Wednesday 5 March 2014

A bombshell, or an exploding cigar?

Last night's Newsnight got off to a bullish start.

The programme's new policy editor, Chris Cook (formerly of the FT), dropped what looked like a bombshell on the government - and, boy, did he look pleased with himself about it! 

He claimed, dramatically, that a new civil service study into the effects of immigration on unemployment among native Brits is being suppressed by Downing Street because it fails to back up the government's stance on immigration.

'What does that say about the government's claim to be 'the most transparent government in history'?', he asked (rhetorically).

According to Chris Cook (and his anonymous Whitehall sources), the new study undermines the Home Office's claim that for every additional 100 immigrants, 23 British workers would not be employed - a figure derived from an earlier report which Chris says sections of the civil service regarded as insufficiently robust. His report implied that the government's economic case for tougher controls on immigration has been sharply weakened by the new study. 

The government says that the report is unfinished and that it's merely been holding off until the study is properly peer-reviewed. Chris Cook has subsequently tweeted that his source denies this. 

Now, if the government really has been suppressing a civil service report simply because it harms them politically and strengthens the case for the economic benefits of increased immigration, then that's certainly a scoop that's worth leading with. 

That it ties in conveniently with what many (like me) see as the BBC's deeply-ingrained bias towards immigration should be neither hear nor there if that's the case.

In the wake of Chris Cook's report, Kirsty Wark then interviewed a pro-immigration Liberal Democrat MP, Julian Huppert, and a government supporter on the issue, Conservative MP Stephen Barclay. Mr Barclay struggled to respond, especially given the intense grilling he got from a fired-up Kirsty.

This morning, the BBC News website was running it second only to Ukraine (though Today didn't make as much of it as might have been expected.)

Plus the Guardian is piling in, the left-wing of the Twittersphere is going wild and arch-government critic Jonathan Portes is cock-a-hoop with indignation at the government. 

Newsnight editor Ian Katz is still standing by his programme's report (plus tweeting the supportive views of Mr Portes while he's at it). As of five hours ago, he was still sounding bullish (on Twitter). 

Neither Sky News not ITV News have been paying much attention to the story though (as least on their respective websites), which is intriguing. Why aren't they joining in the feeding frenzy?

And now enters....Sir Andrew Green of Migration Watch.

He doesn't reckon much to Newsnight's scoop (or 'scoop'). In a piece for The Spectator, headlined The BBC’s immigration scare story, Sir Andrew says:
The BBC’s enthusiasm for anything that might undermine the Government’s immigration policy was demonstrated yet again by the excitable tone of last night’s Newsnight report...As usual, the context was entirely absent. 
He outlines his rejection of Newsnight's slant on the original report, and notes that the government's economic case
is only one aspect of a much wider case concerning the impact of mass immigration on public services, housing and transport - not to speak of the social impact.
He suggests,  
The best thing the government can now do is publish the report so that the public can see its limited scope.
Sir Andrew ends:
By this morning, the BBC was waking up literally and metaphorically. The tone of the Today programme was considerably more measured. In substantive terms this is a storm in a teacup. In presentational terms it demonstrates the BBC’s habitual lack of impartiality on the subject of immigration. The public have made up their minds on immigration with over 70% supporting its reduction. The BBC only undermine their impartiality and authority by reporting of this kind.
Is Chris Cook's bombshell proving to be an exploding cigar?

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