Tuesday, 23 May 2017

All you need is love

“Not allowing terrorism to dictate the way we live our lives.”

“It’s important we don’t let a kind of suspicion divide us. The key to Manchester’s success over centuries has been it’s a vibrant city where people have learned to come and trust each other and live together and we mustn’t let the terrorists dictate the way that we live our lives.”[..]“We’ll particularly reach out to those who might be vilified asa result of last night.” 

In what sense? 

“Well I think inevitably there’s always, after an event like last night, there’s always a tendency to create blame by association and so we must make clear that is not a way that we behave or react.
The guilt for last night belongs to the perpetrators and to the perpetrators alone. It doesn’t go beyond - beyond them, and we - together we unite and we root out those malign influences in our society.” 

So what’s your message to Manchester’s Muslim communities - Greater Manchester’s Muslim communities this morning? 

My message to the Muslim community is - you are one with us, just as you were yesterday, you are one with us, part of us, a vital part of us this morning and you will go on being a vital part of us. You will be part of how we together respond to last night. You will be part of how we together repair the damage, rebuild what’s been destroyed and how we go forward as the fantastic, vibrant, diverse city and community that we are. 

And how confident are you that when you say those words very powerfully this morning, that they are hears and appreciated by others, non-Muslims in Manchester, and indeed on other parts of the country? 

When I first made a comment on social media the trolls were up and about and presenting their malign influence, but they are a very tiny minority and they are the ones we need to isolate in this, not major aspects of our community, but I think most of us are good enough at distinguishing between what is the truth in this and what is the message of hate, and you know, again and again, a little phrase -  “love wins” and that’s an important phrase today in Manchester as it is in many places in many times. 
Love wins

To counteract that “all you need is love” message, try City Journal      or:     Spiked Online.
Remember when the IRA were terrorising us? They would give coded warnings by phone, real or fake. It was as scary as it was intended to be.  Sometimes there really were bombs, sometimes not. There was a warning before the big one in Manchester in 1994, but as it came during a spate of hoax warnings, some people had become so blasé that they chose to ignore it. (Chetham’s School of Music).

Islamic terrorists don’t want to divide us, don’t particularly care whether we change our way of life or carry on as usual. They don’t phone us up to warn us and they don’t try to scare us. They just want to kill us and I really don’t think love is all you need. 


P.S. Did anyone blame the Jews for the IRA bombings?

Veiled threat

Over at Elder of Ziyon, there’s an image of Donald Trump and Mahmoud Abbas standing side-by-side in front of twin lecterns.

The gist of the article, titled:  “Trump's jab to Abbas too subtle after Abbas' veiled threats and demands in Bethlehem”  amounted to Trump telling Abbas to “stop funding terrorists and their families”.

“President Trump, in his statement following his meeting with PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem, said a very important thing that the Arab media ignored: 

Peace can never take root in an environment where violence is tolerated, funded or rewarded.  We must be resolute in condemning such acts in a single, unified voice.  

Unfortunately, Trump extemporized a comment about the Manchester bombing immediately beforehand, so the Palestinians can pretend that this statement was not directed towards them and their policy of tolerating, funding and rewarding terror.”

Perhaps that was why Mahmoud Abbas looked like a toad. He was pretending not to get the message. 

If you thought that was wishful thinking and that EoZ was projecting his own feelings onto Trump’s words, think again. Your actual BBC has also picked up the hint.
"Peace can never take root in an environment where violence is tolerated, funded and even rewarded," he added, apparently referring to payments made by the PA to the families of Palestinian prisoners and those killed in the conflict with Israel.”
That particular online article includes an analysis from The BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen. It’s headed:  ”No simple deal"
Jeremy Bowen sees the Israel Palestine scenario entirely from the Palestinian point of view. This is fair enough, or it would be if the BBC took pains to offer the other side of the story too, so the audience could get a truer picture. For balance you know.
Here’s just one example of how Bowen sees the world.
“The reality is that the Israelis and Palestinians are way apart on the main issues - the future of east Jerusalem, the fate of Palestinian refugees and the borders of an independent Palestine.”
Jeremy Bowen’s main issues are not Israel’s main issues. They’re not even the Palestinians’ main issues. They are window-dressing ‘obstacles’, selected by the Palestinian leadership purely to to appeal to to the outside world and appear reasonable to those who don’t know the history. 
The Palestinians say they want east Jerusalem for their future capital, but how many people are aware that when Jordan was in control no-one but Muslims were allowed to visit the holy sites?

I’ve lifted the following from a comment by Charlie in NY on BBC Watch: 
“during its 19 year illegal occupation, Jordan directly violated its obligations under the 1949 Armistice Agreement and barred Jews (not just Israelis which would have been violation enough) from the Western Wall, destroyed historic synagogues in the Jewish Quarter, desecrated the Mount of Olives cemetery and sought to eradicate evidence of Jewish inhabitation in the Old City.”
Only under Israeli control has Jerusalem been open to all religious groups. These are things you need to know before you judge.

Bowen’s other main issues have been an integral part of peace negotiations for years, always scuppered by the Palestinians just as things seemed to be getting somewhere.
The real issue is more fundamental.  Arab hatred of Jews. That’s it. Once that is confronted and dissipated, problem solved. Only then could there be 'two states side-by-side'.

A couple of paragraphs later Bowen turns the situation topsy turvy by portraying the Israelis as the religious fanatics, “Some of the most influential members of the Israeli government believe the land is a Jewish possession, given by God.” 

He does manage to describe Hamas as ‘Islamists’ but casts doubt on whether they really deserve to be deemed terrorists: “Hamas, who have been condemned by President Trump in the last few days as terrorists” as if it’s only Trump who says so, and then only in the last few days.

Episode 6 ‘Crossing the Divide’. Jeremy Bowen’s early afternoon “Our man in the Middle East” slot on Radio 4, threw up a number of questionable Bowenisms. I hope BBC Watch picks them up soon. Watch this space.

P.S. I didn’t watch much of the BBC’s coverage of Manchester. I chose Sky. Anything rather than watching Victoria Derbyshire pitched 300 yards away from the Manchester Arena desperately trying to find something interesting to say. 

Sunday, 21 May 2017

The dementia tax manifesto

A gaggle of protesters were trudging along by the side of the road waving hand-written placards yesterday. They nearly caused a pile-up. What was written on the cards? “Cuts to winter fuel!” “Cuts to school dinners!” “Cuts to social care!” 
I assume they were critics, rather than advocates, of said ‘Cuts’. Or rather, critics of the Tory manifesto.

I haven’t said much about the GE to date because I’m sure any observations I might make would deviate from from the business of the BBC’s bias and end up being another general rant. Which you don’t need. However I think the political programmes I’ve seen and heard on the BBC today will keep me focused.
Number one on the agenda is of course the so-called dementia tax. Damian Green looked uncomfortable during Andrew Marr’s interrogation, and so he jolly well should. Andrew Marr did a good job of unpicking the incongruity of Theresa May’s attempt to snatch defeat from the jaws of Jeremy Corbyn. The dementia tax is a manifesto pledge that must be very hard to defend. “At least she’s being honest” is not a very persuasive tack to take.

The feeble attempt by Theresa’s spin doctors to portray this proposal as an improvement isn’t the real issue for me. “We’re allowing you to keep £100,000 instead of a measly £23,000” won’t wash. Including the value of your house as an asset when calculating your contribution to home care doesn’t seem much of an improvement. I think you’re already required to sell your home, if necessary, to fund residential care, but you could hardly be expected to sell your home to fund home-care, could you? The clue is in the title. It would have to be called ‘out-on-your-ear’ care.   Instead they propose to slap unlimited charges against your legacy at-the-point-of-death.
As a parent of slightly higher than the average number of potential beneficiaries from this family’s accumulated wealth (house) (which will be spread thin) who are set to become victims of this policy, I can see nothing but long and short-term disincentives and negative knock-on effects from this proposal. 

My God, how I wish we’d bloody spent your inheritance before we went doolally. 

However, it’s the inconsistency of the principle that baffles and troubles me most. 
How is the principle they’re applying to the proposed ‘death’ tax in any way consistent with the hallowed principle of the NHS, ‘free at the point of need’ and founded on shared responsibility?   

The inconsistency is not confined to the contradictory principles of the new, hastily dreamt-up, pay-for-your-own-care policy, and that of universal ‘free at the point of need’ health-care. Those principles are diametrically opposed to each other, but what about the inconsistencies within the NHS? 
How can it be fair that we are required to share, collectively, the burden of ‘lifestyle choice’ illnesses, (drug and alcohol addiction, bad food etc) but when the inevitable process of ageing itself gets expensive, you’re on yer own. Mate. 
Something needs a radical re-think, and haphazardly tinkering round the edges of the structural failure that many NHS employees complain of, isn’t the way. 

It’s bizarre. We have a situation where we see the Tory party (Damian Green) defending a leftist, policy-of-envy policy: “Let the stinking rich pay for their own care-related needs” and the socialists criticising it (as John McDonnell and Peter Dowd did this morning) effectively defending the traditional Conservative argument around penalising the wealthy, (it stifles incentive and aspiration’) 
They even found themselves defending the universal (winter fuel) benefit……. even if it happens to go to Bernie Ecclestone and Lord Sugahh.

What about Labour’s ‘Robin Hood / ‘tax the rich to fund the rest of us’ policies that underlie their own manifesto?
What is going on? Have they actually swapped sides? Is Theresa May so focused on stealing votes from Labour that she’s  willing to become Labour?

When questioned by Andrew Marr as to whether the Conservatives might be forced to change their minds on this potentially election-losing policy, Damian Green’s emphatic “no” might be the undoing of him. And David Gauke and the inventors of the toxic dementia tax. I kinda hope so.

See? I’ve deviated from Andrew Marr and Andrew Neil already, just as I feared I would.


At least it seems there will be a ‘cap’ - albeit something for future governments to tinker with according to economic and political circumstances.
Perhaps a reluctant vote for Theresa might now be a little bit more than just a decisive vote against Jeremy?

Nearly a Start the Week Open Thread

Please add any comments on BBC matters below. Unlike the BBC we won't report you to your employer!

Sunset and dawn

It's a lovely evening here in Morecambe tonight. The blackbirds are singing as the sun begins to set behind the Lakeland hills like a big orange being eaten by the horizon. (Simile of the year? Nobel Prize for Literature?)  

So it's lovely to be able to say that someone (if only one person) at the BBC appears to have finally 'got it'. 

"The 48%", according to polls (which we all believe), are now merely "The 22%" (dedicated to resisting Brexit). "The 52%" have increased to "The 69%" (dedicated to 'getting on with it' with regards to Brexit).

The BBC has been very reluctant to dwell on that or spell out its implications so far, but, credit where credit's due, Nick Robinson is now doing so:

It's to be hoped, impartiality-wise, that the Today programme pursues this, and that the BBC as a whole registers this too.

One swallow?

Call it wishful thinking, but I've not seen James O'Brien on Newsnight for ages. 

Has the BBC seen sense and realised that by adding such a partisan figure from one part of the political spectrum to their rota of Newsnight presenters while not adding a partisan figure from the other side of the political spectrum to that same rota reeks of bias? 

Or has it dawned on Ian Katz that James O'Brien was allowing his biases to shine through too much that it was making it far, far too easy for bloggers like me to shoot James O'Brien-shaped fish in a Newsnight-shaped barrel and, thus, 'not helping' the BBC?

It was be lovely to think that James O'Brien has been decommissioned by Newsnight because of concerns over BBC impartiality.

Has he though? Or will he rise from the scrapyard again soon?

"One cynic told me expectations are so low if Corbyn turns up and doesn't soil himself it's a success"

Now, it's only right after the previous post to note that Mark Mardell has been getting 'complaints from both sides' today. 

His report on TWTW about Seumas Milne, Jeremy Corbyn's main spokesman, might strike some as perfectly balanced, or others as sympathetic to Mr Milne, or others still as hostile to Mr Milne. (Though a range of voices was provided - all from the Left, of course - given that the most regular charges against Seumas Milne that I've read are that he's a Stalinist with a long history of very extreme comments and that none of that side of his past was explored, simply dismissed in passing, I'd say it tilted towards the sympathetic side. Still, there were plenty of supporters of Seumas and plenty of critics - and plenty of supporters of Jeremy Corbyn and plenty of critics.)

None of that was exactly the thing which caused the Corbynistas to cry 'Havoc' and let slip the dogs of war on Mark Mardell today. No, the casus belli was a very brief, passing anecdote: 
One cynic told me expectations are so low if Corbyn turns up and doesn't soil himself it's a success, but activists do feel vindicated pointing to a smooth manifesto launch and a recent rise in the opinion polls. 

Of course, Mark Mardell was just passing on some anonymous comment from a Labour 'cynic', but these Twitter critics are blaming him for making the remarks. 

'Complaints from both sides' indeed. But my post has a lot of compelling evidence, hopefully, while these criticisms seem to be based on a misunderstanding of who said what and what reporting involves.

My 'complaint' is, therefore, better than their 'complaints' and the 'complaints from both sides' defence, yet again, crumbles into the sorry remnants of an apple crumble after all the apple has been eaten and there are only a few crumbs of crumble left.

So there!

Mark Mardell goes to Great Yarmouth...and chats to Ken Clarke

If Sunday is the most reliable Radio 4 example of 'liberal BBC bias' in action, then surely The World This Weekend is the most reliable Radio 4 example of 'anti-Brexit bias' in action. 

Thus, this - from Mark Mardell's introduction today - made me (literally) laugh out loud. 

Mark began by reporting that Mrs May's "aspiration for huge curbs on immigration have been called 'economically illiterate'". He then played us two vox pops:
Vox pop 1: So we do need to reduce immigration but hopefully have the best people coming in.
Vox pop 2: If they do put the brakes on people coming in from overseas how am I going to get people to cut 250 tonnes of asparagus? 
And then came the 'punchline' (the bit that made me laugh):
We put those points to former chancellor Ken Clarke. 
After the news, Mark Mardell made it clear than it was George Osborne's London Evening Standard which had made that 'economically illiterate' comment. 

He then announced that he'd been to Great Yarmouth, one of the most pro-Brexit places in the UK, and talked to some locals about their votes on immigration.

It was the kind of selection - and presentation - of vox pops that really does raise suspicions.

The first anti-immigration vox pop used a term widely considered racist, saying that immigrants should have been "sent back on the banana boat years ago". The second one accused immigrants of "having a million babies". 

After Mark had distanced the rest of the world from such odious people (in the following half a sentence)...

...his third vox pop, more articulate and given more time than either of his 'racist' predecessors, said that mass immigration is "a myth". that the numbers seeking benefits are "insignificant" and that "95% of immigrants "want to work", and vox pop 4 said that the Tories' "ten of thousands" pledge is "silly".

Hmm. I'd love to know how many vox pops Mark Mardell actually recorded and what they all said.

We then heard, briefly, from local UKIP and, Labour politicians, taking opposite sides on the immigration issue. A local Conservative politician, just as briefly, stood somewhere in between. 

Then it was onto a farmer - the asparagus guy - who got the longest interview in the report.

He's "a very worried man", worried about immigration, especially European immigration, being reduced. "I am frightened, I am frightened by it", he said, He thinks his business will have to close down. And Mark even put that George Osborne "economically illiterate" quote to him. "I would totally agree", he said. He's a Tory who's questioning whether to vote Tory as a result.

Then came a shorter interview with a tech entrepreneur who, again, argued the benefits of immigration. Immigrants are the "best possible talent" for him, rather than "local people", But he does want some controls on immigration, though "fears...closing the doors completely". 

Report over, Mark said: 
We did ask to talk to a minister, any minister, about immigration but none were available. So we're going much better than that, not some one-job wonder. We've got Kenneth Clarke, who's been Chancellor of the Exchequer, Home Secretary, Justice Secretary, and a few other posts as well.
Of course, they could have gone for anyone other than the most famously pro-EU of Conservatives, say a prominent pro-Leave backbencher, but they didn't. No, it was straight onto the phone to Ken Clarke - who, unsurprisingly, then denounced "right-wing Brexiteers", "immigration fears", defended the EU, and so on!

Still, Mark could have asked him plenty of questions from a pro-Brexit, anti-mass-immigration standpoint for the sake of 'BBC balance'. Did he though? 

Well, here are his questions about immigration - and I, for one, don't think that Mark put any effort whatsoever into putting questions from a contrary 'devil's advocate' viewpoint;
  • Is reducing immigration to the tens of thousands "economically illiterate"? ("It is", replied Ken). 
  • Well, how do you? (get British people to pick asparagus in all weathers). 
  • And now by Mrs May? (Is she, like "Farage" and  those "right-wing Brexiteers", also promoting "immigration "fears")
  • Indeed, but the worry in places like Great Yarmouth, along the seaside coasts and elsewhere, is about Eastern Europeans.
  • And Mrs May is saying she wants to get that down to the tens of thousands, immigration generally. If it happened would that be a good thing for the economy?  
  • But you can't then get it down because..
After discussing social care, Mark then turned to Brexit - framing his first question from the usual, gloomy, negative, 'problem'-related BBC angle:
  • And might one of the problems...One of the problems ahead with probably be the Brexit talks, that are clearly going to be difficult. The manifesto admits that. Is Mrs May...(Ken duly talked of how people of "common sense" would try, post-election, to "minimise the damage, in my view" of Brexit.
  • No deal better than a bad deal? ("Certainly not. Obviously not", said Ken).
Classic The World This Weekend. Classic Mark Mardell. Classic BBC bias.

On Sunday

For those who subscribe to the view that Radio 4's Sunday represents 'liberal BBC bias' at its plainest (albeit with a religious tinge), then this morning's edition won't have come as too much of a surprise. It had:
(a) a couple of liberal Catholics sniggering at what Donald Trump might tweet after meeting the Pope.
(b) a gay atheist author writing about a gay Catholic poet.
(c) a conference seeking to counter the "widespread perception" that Muslims and archaeology don't go together.
(d) a liberal Muslim campaigning for a change in British divorce law.
(e) someone complaining that Ian Brady should be forgiven and given dignity in his funeral arrangements.
(f) a piece on pilgrimages that ended with the promotion of 'green pilgrimages'.
(g) a discussion of Three Girls between two Muslims who ticked off most of the familiar features of a particular narrative: the far-right; 'Asian' men'; how the abuse had no religious angle; how 'Asian' girls have been abused too; how Muslim taxi drivers have been made to feel uncomfortable, etc. 

Have the Corbynistas cowed Andrew Marr?

This morning's The Andrew Marr Show was certainly lively. 

The paper review was unusually jolly, with Miranda Green, Amanda Platell and Paul Mason. Amanda Platell does seem to become especially perky when leather-jacketed leftists are on the sofa with her, even when they aren't actually wearing leather jackets. (Remember her steamy Marr Show encounter with Yanis Varouvakis?). And Paul Mason appears much happier now that he's on the BBC now even more than he was when he actually worked for the BBC (or so it seems).

Paul Mason looked particularly happy with, in a very strange moment, Andrew Marr interrupted the paper review to show a Labour Party video of Jeremy Corbyn getting a hero's welcome from a huge, wildly cheering crowd at Tranmere Rovers, beginning:
It's interesting, Paul, around the country we are seeing lots and lots of examples of big, enthusiastic crowds. You've seen some. They don't appear on the traditional media very much. We're going to show you one, which is a Labour Party video I have to warn people, from Tranmere Rovers - the Tranmere Rovers ground. 
Was that a sop to all those Marr-hating Corbynistas on Twitter? 

We then got Brendan Cox again. 

And then came Paul Nuttall again. (The Greens are going to be complaining about that). It was a much tamer interview than the last one (three weeks ago). The issues discussed were: the point of UKIP, the party's recent failures and immigration. The interview lasted 6m 34s, contained 6 interruptions and, thus, resulted in an interruption coefficient of 0.9

Andrew Marr himself was at his liveliest during his interview with Damian Green, though he did occasionally allow the Conservative to get a word in edgeways. Actually, it was no bad thing for Mr Green that Andrew Marr did most of the talking during that interview as the Conservative minister pretty much made a complete pig's ear of it, floundering badly over social care. What an absolute battering Andrew gave him! The issues discussed were the Conservatives' uncosted manifesto, winter fuel payments and social care (the dementia tax). The interview lasted 15m 49s, contained 29 interruptions and, thus, resulted in an interruption coefficient of 1.9.

Then came a much calmer interview with cuddly Uncle John McDonnell, who was all very nice and reassuring. Andrew took off his boxing gloves and just tried the occasional mild slap here. The issues discussed were: social care, welfare benefits, taxes, debt and borrowing, the cost of re-nationalisation and corporation tax The interview lasted 14m 26s, contained 16 interruptions and, thus, resulted in an interruption coefficient of 1.1.

So interruptions-wise, Paul Nuttall was least-interrupted this week, followed by John McDonnell, with Damian Green way in the lead. His interruption coefficient is the highest so far. 

The contrast between the brutal Green interview and the far-less-brutal McDonnell interview, again, should have lessened the anti-Marr ire of the Corbynistas on Twitter....

....and, yes, checking out Twitter, it has. They have fallen uncharacteristically silent. 

It's remarkable to see so few cries of 'BBC bias!' from them on a Sunday morning. They started off in full flow, however, complaining as usual but then, as the show went on and the scale of Mr Marr's 'anti-Tory bias' became plain, they simply stopped tweeting. They were never going to praise Andrew Marr, of course, so they just shut up. (There's nowt so queer as folk!).

Finally, however, came the liveliest bit of the entire programme as Floundering Damian and Uncle John came together on the sofa and started arguing. Uncle John talked over Floundering Damian even more than Andy Marr had earlier, and jabbed his finger repeatedly in the Tory's face before aggressively taking the 'ad hom' route. Uncle John didn't appear anywhere near so cuddly there. Andrew Marr was left a helpless, laughing by-stander. The issues Andrew Marr raised here (mostly with Damian Green) were: the future of Philip Hammond, economic growth and the Conservatives' tax plans.

Saturday, 20 May 2017


According to the BBC News website a "moderate" has won the Iranian presidential election - though, unlike me, the BBC didn't put the word 'moderate' in inverted commas. 

Indeed, the BBC seems to be calling Hassan Rouhani a moderate (without qualification) across much of its output. Today's lunchtime news on BBC One, for example, saw the newsreader say, " Mr Rouhani, a moderate who agreed a deal with world powers to limit Iran's nuclear programme...", and Jeremy Bowen was on this morning saying (of Mr Rouhani), "He's a moderate who would like more openness in politics and society".


Sky's former answer to John Simpson, Tim Marshall, even on Twitter, knows that sometimes inverted commas are needed:

Still, here's a witty riposte from the comments section of the Times report on the same story:
Tadcaster Tory: A contest between a nutter and an even bigger nutter. Lovely.
Lyndonium (replying): But that's enough about the UK General Election...

Incidentally, in the singular and plural, the label 'moderate' has lately begun to be used by Newsnight presenters and reporters to describe people in the Labour Party who aren't Corbynistas, such as Nick Watt saying:
What's interesting is that the moderates in the Labour Party are relatively relaxed about this draft manifesto which they had obviously seen.
Was it the moderates leaking, trying to change it, it or was it the Left leaking it, going 'This is better than Corbyn sitting there next week delivering it?'
That must make the Corbynistas either 'hardliners' or 'extremists' or, perish the thought, like President Rouhani's opponents, 'conservatives'! 

"Well, I wouldn't accept them"

Laura Kuennsberg, holding forth

This week's Newswatch featured complaints about how BBC news bulletins are becoming "the Laura Kuenssberg show" with Laura providing a "running commentary" and plenty of "personal opinion". (Well, yes).

There were also 'complaints from both sides' about bias, with 'one side' complaining that the BBC is giving far too much airtime to Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party and 'the other side' (the more numerous one) complaining that the BBC is adopting "a sneering and condescending tone" in its interviewing of Labour its reporting of Labour policies. (Oddly, both could be true. Think of UKIP's treatment over the years).

Also the BBC's economics editor Kamal Ahmed came under fire his piece on Labour's manifesto on Tuesday's News at Six, which seriously botched the figures - to Labour's disadvantage. Kamal's graphics especially made out that those earning over £123,000 would have to pay and extra £23,000 in income tax - whereas, apparently, the correct figure would be £2,150! (Radio 4's More or Less also debunked Kamal Ahmed this week). Cock-up or conspiracy? Newswatch viewers were split between those who thought it was a "cock-up" and those who thought it was a "conspiracy". (Cock-up, I'd say).

And there were complaints about the use of vox pops, with a slightly absurd clip of John Pienaar asking panting gym users, mid-exercising, about their views of Jeremy Corbyn. What purpose do they serve? How representative are they? (Good questions!)

Answering all of this was our old friend Katy Searle. She was having none of the criticisms. (Shock! Horror!).

A transcript follows....

Katy Searle, waiting to say the BBC has got it right

Samira Ahmed: Well, let's discuss some of those issues with the BBC's editor of political news, Katy Searle, who's in our Westminster studio. Katy, let's start with the allegations of bias, mostly claiming that the BBC has an anti-Corbyn bias and it's quite a personal one. You've seen the examples that viewers raise. What would you say?

Katy Searle: Well, I wouldn't accept them. We have very strong and clear guidelines that we follow, our editorial guidelines, and they're in line with the Ofcom code of conduct as well, which show that we have strict rules to abide to across the election period and to reflect all parties' positions and policies. And that's something we do absolutely and we take that very seriously.

Samira Ahmed: Labour supporters are complaining that too much coverage is attacking the party. Tory supporters are saying Labour get more air time. So how is BBC News approaching that whole issue of balance and fairness?

Katy Searle: Well, it is a challenge every day. What we have to do is take our editorial judgments and that's always going to have to guide our coverage. And that's why programme editors across the BBC and correspondents on air, as well as Laura, the political editor, have long and careful discussions about what stories we're going to cover, what are the values in the news terms of those stories, and then how do they fit in line with the guidelines that I've just talked about.

Samira Ahmed: What's noticeable already in this election campaign is that perceived errors, and indeed some factual ones, are amplified on social media when people try to build a campaign around them saying, look, the BBC's being unfair. How should the BBC deal with those examples?

Kamal Ahmed, getting it wrong

Katy Searle: Look, we're all human, we do make mistakes. Look, you know, we're working to tight deadlines with lots of information coming in all the time and sometimes we do get it wrong. In those circumstances you just have to look and see where you can correct it as quickly as possible. And just on the detail I think it's worth adding that sometimes graphics actually can not be as clear. You are trying to sum up quite a lot of detail in one simple picture of numbers and figures. What we need to do is be very clear that our scripting goes around that and tells the full story.

Samira Ahmed: OK. We have seen a particularly vocal campaign online against Laura Kuenssberg alleging anti-Labour bias. What's the BBC's response?

Katy Searle: Well, Laura Kuenssberg is a first-class political editor who has worked incredibly hard to get her job right. Laura does the daily analysis of all of the political parties and, of course, no personal views are reflected in any sense on any party, and that's true not just of Laura but across the BBC. So Laura's doing her job and she's doing that brilliantly.

Samira Ahmed: More broadly, though, viewers do complain that there's too much personal commentary from political correspondents who are kind of filling airtime and it is not fact-based, it's not objective. Wouldn't the BBC be better, as at least one of our viewers has suggested, to sticking to factual reporting?

Katy Searle: Well, I think analysis is really important actually, as part of our coverage. Certainly in elections, and as we saw in the referendum last year, parties and campaigns have their own positions to push and they will do that and they will give us figures. And really, an important part of our job is to try and analyse and say to the viewer, well, on balance this is what it looks like to us. That's why we have very experienced people, from Laura down across the BBC, working on that and trying to give the audience something that means something and not just slogans and numbers.

John Pienaar interviewing a vox pop at the gym

Samira Ahmed: We have to talk about vox pops because they come up every election and the charge is two things, one is if they are too gimmicky - you're not going to get much of an answer if people are in the gym, or whatever. But also that they're not informed and aren't representative, and shouldn't the BBC be more careful about using them?

Katy Searle: Yeah, vox pops are tricky actually because I have a little bit of sympathy for that view. However, if we're doing a lot of politicians, and we are at the moment, and it's a very formalised way of presenting their views and opinions, I think vox pops gives us a bit of colour. It also does the most important thing which is to reflect the public's view. And in this campaign which goes on for several weeks we want to hear from our audience as well and try and, if you like, road-test some of the policies. A vox pop is an unscientific way of doing that but it's the best way that we can do when we're dealing with tight news agendas.

Samira Ahmed: Katy Searle, thank you. 

If only everything was black-and-white

I was listening to Today this morning and, after marvelling at the absolutely masterly way that the Rev. Woy Jenkins pivoted his TFTD talk from being about Chelsea Manning to being about God, heard Justin Webb talking to two former Tory advisors, Danny Kruger and Philip Blond, about Mrs May's brand of Toryism. 

It was pleasant - if you like that kind of thing. 

And, of course, some do, and some most definitely don't. 

The social media reaction to this Tory/Tory discussion consisted of masses of lefties moaning about it being "BBC propaganda" or "a Tory lovefest" or "a studio-wide Tory Party love-in" or "a political broadcast on behalf of Theresa May", etc, etc, whilst righties (in far smaller numbers) have tended to voice their pleasantly-surprised approval, with one regular BBC critic on another blog describing it as "remarkable" and "fascinating" and "reasonably moderated by Justin Webb".

Such responses do make me worry about my own confirmation bias. Do I sometimes react like that too? 

The Corbynistas were also furious at Today for featuring Labour's John Woodcock, the Trident-supporting, Jeremy Corbyn-disliking MP for Barrow-in-Furness (who I could wave to across Morecambe Bay). Mr Woodcock said Labour wouldn't win. 'BBC bias!', they cried.

Well, I'm going to cry 'BBC bias!' at Mishal Husain for her handling of the closing political discussion between a right-winger, a left-winger and a cross-bench peer. That guest selection might sound balanced but, as most of the discussion focused on Brexit and immigration, and two of the guests were Remainers and strongly pro-mass immigration while only one was a Leaver and in favour of controlled immigration, it should have been Mishal's job to either even up the numbers (devil's advocate-wise) or to stay completely out of it. Instead, she kept interrupting and questioning the one pro-Brexit, right-wing controlled immigration supporter from the stance of his two 'opponents'. It made Mishal sound like a Remain partisan and a pro-mass immigration hack rather than an impartial BBC broadcaster. 

Still, if there's one person 'people hereabouts' wouldn't expect to be given a lengthy, unhostile interview on the problems posed by mass Muslim immigration into Europe, it's Ayaan Hirsi Ali - and yet there she was this morning on Today. And a very interesting interview it was too, conducted "reasonably" by Justin Webb.

Less-than-even-handed satire from the BBC (as ever)

Fans of Eddie Mair's PM will know that the programme has invited the (Daily Mail) Guardian writer John Crace to give his 'digested' takes on each of the parties' election manifestos.

There's still the SNP and the UKIP ones to come but, so far, we've had his take on the manifestos of Labour, the Lib Dems and the Tories. 

The three transcripts from this week's editins could form the basis of a GCSE English comprehension exam question (if they still do such things):

Please read the following satirical takes on the party manifestos. Which party (giving reasons) do you think the author is most sympathetic too? (2 marks). And which party is the author least sympathetic to? (2 marks). Do you think he supports or opposes Brexit? (2 marks)And what, if anything does, the bias displayed say about the broadcaster which commissioned them? (3 marks) 
The Labour Party manifesto: This is a manifesto for the many, not the few; for the many commitments, not the few. At 123 pages it's longer than some books, but when you're as far behind in the polls as we are what's there to lose? Better to promise the Earth than die wondering. The first thing you should know is that nothing in our manifesto will cost you a penny. We know that many of you think you might one day be earning £80,000 per year and could be a bit put off the thought of paying a higher rate of income tax. But get real. That's just isn't going to happen, is it? Even if we raise the national living wage to £10 per hour by 2020 most people are still going to be fairly broke. Under Labour what we can guarantee is that you will be marginally less broke than under the Tories. As a Labour government we promise to raise an extra £48.6 billion a year by asking the wealthiest individuals and businesses to pay a little bit more. Come to think of it that's quite a bit more. But never mind. They can afford it -  especially that Philip Green. It's all going to a good cause as we're going to spend the money on schools, hospitals and Crossrail too. You wouldn't believe what a hassle it can be to get from the north of London down to Wimbledon, Anyway, whatever happens we promise not to spend any more that we get from extra tax revenues. Unlike some parties who make uncosted promises all our sums have been personally checked by Diane Abbott and John McDonnell, so you know you can trust them. Er whoops! We seem to have left out how much the water nationalisation will cost but it shouldn't be more than a few quid. Water can't be that expensive, can it? 
The Lib Dem Manifesto: In every other Liberal Democrat manifesto the leader has set out a vision for government. With just nine MPs in the last parliament we accept that might be a bit of a stretch for some people this time around, so this manifesto is offering a radical new politics: Don't vote for the party that you think will form the government. As we all know Theresa May is going to win. Vote instead for the party who would be the best opposition. Only the Liberal Democrats can stand up to the Tories on the most important issue facing Britain today: Brexit. We fully accept that Britain voted to leave the EU last year and the will of the people must be respected, But get real for a minute. Did all of you voted to leave seriously think through what would happen if we did? Did you really imagine the NHS would get an extra £350 million a week?Theresa May is on course for the hardest possible Brexit that will make many of you broke, and only the Lib Dems - we happy few - are willing to stand up to her. We alone will campaign for a second referendum on the final deal to give everyone a chance to come to their senses and make everything go back to how it was before June 2016. OK, we know we did say we weren't going to say what we would do in government because it was a bit of a waste of everybody's time, but indulge us for a bit. If we'd stuck to that promise the manifesto would have only been a couple of pages long. So here's a few things on our fantasy wishlist; We will add a penny on all tax rates to give an extra £6 billion to the NHS. You may not like it now but you'll be grateful in the end. No-one wants to get seriously ill under a Tory government. And, of course, we will also do all the usual nice things for the environment, children and sheep that you would expect. Finally we'd like to say sorry to all those students we let down by raising tuition fees during the coalition government. It did seem like a good idea at the time, but we can now see that we got a bit carried away with the excitement of being in power. So to make things up to you we are going to restore maintenance grants for the poorest students and set up a rent-to-buy scheme to help out all those of you struggling to raise a deposit because you're too busy paying off your student debt. And for a special welcome pack to your new flat we're going to legalise dope. Vote Lib Dem - the party that knows how to party.  
The Conservative manifesto: Now, more than ever, this country needs strong and stable government. This country faces difficult challenges ahead and only I, your Supreme Leader, with the occasional help of some of my team, can deliver that strong and stable leadership. The biggest challenge the United Kingdom faces is Brexit. Only I have a strong and stable plan for delivering a Brexit that works for everyone. Unfortunately I can't tell you what that plan is, so you'll have to trust me that my plan is strong and stable. But if my plan turns out to be not quite so strong and stable as I'd hoped then you could be confident that I have another plan that is almost as strong and stable. I also promise to reduce immigration to tens of thousands. I know that the Conservatives have made that commitment in our last two manifestos but, with me as Supreme Leader, I can guarantee it will happen. I don't want to bother you right now with any of the details of how it will be different this time, or how much it will cost. Just trust me>My party has always been the party of low taxation but I reserve the right to raise taxes and national insurance and reduce the state pension at a later date. That is entirely reasonable. I am also arbitrarily removing free school lunches and introducing free breakfasts. Under my strong and stable leadership it will be far better for children to go hungry later in the day. I will not hesitate to intervene, to create the great leap forward of the great meritocracy. People who are considered deserving will be rewarded with grammar school places. Those who aren't will be sent for vocational training. It has also come to our attention that people are dying unfairly so we propose to create an NHS where is far less expensive to die of a heart attack or cancer than dementia. Under my Supreme Leadership Britain will become a global force once more - especially when Boris Johnson has been moved on from his post as Foreign Secretary. Under my Supreme Leadership smiling will be permitted between the hours of 4pm and 6pm - extended to 7pm on Sundays and bank holidays. Be under no illusions, the way ahead will be hard at times. But I alone can provide the strong and stable leadership the country so desperately needs. A vote for anyone but me is a betrayal of our country.
God only knows what his UKIP 'digest' is going to be like! (Dis-Craceful I'd guess).

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Who do you think you are?

I think it’s time we’re all encouraged (forced) to explain what we mean when we accuse people of belonging to specific  ‘wings’.  For instance what does “Momentum” actually mean when it says it regards Tom Watson as rather right wing?
One used to think of your archetypal right wing person as heard-hearted, disciplinarian, pious, moustachioed, buttoned-up and bristling with repressed sexuality and overt racism.  Not very nice, in fact. 

Your left-winger was more attractive. Cool; relaxed, tolerant, devoutly sympathetic to the lame and disadvantaged and open to new ideas. Progressive. In summary, a good egg, and champion of the unconventional and the avant-garde to boot. These ideas are old-hat, though.

Now I’m right wing! Me, the free-spirited child of unconventional parents. Me, an art-school graduate, even though, at the time, I didn’t take any much notice of the tuition on offer, for what it was worth, (which, one could argue, was a sign of an independent spirit.) 

Really, I assume I’m labelled right-wing because I haven’t joined the left-wing alliance with Islam and I don’t subscribe to the deceitful concept that Muslims are the new Jews. 

Of course the Conservative party itself has been confused for some time. Both the government and the opposition have been sidling to the left, inch by inch. 

The Telegraph boasts of its conscious editorial decision to move to the left, and there’s many a lefty piece in the Times. When left-wing Jewish writers contribute to the Guardian some people call them “house Jews’, which is not at all nice; but the fact is that when their actual Jewishness is exploited to shield the newspaper from charges of antisemitism, they literally become useful idiots.

No. I’m right-wing purely because I defend Israel against the media’s outrageous bias against it.
Well, not purely because. I have other right-wing attitudes too, so I’m led to believe, but I prefer to think of them as belated signs of maturity. For example mothers being encouraged to dump put  their offspring in low-cost daycare so they can pursue their real careers. I didn’t think much of that as an aspiration and I still don’t. 

While we’re at it, let’s say something about the Labour manifesto too. As Matthew Parris says in The Times, (from which Laura Perrins quotes at length) what we are lacking is any credible opposition from the Conservatives  to the incredible opposition provided by Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. 
We need Theresa May to articulate loudly and clearly why some of the utopian-sounding ideas and attractive-sounding handouts in Labour’s manifesto aren’t the answer, and warning of the unintended consequences that would ensue should they be implemented, sure as night follows day. And if Theresa may is too aloof to ‘debate’ with Corbyn, the BBC should step up to the plate and give the voting public something nice and gristly to chew on.

Jeremy’s journey

How can people be allowed to get away with saying that Jeremy Corbyn is an honest man and a man of integrity. It’s upsetting to hear people heaping him with undeserved praise for the very qualities he lacks, especially when they do so in front of people who obviously know no better. It needs to be challenged by people who do know better. 
There must be someone in the BBC who’s aware of Corbyn’s murky past, and if so they should inform the audience even if it’s only as a preamble to one of their fanciful tales about his ‘journey’

He she and it

When people undergo ‘gender reassignment’ - no - even if a ‘he’ simply decides that he wishes, henceforth, to be known as ‘she’, the possessive pronoun instantly seems to leap out and smack you in the face.  Take this morning’s news about Chelsea Manning,  formerly Bradley. 
There were more “shes" uttered in the space of a few seconds than I’ve ever heard in an entire episode of the ‘Mr and Mrs’ gameshow. Not that I’ve ever watched one. 

It’s as though they’re deliberately hitting you in the chops with a wet fish. Gratuitous possessive pronouns really grate.

Strangers in town

Cornwall has been in the news a lot recently, and not necessarily in a good way.
The other day we heard about Theresa May apparently shutting out local journos during her whistle-stop visit to Water-Ma-Trout industrial estate in Helston. 
We watched John Sweeney doing his puerile  ‘in pursuit of Andrea Leadsom’ sketch  and then we had Howard Jacobson’s A Point of View on Radio 4.

In the middle of the piece he gave us an analogy based on a brief  and unhappy period when he lived in Cornwall. 
I realise this whinge about being an ‘outsider’ was designed to make us reflect upon our mean, selfish and racist attitude to mass immigration and our ‘fear of the stranger’. However he is way behind the times with this analogy. 

I can assure you that over time the zeitgeist in Cornwall has evolved from what one might uncharitably call ‘insular’ to the burgeoning aspirational and cosmopolitan ambience of the present day. (Not to ignore pockets of shabbiness and poverty or the alarming number of tacky, high density new-build developments and year-round traffic jams.) 

In effect, Cornwall has been ‘discovered’ by the rest of the country, and while people like Howard Jacobson come and go, many others, celebrities and townies alike, come, settle and gentrify. It’s immigration Jim, but not necessarily as you know it; though I hear there’s a mosque in Truro. 
What’s more, the Cornish go to concerts, frequently eat kale and quinoa and they even tolerate a Polish shop or two. There’s a World Food section in Tesco; and by the way, intransigence is not unique to the Cornish.

You don’t hear people say ‘emmets’ these days, but it wasn’t actually a word for ‘strangers’ in the first place. It’s a term the caricature-Cornish would use for ‘visitors’, i.e., holiday-makers, whose resemblance to ants was purely in the numbers invading the county during the school holidays.

If the Cornish really did treat Howard Jacobson with suspicion, I bet it was due to his city-person baggage, an aura of ‘street-wise’ wariness that’s redundant in the far South West. Perhaps it’s unintentional, but Londoners and city-dwellers often give off an uptightness and aloofness that  comes across as superiority and signals an unwillingness to integrate.

‘Incomers’  tend to wear special outfits, which they’ve bought specially for the country. Waterproof capes, Barbour coats and deerstalker hats. You can spot them from a distance.

Howard Jacobson has a way with words. I am truly in awe of the eloquence with which he tackles anti-Israel bias, but this time he badly missed the mark. 

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Our Man (Updated)

Jeremy Bowen has only been reporting from the Middle East since 1991. He’s no historian so he must have gleaned his reflections on the Sykes-Picot agreement and The Balfour Declaration from somewhere. 
Judging by the selective nature of the information and the language in Bowen’s ‘backgrounder’ I’d be surprised if it wasn’t taken from any one of the ‘Palestinian narrative’ history books available. We all tend to gravitate towards material that reinforces our own biases, but from the BBC’s very own Middle East head honcho a little balance would have been nice.

Press hard where indicated

I’m hoping BBC Watch will deal with the detail in due course.

Which they duly have here.