Saturday 8 November 2014

Wisdom after the event

There's a surprising amount of agreement among people on both the Right and the Left that George Osborne is attempting to pull a confidence trick over the EU's £1.7bn demand:
Dan Hannan, Conservative: "The EU sticks us with a bill. Ministers double it, apply the rebate, return to the original figure and claim victory. We're meant to cheer?"
Nigel Farage, UKIP: "Osborne trying to spin his way out of disaster. UK still paying full £1.7bn, his credibility is about to nose dive".
Ed Balls, Labour: "By counting the rebate Britain was due anyway, they are desperately trying to claim that the backdated bill for £1.7bn has somehow been halved. But nobody will fall for this smoke and mirrors. The rebate was never in doubt and in fact was confirmed by the EU Budget Commissioner last month."
Sarah Montague tackled Mr Osborne about this on this morning's Today and, it has to be said, she didn't display the 'hands-off' style of interviewing used by Justin Webb on Peter Hain yesterday. Interruptions and challenges came with considerable regularity.

Now, however unconvincing Mr Osborne's denials of his own foreknowledge about the rebate may be (a rebate that his critics say would inevitably have led to a halving of the demand to a 'mere' £850m), he certainly did have a point when he said: 
This is why all the critics of the government are trying to show wisdom after the event. This show has been on air for the past couple of weeks talking about the contribution that Britain was going to have to make. Every single headline you've had, every person who came on this programme, says that Britain is going to have to pay £1.7bn and instead we're paying £850m...If everyone was saying, 'Of course it's only going to be £850m', how come no one reported it, no one said it in parliament?
That is a fair point, isn't it (even if he really did know about the rebate all along)? Why did none of great experts on matters European in the British media, including all those all-knowing BBC reporters, not see the rebate coming? Why did no one mention it on the Today programme until now?

Sarah Montague half-conceded the point:
George Osborne: Not a single person said that on the Today programme [that we were inevitably going to get that rebate and that reduction to £850m].
Sarah Montague: What did you think? We might have got it wrong, but did you get it wrong? 
The 'wisdom after the event' may be pulling the threads out of George Osborne's rabbit-filled hat, but why was there absolutely no 'wisdom before the event' from the Today programme (or anyone else)? Why did Gavin Hewitt, Nick Robinson et al, fail to see the rabbit before George Osborne pulled it out of his hat?

Well, that's what I'm wondering anyhow.


  1. Well, if you can't swipe a good comment on somebody else's blog and add it to your own as a complement to the main post, then what's the world coming to?

    This is Umbongo over at B-BBC:

    Umbongo November 8, 2014 at 3:16 pm
    I listened to Sarah “I never met a Conservative I didn’t loathe” Montague interviewing Ozzi on Today. She was even more motivated than usual to make goulash out of him concerning the “deal” over our extra EU “Contribution” particularly – as noted in the news and intro to the interview – how Labour had described it (correctly for once) as “smoke and mirrors”. And whaddya know, she didn’t lay a glove on him: not that she didn’t have ammunition. Ozzi claimed that he was in the clear since no-one mentioned before the “deal” that the UK rebate was “uncertain” implying that, somehow, this was new money magicked from the EU’s petty cash.
    In a clash of competent journalist and slippery politician such a debating point would have been the trigger ending with Ozzi being led bleeding and humiliated from the studio: not this morning however. I waited in vain for Montague to ask the obvious question as to why Ozzi himself, before he went to the EU finance meeting, didn’t mention that the rebate was available even if it was – as he lied claimed – uncertain. Moreover, she could have hammered the point that the extra contribution has nothing to do with the rebate since AFAIAA they come under different headings in the EU’s payments structure ie they’re completely unrelated. Balancing the receipt against the payment here is the same as believing that if HMRC sends you an extra tax demand for £100 payable next week and you expecting to receive an unconnected share dividend of £50 means that the tax demand is “really” for only £50.
    This wasn’t bias. Had Ozzi been a Labour chancellor trying this on Montague and the BBC would have broken out the champagne. No, this was a BBC signature failure of competence. The idea that, but for the bias, the BBC journalist cadre comprises the best there is was definitively exploded.

  2. Osborne has attempted to deceive the public and has failed.

    It's the same as if a student's course fees had gone up to £10,000, but he was still entitled to a bursary of £5,000. He may reach some agreement with the university that he can delay payment of the fees until after he receives his bursary. Whoopee! He's still paying £10,000. It hasn't halved. He was always going to get the bursary because he was entitled to it.

    Dan Read

  3. Why did Gavin Hewitt, Nick Robinson et al, fail to see the rabbit before George Osborne pulled it out of his hat?

    Because Robinson deals only in insider gossip and politics junkie general analysis, and is far too lazy to dig deep to find this sort of thing for himself. His knowledge is about political tactics and personnel, not the finer details. Hewitt is more interested in pro-EU storytelling, and also can't be bothered to get into this kind of stuff. The Today geniuses wait for someone else to do the work for them, and if some Labour contact didn't alert them to it, they wouldn't know. Also - and I may be grasping here - the Beeboids would hardly be motivated to give UKIP and euroskeptics more fodder. This is more an anti-EU story than it is a story about making the Tories look bad and propping up Labour, so there would an editorial decision to take.

    In any case, unless an insider hands something to them on a silver platter (or in exchange for heavens knows what Peston feeds his sources), the BBC very rarely gets this kind of scoop. I'm more surprised Nigel Farage wasn't shouting this from the rooftops all week.


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