Saturday 11 October 2014

Yet another date with Gavin Esler

Safak Timur

If you were wondering how Gavin Esler's Dateline London is getting on, well today's edition was an interesting one. 

Since my last major review of the programme's guest list in August we've seen some more classic left-biased Dateline panels. 

There was one (on 13 September) consisting of Abdel Bari Atwan, Agnes Poirier, Steve Richards (of the Independent) and Kevin McKenna (of the Observer), where all four guests came from the Left, and there was another (on 4 October) with Abdel Bari Atwan, Steve Richards, Marc Roche and Diane Wei Liang, where three out of the four guests came from the Left. 

That used to be par for the course most weeks. Now it's only some weeks.

Today's panel, however, was not that way inclined at all. It featured (1) Alex Deane of Conservative Home [appearance 12, for those counting!], (2) Greg Katz of Associated Press [appearance 22, since Oct 2010 - he appeared earlier than that too, but I didn't count back then], (3) Stephanie Baker of Bloomberg Markets [appearance 11], and (4) Safak Timur of the BBC's Turkish Service [appearance 3]. 

The first topic was Islamic State, specifically Turkey's surprising willingness to allow the group to do its worst in a town right on the Turkish-Syrian border. Both Safak Timur and Alex Deane made the Turkish reasoning very easy to understand (though brace yourselves for some acronyms): The Turks regard both IS and the PKK-aligned Kurdish YPG as terrorist groups, each as bad as each other, and would dearly love to see them wipe each other out. The hope seems to be that ISIS might solve the Turks' Kurdish problem for them. (I've heard that line of thinking before, applied elsewhere, and from a realpolitik standpoint it's not an unreasonable position - however unethical it might be.)

Gavin Esler characteristically pinpointed the 2003 invasion of Iraq as the root of the problem, and then asked Greg Katz of the AP whether President Obama had a strategy or not:
We can understand American domestic politics here. We can also understand that the Obama administration, given that Obama never backed the Iraq War in the first place, and you could say the roots of all these problems go right back to Iraq and 2003, but is there actually an American strategy here? Is there a coherent strategy that you can see going out, or are we just going to react against some people that we think are bad guys?
Greg explained the White House strategy, and added his own view: "But the Americans are more isolated and less powerful but I don't think they're without a strategy." On the possible fall of Anbar province, he said, "This is a strategic disaster from the U.S. point of view and it calls into question all of the decisions made from 2003 forwards". 

After discussing Ebola, the programme ended by discussing UKIP. 

Gavin may have framed the discussion at the start by saying, "Britain's UK Independence Party claims its first seat in the House of Commons, but so what?", and then began the discussion proper with another attempt to downplay the significance of the party's ongoing, ever-more-dramatic gains by downplaying it some more (Douglas Carswell re-elected, a Labour MP elected in a safe Labour seat) but he then qualified that by suggesting that it could be significant after all (Douglas Carswell had changed parties, Labour nearly lost to UKIP). 

Most unusually for Dateline, the programme didn't then descend into mutually-agreed UKIP-bashing; indeed, two of the guests offered constructive (rather than destructive) takes on the subject of UKIP. 

Alex Deane

Though a Conservative, Alex Deane wants a UKIP-Conservative pact and was highly critical of his own party's leadership's disdain for UKIP supporters:
The comparison I'd make is this: If you had a shop and you had loyal customers coming to you year after year and then they started shopping somewhere else, you could re-visit your stock, think about a different price, put on some special offer. What I wouldn't do is stand on the doorstep of the shop and yell abuse at your hitherto loyal customers, saying "Nutter! Fruitcake! Closet racist!" cos I don't think you're going to get them back to the shop in that way.
Indeed, Alex!

Greg Katz contrasted Nigel Farage's "media-savvy, smart, comfortable" political skills with the "lacklustre" Conservative leader, the "lacklustre" Labour leader "and a whatever-you-want-to-call-it Deputy Prime Minister from the Lib Dems who's probably as low in the polls as you can imagine " (which is as a good a way to describe Nick Clegg as I've heard in a long time!). "These are not strong, articulate, brave, courageous leaders, I'm sorry", he concluded. 

It was up to Gavin Esler to keep putting the case against appealing to UKIP supporters, citing Nigel Farage's HIV remarks among other things, and Stephanie Baker also described UKIP's economic policies as "crazy" and warned of the UK "sleepwalking" towards an EU exit. This was appropriate balancing.

Also appropriate was Safak Timur's refusal to express an opinion on the subject of UKIP, merely allowing herself to agree with Gavin Esler that it's an "exciting" time in British politics. 

Previous BBC reporters on the programme have put aside BBC impartiality and expressed anti-UKIP sentiments - namely the BBC's Ukrainian expert Irena Taranyuk who described them as "worrying" and the BBC's Russian expert Dmitry Shiskin, who described them as not being "constructive about Europe" and being "knee-jerk" about immigration. Safak took a much wiser course, and kept schtum.

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