Wednesday 5 November 2014

An Easton Parliament?

The BBC's home editor Mark Easton is touring the UK in a mini with a union jack on top. He's talking devolution.

I heard a report on Monday's PM that kicked things off by talking about English Votes for English Laws and an English parliament - two quite different things that Mark Easton quite airily conflated.

His report struck me as being pretty blatant in its opposition to EV4EL/an English parliament.

Both Mark Easton and his chosen expert, Akash Paun of the Institute for Government, advanced points highlighting potential difficulties with EV4EL/an English parliament. They didn't put the opposing arguments for EV4EL/an English parliament or against the present/soon-to-be-established set-up. 

Then a selection of Winchester 'vox pops', gathered together in the Great Hall, voiced their opinions, mostly echoing those concerns. The TV version (aired on the BBC's main news bulletins) was even worse in that the vox pops were 3:1 against EV4EL/an English parliament.

In the radio version, Mark Easton said at one point, during his discussion with the chosen citizens of Winchester, "I'm just wondering whether...I mean maybe just coming here tonight has opened your eyes a bit to the implications of what sounds like an attractive...", which suggests to me that Mark had been rehearsing a few of those implications beforehand and, quite possibly, leading his 'witnesses'.

The BBC's own polling shows that 66% of English people favour English Votes for English Laws, with only 29% against. 53% of English people want an English parliament, as opposed to 41% who don't. In Mark Easton's TV report, however, it was a 75%/25% split against either EV4EL/an English parliament [and, to repeat, it really is wrong of Mark Easton to have conflated them like this].

That same poll has got Mark Easton into a spot of Twitter bother today. He made a bold statement that most English people want devolution to the English regions - a staggering figure which I find highly unlikely (given the decisive vote against devolution in the North East some years back):
But not everyone on Twitter took Mark Easton's word for it:
And, indeed, the question doesn't ask if people want more power devolved to the regions. It asks: 
Do you support or oppose giving more decision making powers on issues such as tax, education, policing to local areas?
"Local areas" does not necessarily mean "regions". It's more likely to be much more local than that, meaning either at county level or at city or town level (even parish councils).

The idea of devolution to the so-called nine regions of England may be popular with Billy Bragg, the Labour Party, the European Commission et al, but I very much doubt that it has 80% support across England, as Mark Easton says. I might like a Lakeland assembly including North Lancashire (though I probably wouldn't), or more powers for Morecambe Council, but I most certainly do not want a North West regional parliament run from, say, Liverpool. 

Mark Easton is, therefore, pushing a mistaken (possibly biased) interpretation there, is he not?

His subsequent TV report from Cornwall included a round-table discussion where the Bard of Cornwall, someone from Mebyon Kernow, and others, ALL put up their hands to say 'Yes' - to Mark's apparent surprise - when he asked them if there would be an assembly in Cornwall by 2025. He did then balance that by interviewing such 'ordinary folk' who expressed grave doubts about Cornwall's ability to stand alone (as if independence was what was being discussed rather than devolution).

Two other things were odd about Mark's report from Cornwall. 

First was his (typical BBC) statement that the EU had given lots of lovely money to Cornwall. [He didn't mention that Cornish people have sent a good deal back in the other direction through their taxes]. 

Second was his statement that some 60,000 people identified themselves only as Cornish in the 2011 census. That omitted to mention that that still only amounts to 9.9% of Cornish people. 86.2% said they had NO Cornish identity. Presumably that means they identify as English or British instead. This was an angle Mark Easton didn't seek to explore. 

Today he went to Wales. I've not seen that report yet. So a Part Two to this post will have to wait - and include the two remaining reports.

So far I think we can say that Mark Easton is giving off quite a whiff of bias here, can't we?

Others might put it a little more strongly:


  1. Easton likes to stir the sh!t sometimes, doesn't he? Hopefully he won't be portraying the St. George Cross as a racist symbol this time.

  2. I've only just caught up on Easton's outrageous misrepresentation of the survey results. I can't see how the BBC could allow someone to carry on reporting on the issue of regional devolution having made such a devastating error.

    The error goes to the heart of the debate.

    I am not personally opposed to the regional solution - it works well enough in Germany - but I expect a lot better of a public broadcaster.

    Dan Read


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