Monday 16 February 2015

And, meanwhile, from a parallel universe...

If ever a programme was going to trend on Twitter it was surely bound to be Countryfile

Last night #countryfile was the third most popular hashtag on Twitter. It 'exploded' with accusations of BBC bias, thousands upon thousands upon thousands of them.

Why? Because Countryfile had broadcast a report on fox-hunting that wasn't anti-hunting. The saboteurs and associated types went crazy - and not crazy like a fox, more like headless chickens.

It wasn't the only Twitterstorm against BBC bias yesterday from the nation's lefties. Battalions of them launched angry tweet after angry tweet after angry tweet denouncing the BBC, saying that Andrew Marr is worse than (Hitler) Nick Robinson and a 'Tory stooge'. Why? For his heavy interrupting of Labour Ed Balls and his allegedly much lighter treatment of Iain Duncan Smith. 

Now, in fairness to the Twitterati, Andrew Marr did interrupt Ed Balls rather more than IDS (32 times to IDS's 20 times) and the questions put to Ed Balls were quite devastating (I thought) and doggedly pursued whereas those put to IDS were less explosive and less vigorously followed through. 

But, oh left-wing Twitterati, two swallows don't make a summer. You've got to examine a programme over several editions to show it's not just a one-off, as the BBC always says. Go on, count interruptions over a few weeks if you think Andrew Marr is working for Conservative HQ! Go on, go on, go on, go on...


  1. Could it be that Marr was responding to the 'body language' of the interviewees ?

    Balls is always aggressive, whereas IDS tends to be a much calmer man.

  2. What devastating questions did Marr ask of Balls? Marr allowed him to give a phony answer to the question about Miliband's tax payment. It was an obligatory question, but he used it later as a way to help Balls get his message right.

    He allowed Balls to lie and evade the accusations that he and Labour knew about HSBC. The question was really an excuse for Balls to launch into an attack on the Conservatives, which he did, uninterrupted.

    Marr allowed Balls to dodge the question (asked twice, the second time as an interruption) about dodgy Labour donors. "Of course mud will be thrown...but the issue is...."

    Marr brought back the question about Miliband's tax payment later, in one of his typical attempts to help his Labour guest understand that this was the correct line to take. It wasn't an accusatory or a Neil-style, "You're not going to, are you?" question, but more a suggestion that the tax arrangement needs to be addressed by Labour. Balls understood that and moved back to claiming how Labour would toughen up the laws.

    Marr may have asked a couple of difficult questions in the end, but is too economically illiterate to understand how Balls was misleading him. Balls was allowed to lie about how he would get the deficit down. Lied, and Marr let him do it. He lied about why revenue being up had nothing to do with getting rid of the 50p tax rate, and Marr let him do it. No challenge at all, because Marr wasn't prepared to do anything other than ask the obligatory questions and let Balls lay out his talking points.

    Anyone upset at how Balls was treated is just angry that sacred Labour ideology was questioned at all, even as half-hearted as it was.

  3. For those interested, here are Andrew Marr's questions to Ed Balls:

    Now, Labour are promising to crack down on rich tax cheats by shaking up the taxmen at Customs & Revenue. But from tax exile donors in today’s papers to the
    leader himself, how snowy white are their own underclothes and, more significant
    still, what’s Ed Balls planning for ordinary taxpayers? Well the Shadow Chancellor is with me. Welcome Mr Balls.

    Now, first of all, can you explain to myself and to the viewers what is the moral distinction between a variation of deed, as Ed Miliband did to avoid tax, and a family tax trust as Lord Fink is accused of doing?

    Well but he didn’t pay as much tax as he would have done if there had not been a
    variation of deed.

    I mean he legally found a way to pay less tax, which is exactly what Lord Fink did, and yet you regard Lord Fink as dodgy and smelly and all the rest of it and (I’m not saying you guys) but your leader has been up to something not that dissimilar in most people’s view.

    Okay. Can I ask you to remind us who was city minister at the time all of this
    happened and whether he asked the questions?

    What’s the answer?

    You were city minister. Why is it a ridiculous question? This happened on your

    But it was going on while you were a minister …

    … and for whatever reason ministers, including yourself, failed to get a grip of this.

    But those people say, your critics say that under Labour’s watch banking regulation was too lax, people got away with all sorts of things they shouldn’t have got away with, and that is a fair accusation is it not?

    There are two substantial Labour donors – Vince Dale and Sir David Gerrard –
    attacked on the front pages of the newspapers today for doing similar kinds of things to Lord Fink.

    Do you support why they’ve done?

    George Osborne and David Cameron could say exactly the same thing about a
    lot of people who were at the black and white ball.

    “It’s not for me to know. How can we …” I mean it’s the same thing.

    And you have millionaire donors attacked on the front pages for using tax havens and all sorts of various …

    And you are completely happy that a deed of variation as used by your leader is
    an acceptable, morally acceptable thing to do to avoid paying a bit more tax?

    Not quite an answer.

    And would you back down on … Sorry, would you crack down on variation of
    deed, that kind of tax planning because Gordon Brown, for whom you both worked,
    said this was the wrong kind of thing to do, he was against it?

    Including this one?

    Including variation of deed?

  4. The other Ed said yesterday that you were going to have a root and branch reform of HMRC. Do you regard that as having the wrong culture, not being fit for purpose at the moment? There have been all sorts of stories about cosy suppers between the bosses of HMRC and people who are avoiding their taxes and sweetheart deals and so forth.

    Do you think culture is tough enough at the moment?

    It hasn’t worked, has it?

    Now you’ve signed up for the government’s fiscal deficit reduction plan, which
    means about £30 billion of austerity in the next government if you’re in government. Your leader has said in the past that he thinks the right balance between spending cuts and tax rises is about 50/50. Do you agree with that?

    It’s the structural deficit, so it’s a fair number.

    And certainly the proportion is a fair question.

    Absolutely. And the IFS also said that your plans required new tax rises to pay down the deficit. Not the 50p thing. Though since I’m on 50p, are you going to go ahead with 50p now that we know actually that the rich are paying more since the rate has come down to 45p than they were before both proportionally and in absolute terms?


    It could lose you money.

    That’s not what the official figures say.

    You need a lot more from tax to do that, however, than you’ve announced so
    far, and I’m just asking you where it’s going to come from – VAT or excise revenue duty?

    That doesn’t stop you doing it.

    I say to you that you will raise the 40p rate of tax and the bottom rate of tax as well. As sure as eggs is eggs, you’re going to raise income tax if you’re in the treasury again.

    Because you have to get rid of the deficit. And you’re not going to make huge
    swingeing cuts as the Conservatives are doing in public spending and welfare, so
    where else is the money coming from? It has to come from tax rises.

    It seems to me to be basic logic, isn’t it?

    So you need economic growth, but you’re still going to have to plug that deficit
    and I don’t think you’re going to do the kind of deep, deep public spending cuts the Conservatives are committed to. And, therefore, you’re left with tax rises and I’m just asking you which taxes are going to go up?

  5. One other issue. You may have seen Nicola Sturgeon on the sofa a couple of weeks
    ago laying out her red lines for any kind of deal with Labour after the election and she talked about Trident and getting rid of Trident, which I know is a problem for the Labour Party, but she also said… she criticised you for going along with the Conservatives’ austerity plans and said there had to be an end to austerity economics. And that suggests to a lot of people that you can’t do a deal with Nicola Sturgeon on that basis, can you? You’d have to tear up your own economic plan.

    Let’s talk about Nicola Sturgeon rather than George Osborne if we might.

    What about Nicola Sturgeon’s assertions?

    Was would you do a deal with Nicola Sturgeon. You talked about George

    Ed Balls, always a pleasure. Thank you very much indeed for joining us.

  6. In stark print like this, I admit the questions look more challenging than they came across during the full exchange. It still doesn't take away my impression of Marr trying to point Balls in the right direction on some of these rather than being actual attacks intended to undermine him. The sense of "No, you're doing it wrong, this is what you need to say," is still there.

    If Marr was truly trying to challenge Balls on deficit and growth plans, he did it poorly because he let Balls tell lies about it. Sometimes these presenters - I've seen Neil do it, too - ask what are basically dumb questions simply because they're obligated to put forward a challenge of some kind, whether it makes actual sense to them or not.

    IDS, on the other hand, mostly easily dealt with Marr's questions and went on without as much interruption because he can talk rings around Marr, who couldn't keep up. Also I think his job was a bit easier because he didn't need to spend much time saying negative things about Labour as Balls did about the Conservatives.


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