Saturday, 18 March 2017


Norm in full flow

This week's Newswatch began with an interesting complaint, prompted by a characteristic piece of arm-waving hyperbole from the BBC's Norman Smith:
SAMIRA AHMED: First, how significant is it in news terms when politicians listen to criticism and rethink controversial decisions? On Wednesday the Prime Minister announced the scrapping of the plans announced in the Budget to raise national insurance payments for millions of self-employed workers. Norman Smith described this "u-turn" to Sophie Raworth like this:
NORMAN SMITH: Sophie, let's just get this in perspective of grand government u-turns: This is a full-blown, howling, screeching, Italian Riviera, hairpin-bend, smoke-bleeding-from-the-tyres sort of u-turn! In terms of the speed, just seven days ago Philip Hammond announced this tax rise. And the scale of it! It is a complete abandonment of a key tax rise. Not a tweak, not a nudge, not a review - it's out the window!
SAMIRA AHMED: But some of you thought there was too much relish and shock over a simple change of mind, including Robin Petherbridge: 
ROBIN PETHERBRIDGE: Politicians get all excited about policy u-turns because they love finding fault with each other. You people in the media love them because you have the same mindset, and also you can't resist a bit of conflict. But most of us are actually quite happy when politicians admit they have made a mistake, and take action to correct it. It would be good if your reporting could better reflect the mindset of the public, rather than that of politicians.
I'm not quite so sure about this one. 

Robin Petherbridge clearly has a sensible 'real world' point. We surely do all like people who change their minds when they get something wrong, and a politician who changes their mind in such circumstances might be regarded in a positive light by many ordinary voters - if they are perceived to be doing so with good grace.

But the media and politicians and enthusiastic followers of party politics all love a good 'u-turn' story, and have done for since time immemorial. To try and convince them that a 'u-turn' is a sign of something good (individually, politically) is surely a lost cause. It's always a sign of weakness to them. It's the smell of blood. The pack always rides out in full force, and the reporting (including the BBC's reporting) inevitably has a strong 'Tally-ho!' flavour about it - as with Norman Smith's highly excited contribution here. 

I don't think I'm too bothered about that though. Should I be? Does it matter? Does making politicians feel deeply unwilling to change their minds do harm or good to our political system?


  1. I'd side with Robin. Yes it is news that the Government changed it's mind. Do it often enough and Government will lose credibility.

    But it didn't need Norman's hyperbole. Actually I hear him most mornings on R4 Today and he usually comes across as an unconfident school teacher trying to impress a bunch of 5th formers.

    Back to the serious point. It seems to me that the BBC often prefers to report on the "bubble" with its U-turns, splits and personalities rather than the policies.

    1. I think you are right. But combined with lazy reporting, there is also an element of BBC journalists, in all their deluded arrogance, wanting to impress on the viewers that they are also part of the bubble.

  2. Your point's well made. It's a perennial fault that perennially annoys me. (Yes. That much!) I think we should care about it and make our feelings known because I believe the negative press on U-turns dissuades MP's from righting bad decisions leaving people to suffer the consequences.