Sunday 21 September 2014

All roads lead to Tristram

It's party conference time again.

For BBC bias bloggers with an interest in UK politics and the feeling that the BBC is biased on such matters there's no better time (except during elections) to test that out.

But how to do so when you've not got a great deal of time on your hands? Well, by picking one programme and monitoring its coverage throughout.

This year I'll be mostly covering The World This Weekend/The World at One.

I'll take the opportunity to cover each edition more generally though, and sketch them out in some detail before becoming more statistical at the end of each week, so let's begin at the beginning and be as open-minded/fair-minded as possible [whilst relishing the politics]...


This lunchtime's The World This Weekend, with Edward Stourton, continued to dwell on the constitutional consequences of the UK-wide parties' panicky pledge to give Scotland further devolved powers in the wake of the independence referendum. 

It began by interviewing Joel Barnett - the man behind the famous Barnett Formula.

Lord Barnett-Formula

Unless you're one of those people who has little or no interest in UK politics, you will probably have been vaguely aware of the Barnett Formula for years. It's the means by which funding for the four parts of the UK has been divvied up throughout much of my adult life. I've always associated it with Scotland being given a significantly higher proportion of public spending per head than either England or Wales. 

I'd never really thought about the man behind it though, but here he was - Joel Barnett, now Baron Barnett, a Labour Party peer. 

He said that the mechanism was brought in by the Callaghan government as a temporary measure to tide the country over the financial crisis of the late '70s - a means of allocating resources during a time of cuts - and that it was meant to last for just one or two years. He said that the Thatcher and Major governments turned it into a 'formula' and made it a convention [typical Labour peer, blaming the Tories, but not the Labour governments post-1997, who also stuck with it, tut tut!], and that it never even entered his mind when first devising it that it was there to redistribute wealth to the relatively deprived parts of the UK. He now thinks it's "clearly wrong". He doesn't think the Scots need it, and that it's unjust. He says that the three main party leaders [including Ed Miliband] are wrong to protect it. 

The next interviewee up was Sir William McKay - the former Commons clerk who reported to parliament on the consequences of  devolution in 2013, especially for English law-making. His proposals, from the sound of them, amounted to keeping things much as they are - i.e. not having English votes for English laws, not having "two classes of MPs". Now, however, but he now says this his proposals, post-Scottish referendum, could not be applied as they are but would "a hefty tweak, more a kick than a tweak!" and is coming round to thinking that having "two classes of MPs" - including "a final English voice" - might be necessary after all. 

Graham Brady MP

After Sir William came two MPs - the SNP's Angus MacNeil and the Conservative Graham Brady [the one who looks like Prince Andrew]. Both tended in the same direction as both Lord Barnett and Sir William, albeit much more strongly -and from very different starting points. Mr Brady, who wants 'English votes for English laws', pointed out that we already have "two classes of MPs" [those Scottish MPs who can vote on English matters but not on the same matters relating to their own constituencies] and that justice and fairness require action on the English question. Mr MacNeil said that the SNP doesn't vote on matters that don't concern Scotland (i.e. 'Scottish votes for Scottish laws' only) and believes that England can govern itself without any help from the Scots. He (obviously) wants rid of the Barnett Formula in favour of full fiscal autonomy for Scotland. 

A powerful argument was being built here by The World This Weekend, whether by accident or design, and - with Graham Brady leading the attack on Labour's position - questions were building in particular for Ed Miliband, whose position, refusing to countenance 'English votes for English laws' if Scotland gets 'Devo Max', was looking rather untenable.

The next interviewee was Labour MP Kate Hoey, who reinforced that case further. She also thinks it would only be fair to make the change. She said that SNP members have been quite good on not voting on English-only matters but that Scottish Labour MPs haven't. She wants English MPs alone to have the right to vote on specifically English matters. "If it's wrong and something needs to be corrected then," she said, "even if in the short term it looks that it might be a disadvantage to our party, long term - if you do the right thing - it's good for party, and what's right for the country is right for our party."

With some nine minutes remaining, the programme turned to the other side - firstly former Labour deputy leader, Lord Hattersley, whose counter arguments amounted to (a) we should think about the unity of the UK, (b) it would be a shame if Scottish Labour MPs couldn't vote on UK Labour government-sponsored laws, and (c) people shouldn't pop up with instant answers. He didn't seem unduly bothered about the fairness issue but agreed that "something has to be done" about the English Question though, but it's not something that should be rushed into, it should be thought about for some time, that there should be a convention, etc. Quite what he actually thought "has to be done" about the English Question he wasn't saying [and, from the sounds of it, didn't want to say, or even, for that matter, to think about. He much preferred talking about Labour needing an ideology to win over the electorate as a whole.] 

Tristram Hunt MP

The closing 5+ minutes were where all this had been leading to - an interview with Labour education spokesman, Tristram Hunt.

Mr Hunt isn't one of the Labour front benchers who [according to the Sunday Times] disagree with Ed Miliband here. Questioned on the issue, he argued that Labour's manifesto should win them a majority in England, so the issue of a UK-led Labour government ruling over a non-Labour-majority England wouldn't arise [which begs so many questions!].

Questioned (by Ed Stourton) on the fairness issue - whether English people should have the same sort of powers, the same sort of voice that Scotland does - Mr Hunt said it's a "complicated question" and that votes on English education and health, for example, have knock-on effects for funding in Scotland [begging the and vice versa at the moment? question], and that we need to step back and have a broader conversation, etc, etc...

He then said it would be wrong to have "two levels of MPs" [even though we've got them already]. He also said we English would be "insulted" by having our future constitution decided within the next four months. [Well, I wouldn't!]

As for the Barnett Formula, Mr Hunt said the wealth richer areas of his own constituency and from England as a whole are redistributed to poorer areas of his constituency and that it's [somehow] the same with the Barnett Formula.

Ed Stourton interjected that that wasn't answering the question [as indeed it wasn't] but Tristam ploughed on by attacking the Tories and claiming to be "shocked" at the "the narrowness of the Tory vision".

Ed pursued the main point, however: "It still remains the fact that your constituents suffer disproportionately under the Barnett Formula compared to people in Scotland".

In response, Tristram waffled about how people in his constituency had thought about raising the saltire there in solidarity with the people of Scotland to encourage them to stick with the union and that Stoke-on-Trent is "delighted" that Scotland has chosen to remain part of the union [which wasn't answering the question either].

Tristram Hunt then attacked David Cameron personally and praised Labour's own policies and asserted that Labour will win a majority in England, Scotland and Wales next May, so Edward Stourton asked him about why Labour isn't trusted by voters on the economy. Mr Hunt attacked the government in response and quoted a few Labour proposals. Edward Stourton asked him again why Labour isn't trusted by voters on the economy. Mr Hunt waffled about "big intellectual points" and "values", and the interview ended.

I rather enjoyed that.


You will doubtless have spotted my own biases here. Did you spot any BBC bias though? Was The World This Weekend 'campaigning' for 'English votes for English laws'? Was the BBC 'bashing' Ed Miliband?

Coming from the perspective I've long held, and blogged about for so very, very long (it seems), asking those last two questions in the affirmative would be silly. The BBC just wouldn't campaign on the Conservatives' side for 'English votes for English laws' and wouldn't bash Ed Miliband and Labour, would it? [I won't believe it. I won't, I won't, I won't. And I'll I'll thcream and thcream 'till I'm thick before I do so.]

Of course, it could just be the BBC following a familiar structure for programmes like this, especially during party conference season - one I've noted in previous years - setting a rhythm going over a pedal point, establishing a main theme [like 'English votes for English laws'] and repeating it whilst changing the instrumentation [the guests and their parties], whipping up intellectual tension, building up a crescendo of difficult points to climax in the big interview with a leading politician (like Tristram Hunt) at the programme's zenith accompanied by an exhilarating plunge into E major and a final collapse [as the politician gasps for air].  Or is that Ravel's Bolero?

It will be interesting to see if this pattern persists.

1 comment:

  1. On the topic of the conference, but not specifically of this post, it's been amusing to see all the media luvvies moaning about Miliband forgetting to mention immigration and the economy. Even Andrew Neil was at it. They are too far up the bubble. Nobody cares about Miliband's speech. All voters will care about is how much socialism he'll promise seven months from now. This is all fodder for the bubble-dwellers, and you have to wonder if any of them realize that it shows how the media - particularly the BBC - is just as disconnected from the public as the politicians they presume to scold.

    Having said that, it's pretty obvious that the Beeboids are panicking just a bit. The Daily Politics sent some correspondent to talk to Red Ken in his garden, and ask him if party conferences were obsolete. Of course, the Jew-hating lizard said conferences were still useful because all the party leaders were gathered together in one place and were accessible for a few days.

    Other signs of BBC bias: Neil talked to some adolescent female from the Times who was disappointed in Miliband in just the way I mentioned, and some Mirror idiot who was quite openly acting as a Labour spokesman. Neil even asked him policy questions like he would an actual Labour politician.

    After Red Ken, back to the studio, and Universal Owen Jones and some gurning, thick-tongued guy from LabourList.

    I stopped watching after the third time the little Jones blot on the landscape babbled about the wehhkehhs.


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