Tuesday 30 September 2014

Horrible Histories, A BBC patriot and Evan Davis

Just a few random thoughts tonight, as I seem to be capable of little else today. (It's been a bad day. Please don't take my picture).....

Let me start by saying that I've rarely watched Horrible Histories, the popular CBBC history programme, but I have listened to/read a number of interviews with its guiding spirit - children's author Terry Deary, so that makes me an expert.

Mr Deary is a self-declared "anarchist" who regards school as a "waste of time" and openly rejoices in being able to plant "subversive" and "radical" messages in children's minds and, by the sounds of it, CBBC's Horrible Histories attempts to hold true to his vision.

To many who have watched and listened to the BBC for a long time, the 'subversive' and 'radical' messages Mr Deary strives to project have long seemed like orthodox, BBC-approved views - the kind of views that lead like-minded BBC commissioners to commission 'subversive' programmes like Horrible Histories rather than conservative takes like, say, Great Uncle Craig's Great Patriotic British Histories [which would have featured me dressed up as Alfred the Great, Winston Churchill and Queen Elizabeth I]...

Such commissioning strongly suggests bias.

So does the corporation's happy acquiescence in the promotion of that most oft-cited prime example of 'politically-correct history' in the UK - (black) Crimean War nurse Mary Seacole, famously advanced by 'leftist educationalists' at the expense of 'The (white) Lady with the Lamp', Florence Nightingale, all in the interests of multiculturalism...

The T.V. incarnation of Horrible Histories portrayed Florence Nightingale as a racist who was responsible for blocking Mary Seacole's progress in the medical profession because she wasn't British ["'Four times me tried to join Old Lamp-Face's nurses in the Crimean War, and four times she said no'] - something for which there's not the slightest shred of evidence.

The BBC Trust - after a typically long and gruelling complaints process for the complainants [from a Florence Nightingale society] - found the programme "materially inaccurate and...therefore in breach of the Editorial Guidelines on Accuracy". The sketch has now been withdrawn from the BBC's Learning Zone and the Horrible Histories episode in question won't be broadcast in its original form again...

...which, again, shows that relentless pursuit of the BBC can bring about results [though I don't see much beyond the usual suspects...the Mail, Telegraph, blogs like this...reporting the Trust's findings].

Now, smearing Florence Nightingale in the interest of promoting a left-wing agenda isn't a case of right-wing bias, is it?

[For those wanting a proper historical take on the Florence v Mary spat, please read this from History Today. It also makes clear just how involved the BBC has been in taking sides in the vilification of Florence Nightingale].


The BBC's Editorial Standards Findings (published monthly) are always revealing. It seems that few people actually read them, except bloggers like me and Hadar at BBC Watch...and the occasional eagle-eyed Beeb-basher at the Telegraph and Mail.

The latest findings feature something I've not seen before...

Unlike the heavily-hedged, partial upholding of the complaint about Flo, there's a remarkably unambiguous, completely unhedged denunciation of BBC bias from the BBC Trust this month.

The guilty BBC party, Richard Spendlove of BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, has been given an unequivocal, feed-him-to-the-lions thumbs-down from the BBC Trust. 

What had he done that so offended the BBC Trust? Had be played The Sun Has Got His Hat On

Oh no, it's even worse...

During a phone-in programme about the British marine who shot a Taliban captive, Mr Spendlove was deemed far too sympathetic to a caller who expressed support for the British marine - worse, a "potentially offensive caller" (in the words of the BBC Trust).

Richard Spendlove was also deemed to have "made some potentially offensive assumptions that everyone listening would subscribe to a Judeo-Christian viewpoint" - assumptions that obviously offended the BBC Trust. 

Have we finally found our conservative, pro-British patriot at the BBC? If so, well, so, unfortunately, have the BBC Trust, and they aren't at all happy with him. A spell in a BBC re-education camp awaits, no doubt. 

"Are we are Judeo-Christian nation?" is a controversial question - or so the BBC tells us. The BBC doesn't step into controversies - or the BBC tells us. Yet the BBC Trust is clearly unhappy with the view that this is a Judeo-Christian nation. Thus the BBC takes a stance, doesn't it? Thus the BBC is biased (and, in my view, wrong). QED?

It's a moments like this that I feel like ranting, but...it's been a bad day...


Not such a bad day though that I didn't snigger at Evan Davis's debut on Newsnight last night

What follows will be as superficial as anything in Ian Katz's dreams (and serious analysis can wait for a few days)...

I used to like a BBC series called Great British Journeys presented by Coast's umbrella-carrying Nicholas Crane. One part of its appeal was the way it welded historical detail with scenic walks. The second part of its appeal - and one that used to make me laugh - was the way it managed to put Nicholas Crane into every single frame of the entire one-hour programme. He was never out of shot. Not one landscape was ever lingered over without Nicholas Crane striding over it somewhere - either close up or far in the distance. No sheep, cow, or passer-by was even given its five seconds of solo fame. The producer obviously felt that even a millisecond without Nicholas Crane on screen would ruin the entire series.

I mention that because Newsnight editor Ian Katz obviously felt the same way at the start of last night's Newsnight - the Newsnight which marked the debut of his star signing, Evan Davis - and, boy, Ian Katz certainly wanted us to know about it. 

There was Evan from the word go, pacing about (like he does on Dragon's Den), then shaking hands and sitting down with David Cameron, then walking towards the camera, then standing still, then introducing his new catchphrase, "Hello, hello!". Then his report: Here's Evan walking towards the conference, looking down from a balcony, walking down some stairs, talking to some Tory activists, shaking hands with a Sikh in the distance, stood on another balcony, stood on the conference floor, walking towards Allegra, listening to Allegra, laughing at Allegra's jokes, then walking away from Allegra towards the camera, then - and what bigger way to mark your debut? - interviewing the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (er, David Cameron). 

Evan's above! - and below, behind and in front of you. Thereafter, Evan, Evan, Evan, Evan...

Sticking with superficial, the programme had a fair few embarrassing 'dead' moments, Evan was trying too hard to be light-hearted (in front of a stony-faced panel), and poor tieless TUC Duncan was left looking like a spare part after Evan left him at the altar (so to speak). 

It looked a bit amateurish, but wasn't. It was a fully professional attempt to look different that didn't quite come off. 


Still, to sound a final positive note, I am very impressed so far with Neil MacGregor's new series on Germany, Germany: Memories of a Nation. So far, so excellent. 

Monday 29 September 2014

War, peace and subjugation

Interesting Start the Week this morning. All Tom Sutcliffe’s guests have authored worthy tomes about religion and war.  

Justin Marozzi’s well received “Baghdad” sounded fascinating, and so did  Christopher Coker’s “Can War be Eliminated?”. But the primary focus of this episode was a book titled: “Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence” written by a woman whom Suttcliffe addressed as “Keiron”. It was only when she gratuitously introduced “Israelis bulldozing Palestinian homes” that I realised that Keiron was in fact Karen - Karen Armstrong, the former nun who ‘wants us all to love Islam’. 

I have to say that Tom Sutcliffe hastily distracted her from the bulldozing, but she did get away with this, towards the end of the programme:
“Look at some of the images of the prophets. Of Jerusalem at The End of Time, with all the... but it’s still, even there.....this is peace for Israel and other people are being subjugated.”

Anti-Israel polemicists have a particular way of saying “Israel”, somehow imbuing the “Is” with venom. I will always think of her as Keeran.

Reckless behaviour from BBC Radio Kent?

I see that UKIP supporters in Kent are highly displeased with BBC Radio Kent. Complaints are, apparently, winging their way to the BBC as we speak.

Presenter John Warnett interviewed Conservative defector Mark Reckless on this morning's Radio Kent breakfast programme (some 2 hours 10 minutes in) in a manner that can only be described as "aggressive" (which won't have pleased Ian Katz, Jamie Angus or Evan Davis). He hammered away at the question of Mr Reckless "lying" to the Conservatives in the run-up to his defection to UKIP.

John Warnett tackled him pretty much exclusively from the 'devil's advocate position' (if such it was) of a disgruntled Conservative, twice citing the Conservatives' 'success' in 'bringing down the deficit' at him.

Now, unlike those UKIP supporters who've taken to social media to protest, I didn't think that John Warnett betrayed his BBC function in questioning Mark Reckless so strongly or, in a heavily Conservative seat, by doing so from a Conservative Party standpoint; however, I do understand UKIP's sense of outrage at the selection of vox pops Radio Kent flung at Mr Reckless - all three of whom slagged off Mark Reckless something rotten, and in the most personal terms!

Mr Reckless was not impressed:
Mark Reckess: Well, I'm actually rather disappointed, John, with Radio Kent...to put out such an unbalanced selection of views. Our local newspaper, the Medway Messenger, held a poll and 70% of the people they were in touch with said they supported my decision. I think you should have put some balance out there rather than just the negative views...
John Warnett [interrupting]: Well, we have been, all through the morning, we have been...
Mark Reckess: Well, I'm sorry John, I think that was very disappointing.
Another local newspaper, the Maidstone and Medway News, has a poll now running at 67% support for Mr Reckless and UKIP. 

Now, standing back and breathing in, it is just, just possible that BBC Radio Kent only spoke to three people in the street this morning and that all three of them were hopping mad at Mark Reckless for 'deserting' the Conservative Party and feel nothing but contempt for him, but - the thought inevitably crosses your mind - how likely is that? How representative is that? Was it a rigged selection? Even if it wasn't a rigged selection, is that responsible reporting? Shouldn't they have waited to ask more people? 

Wonder where all those complaints will get UKIP supporters in Kent? Or Mark Reckless?

Piercing questions are out?

There's an interesting interview with Newsnight's new lead presenter, Evan Davis, starting tonight, in the Telegraph

The piece, by Bryony Gordon, mentions the issue of bias:
Evan Davis was born 52 years ago in Malvern, Worcestershire, to South African parents. He grew up in Surrey, attended Dorking County Grammar School, and got a first from Oxford in philosophy, politics and economics, before studying public administration at Harvard. He was a member of the SDP while he was at Oxford, but it would be wholly inaccurate to accuse him of typical BBC Left-wing bias – his first job was as an economist at the Institute of Fiscal Studies, a Right-wing think tank, where he was one of the architects of Margaret Thatcher’s Poll Tax. He has also crossed picket lines during his time on the Today programme.
Davis moved to the BBC in 1993, working as an economics correspondent. He did a stint at Newsnight as economics editor, and spent six-and-a-half years as economics editor of the entire corporation, before joining Today in 2008.
Does he ever get tired of having to toe the line of BBC impartiality? “No. I genuinely find myself interested in trying to see both sides of the argument. I just think that is an intellectually interesting thing to do. If I was outside the BBC, I wouldn’t be writing polemics on one side or the other. I would be trying to understand the geography of the argument.”
Well, describing the Institute of Fiscal Studies as "a Right-wing think tank" is wrong for starters and would horrify the IFS (which, like the BBC, insists that it is strictly impartial.) And calling Evan "one of the architects of Margaret Thatcher’s Poll Tax" is going too far too, given his apparent 'backroom boy' role in it. 

I've always suspected him, given his Social Market Foundation role [and everything I've ever seen of him], of being a vaguely Blairite, pro-business, pro-EU, pro-immigration type. 

Still, as a counterpoint to Bryony [and me], here's Virginia Blackburn in the Express:
When Davis first joined Today I was a fan. He was calm, rational and incisive, explained complex issues clearly and seemed a thoroughly good egg. But two incidents in recent weeks have shown his true colours. In the first he was allowed to get away unchallenged with saying that the coalition's (for which read Tories') austerity programme had failed.
As Davis must know perfectly well Britain's economy is not only thriving but is doing better than any other country in Europe.
Secondly in talking about the Scottish referendum last week he quoted Boris Johnson, before adding, "If you care about what he thinks."
Eh? Whatever you think of Boris he is a hugely important politician who may yet end up as prime minister. When Davis quotes a Left-wing politico does he add, "If you care about what he thinks"? You guess.
Davis, along with other senior BBC bigwigs, has his own political agenda which he is trying to foist on us despite the BBC's alleged "impartiality". What a joke that has become.
Evan is clearly fully on board with Ian Katz's rejection of Paxman-style interviewing - despite his own record of incessantly interrupting and imposing his own agenda on interviews on Today [beams in eyes, and all that, apparently]:
His new editor, Katz, has written in the Financial Times about the death of the political interview, blaming it partly on the aggressive style of Paxman. Davis would never be so tactless as to say that out loud. “I think the danger is that journalists have become so full of themselves [in believing that they are] the people who in our constitution have the job of holding the b------s to account, that they’ve forgotten that there are a million other ways of having a useful conversation with people.”
Actually – and here’s something you could never imagine Paxman saying – Davis believes that politicians today are over scrutinised. “Not just by us, but by other politicians, too. I think we might have slightly too short-termist a political culture. The crowd is standing there with score cards watching everything they do, and that trains them to be rather defensive and cautious. I think in the end that’s not helpful.
“You don’t want politicians to be worrying about the Sunday papers rather than life after the next election. It’s possible that we are holding our politicians to account to such a degree that we’re almost paralysing them. They can’t think aloud. They can’t even eat a bacon sandwich in a natural way.”
[meaning 'poor Ed Miliband'].

We'll see how he gets on. [Well, the few people who still watch Newsnight will see anyhow].


Most News channels have paper reviews, where a couple of personalities leaf through the daily papers, making witty observations about content that has caught their eye. 
Some of the personalities are not known to me, like the celebrities on the Daily Mail website. Media personalities, like mysterious who-the-hell-are-they celebrities, seem remarkably samey. This might be because they are “metro-centric” and I’m more of your rural pleb. 

Personalities and media pundits must cluster and collect in upmarket or trendy parts of Londonistan, and I think they might be the ones who acquire those clothes and ridiculously overpriced shoes and handbags advertised in the Sunday papers. If not, then who is?  Arab princes, Russian oligarchs and Chinese nouveau riche? I’ve often wondered who can afford / who wants to - pay more than a thousand quid for a jacket or a pair of shoes in these hard times. 

But, back to these remarkably samey media pundits. Do they embrace diversity because they don’t see the sharp end of it?  Most people I know get stuff from M & S and Topshop and rummage through TK Maxx for a bargain. They go to Morrison’s and Sainsbury’s, where complete strangers moan to each other in the queue about the loss of the Britain they used to know, and hint that they’re voting UKIP.    Does David Cameron realise this?
I didn’t mean to give the impression that I’m an inverted snob, though I’m beginning to sound  like one. I’m more of an actual snob,.

There is a general consensus in the media (the programmes I’ve been watching, anyway) that Islamic State / ISIL -  is grade one super evil, whereas other Islamic and Jihadi bodies such as Al Qaeda and Al Nusra Front are regarded as lower down the scale in terms of evil, and (pragmatically) worth aligning with, bearing in mind the utter uselessness of the Iraqi army, which let ISIL nick their tanks and weapons, the Peshmerga and the anti-Assad Free Syrian Army, which some say ‘barely exists’.

Suddenly, we are expected to bury the hatchet with Iran because, they say, needs must. We are to forget their nuclear aspirations, and ignore their desire to exterminate Israel. We’re also expected to align with the Saudis and Qatar and to put their antithetical religious practices to one side -  unconditionally,  but even better if we can persuade them not to throw quite so much cash at the Jihadi projects they’re bankrolling.

So far, “The brutal dictator” Assad, “whose brutality has been a massive recruiting sergeant for ISIL” as David Cameron said on the Andrew Marr show, is deemed beyond the pale, along with his allegedly well trained army. 

The situation is so unpromising that it’s even tempting to agree with George Galloway who is against ‘bombing Iraq and Syria’. He probably believes that the indefatigable Saddam and the weird, terrible Gadaffi represented man’s only known reliable method of keeping all those warring Islamists on an even keel. Tyranny. 

Despots and dictators may be brutal and barbaric, but even -  notwithstanding - the occasional chemical attack on your own people and the summary execution of the odd dissident, could these regimes be the kindest way of keeping a lid on volatile Islamic clans and sects, and perhaps no less or no more cack-handed than the indiscriminate bombing the shit out of ISIL by we foreigners, with the attendant collateral damage? The lesser of two evils? I really don’t know. 

I mean, most people are saying “We must do something” but we didn’t say that when Assad ‘crossed the line’ with his chemical attack, and the argument that we’re forced to do it because we are under threat here in the UK is uncannily reminiscent of Tony Blair’s assurances that WMDs were capable of arriving on our doorstep faster than your order from Amazon. They call that ‘going to war on a lie’ if I’m not mistaken. Might this not also turn out to be dodgy?  Mightn’t we be better off applying ourselves to domestic issues and concentrating on doing more about the terrorism and potential terrorism that is already here? 

What about mission creep? wondered Marr.

“Well, that’s an argument for never doing anything. I think when you face a situation with psychopathic terrorist killers in Syria and Iraq, who have already brutally beheaded one of our own citizens, who have already launched and tried to execute plots in our own country  to kill and maim innocent people, you’ve got no choice, We can either stand back from all this or say “Let’s let someone else keep our country safe.” said David Cameron, and quoted Ban Ki-Moon:

 “A missile can kill a terrorist, but it is good governance that will kill terrorism” 

What? Heal thyself then, Dr Prime Minister sir. Because haven’t you just admitted that the reason “we must do something” is because of the threat of terrorism here at home?  So why not get on with it and let  good governance kill this wretched terrorism like Mr. Ban promises? Apply yourself.

I mean, our P.M. told Marr that he thinks the remedy (after the bombing) is to establish a democratic, inclusive and pluralistic society for everyone in Syria and Iraq. Simples.  Is he aware that this means everyone including deadly enemies Sunni Islam and Sh’ia Islam? 

You might as well try applying that to a pack of semi-wild dogs like the ones I once encountered in a godforsaken part of Greece. They had a pecking order and a hierarchy; a canine Caliphate. One of them got itself tangled up in the undercarriage of a car. When it emerged, dazed and confused the rest of the pack turned on it, ferociously. You’ve got as much chance of imposing western-style democracy on that. 

Well, didn’t everyone think the Arab Spring would bring democracy and peace, love and apple pie to Egypt, Tunisia, etc etc? And weren’t they all completely wrong? Wasn’t western style ‘democracy’ a pipe dream as far as all those Islam-majority countries were concerned? 

I was told that trying the same old failed thing and expecting a different outcome was a sign of something.  Insanity, isn’t it?
I don’t know what we should do, and I don’t think David Cameron does either. I don’t think anyone who really believes ‘we’ can impose democracy upon warring Muslims can be capable of ‘good governance’. 

Bombing them might buy some time, now that things have gone so far and so badly, but this idealistic vision of democracy, pluralism and inclusiveness seems fundamentally incompatible with  Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, al Qaeda, al-Nusra Front back and sides, and I’m afraid to say, Islam itself.  

Another elephant in the room is the parallel between ISIL and the West and Israel and Hamas. 
Those paper reviewers aren’t the only ones who can’t see that there’s a discrepancy between their own revulsion at ISIL’s psychopathic terrorism, brutality, religiosity, their strategy of hiding amongst civilians, and their tolerant attitude towards Hamas’s psychopathic terrorism, brutality, religiosity, strategy of hiding amongst civilians. Not to mention the fact that ISIL and Hamas share an Islamist agenda, pure or perverted. 

Similarly, paper reviewers, media pundits, assorted personalities and opinionated celebrities condemn Israel because defending itself against Hamas’s actual terrorism entailed civilian casualties, while collateral damage is accepted as inevitable when we ‘interfere/intervene’ in faraway lands because of an indirect threat to the UK, when Islam-fueled terrorism, the actual threat to us here, is already present, but downplayed in the name of social cohesion. 

It’s them and us. Politicians and the metro-centric versus the people. Apparently the buzz word is “authentic”. People like you to be authentic, and that’s what they like about Nigel Farage.  
Hardly anyone on the BBC is as authentic as the strangers who grumble to each other in queues, bemoaning the days before Britain was polluted by excessive political correctness; when Britain was ‘authentic‘.   

More Questions...this time from Andy Marr

Continuing with the idea of monitoring all the questions put by particular interviewers, here's a full list of all the questions put by Andrew Marr on his Sunday morning show to Ed Miliband, Nigel Farage and David Cameron over the last couple of weeks. 

Do they show bias? 

Before we think about that though...

As I wrote when introducing the idea yesterday, such surveys as this can't pick up on tone [questions such as: Was it a hostile interview? An over-friendly interview?]. That, however, is something that many people who allege BBC bias do pick up on. 

Listing the questions is objective, judging the tone of the interview is much more subjective. If I've tended to hear James Naughtie being gentler with pro-union guests than pro-independence guests in the year leading up to the 55% 'NO' vote in the Scottish referendum, others have heard it the other way round.  

But, for what it's worth, I found Andrew Marr to be decidedly chilly with Nigel Farage, and much warmer with both David Cameron and Ed Miliband. The 'outsider' didn't seem to be his cup of tea.

My evidence? 

Andy sat still and unsmiling throughout the Nigel Farage interview, having introduced the interview with an ironic warning ["....where the party also discussed new policy ideas, although not all of them survived the weekend - as you will see in a minute..."]. He also used the loaded word 'hostile' on a couple of occasions to describe UKIP - a familiar 'tell' when it comes to an interviewer's unfriendly feelings towards something (like the regular use of 'angry' to describe the U.S.'s Tea Party movement and, thus, paint them as aggressive - and worse). This provoked a reaction from Nigel F:
You say we're hostile, and by asking the question in that way you're saying that somehow there is an aggression about UKIP and there isn't.
During the David Cameron interview, Andy was far less intense and not especially challenging -though, as used to happen when I monitored him closely before the 2010 election, he kept on quietly muttering his disagreements with David Cameron throughout the interview - so quietly that some were hard to decipher - and with Ed Miliband, he even did a Gordon Brown impersonation that made Ed laugh and the interview softened perceptibly as it proceeded. 

I like Andy Marr (a fellow George Herbert lover), but I don't think he likes UKIP and just doesn't appear to be able to stop showing it at times.

Well, if I'm going to be subjective (and biased) I might as well go the whole hog and talk about the three party leaders' performances too: David Cameron was characteristically adept; Nigel Farage was characteristically plain-speaking; and Ed Miliband was characteristically inept. [I seriously considered satirising Ed's comical politicianspeak here. One day...!].

OK, here are the questions...

Reading and re-reading them, I really can't say that [overall] Ed Miliband got a better time of it than David Cameron. Or a worse time [even though he performed worse].

Can you?

...[and please note I've not done what certain media organisations do and chosen the most unflattering photos I can find of the respective party leaders!]:


- Now, it seems fairly clear...we were talking about it during the papers...that you have been put into a trap: Either you agree with the Prime Minister and support English votes for English laws...er...English-only laws - a lot of people, most people, think that's a fair thing to do - and effectively an English parliament which you won't dominate, or you will be part of leaders getting together and fumbling it and reneging on the pact that you've given to the Scottish people, the solemn promise that you've given to the Scottish people, in which case the Labour Party will be punished north of the border in a very severe way. How do you get out of that trap?
- In a phrase I used to Alistair Darling, this [the Yes campaign in the Scottish referendum] was a kind of quiet revolutionary upsurge against the way politics has been done?
- And so let's turn to the constitutional change. You made a solemn promise, not to other politicians but to 5 million Scottish people, that you would deliver on Devo Max - new powers to the Scottish parliament. Are you determined that's going to happen, come what may?
- Because it would be terrible for you and the Labour Party if you didn't.
- So David Cameron has connected that promise to English votes for English laws and a huge number of people in England say, yes, that is fair, it is absolutely fair. Why should Scottish MPs be able to vote on taxes in England if English MPs aren't able to vote on taxes in Scotland? They're right about that, aren't they?
- In a principle way, what is wrong with English votes for English laws? It's fair, isn't it? It's fair play?
- [interrupting] Yeah, I know, but I'm asking you a very specific question here.
- [interrupting] But England is a country, England is a nation herself, and there is no reason in fairness why Scottish MPs should be able to vote on English laws if they can't have it the other way round, so I want to keep on this very, very important principled question. The issue is: Would you accept English votes for English laws, as it's called, or not?
- [interrupting] It's a very straightforward question.
- [interrupting] Yes there is! [in response to EM saying "There isn't a simple answer to this question"] Sorry, yes or no? It's very straightforward.
- [interrupting] That's inside a country [in response to EM talking about devolved London transport policy]. I'm just asking you again: The principled case against an English parliament?
- [interrupting] Alone, working together.
- [interrupting] I'm sorry to cut in, but the truth is that you're against English votes for English laws because Labour wouldn't dominate. Surely the answer to that is for Labour to do better in England, not to refuse the English people this basic justice?
- So I return again: Is there a principled case against, in effect, an English parliament, or not?
- And is there a principled case against having two classes of legislation in the House of Commons, some styled as 'English-only business for English-only MPs to vote on'? What's the principled case against that?
- [interrupting] You're using the word 'scrutiny'. I'm wondering about votes really.
- But if you believe in that then you carry on with the injustice of Scottish MPs...well, what else?
- Another related issue, closely related issue, is the Barnett Formula, which means that Scotland gets a higher per head public spending settlement that England, and Wales indeed. Now, Joel Barnett himself, Lord Barnett, former Labour man, said in the paper today, "I'm Barnett and the Barnett Formula's unjust and it has to go". What's your response to that?
- So Barnett stays. Let's return to something you said at the beginning about the minimum wage. £8 an hour it will go up to. I thought we had a Low Pay Commission which is independent, set up by the Labour Party. You are overruling it already just by diktat, are you not?
- [interrupting] But an important role to do as it's told, it seems!
- [interrupting] And they are on poverty wages.
- So what do you say to the CBI, the IOD, and all the other business organisations who say, "It's a fine idea. It will cost jobs. There will be many people who just don't get jobs because of this proposal"?
- I hate to sound like Mr Gradgrind but what will this cost for the public sector because presumably the public sector will have a huge on cost of paying higher wages. Do you know how much it's going to cost?
- [interrupting] How come?
- But if you become Prime Minister the biggest employer of all will be you, through the state, and it's going to cost the state quite a lot of money in terms of paying out higher wages.
- [interrupting] That's still 50p you haven't saved, of course, isn't it?
- Can I ask you about another couple of areas? What happens to hospitals on Day One of a new Labour government that isn't happening at the moment?
- Now you may think the NHS doesn't have enough money at the moment...do you, by the way?
- [interrupting] Nonetheless, the coalition government has ringfenced it to a certain amount. Last time round I don't think the Labour Party made a ringfencing promise for the NHS. Will you for the next parliament?
- [interrupting] And does that mean real term increases, year by year, for the NHS budget?
- Around the fringes of your conference...I've talked to lots of Labour Party people and many of them are saying, "This is all going to be great, it's going to work, but we do have to commit ourselves to substantial rises in taxation and revenue, otherwise the numbers don't add up. It's a horrible thing to have to do before an election. David Cameron will jump at you if you do it, but perhaps you do have to do it".
- [interrupting] It doesn't raise quite enough. [ie raising the top rate of tax to 50p]
- [interrupting] Are they any further ideas you have on tax?
- [interrupting] So you're going to have to go back to borrowing broadly. The IFS talks about a £12 million hole...
- In Scotland in the referendum 16 and 17 year olds voted. It seemed to go very well. They seemed to be well-educated. Is there any case against denying them the vote in future general elections in the UK?
- Will that be in the Labour manifesto?
- Since we've been talking about Scotland again, can I ask you, before you made the pledge on the front page of the Daily Record, did you talk to David Cameron about it? Did you have a conversation about what exactly you were promising?
- [interrupting] And did he at any stage raise the question of an English parliament or English votes?
- So this was news to you when you heard it on Friday morning?
- All right. Alistair Darling, in my interview with him just now, said he wanted...you know, he was by nature a player on the pitch not from the sidelines...Would you now like to see him back...? He's got his own decisions to take of course, but would you like to see him back at the top of Labour Party politics?
- [impersonating Gordon Brown]. "My name is Gordon Brown. I did very, very well. I gave a great, thumping speech. I saved the union. Now, Ed, I say to you, I say to you, I deserve a job too." Would you like to see him back at the top?
- Final question. If you fail to deliver on this promise, what happens to the Labour Party in Scotland?
- Just before we go to the news, why are you 20 points behind on the economy, despite everything you've said, do you think?
- Don't you think that many people who are watching and saying, "Yes, he's very, very good when he talks about redistribution but we really don't understand how he's going to make this country richer and more productive and support profits which we need"?
- And you're going to protect profits to allow that to happen?
- [interrupting] But we are still an indebted country. All those Scottish voters who said, "If we vote 'No' we are condemned to years of austerity, be it Labour austerity or Tory austerity, but it's going to be austerity", they were right, weren't they?
 54.15 End.

55.38 Sofa....
- This is, of course, a day of great solemnity in Salford when Mr Henning is still...we don't know about his fate. Is there anything that Labour Party policy would be different in compared to Conservative Party policy and have you re-thought your opposition to bombing in the area?
56.33 End.

- Just picking up on Iain's point, does it occur to you that you might be a Prime Minister at war in eight months time?
58.14 End.


- When I spoke to the UKIP leader last night I began by asking him if he had any more defectors lined up.
- Are you saying, therefore, this morning that you expect defectors from the Labour Party and more defections from the Conservative Party?
- Right. Now, I was looking at Mr Reckless's speech announcing his defection, and he said in that that the country was over-regulated and over-taxed, and in that context I'd like to ask you about your proposal to put 25% VAT on a wide range of what you call 'luxury goods'. First of all, have you worked out exactly how this will be done?
- That's very interesting. This is the fastest u-turn we've heard. Are you now saying that it is no longer a policy?
- So to be absolutely clear, the much-touted, much-discussed 25p luxury VAT is dead, as far as you're concerned?
- You made a great point of saying that UKIP now turned its tanks in both directions, on the Labour Party as much as on the Conservative Party. That means you have to win this forthcoming Northern by-election, don't you, really, to show that that's more than just words?
- But if this is kind of a populist revolution of the kind you were describing, and you compared it to what's happened in Scotland, then we ought to see an earthquake happening up there too, shouldn't we?
- You said yourself that if you were a young guy in Spain or Portugal you'd probably come here. You understood all of that. But what do you say to people like the IOD and many big businesses who say that our growth...Britain has growth of a kind that very few other countries in the world have achieve at the moment...is partly based on a huge supply of skilled, hard-working, educated and dedicated people coming to work here and that by doing...by closing the door you imperil our growth?
- I'm still slightly unclear as to whether your hostility to this is cultural or economic. If you are persuaded that Britain's economic growth at the moment required a higher level of immigration than you would like, would you be in favour of it, or would you still say, This is against the interests of British-born workers and, therefore, I want to stop the immigration"?
- Can I ask you just finally about your hostility to what's going on at the moment over the skies of Iraq and Syria? What's your message now that the vote has been taken to the RAF pilots and their families and their commanders?
- And, so, to be absolutely clear, you say there are just wars and unjust wars. Do you regard this one as an unjust war?
28.15 End.


- The big story of the morning really is still Iraq. General Richards, like many people in that very interesting House of Commons debate this week, have picked up on the fact that you can't defeat ISIL, or whatever we call them, without pushing into Syria. It can't just be done in Iraq alone. That's true, isn't it?
- You told the House of Commons, interestingly, two things: You said you wouldn't go into Syria, you wouldn't attack in Syria, without another motion, without returning to the Commons, but you also said that you reserve the right to order attacks if there was some terrible humanitarian disaster that needed to be dealt with very quickly. Now if ISIL are pushed into Syria we could very quickly see a humanitarian crisis there. So is it the case that you could order the RAF, as part of the coalition, into Syria without another vote?
- So we could go into Syria without another vote?
- [interrupting] Well actually, with respect, you haven't [answered that] because you've said a big crisis might emerge. This could happen tomorrow or next week in Syria as part of...a result of what's going on now in Iraq.
- OK, now, one of the other things that was talked about, again in the General Richards interview but again in the House of Commons as well by people like George Galloway is that ISIL are not like an army. They don't have barracks. They don't have columns of tanks you could hit from the air. They sit inside the population, hide themselves where civilians are quite deliberately and that, therefore, an air campaign is bound to kill lots of civilians by accident without necessarily degrading ISIL as much as you hope.
- Let's return to the question of boots on the ground. There are three possible armies involved on the ground: There's the Peshmerga, who are defending their own territory in Kurdistan; there's the Iraqi army, who've been frankly pretty useless so far and have run away most of the time; and there's the Free Syrian Army which, as George Galloway said, barely exists. So who are these boots going to be?
- Absolutely. But the army...you also need an army in Syria which can defeat ISIL and the army in Syria that can defeat ISIL, the only organised army really left standing, is Assad's army. Are we now on the point of having to do a deal with the devil, as it were, to get rid of something worse?
- OK, again in the House of Commons you were asked about British boots on the ground and you said, look, if a helicopter lands and needs to be refueled there will be British people refueling that helicopter. What about the Iraqi government and the Iraqi army? We're giving them lots of new kit. Don't we have to give them advisors and help in how to use that? Won't there be logistic aspects of that as well? Aren't there British boots on the ground, even if inside the boots there aren't actually combat troops?
- [interrupting] But we could have, for instance, special forces trying to get hostages out of a terrible situation?
- You see, a lot of your critics would say, this is the problem. It starts with air power. It starts with advisors, it...and then, like Vietnam, it escalates. You get sucked in. And you get sucked into something...It may be the right war to be fighting. It's certainly the right enemy to the fighting, but nonetheless you don't know where it's going to end and you don't know how deeply we're going to be drawn in. However much you at the moment don't want to be drawn in further, the logic of the war is that we will be.
- I come back finally to the border question, and not George Galloway but General Richards again - your favourite general at the moment, I'm sure: "You can't possibly defeat ISIS by only attacking them in Iraq", he says this morning. "How the hell can you win the war when most of your enemies end up in a country you can't get involved in?" That really is the question, isn't it?
- Got it. Let's turn to the Conservative Party conference. Did you have any idea that Mark Reckless was about to do what he's just done?
- [interrupting] Before we do, Douglas Carswell - who was a great supporter of yours. Why do you think you're losing these kind of people?
- [interrupting] Well, they say because you're not a proper Conservative in the end.
- [interrupting] Let's turn exactly to that strategy then, if we could, because...we've talked about this before but it's clear at the moment that the big issue is the free movement of people into this country from the rest of Europe. That is the thing that's setting the UKIP people alight. A lot of your own people are very, very concerned about it. Is that at the heart of your renegotiation policy, ending the open frontier?
- [interrupting] So you can do things about benefits but you can't do anything about the free movement of peoples inside the EU, and that won't be part of your negotiation stance?
- Are you determined that we will stay inside the EU?
- [interrupting] Straight question!
- [interrupting] But also they want to know what is your base position. You go there and you negotiate and if you don't get everything you want you say to the British people, "OK, I haven't got the deal. We should leave Europe" and like many of your colleagues who say, "There is a future for Britain outside Europe. It might be bumpy but in the end it will be fine", or you're determined to stay in Europe, basically - in which case it's must harder to get that negotiation successfully really?
- Are there any circumstances which you would go to the British public and say, "I, David Cameron, not Boris Johnson, not Nigel Farage, I David Cameron recommend that we leave the EU"?
- [interrupting] So if you don't get what you want you say to the British people, "It's time to go"?
- [interrupting] What if you dont'? [get what you want]
- All right, let's move on to something else that you said recently, which was right at the end of the Scottish vote. You came onto the street at Downing Street and said English devolution should happen at the same pace as and in tandem with Scottish devolution. Do you still agree with that?
- So, the reason I'm asking this is that the Labour Party don't agree with quite a lot of that. Other parties have a different view as well. It's a very, very complicated thing to deliver in a few months and, therefore, a lot of people in Scotland think, "Aha! This solemn promise on the front page of then newspaper won't be delivered because you and Ed Miliband will fall out and between you the Scottish thing won't be delivered."
- [interrupting] Well, come what may, whatever the arguments going on in London about English parliaments and English votes for English laws and all that, however that's going, the Scots will get the given promise, under all circumstances?
- OK, that's very clear. Thank you very much indeed for that. And, speaking of which, do you now favour an English parliament as such, and where would it sit?
- Now, your big announcement this morning is about using money from welfare cuts to boost the number of apprenticeships. Can I ask you? You're cutting the welfare cap to £23,000. What evidence do you have that lots of families are going to be able to cope with £3,000 less?
- [interrupting] One other question. Are we moving towards a situation where nobody under the age of 21 gets any kind of benefits at all? Because that's what it looks like.
- [interrupting] But pretty close [in response to "It's not quite as simple as that"].
- [interrupting] I understand the logic behind it but...48% of these people, 48% of these people have children, so my question to you is: Are you not going to put...I mean for the best possible motives no doubt...but put a large section of the young population of the country into dire poverty quite quickly with this?
- [interrupting] And their parents essentially having to support them.
54.59 End.

- Prime Minister, the other thing I must still ask you about is that moment about when you were overheard talking about the Queen purring with pleasure. Presumably she was furious because she'd been trying really hard to keep out of that debate all the way through. What were you thinking of?
- [interrupting] Are you ashamed about it?
- Are you ashamed about it?
- Yes, and have you repaired things with the palace?
- [interrupting] Ever again.
- All right. Now, you said a little while ago that you were delighted to see Boris back..He's on his way back to the pitch. Once he gets onto the pitch, if the team wins, would you like him back in the cabinet as well?
- OK. You come to this conference with a couple of defections, a minor sex scandal and the problems inside the party. People are muttering, "Final years of John Major". Does that make you quake? Or does it make you angry? How does it make you feel?
58.17 End.

Sunday 28 September 2014

A scandalous bishop, blasphemy in Pakistan, Opus Dei, atheist evangelicalism, R.E., abortion in Brazil and someone ranting against the West over Iraq

It's been quite the day for 'good old-fashioned' newspaper sex scandal exposés, hasn't it? 

First there was Conservative MP Brooks Newmark being forced to resign over some lewd photos he sent to an undercover reporter at the Sunday Mirror, which (along with the defection of Mark Reckless to UKIP) is, understandably, dominating the headlines of pretty much every media organisation in the country. 

Then came the Mail on Sunday's exposé of a leading Catholic bishop for having an affair with at least one one woman. The bishop has now resigned. 

That story led this morning's Sunday on Radio 4, so it's time for the usual review of that programme.

Kieran Conry, the Bishop of Arundel and Brighton [above], is a leading liberal voice within the English Catholic Church and, as a result, has long been a repeated target for criticism from conservative Catholic bloggers. Damian Thompson called him "the [liberal Catholic] Tablet's favourite bishop" and noted his appearance on a particularly biased edition of Sunday back in 2010:
From the strictly impartial BBC Sunday programme at Cofton Park, a classic discussion of the subject of women priests between Tablet editorial consultant Clifford Longley, Tablet director Tina Beattie and the Tablet's favourite bishop, Kieran Conry of Arundel and Brighton – chaired by Tablet trustee Ed Stourton.
That sort of thing prompted one of my first posts at Is the BBC biased?, 'Take One 'Tablet' Three Times a Day', and caused something of a storm - and a significant falling-off of guests from The Tablet thereafter. It was a blatant case of bias, exposed and then rectified by the BBC - i.e. a result!

Bishop Conry's unhappy story was the opening item on this morning's Sunday. Edward Stourton discussed the matter with Catherine Pepinster, editor of the Tablet (who else?). My goodness, they sounded as if they had rather heavy hearts. Catherine paid him a handsome tribute.

From Catholic matters, Sunday moved next to the plight of Muhammad Asghar, the British man with a history of mental illness who has been sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan for sending letters claiming to be (the prophet) Mohammed. Now he's been shot by a prison guard in jail. Edward Stourton talked to BBC Pakistan correspondent Shaimaa Khalil [below] about the story. 

She talked about "the sensitivity and danger" that faces anyone who dares to confront this issue. Many Pakistanis even think that it's blasphemous for lawyers to defend people on blasphemy charges, and there have been several high-profile assassinations of would-be reformers of the blasphemy law there. 

It was then back to Catholic matters, as Sunday discussed the beatification in Madrid of Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, former leader of the Opus Dei movement. 200,000 people from 80 countries attended. If he becomes a saint he'll be the second saint associated with that particular Catholic movement. Bishop Alvaro took over the movement in 1975 after the death of its founder, Saint Josemaría Escrivá. Opus Dei's Jack Valero (also of Catholic Voices), something of a Sunday regular [often as the only non-socially-liberal voice on panels], told Edward Stourton about his life - details such as that Pope John Paul II only ever attended two peoples' wakes as pope - one of the doctor who cured him after his assassination attempt, and the other Bishop Alvaro. Jack Valero praised him for bringing the laity to the fore and placing the clergy in a subservient role, in the spirit of Vatican II. 

His miracle was the cure of a little baby born in Chile in 2003 with heart problems. The baby's heart had stopped for half an heart. The doctors wanted to stop treating him but his mother prayed to Bishop Alvaro [below, with John Paul II] and the boy recovered with no brain damage. The doctor, an atheist, couldn't account for it. Thus, it was a miracle. 

Sunday reported last year on a couple of comedians who were setting up atheist churches. 

There are now over 60 of these Sunday Assemblies, so-called Godless congregations, opening across the world and there's a poster campaign in the London Underground from the British Humanist Association too. So what's with all this "atheist evangelisation"? 

Kevin Bouquet reported.

Instead of hymns the Sunday Assembly movement sing pop songs (like 'Blame It on the Boogie') and have talks, poetry readings, meditation periods, and tea and biscuits. But no God. They are unabashed about having "stolen" the form from traditional religious services.

We heard from supporters (non-believers) and sceptics (believers). Sunday regular Andrew Copson of the BHA appeared during the report too.

According to the last census, there are 14 million atheists in England and Wales. 

From atheism to R.E. A review of Religious Education in Church of England schools has found that the teaching of RE is "not good enough" in 60% of their primary schools. The author of the report, Alan Brine [below], was interviewed by Ed Stourton. 

Mr Brine told him that R.E. in Church secondary schools is fine. It's just Church primary schools. His explanation? A confusion about its purpose, and a lack of subject knowledge and background training from some of the teachers, he said. Because of that Christianity is often boiled down to "a narrow diet of Bible stories". 

For Mr Brine a proper religious education would inculcate an understanding of the key ideas, concepts, theology and practice of various religious traditions (Christian and non-Christian). He sees what children are getting now as being mostly "superficial bits of information which don't always add up to a coherent grasp". 

At secondary school well-trained teachers who understand their subject ride to the rescue, somewhat.

Edward then discussed it with Sunday's favourite bishop, John Pritchard, the Bishop of Oxford, who heads the Church's body looking at such matters. 

John Pritchard, often heard on Sunday denouncing the government's welfare reforms, called on the government to train more R.E. teachers, and get more R.E. teachers into primary schools. 

A quarter of schools in England are C of E ones.

Sunday then turned to the Brazilian elections, looking specifically at the issue of abortion

I was interested in hearing how Sunday would report this, given Today editor's statement about the BBC having a 'liberalising groupthink' about such issues. Ed framed the story as being about how "Brazil's strict anti-abortion laws have come under scrutiny once again following the recent deaths of two women who sought illegal terminations". 

One of the two front-runners, Marina Silva [above] of the Socialist Party (pitted against Dilma Rousseff of the Workers Party), is an evangelical Christian who opposes abortion but says she will hold a referendum on the subject. 

The BBC's Bruce Douglas noted, as I hoped he would, that opinion polls show 80% support for keeping abortion illegal, so that's a plus. 

His first 'talking head' was a woman from a reproductive rights organisation calling for reform. She made a substantive case for his side of the argument. His second 'talking head' was a pro-life pastor who says that Marina Silva is much more sensitive to the 'right to life' issues than Dilma Rousseff, and was largely quoted talking about the politics of the matter. His third 'talking head' was a journalist who had an illegal abortion herself and also wants reform, calling the 80% who support abortion "hypocrites." She got the closing word, left hanging (damningly) in the air. 

Because of that imbalance and that telling habit of giving the last word to the socially-liberal side of the argument, I'll pronounce that report 'somewhat biased' in the BBC's 'liberalising groupthink' manner.

Finally, it was onto military action against Islamic State and a discussion between the former head of the British Army, Lord Richard Dannatt, and a Manchester imam, Asad Zaman. The subject was 'the moral foundation for military action'. 

Lord Dannatt said we don't have to think too hard or long to see it is morally right, given what Islamic State have done. He says it's also legally right. 

Asad Zaman said "we've heard it all before". "We just seem to have an insatiable appetite for Iraqi blood", he ranted. He said we have no chance of defeating them and we've been kicked out before, "having slaughtered so many people". 

He also said we aren't "in any way" being threatened by Islamic State. When Ed reminded him about our hostages - one of whom has already been beheaded - he rushed out that 'our prayers' are with Alan Henning and his family and then sped on about how it's not our business.  

Lord Dannatt said he disagreed with virtually everything Asad Zaman said, but Ed stopped him from explaining why. 

Asad Zaman said that we need to understand the situation, which is (according to him) that "the extremist Shia Iraqi government, we, the Americans...the pro-Iranian Shia government that the Americans have planted within Iraq who have kicked the Sunnis and the Kurds out of the power-sharing and the resources of Iraq...(etc)", and empower the Sunni heartlands. He then went back to the Americans and the extremist Iraqi government again. 

Thus speaks the voice of moderate Sunni Islam in Manchester, denouncing the West in hysterical terms and seeming to play the sectarian card. Even Ed Stourton sounded a little uncomfortable. 

Questions, Questions - 'Newsnight'

My old 2009-10 blog about BBC bias had a Unique Selling Point [not that it helped sell it much!] in the form of my thousand+ survey of all political interviews across a spectrum of BBC current affairs programmes over many months, counting the number of interruptions politicians received from BBC interviewers and then seeing if a pattern of bias emerged. (It did.

What was deliberately missed out of that survey was the content of the interviewer's questions. In order to avoid the dangers of subjectivity as much as possible, all interruptions were considered equal. The supposed motivation behind each interruption was ignored, as was the character of each question and the manner in which it was put. 

Is the BBC biased? has had no such U.S.P., but maybe it needs one, and one that looks at one of the thing my last one missed - namely the content of BBC interviewers' questions. 

After all, often on BBC-monitoring sites like this, or in the comments fields of online newspapers, commenters repeatedly claim that BBC interviewers ask biased questions, and that the bias of certain BBC interviewers shows itself in the questions they choose to ask. Monitoring all the questions asked by a range of interviewers over a set time might then either prove or disprove those charges of bias. Perhaps. 

Of course, that wouldn't pick up on tone, or raised eyebrows, or other such things that people who claim BBC bias pick up upon, but it would lay out for all to see exactly what questions were asked by a particular interviewer or a particular programme over a set period or regarding comparable interviewers over a number of programmes and, thereby, be open to scrutiny.

I thought I'd try it out of last week's Newsnight, writing down all the questions put by the programme's three presenters - Emily Maitlis, Laura Kuenssberg and Kirsty Wark - during the course of a whole week's worth of programmes. 

To make then comprehensible (without the replies), I've added some context [in brackets and italics] where a bit of context might be helpful. 

The main topics were, of course, military action against Islamic State and the Labour Party Conference, though there were interviews too about Scotland, artistic freedom and watching films on iPhones.

Please read them for yourselves with an open mind. See if you can see bias. I'll add my conclusions at the end (which will require a lot of scrolling if you can't be bothered to read all the questions!).

Right, here goes!:


Monday 22nd September

Laura Kuenssberg

On the Labour Party Conference:
To Allegra Stratton, BBC:
- What's he [Ed Miliband] going to say?
- It's still, though, talking about introducing new taxes - not always popular. Will this help?

On the Labour Party Conference:
To Tristram Hunt MP, Labour:
- This should be a very big moment - we're just seven months out from the election - but instead today we've had senior figures, people like John Denham, Ben Bradshaw, focus today on what appears to be a gap in the party's response to a very old problem.
- But what is also part of that conversation, loud and clear from these senior figures in the party, is that Labour must say...and must say now..."Do you know what? The situation where Scottish Labour MPs can vote on things that don't have anything to do with their constituents has to come to an end".
- Except, Tristram Hunt, there are already two-tier MPs. There are already some of your colleagues able to vote on questions that effect your constituents that don't effect their constituents. Now, why does the Labour leadership find it so difficult to say that, in simple terms, that's not fair?
- But lots of your own side are saying you at least have to acknowledge that this is an issue. Now, there are problems. There are a lot of people who might agree with your analysis that what David Cameron is trying to do is rushed, it's too quick, you have to do these things gradually, but on the point of principle rather than process surely it is time...Why is it so difficult for the leadership to acknowledge it's not fair?
- But if you make a promise about a public conversation that will last six years, as the party has suggested, aren't you just then laying the door wide open for UKIP and your opponents, the Conservatives, to make a very big play of saying that the Labour Party doesn't want to pay much attention to what English people want? A new poll tonight for ComRes suggests 65% of people think it is the time NOW for Scottish MPs to stop voting on English-only matters.
- [interrupting] But is it unpatriotic to say what Ben Bradshaw and John Denham are saying then, saying that you have to address this issue? That seems to be what you're suggesting.
- But again there, you see, you're talking about the overall process - it maybe needs to take a longer time, we need to have a wider look at the issues - but on a simple point for most members of the public you either think it's fair or it's unfair.
- As a historian maybe it's your view we just have to accept this is a misnomer of our unwritten constitution. Is that right? Your just have to accept it, it's a messy situation?
- Very briefly, would it be simpler then if we - once you've had your constitutional convention - if we wrote some of these things down and had a written constitution so that everybody knew where the stood?
- Well, let's move on. Beyond this tangle, there are two big challenges for Ed Miliband this week. One, the question of economic credibility and also of his own credibility. Now, four years ago, he won the leadership from his brother, here in this building. You didn't support him then four years ago. What has he done since then to convince you that he's the right leader?
- And  maybe some of those policies are cutting through, maybe some of your policies on schools are cutting through, because the party is pretty consistently, if narrowly, ahead in the polls. But, again, consistently Ed Miliband himself is way behind in his own ratings. Why is that, do you think?
- Except popularity ratings do determine whether or not people can actually win elections. I mean, I think we can have a look...and you can have a look at this...It's some of the previous ratings. This is the position of leaders of the opposition one year before an election. Cameron, Blair, Thatcher, all way ahead. Ed Miliband, down there, is only just ahead of Michael Foot. Less popular that Michael Howard was before 2005. Less popular than Neil Kinnock in 1986 and 1991. Less popular than William Hague when he was trying to be elected. Now, this matters because those leaders didn't win.
- [interrupting] That would be a record too! [getting back into office after one term]
- [interrupting] You're not bothered?
- But you can say...you sit there this week and say, as a frontbencher who hopes to become Education Secretary, or any other job that might be bestowed on you if Labour won, that it doesn't bother you that Ed Miliband is less popular than Nick Clegg? Less popular than Nigel Farage? It's very easy to sit and say, 'Oh, it doesn't matter". But it does if it means you won't win the election.
- And we'll come onto that in just a second, but do you think that people haven't understood Ed Miliband then? You've sat there and made a very good argument for him. Have they misunderstood him?
- [interrupting] Lots of your colleagues are! ["interested in this debate"]
- He has to show, as you've indicated, that he can be trusted to run the economy. Now Ed Balls made a promise today on child benefit that would save, by Labour's own estimation, only about £400 million. It sounds like a lot, but in the context of what you have to do it's small beer. And, again, in the economic polling, the party's way behind. Isn't it the truth that you're still very far back on the journey to show that Labour could be trusted with the economy again?
- [interrupting] Well, they've done more to restore the public finances than...[after TH had accused the present government of having "shot to pieces our public finances"]
- [interrupting] But in terms of what would happen after the next general election, right now they would deal with the deficit to a tune of £37 billion, that they'd either have to cut in tax...cut from public spending or raise in tax...and you're looking only at the equivalent of about £9 billion. Now, there's a clear difference in the pace with which you deal with the deficit.
- But on a brief point there, will your brief - the education budget - be ringfenced?
- [interrupting] So you don't know if it is?
- [interrupting] So it sounds as if you're hopeful of a ringfence but you don't have one yet. Just briefly...
...He [Ed Balls] knows where all the money is for that department. Just finally, isn't part of this problem...and when you speak to the people in this hall... they know that when they go out on the doorsteps people don't really trust Labour on the economy again yet. They know that. Isn't part of the problem that there's never been a real moment when, since the last election, when the party looked the electorate in the eye said, 'We were part of the problem. We spent too much'? David Miliband, who you wanted to be the leader, planned to say that if he'd won. Wouldn't it have been better if that had been said?

On the Labour Party Conference:
To a panel consisting of Rachel Sylvester, The Times; Lionel Barber, the FT; and Kate Pickett, author of The Spirit Level: 
- Rachel, you've been very scathing about Ed Miliband in the past...also about David Cameron...but Ed Miliband in the past. What do you think he has to do this week? What can he do this week?
- To go back to the centre ground. Lionel Barber, they also have to work on that economic credibility. Now, you're imbued with the City, you talk to people in business all the time. How far is the Labour Party on that journey back to restoring trust on the economy?
- But they [Labour] are already having to unpick some of the things they've done before. Kate, part of that though is what you've seen today...is Ed Balls' policy on child benefit, for example, but that surely doesn't sit very well with people as part of the core vote, people on the left of the Labour Party, or even traditional Labour?
- But, Rachel, here's the difficulty though, right here, all three of you are saying he's got to do three different things. You're saying he's got to reach out to the centre ground, people not traditional Labour, Lionel says he's got to...
- And is it possible, Kate, to do both of those things then an appeal....shore up the traditional Labour votes?
- Rachel?
- Lionel Barber?
- Has he then had such a rap on the knuckles from the business community about the energy price freeze that he promised last year, the predator idea that...so had that kind of pressure got to him, do you think?
- Does that actually look like though, Rachel Sylvester...well, you say he's got to reach out to win in England...but with what?
- But if he just talks about the NHS doesn't that look like he's just reverting to core votes? The unions always want there to be...
- Lionel, briefly. The FT supported Labour actually for quite a long period...I think from 1992 up until the 2010 election, when they then backed the Conservatives...Can you see the paper supporting a Labour Party with Ed Miliband as the leader?
- It was worth a try! [as Lionel refuses to say!]
- Very briefly Kate.

On fighting Islamic State: 
To Jack Straw, former Labour Foreign Secretary:
- You've been watching all of this very closely, I know. The President has said that every country on earth must do something in this battle. Are we doing enough?
- But we are now seeing the French already undertaking airstrikes while we, the holder of the Special Relationship, haven't acted in that way. Don't we look like we're dragging our feet?
- But do you think this week that David Cameron ought to...will he be talking to the Iranians on the sidelines, do you think?
- But it's also not a monoculture, politically, here. Now, how do you think the mood of the Labour Party would be if Ed Miliband were to says, yes, we have to get involved here, yes, even perhaps - as Tony Blair has suggested - not ruling out ground troops?
- [interrupting] But in terms of ruling out boots on the ground your former colleague [Tony Blair] has been very clear: Isis...dealing with Isis requires ground troops and Britain ought not to rule that out, even though it's more ideal for the regional neighbours to do it.
- [interrupting] But you're clear that would be politically impossible?
- Very briefly, very briefly. How different would Labour's foreign policy be under Ed Miliband, if in seven months time he does become prime minister?
- Compared with you?

Tuesday 23nd September

Emily Maitlis

On air strikes against Islamic State in Syria
To Mark Urban, BBC:
Do the Americans, Mark, have permission to do this?
And where do you think that leaves the UK? Interesting to hear Michael Clarke saying he thinks David Cameron will find it hard to refuse.
- Looking at the timetable then, how much appetite do you think there would be from a British parliament for any action...any intervention now?

On air strikes against Islamic State in Syria
To the Bahraini Foreign Minister, Shaikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Bin Mohammed Al-Khalifa:
- What has Bahrain done so far? What do you understand has been achieved?
- When you say "part of" does it seem America is taking the lead, or does that seem to be the Arab peninsula? How does the coalition work?
- Do you think...do you agree with the guest on our programme who said there has been previously too much reluctance from the Arab powers to support the Baghdad government before now?
- Just help us to understand now, on a practical level, what level of coordination do you have now with Syria to make sure they don't shoot you down?
- So there has been no contact between your coalition and the Syrian government? Assad?
- Are you concerned that if this is a success as you hope it will help Assad?
- And when you look at the new relations that this is creating now, you find yourself on the same side as Iran. Now, for Bahrain that must be very odd?
- Sorry to interrupting, but what you be your message to Britain tonight as it considers whether to be in or not? Is Britain important to this?
- Does that mean military intervention? Do you want to see it fighting?

On air strikes against Islamic State in Syria
To Adam Holloway MP, Conservative {who opposes intervention} and Geoffrey Robertson, former UN appeal judge {who supports intervention}:
- Does it feel to you, Adam Holloway, like we're heading to war, that we are vital?
- [to AH] So what are you saying? Don't go in?
- [to AH, interrupting] But what about Syria? Should we be bombing there?
- Geoffrey Robertson, first question is: Is it legal?
- [interrupting] Adam Holloway, as a military man, if you don't go in to stop genocide when do you deploy your forces?
- [to AH, interrupting] And if they can't? [ie the locals getting rid of Islamic State themselves]
- Geoffrey Robertson, why do Labour talk about the need to seek a resolution?
- [interrupting, to AH] Geoffrey has got...that is right. The feel of this is very different for the British public, isn't it? I mean, I don't know amongst your Conservative peers how many of them would agree with your position right now. What do you think?
- [interrupting, to GR] And the funding [for IS] is another big question.

Laura Kuenssberg

On Ed Miliband's speech at the Labour Conference
To Liz Kendall MP, Labour:
- Liz, first of all, can we be clear: Did Ed Miliband actually forget to mention the deficit?
- Even if, as might be understandable in such a long speech, trying to do it without notes, he just happened to forget a particular passage, which is now available for all to see on the Labour website, isn't it very telling that that issue is not at the forefront of his mind?
- But Liz Kendall, there was not any of that [talk of living within our means] in the speech. Surely to reestablish economic credibility, which everyone agrees Ed Miliband has to do for the Labour Party, there had to be language about hard choices? And if you read what he meant to say about the deficit it was a matter of three or four lines just saying "I promise we'll get on with it".
- [interrupting] He talked about a new tax to put more money in! [into the NHS]
- But hasn't he just given the Conservatives all the ammunition they need for the next six months? They can say Ed Miliband forgot the deficit.
- In the hall, however, the huge rounds of applause - which were pretty few and far between - were for those attacks on bankers or for the support for the NHS. Isn't it really the case that speech was about the core votes? It was about about the 35%?
-  I use the NHS, but I'm not sure we should all be making assumptions about anyone else! [in response to LK asking, "I take it you're a middle class person. Do you use the NHS?"]
- In terms though of those messages about aspiration...you know, you've written for the pressure group Progress about the importance of having that message of aspiration. Where was that in his speech?

On Ed Miliband's speech at the Labour Conference
To Phil Collins, The Times and Jenni Russell, Evening Standard:
- Now, Liz Kendall, in a sense she's got to sound upbeat, Phil Collins, you used to write these for a living. You wrote some of Tony Blair's speeches. What did you make of it?
- [to PC] Maybe she should have been on the platform! [after PC said Liz Kendall had done a much better job just now than Ed Miliband at explaining Labour's position on the deficit]
- Jenni, what do you make of that? Do you agree? [that not mentioning the deficit was a big mistake]. Is it the new Liam Byrne note saying, "Sorry, there's no money left"?
- Is it then, Phil Collins, the 35% strategy? You shore up the core and that gets you through the door of Number 10?
- Jenni?
- And, perhaps though, I mean, the scepticism in this conference hall afterwards was pretty high, to be honest with it, the chat had been quite flat, it didn't really do that much to alter things for him, except that people have underestimated Ed Miliband before, nobody really thought he was going to beat his brother and Labour's still ahead in the polls?
- Very briefly, because we're almost out of time, didn't anything happen on the stage today that actually shifts the dial in terms of the election?

Emily Maitlis

On Ed Miliband's speech at the Labour Conference

To Gareth, a software developer mentioned in Ed Miliband's speech after Ed met him on Hampstead Heath. Shown the speech he says it's the first conference speech he's ever seen and hope it will also be the last!:
- Do you mean you are not a convert?
- When did...you met him on the heath a few weeks and then they told you you were going to be in the speech?
- Did you tell people you were going to be mentioned?
- Did he convince you, I mean, on a personal level?
- Leaving the secrecy of the ballot box aside for one second, would it make you...would that meeting actually turn your mind. Would you even vote Labour?
- And fame awaits, presumably?

Wednesday 24th September

Emily Maitlis

On airstrikes against Islamic State

To Allegra Stratton, BBC:
- And it feels from that language [of David Cameron] that it's a done deal? [the upcoming parliamentary vote]
- So are we expecting any rebellion on this? Is it limited, isn't it? It's just limited to Iraq?

On airstrikes against Islamic State
To Mark Urban, BBC:
- And Mark, first of all, how important is this question of legality to the British government?
- Now, I called Obama's speech 'a call to war' earlier today. How big does he think this coalition could get?

On airstrikes against Islamic State
To Lord Malloch-Brown, Labour and Rory Stewart MP, Conservative:
- And, Rory Stewart, I'm wondering if you heard "a confidence assertion of American leadership" - that phrase Mark used from Obama's speech?
- [to RS] He has got the regional powers involved though. It looks like he's got the UK too. You would expect the UK to follow suit presumably and agree to strikes, would you?
- Mark Malloch-Brown, on a UN level now, what is the process? Does this go round in circles looking for resolution, like last time or...?
- [to MM-B, interrupting] Are we wrong to separate the one from the other then? [ie IS in Syria and IS in Iraq]
- [to MM-B] What about the whole question of the UN Security Council then, China and Russia traditionally opposing what the Western powers do? That's not going to happen here? It's not even going to go to council?
- [to RS] And do you think the defeat of ISIS is possible?
- [to RS]  It's always tempting to look backwards and try and see the place where this could have been solved but, when you're looking at the political problems that Obama now faces, was he wrong to pull out of the surge when he came to power? Does that seem to you to be fundamental to the problem that's growing up now? [RS thinks Obama made the right move.]
- [to RS, interrupting] But it's a mess now.
- [to MM-B] The diplomacy element of this between the US and the UK. Clearly America will be happy to have us on board, as far as that goes tonight, but we're just a minor player, aren't we, and we've already put caveats on? How useful are we?

On a British jihadi killed in an airstrike on Islamic State
To Secunder Kermani, BBC:
- Sec, a French hostage was killed by a group also linked to ISIL. What more do we know about that today?

On airstrikes against Islamic State
To Marie Harf, US State Department
- Your response to Britain's position tonight? Can you fight ISIS in Iraq and not in Syria?
- It seems extraordinary that in 2009 Obama came with this new chapter in US international relations and the language tonight is pretty much the call of war. Is there acceptance now that the only way to fight terror is militarily?
- And yet this was the man who defied the words of John McCain when he was running for president, stopped the surge, pulled those soldiers out at a time when they could have stopped the mess that we're in now. Isn't that the legacy?
- Well, it's very interesting when you talk about targetted military operations because I don't know if you heard our correspondent just then who said, look, the US has targetted ISIS but it's also targetted groups like Jabhat al-Nusra who were fighting ISIS. You have to decide if you're prepared to push two opposing groups closer together to create a greater ISIS force.
- And realistically - and we know that President Obama has said this is just the beginning - this will amount to boots on the ground in some form, won't it?
- [interrupting] Never?

On airstrikes against Islamic State
To Dominic Grieve MP, Conservative {on comparisons to this campaign with the Iraq War, legal-wise}:
- It's much more straightforward this time, wouldn't you agree?
- But why then would you rule out Syria from what you've just said?
- I mean, just to make that clear: If we don't follow up action in Syria, what we're essentially doing is an operation to get ISIS out of Iraq and nothing more, right?
- [interrupting] But militarily very ineffective?
- [interrupting] OK, so when you talk about criteria, that's what you're saying. You're saying you wouldn't do Syria without going through the whole chapter literally and the resolution is passed?
- [interrupting] You're not? [ie saying there has to be a full UN resolution]
- I mean, if America is already in Syria, what does that say about the legality? Are they doing something illegal that we're not following? Or is it OK for them but not for us? I'm...what?
- Is is your gut feeling though, from a moral interventionist perspective, that David Cameron would want to go into Syria, and that we probably will?
- All right, let's leave the morality aside. Do you think we could go into Syria?

Kirsty Wark

On Scottish post-referendum politics

To Nicola Sturgeon MSP, SNP:
Nicola Sturgeon, barring a thunderbolt you will be First Minister of Scotland.
- I think it's fair to say that on the night you thought you'd won the vote?
- And were you already preparing negotiations?
- But it is interesting that right up to, you know, the first poll that came out after the vote closed you thought you'd won?
- You said this morning that you would take a different approach from Alex Salmond. What does that actually mean?
- [interrupting] Do you think that's partly because Alex was quite pugnacious?
- Do you accept that the majority of people in Scotland, as of now, do not want independence?
- Do you think though, as Alex Salmond seems to think, that this issue is over for a generation?
- So you're not planning a referendum soon, but you're not ruling it out, for example, in the next five years?
- You've said that what Gordon Brown and Co. promised on behalf of, your know, Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives, was 'home rule towards federalism'. What do you actually mean by that?
- What are you actually going to ask for?
- Do you think, as one of your MSPs, Pete Wishart's, been blogging that you should go into the general election on a Devo Max ticket? Now, by that I mean everything devolved bar foreign affairs, defence and macroeconomics?
- This scenario was talked about a lot during the referendum campaign: That there is an incoming Conservative government who are committed to a referendum on Europe and in the course of that referendum England votes to leave and Scotland votes to stay. Do you think that would be seen as a UK-wide single return as it were, or do you think there would be grounds then for going after a referendum in that event?
- In your opinion, do you think people in Scotland would want to leave Europe?
- SNP MPs don't vote on English legislation. Should Labour MPs be doing the same?
- Do you believe that you'll be First Minister of an independent Scotland one day?

Thursday 25th September

Kirsty Wark

On the arrest of Anjem Choudary and other Muslim extremists
To Richard Watson, BBC:
- Richard Watson, first of all, what do you know about any networks that Anjem Choudary was involved with?
- So why arrest them now?
- You talked about hostages, the FBI say today that actually they have identified the man...the so-called 'Jihadi John', the man who's been responsible for the deaths of Western hostages.

On airstrikes against Islamic State
To General Sir Richard Shirreff, NATO Deputy Supreme Commander, 2010-14
- It is very likely that parliament will pass this motion tomorrow and, therefore, British warplanes will fly alongside others in this coalition...this so-called coalition of the willing. Will airstrikes defeat IS?
- [interrupting] Which is exactly what Ambassador Crocker says we've done [ruling things out].
- And part of that is certainly going to be done, but when you look at what's up tomorrow - ruling out going over the Iraqi border, ruling out any combat troops on the ground, and ruling out, as it were, a grand strategy - why do you think there is this reluctance?
- If we look like Johnny-come-latelies though, is it partly because...you say after Iraq and Afghanistan...is that actually the mood of the British people if not to get involved in the long haul and not, you know, to see British casualties?
- So, I mean, you were, you know, a senior commander in Southern Iraq and, as you say, the experience of Iraq particularly was not a happy one in terms of that intervention. If we need to train and so forth, how do we need to approach this, as a bigger problem, in order to solve the problem of IS? Who needs to be involved?
- Well, you're talking about the Iraqi army. We saw what happened with the Iraqi army in Mosul, who literally ran away in the face of IS. Now, if you're talking about shoring up the Iraqi army that's not going to happen in three months?
- [interruptingCan it be done? You were there!
- If necessary you have to fight together, and the key thing: You cannot rule out British forces fighting?

On airstrikes against Islamic State
To Mark Urban, BBC:
- Mark, what have you been hearing about plans for the coalition in terms of any kind of ground operation?
- And in your assessment, where do the Iranians position themselves? Are they in this coalition or not?

On Iran's position vis a vis the action against Islamic State
To Professor Mohammad Marandi, University of Tehran and Monzer Akbik, Syrian National Coalition 
- Professor Marandi, just picking up what Mark Urban was saying there, on Newsnight last week we reported a very senior Iranian commander in Iraq helping the Iraqi army. Is Iran likely to be, as it were, even an unofficial member of the coalition fighting IS?
- [to MM] However, as Mark Urban also said, you can see a situation now, Professor, that actually you could see America and Iran as allies in fighting IS?
- [interrupting] Let me bring our guest here in London...Let me just ask you, Monzer Akbik, which is your biggest enemy? Is it Assad or is it IS?
- [to MA] But, as we heard from Nick Hopkins, the FSA is in disarray, the leadership has been disbanded, you've retreated from Homs, you know, in Aleppo you're fighting to the bitter end. You need help, and you've got the Iranians calling you part of the terrorist problem.
- [interrupting, to MA] But you are now going to get half a billion dollars from the Americans, aren't you, for arms, to train you and so forth?
- [interrupting, to MA] But you're not, to be fair though, it would be fair to say at the moment you are not up to the job and yet what the coalition is really doing is putting its faith in you to take on IS in Syria. Is that realistic?
- [to MM] Professor Marandi, very quickly, can I just ask you whether you think that supporting the FSA will be an aid to defeating IS in Syria?

On airstrikes against Islamic State
To Alistair Burt MP, Conservative:
- Alistair Burt, I take it you're behind the motion tomorrow?
- It is illogical, isn't it..it doesn't really look like a plan? You'll have heard Sir Richard Shirreff earlier saying that actually to join in airstrikes with other members of the coalition and to limit them to the Iraqi border. not to put troops on the ground, isn't a strategy?
- But it is extraordinary exactly how much change there has been in a year, because you were disappointed because you couldn't get support...very disappointed because you couldn't get support to hit President Assad last year and now Britain seems to be suggesting that you can't actually have airstrikes over Syria because President Assad hasn't exactly let you in. But the Americans don't seem to have had any qualms about that. The others don't seem to have any...so why on earth should Britain?
- One final point. What Sir Richard also said is that the best way to sort this out in Iraq is to work again with the Iraqi army, shore them up, give them the capability. That will mean British forces training them, perhaps even fighting alongside them. Will the British, will the government wear that? Will the British public wear that?

On limits to artistic freedom
To Kandy Rohmann, actress, Exhibit B  and Sara Myers, Boycott the Human Zoo campaign, following the pulling of an exhibition on slavery featuring 'human zoo' exhibits of Black Africans:
- First of all, Kandy, what was the value to you of this exhibition?
- [to SM] Why did you want an exhibition like this shut down?
- [to SM, interrupting] Withdrawn? Withdrawn, shut down?
- [to SM] Do you think there should be limits to artistic freedom? Shouldn't it be up to artists, in a way, to break taboos?
- [to SM, interrupting] Like what?
- [to SM, interrupting] But if it happened before presumably you'd have felt that you actually wanted to alter the artist's vision in some way, that you...
- [to SM] No? So you might have been happy to see the exhibition stand as it is?
- [to SM, interrupting] Let's take one example, let's take one example - that a French colonial military man used to tie up African women and rape them and in that way they'd get money to feed their children. So, therefore, the dilemma for them [was if they didn't] want their children [to] starve they [would] put up with this. Are you saying that what you want to do on that example was to have a white representation there of...?
- [to KR] Would that be too literal, or not?
- [to SM] Do you think there is any relevance in your critique of this that the artist is white? That he is a privileged South African?
- [to SM, interrupting] Does that make a difference to you?
- [to KR] Do you accept that for some people it would...it might be offensive for this portrayal to...?

Friday 26th September

Kirsty Wark

On British military action against Islamic State

To Michael Fallon MP, Conservative, Defence Secretary:
- How soon will British bombs be falling in Iraq?
- Syrian strikes, airstrikes, were expressly ruled out. Would you rather that you were able to have the ability to drop British bombs on Syria?
- Do you accept what Ming Campbell said...a lawyer and former Liberal Democrat leader, that actually there's no legal bar to you dropping bombs on Syria, that there's no legal bar to you doing it just now?
- But you're not, in a sense, going into Syria to do anything about overturning the state. You're going in to help, if you were going in, the Iraqi government deal with ISIL?
- Could you imagine a situation where something really terrible was happening and you had to send British warplanes from Iraq into Syria?
- The FBI said yesterday that they know who 'Jihadi John' is. Do you now know who he is?
- At what point might the British government release his name though?
- Do you accept that the passing of this motion today puts Alan Henning and John Cantle in possibly greater danger?
- Finally, at the moment IS controls a quarter of Iraq. What does success look like? What is, as it were, the endgame in all this?
- [interrupting] On existing borders?

On British military action against Islamic State
To Patrick Cockburn, The Independent; former Labour MP Clare Short; and Labour MP John Woodcock:
- First of all, John Woodcock, I mean, you voted for the motion today, but evidence there from Gabriel Gatehouse that, despite heavy US bombing, IS is pushing on. I mean, we've got six tornadoes operating in Iraq. It's not going to make that much difference, is it?
- [to JW] You've called the threat "a twisted ideology as bad as the Nazis".
- [to JW] But we're only fighting, as I say, with one hand tied behind our backs if we don't strike in Syria. Is that the case?
- Clare Short, how would you have voted today?
- Patrick Cockburn, I assume you agree we can solve this by just bombing? But what is the big strategic story, and where does President Assad play his part in this?
- [to PC, interrupting] But they're all fighting them separately?
- [to PC] So this is a chimera? The whole thing's a kind of chimera the way that we're aatually approaching this?
- [to PC] So, if originally President Assad was, as it were, encouraging IS in order to make the case against the FSA, are you saying now that we should just have to set aside our differences in Britain with President Assad and get President Assad to recognise there has to be a joining up to fight IS in Syria, that's the best way in dealing with this?
- [to JW] What are we going to do about Assad?
- Well, let me bring Clare Short in on this. The problems of 2003 were such that you felt you had to resign because actually you didn't believe...everything was being moved along so fast. Do you now accept that, at least in the conversations we've been having here, is we're being led through this piece by piece and that actually parliament isn't being bounced into doing things they don't want to do?
- Well, John Woodcock, if there is a question of taking a vote on airstrikes on Syria, what is Ed Miliband's position actually going to be if he doesn't get comfort, as it were, from the UN? Do you see a situation where you would actually have to go against your leader?
- [to JW, interrupting] Well, he [ie Ed Miliband] hasn't left much room for manoeuvre, has he?
- [to JW, interrupting] Oh, come on! It's never going to get passed. [A UN resolution mooted by Ed Miliband].

On watching movies on a phone
To Ruben Kazantsev, iPhone Film Festival
- Rubin, first, I'm going to throw at you the names of some classic films: Dr Zhivago, The Mission, Dances with Wolves. Would you be happy to have the experience of watching these films on an iPhone?
- But you don't get the panoramic view...you know, that idea of being in widescreen in the cinema, having it filling the space in front of you. All you're doing, surely, is looking down at a very reduced screen?
- It's interesting then that there's nothing about the communal experience of being in a cinema with a load of other people and seeing some fantastic film unfold in front of your eyes together that is actually something that's worth doing?
- [interrupting] But...we're so short of time I'll have to put to you Al Pacino's point. He says, "The nuances of the way that actors deliver their lines, you know, even a vague expression, a tiny expression, is completely lost by screwing your eyes and looking into an iPhone.


My conclusions

From the questions asked over the course of the week Newsnight's coverage of the Labour Party conference, including Ed Miliband's speech, couldn't be accused of spinning it for for Labour - far from it.

Laura K's interview with Tristram Hunt concentrated on (a)  Labour's evasiveness and embarrassment over 'English votes for English votes', (b) Ed Miliband's almost record unpopularity with voters and (c) the public's ongoing lack of trust in Labour's economic policies and the party's failure to refuse for over-spending while in office - all subjects dear to a right-wing viewer's heart!

Her interview with Liz Kendall focused on Ed Miliband's much-attacked failure to mention the deficit during his leader's speech, even down to pointing out that what he had meant to say (from the draft of the speech) hardly amounted to much anyway (just three to four lines making a vague promise about doing something about it).

This wasn't favourable coverage for the Labour Party, and - even though three of them were, in some way, connected to Labour - four out of five of the non-politician guests invited on to discuss the conference and Ed Miliband's speech were highly critical and uncomplimentary about it. Even former TUC guy Duncan Weldon's report on their mansion tax suggested it was riddled with potential unfairnesses and wouldn't raise that much money.

On the issue of military action against Islamic State, I was struck whilst transcribing all the questions, that not one of the Newsnight interviewers ever referred to the organisation as 'Islamic State'. They called it IS, ISIS or ISIL but never Islamic State. This seems too consistent to be coincidental. Have they been told not to say 'Islamic State'?

I was quite taken aback by how uncritical - indeed slightly gung-ho - some of the questions about military action were, often 'urging' further British military action. Emily Maitlis (and, to a lesser extent Kirsty Wark) kept asking 'moral interventionist' questions - to those supportive and those unsupportive of military strikes against IS - querying the wisdom of the UK's refusal to expand its mission to embrace strikes on Syria.

If you read through their questions of that theme you will see that this was an abiding theme of the questioning, as if the programme was advancing an editorial line in favour of expanding action against Islamic State into Syria. Was it advancing such a line (a line the government might well approve of, and the Obama administration would certainly approve of) or just asking the same obvious question to all and sundry?

I was expecting the programme, when looking back, to do a bit of Bush-bashing over the present plight in Iraq but it didn't. Emily Maitlis, instead, put the same point to both Rory Stewart and Marie Harf that the Obama administration has 'messed things up' there by ignoring John McCain's warnings against pulling out and by stopping the surge. I didn't see that coming. (It was appropriate to put that to Ms Harf, but also putting it to Rory Stewart was unusual, don't you think?)

Kirsty Wark's interview with Nicola Sturgeon was OK (and revealing) but she was emphatically - and unquestionably - biased over the issue of artistic freedom, taking very much against the campaigner who had caused an art exhibition to be withdrawn, as you can see that from the sheer number of questions and interruptions the campaigner against the artwork received from her. And rightly so in my biased opinion. She didn't seem to struck on watching films on iPhones either!

Well, that's my take. Reading through all the questions (rather than cherry-picking, or ignoring them completely), do you reach any different conclusions?