Sunday 21 May 2017

Mark Mardell goes to Great Yarmouth...and chats to Ken Clarke

If Sunday is the most reliable Radio 4 example of 'liberal BBC bias' in action, then surely The World This Weekend is the most reliable Radio 4 example of 'anti-Brexit bias' in action. 

Thus, this - from Mark Mardell's introduction today - made me (literally) laugh out loud. 

Mark began by reporting that Mrs May's "aspiration for huge curbs on immigration have been called 'economically illiterate'". He then played us two vox pops:
Vox pop 1: So we do need to reduce immigration but hopefully have the best people coming in.
Vox pop 2: If they do put the brakes on people coming in from overseas how am I going to get people to cut 250 tonnes of asparagus? 
And then came the 'punchline' (the bit that made me laugh):
We put those points to former chancellor Ken Clarke. 
After the news, Mark Mardell made it clear than it was George Osborne's London Evening Standard which had made that 'economically illiterate' comment. 

He then announced that he'd been to Great Yarmouth, one of the most pro-Brexit places in the UK, and talked to some locals about their votes on immigration.

It was the kind of selection - and presentation - of vox pops that really does raise suspicions.

The first anti-immigration vox pop used a term widely considered racist, saying that immigrants should have been "sent back on the banana boat years ago". The second one accused immigrants of "having a million babies". 

After Mark had distanced the rest of the world from such odious people (in the following half a sentence)...

...his third vox pop, more articulate and given more time than either of his 'racist' predecessors, said that mass immigration is "a myth". that the numbers seeking benefits are "insignificant" and that "95% of immigrants "want to work", and vox pop 4 said that the Tories' "ten of thousands" pledge is "silly".

Hmm. I'd love to know how many vox pops Mark Mardell actually recorded and what they all said.

We then heard, briefly, from local UKIP and, Labour politicians, taking opposite sides on the immigration issue. A local Conservative politician, just as briefly, stood somewhere in between. 

Then it was onto a farmer - the asparagus guy - who got the longest interview in the report.

He's "a very worried man", worried about immigration, especially European immigration, being reduced. "I am frightened, I am frightened by it", he said, He thinks his business will have to close down. And Mark even put that George Osborne "economically illiterate" quote to him. "I would totally agree", he said. He's a Tory who's questioning whether to vote Tory as a result.

Then came a shorter interview with a tech entrepreneur who, again, argued the benefits of immigration. Immigrants are the "best possible talent" for him, rather than "local people", But he does want some controls on immigration, though "fears...closing the doors completely". 

Report over, Mark said: 
We did ask to talk to a minister, any minister, about immigration but none were available. So we're going much better than that, not some one-job wonder. We've got Kenneth Clarke, who's been Chancellor of the Exchequer, Home Secretary, Justice Secretary, and a few other posts as well.
Of course, they could have gone for anyone other than the most famously pro-EU of Conservatives, say a prominent pro-Leave backbencher, but they didn't. No, it was straight onto the phone to Ken Clarke - who, unsurprisingly, then denounced "right-wing Brexiteers", "immigration fears", defended the EU, and so on!

Still, Mark could have asked him plenty of questions from a pro-Brexit, anti-mass-immigration standpoint for the sake of 'BBC balance'. Did he though? 

Well, here are his questions about immigration - and I, for one, don't think that Mark put any effort whatsoever into putting questions from a contrary 'devil's advocate' viewpoint;
  • Is reducing immigration to the tens of thousands "economically illiterate"? ("It is", replied Ken). 
  • Well, how do you? (get British people to pick asparagus in all weathers). 
  • And now by Mrs May? (Is she, like "Farage" and  those "right-wing Brexiteers", also promoting "immigration "fears")
  • Indeed, but the worry in places like Great Yarmouth, along the seaside coasts and elsewhere, is about Eastern Europeans.
  • And Mrs May is saying she wants to get that down to the tens of thousands, immigration generally. If it happened would that be a good thing for the economy?  
  • But you can't then get it down because..
After discussing social care, Mark then turned to Brexit - framing his first question from the usual, gloomy, negative, 'problem'-related BBC angle:
  • And might one of the problems...One of the problems ahead with probably be the Brexit talks, that are clearly going to be difficult. The manifesto admits that. Is Mrs May...(Ken duly talked of how people of "common sense" would try, post-election, to "minimise the damage, in my view" of Brexit.
  • No deal better than a bad deal? ("Certainly not. Obviously not", said Ken).
Classic The World This Weekend. Classic Mark Mardell. Classic BBC bias.


  1. Ken Clarke might have accidentally revealed Theresa May's real campaign slogan: Vote Tory because I'm best suited to minimize the damage of Brexit.

    As for Mardell, he has a long history with selecting his vox pops, doesn't he? It's Coco the Clown on one side, and reasonable, thoughtful people on the other. Typical, as you say, Mardell and BBC bias.

    1. Yes, it's far from the first time that Mark Mardell has pulled this kind of stunts with vox pops.

      A very similar TWTW example can be found here:

      Ken Clarke was, for the most part, quite the defender of Theresa May today. That was striking.

  2. The BBC, with Mardell a prime example, constantly equate immigrants with the economic "need" for workers. But they are not the same thing.

    Workers can be on time-limited work permits, as is the case in many countries.

    Investment in machinery can improve productivity and replace low-skilled workers (is asparagus-picking really something only highly-skilled immigrants can do?).

    These issues are never explored. I used to think Mardell was refighting the referendum, but having seen now how left-liberal is May's manifesto, I'm including to the view that the BBC is just part of the campaign to soften us all up for very no immigration control post-Brexit.

    1. Ozfan,

      You've nailed it. I too am frequently reduced to shouting at the radio by the BBC's inability to think beyond the current migration model of "migration leads to permanent residence leads to citizenhip".

      Time limited work permits are clearly the best approach in relation to seasonal agricultural work and other low skilled work.

      When it comes to sectors of high finance and IT and the like then the sorts of people who move from one country to another are probably not that interested in acquiring UK citizenship.

      There may be a few sectors e.g. highly trained medical staff where we want to offer citizenship as an inducement.

      But citizenship should always be conditional on acquisition of English language skills and passing a cultural values test.

      You are also right to point out how technology can replace labour in areas like crop picking.

      Mardell who tends to be at the cutting edge of BBC political policy lines is probably reflecting the latest BBC thinking: that the Brexit campaign is lost...and now it is all about making Brexit as meaningless as possible.

    2. Seeing as how Theresa May has all but admitted that she won't do anything about immigration either, despite promises, we could just as easily say that Mardell and everyone at the BBC not named Andrew Neil is defending her, pro-Tory support, for not attacking them on the issue of too much immigration.

      Their own ideological bias prevents them from doing their job properly - even if it's by a back door.


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