Sunday 14 August 2016

Impartiality? Or bias?

Those of you who closely follow UK politics closely may recall that 'Clause 4 moment' for the Conservative Party in 2007 when the then-shadow education spokesman David Willetts dropped the party's support for the return of grammar schools. 

(This was in the early, hug-a-husky days of David Cameron, when he and his 'modernisers' were trying to 'detoxify' the 'nasty party'). 

Mr Willetts's speech (to the CBI) arguing against grammar schools caused considerable controversy with the right-wing press and parts of the Tory Right. 

And who helped co-write that controversial speech about grammar schools? 

Well, as per an article the Mail (from 2011), it appears to have been Mr Willett's then-policy advisor Chris Cook. 

Chris Cook then moved on to the FT, where he wrote several articles (at least three that I can see) explaining why 'the return of grammar schools' isn't a good idea. 

And then he then moved on to the BBC's Newsnight.

Despite 'BBC impartiality', he's not exactly been inactive at the BBC either in reporting about why grammar schools might not be the potential boost for standards and social mobility that their supporters claim they are - eg, this from July: Why not bring back grammar schools?

This week's More or Less (Radio 4) also gave a firm 'statistical' thumbs-down to the idea that grammar schools raise standards and increase social mobility - topical in light of Theresa May's apparent policy shift on the issue. And who did those downward-pointing thumbs belong to? Newsnight's policy editor Chris Cook.

Disinterested statistical advice or agenda pushing? 


And talking of Chris Cook...

When he was recruited to Newsnight (and, at the time, a rare exception to the programme's heavy recruitment from the Guardian, I wrote (in March 2014):

Though I didn't find it at the time, I've now stumbled across another piece about Chris Cook. It's an old Guido Fawkes piece (also from 2011), backed by a piece from Nick Cohen, quoting the former Tory advisor:

Though I suspect his take on Boris will be much less favourable now, that clearly positions him as having been a Ken Clarke-style, left-of-the-party, strongly Europhile Tory (at the time).

And that's exactly my impression of him now from his reporting on Newsnight. 

Anyone who's been watching his reports for Newsnight both before and after the EU referendum will have little doubt that he's not changed his views.

I really should have gone to town on those reports at the time. I knew they were biased but just didn't have the time or energy to spell it out and concentrated much more on Evan Davis's biased presentation instead. (Mea culpa!)


In that light, I wasn't exactly surprised - though in context it was surprising - to hear Chris Cook slip in yet another dig at Brexit during his (short) report on "the funding crisis in Britain's accident and emergency units" on Wednesday night's Newsnight, when, seemingly out of the blue, he said this:
You can see why NHS managers have been so worried that a Brexit vote might make it harder for them to recruit abroad. Remember the fall in sterling will be felt most keenly by people who plan their lives in other currencies.These are times historians will pour over, not least historians of the NHS.
And that was how he concluded his report.


His Twitter feed is as you'd expect regarding the EU referendum, and re-reading it, you soon find him pushing the panic button, eg. over the future of the UK in the wake of the Leave vote:


  1. Of course, Chris Cook has still been added to the very short list of "right-wingers" at the BBC, balancing out several thousand Leftoids (some more extreme than others).

    Nick Robinson, Andrew Neil, and Chris Cook. Two center-left on most issues, as Europhile as it's possible to be without burning one's British passport on live tv, and Andrew Neil lumped in with them.

    PS: Cook's description of Boris still fits. I have always smelled a rat.

    1. Though I still like him, I think both you and Chris Cook have the measure of R Boris. Sadly.


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