Friday 10 October 2014

Left-wing "Clacton" speaks (on the BBC's 'Question Time')

I see that many UKIP supporters have taken to the social media airwaves to wax highly indignant about last night's Question Time

Their problem was mainly with the QT audience. 

This edition of the programme came from Clacton-on-Sea, where some 84.3% of the electorate have just voted for parties of the Right (UKIP 59.7%, the Conservatives 24.6%). So, if any bias emerged in the wake of the by-election, you'd expect a right-wing (audience) bias, right?

Well, the opposite bias emerged - in spades. 

Most of the QT audience members who expressed an opinion during last night's edition made strongly anti-UKIP points and, more generally (with very rare exceptions), expressed left-wing opinions throughout the programme. 

The applause followed a similar bias, loudly backing any left-wing/anti-UKIP points made by the panel. 

And, on top of that, only two people were willing to identify themselves as UKIP supporters when asked to contribute to the discussion (and deny they were racist) by David Dimbleby. 

21,113 people in Clacton-on-Sea supported UKIP on Thursday.  

So, that didn't seem remotely representative of either the local area or the UK as a whole. And it didn't seem so because it isn't!

We've been here before. QT audiences are notorious beasts and we've discussed their strangeness many times here many, many times

The paradox is that they appear to be heavily biased towards the Left (pretty much wherever the programme comes from) yet prominent right-wingers [who usually bash the Beeb] - such as James Delingpole, Janet Daley and Nigel Farage - continue to give the BBC a clean bill of health here, believing the QT team to be absolutely scrupulous in trying to balance their audiences fairly. 

All three of the right-wingers listed above roughly converge on what I suspect to be the truth - that Question Time appears to be dominated by (shipped-in) left-wing activists because (shipped-in) left-wing activists deliberately seek to dominate it and have, so far, managed to get away with it. 

They circumvent the BBC's protocols en masse and then attempt to dominate the debate. The non-Left parts of audience, not being those kinds of people, keep quiet. [British conservatives are like that - except online!] 

This hi-jacking of Question Time has become a farce. The BBC's present protocols obviously can't cope with it and "something needs to be done". But what?


Of course, this wouldn't be Is the BBC biased? if I didn't also note that a high proportion of Twitter comments about BBC bias today have been bashing the Beeb from the opposite direction, accusing the BBC of being a Goebbels-like promoter of UKIP (or of being anti-Labour).

I've seen people accusing the BBC's Norman Smith of being pro-UKIP and pro-Tory, accusing the BBC as a whole of being UKIP's "step-parent", of pushing them the expense of the Greens, of failing to mention that Labour actually increased its vote share in Heywood and Middleton [which they did mention, cos I 'eard it!], etc.

Now, you and I well know that such people are nothing more than left-wing nutters [as a mirror-universe Mark Mardell might put it] but, my goodness, there are an awful lot of them out there, there really are!

Watching them fume about the BBC in such large numbers today just for reporting the simple fact that UKIP won a by-election and came close to winning a second one in a safe Labour seat is a reminder that claims of BBC bias aren't always to be believed just because lots and lots of people [relatively speaking] don't like the news they are hearing and agree with each other that it's all the BBC's fault.


And, of course, this also wouldn't be Is the BBC biased? if I didn't test it out for myself on on a specific programme, such as this morning's Today.

It ended with a couple of 'establishment' right-leaning journalists - Matthew Parris and Anne McElvoy - discussing UKIP from a non-supportive position.

Matthew, a Conservative Party 'wet' who can't stand UKIP, was characteristically honest and provocative - so much so that he clearly infuriated many a right-winger today! He denounced the UKIP voters of Clacton. John Humphrys couldn't remember the source of the quote (old commie Bertie Brecht), but cited that telling gibe that the answer to Matthew's distaste for the electorate's verdict is to change the electorate. Anne McElvoy was less hostile to the electorate but remains, essentially, a mainstream Conservative journalist barely a yard (or metre) away politically from Matthew Parris.

Anti-UKIP bias? Well, two UKIP politicians were interviewed on Today - the victorious Douglas Carswell at 7.10 and his new leader Nigel Farage at 8.10. Against them were ranged Douglas Alexander for Labour at 7.30 and Grant Shapps for the Conservatives, alongside Nigel, at 8.10.

Tone-wise (enter subjectivity!), Douglas Carswell was interviewed coolly by Norman Smith and Nigel Farage was given a hostile grilling - including a classic 'ambush', using the Guardian's lead story - by John Humphrys. Grant Shapps got a less hostile grilling than Nigel Farage and, after an early interruption, Douglas Alexander got the softest ride of all.

The headlines and new bulletins, however, made UKIP's achievement and Labour's close shave very clear.

Well, that's my take on it. 


  1. I too wonder how Clacton was able to elect a UKIP candidate,when the BBCs random selecting of its QT panel was so hostile to that party.
    As for the "deny you`re racist if you dare" bit from Dimbledum...typical baiting tactics from the old doughboy who should have retired years ago.
    Typical preposterous bias from the BBC...and you know that the UKIP blimp is right over the target of the squauking lefties when it draws such abuse and smears.
    To see the likes of Malcolm Bruce and Ken Clarke wheeled out is a triumph of the embalmers art...and I hope that Spitting Image get their appalling old latex puppets back as soon as poss.
    Poor Matthew Parris too...when the BBC invite these guttersnipes in, you just KNOW that UKIP have hit the right target.

  2. You're absolutely right, Craig, except on one point. Firstly, there's the issue of the production staff's personal opinion of the political demographics of that week's broadcast location. It's capricious, and opens the door for bias before we even start filling the seats. More importantly, we know the third-party production company which produces QT does manipulate the audience deliberately. I can't find the link at the moment, but there is (or was) something on the BBC website about how the producers actively reach out to activist groups to come in if they feel the makeup of audience members who have applied to appear isn't as "balanced" as they would like. In other words, regardless of reality, the QT producers will happily ship in a bunch of Left-wing students or union members, even if it doesn't represent the reality of that week's location. We also know they reject people based on the questions they're required to submit in advance. Again, a highly subjective method.

    There's no way in hell the QT staff didn't know about that Labour activist who screamed insults at Diane James. No way. They may not always assemble an unbalanced audience deliberately, but the policies behind the production clearly open the door to bias on a regular basis.

  3. As for those whom complain that the BBC is supporting UKIP, file that one under "You just want the BBC to report things you like, and not to give any air time to things you don't."

    I'm sure you remember all the complaints back when Farage was starting to get more and more air time, more than some felt was deserved for a party with no members in Parliament, when even the Greens had the one and got less attention. That was considered pro-UKIP bias by many, but I saw it more as an attempt by the Beeboids to give him enough rope with which to hang himself, and to give their presenters and guests ample opportunities to attack him. Didn't work out so well for them, because they failed to understand what it's really about and thinking UKIP is just the BNP in blazers.

  4. I emailed the BBC complaints department - hard to find (surprise) but it does exist if you're patient. I wasn't prepared to play their Twitter game

    Here is the letter - I hope you can take some vicarious succour from it. Don't give up - we'll win eventually...

    Dear Sir/Madam

    As the BBC may now no doubt be aware there is an increasing fury amongst many licence-fee payers with the liberal London elite who dominate the airwaves and newspapers and control the parameters within which political debate is conducted.
    It was exemplified last night on your increasingly discredited BBC Question Time. The panel included Harriet Harman, Eric Pickles, Malcolm Bruce (Lib Dem lost deposit), and Accrington-come-Crouch End author and campaigner Jeanette Winterson.
    All of them were given licence to insult the UKIP spokesman on the panel (and presumably its supporters) to the huge applause of the invited audience. The venue? Clacton. On the night of a thumping UKIP victory - in Clacton. Presumably any UKIP supporters were barred from attending the programme in the interests of political 'balance'.
    The entire programme operated within its own little bubble, studiously ignoring the by-election count going on a few hundred yards down the promenade. It's this type of political coverage - pumped into every living room up and down the country - which sets on edge the teeth of so many people up and down the country.
    As a licence-fee payer (just) I think the BBC needs to dramatically widen the scope of panellists it invites onto its programmes. Last night’s showing exemplified how utterly, utterly out of touch your guests were with what was going on only a few hundred yards away. It was frankly insulting


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