscurity? At the very least it would be a betrayal of the legacy of his grandfather Kim Il-sung, who has been mythologised into the greatest of all independence fighters, capable of turning pine cones into bullets. 
There is, however, a way of recasting the conversation. Young Kim is a materialist. 
The streets of Pyongyang have been changing recently. Visitors report more cars, more mobile phones, more entertainment. New residential zones are being built. These are concessions to an emerging middle class, whose loyalty is as important as the regularly purged military elite. No matter that behind the facade of modernisation there is a widening gulf between the impoverished masses and the relatively prosperous kleptosocialists. It is a system of control, or regime survival, and a path to the personal enrichment of his family.

So the Americans have calculated that Kim is for sale. Trump, author of The Art of the Deal, smelled it first. How then to convert an intuition into a policy? The aim has to be to trap Kim into a process whereby sanctions are lifted step by step. North Korea is bending under some of the heaviest restrictions imposed on any state in the world. For every concession on nuclear containment, a sanction can be lifted. Something for something, the core of Trumpian transactionalism. Until Kim disarms eventually, or pretends to do so, and earns his visit to Washington. There are plenty of problems with this approach but the goal is clear: to make Kim progressively more addicted to western cash than to nuclear weapons. Seen from the White House, that’s the deal of the century.
Sanctions relief has to be used to stop Kim from backsliding in his commitment to denuclearisation but also to nudge the country towards eventual integration into the global economy. The first phase should be to build goodwill and maintain momentum. Kim has promised to return the bodies of American soldiers from the Korean war. A tweak to the current US ban on non-governmental organisations forming partnerships with any branch of the North Korean government would boost humanitarian work there. 
The US needs to establish itself in North Korea as the good guy: since kindergarten days northerners have been brainwashed into blaming America for any misfortune. Allowing US charities to work in North Korea to treat and control drug-resistant tuberculosis in the country would be a good start. So would an easing of travel restrictions.  
Serious sanctions relief would have to be carefully calibrated with verifiable disarmament. Pyongyang should be allowed to export some coal, seafood and textiles and import fuels and machinery. It is easier to reverse sanctions on commodities than on finances if Kim drags his feet. South Korean commercial investment would be difficult to reverse if Pyongyang was found to be cheating, so only inter-Korean projects should be allowed initially. 
The end goal would be full verifiable North Korean compliance with all UN Security Council resolutions on its nuclear and ballistic missile activity in return for the complete lifting of sanctions. At that stage, the US should also make its demands for human rights improvements. Throughout the whole process there will be a constant risk of Kim reverting to the trickery of his predecessors, figuring he can get richer quicker by having a finger in multiple smuggling and money-laundering rackets than in US-sponsored patronage. 
Naturally Trump does not mean half the things he said in Singapore yesterday. Without nuclear weapons, a defanged Kim will be a nobody, not someone feted at Davos. But a rich nobody, sleeping safe in his bed. The past weeks, the elevation of Little Rocket Man, were a mere precursor for Trump of the big geopolitical duel with a rising China. If Kim somehow enters the US sphere of interest, then China’s influence in the Far East will start to be questioned, its challenge slowed. If Kim takes the bait, then China loses face. 
That would indeed be a prize for Trump. It will come at a price: a spreading uncertainty in Japan and South Korea about the solidity of US security guarantees in Asia. They will learn, as the Europeans and Canadians discovered last weekend, that allies and friends have to wait at the end of the queue while Mr Trump travels the world claiming victories.

Another bouquet (containing a hidden brickbat)

Here's another bouquet for the BBC - something I missed at the time but found yesterday via a comment at Biased BBC.

Back in early Mark on The World This Weekend made a major thing of something that wasn't true. 
The bones of the English local election results have been picked clean by now but here's one under-reported result: Nearly 4,000 people who wanted to vote were stopped from doing so, according to the Electoral Reform Society.
(Obviously the bouquet isn't for Mark Mardell here!)

We expressed scepticism about it at the time, questioning how 'under-reported' it was and, more seriously, questioning why The World This Weekend took that dodgy-sounding ERS figure at face value. We wondered, 'Was it a case of "fake news"?'.

What I didn't realise was that Radio 4's More or Less debunked the ERS's figure a few weeks later and played a clip of Mark Mardell saying what I quoted above. It turns out that the ERS - and, thus, the ever-so-trusting Mr Mardell - were wide of the mark by a factor of ten. 

More or Less made it clear that it was another BBC reporter, namely Newsnight's David Grossman, who first smelt a rat at the BBC. His journalistic instincts told him that the figure sounded suspiciously large. He dug into it and did the calculations. A BBC News website article followed with the final findings that only around 340 people had been turned away. 

It's good that one part of Radio 4 is prepared to expose "fake news" at another part of Radio 4, with a little help from BBC Two. That said, although More or Less played that Mark Mardell clip at the beginning, it was the ERS who found themselves on the sharp end of the programme's criticism. The World This Weekend was never mentioned again, and no apology came from them. Therefore, especially in the light of those alarm bells that rung in David Grossman's mind, I'll repeat he question I put back in early May: 
Why did Mark Mardell take the ERS's figure at face value and not probe it?
Another question might be: Should Mark Mardell go for some urgent journalism training with David Grossman?

'Free Thinking' lives up to its name again

Philip Dodd

I praised Radio 3's Free Thinking before and am about to do so again. You'd never find anything like Wednesday night's edition anywhere else on the BBC, and certainly not on Radio 4. It was a 45-minute conversation about 'the intellectual dark web' hosted by the excellent Philip Dodd and featuring Douglas Murray, Bari Weiss and Ed Husain. All three guests were sympathetic towards 'the intellectual dark web' and Philip Dodd got it spot-on by providing a sceptical counterweight to them without being overly intrusive. (Most other BBC interviewers would have failed on that front). Please listen for yourselves. 

Meanwhile, here's something Douglas Murray said on the programme:
I'm not answering for Bari but, if I can say so, I think we all know exactly what is going on it with these attacks. If you got a load of crap you get when you write about one thing, when you see something else that is a lie are you likely to identify it as such or are you likely to think I could do without that crap as well it? I know journalists all across our country - and many journalists from the BBC - who say things like, 'I'm not willing to take x on as a subject. I'm just not willing to'. I've had this discussion  with senior people in the BBC who have admitted to me they don't want to take stuff on because they know what's coming their way if they do. Now an individual may occasionally be willing to take on one big fight, but there's just the point where you go, you know...I said some years ago, 'I've already got some Islamist problems going for me. I've already been told not to appear in public by the police for some time. I could do without the transsexuals coming for me as well. I could just do with a break this week, OK!' We've all had that instinct. Sometimes that's fine, but a lot of the time it isn't, and it's people ducking questions because the price of speaking honestly has become too high for people to want to pay it.

Losing just his temper?

A.C. Grayling is still smarting after his performance on this week's This Week. The philosopher has now tweeted

One of Andrew Neil's former colleagues on The Daily Politics, Giles Dilnot, has provided a succinct paraphrase:

Giles then added:

If only we had a present-day Molière to write a new play about the great man. Le professeur déraisonnable perhaps? 

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

And what does John think?

And now over to our World Affairs Editor John Simpson:


Nick Robinson today on Twitter:

Comments could be going better:

Nick Bryant seizes the moral high ground

The BBC's New York correspondent Nick Bryant is having his say:

So let's have ours too:

Monkey Brains12 June 2018 at 10:55 
Nick Bryant,the BBC's New York correspondent who never, well hardly ever, files anything about New York, is getting all ethical on us re the Trump-Kim conference: 
"Is there a special place in hell for a dictator whose regime has jailed up to 130,000 political prisoners and, according to the International Bar Association, is guilty of “systematic murder (including infanticide), torture, forced abortions and starvation”?" 
Well let's hope so. But when has Bryant ever said the same about the Chinese Communist regime, which is guilty of exactly the same (only on a bigger scale) crimes?  
Answer: never. Nope,this isn't about morality, it's about kicking Trump, poking him in the eye and calling him names.  
The US based BBC correspondents have indeed abandoned all pretence of impartiality.