Saturday 15 July 2017


You know who

Should the BBC have made so much of Tony Blair's latest intervention in the Brexit debate? 

From what I can make out, Mr Blair wrote a piece for his Institute for Global Change think tank, published overnight, and the BBC decided to follow it up by interviewing the former PM at 8.10 on Today this morning.

His intervention has led the BBC News website all day and was the main story on PM this evening. It also led this evening's main BBC One news bulletin.

Leave-supporting Labour MP Kate Hoey tweeted, "Why is it headline @BBC news that Tony Blair wants us to stay in the EU ? #Brexitbias" 

Well, Sky and ITV also made it their main story today, following the BBC's lead, so it's not just the BBC that considers the story newsworthy, and Mr Blair's claim that the EU might relax its rule on freedom of movement for the UK if the UK chose to stay in a reformed EU is something new - if true.

But the BBC does seem to me to have taken the lead in making this story as big as it's become. If the BBC hadn't led, would ITV and Sky (and the like) have made anything like as much of it?

As for how the BBC has handled it specifically, well, I've sampled a bit of their coverage. Being ITBB, it will be as scrupulously fair as I can possibly make it.


Today 'balanced' Mr Blair's interview at 8.10 with a shorter interview with Leave-supporting Labour MP Frank Field at around 7.15. Both were conducted by Nick Robinson. 

Nick's interview with Mr Field was a tetchy affair with Mr Field complaining that he'd been invited on to say what he thought about Mr Blair's intervention. (Nick Robinson had begun interrupting him and trying to move away from the subject of Tony Blair).

I don't agree that Nick's interview with Mr Blair was sycophantic but it was certainly a much less tetchy affair and much more helpful to Tony Blair than it had been to Frank Field.

Mr Blair, unlike Mr Field, got to say what he wanted to say, and Nick was quite jolly throughout, asking a fair number of 'useful' questions...

...though, that said, he did also (in a short burst of contrariness) tell Mr Blair that the EU "never, ever" changes, that the EU has regularly overruled democratic votes and carries on regardless, that the EU referendum was "the biggest vote in British history", that voters in the general election chose by an 80% margin parties that pledged in their manifestos to leave the Single Market.

So, all in all, Today advanced the pro-EU cause this morning but made enough nods to impartiality to cover the programme's back.

That said, of course - and it's a big 'of course', of course - all of the above does rather depend on whether you think that having Tony Blair on your side, advancing your cause (however the media outlet in question handles him), can actually ever help the cause he's advocating. Many might very well think that any cause that Tony Blair is involved with is more likely to be damaged than helped by having his 'toxic' name associated with it.

Emma Vardy

Monitoring the BBC News Channel's coverage - specifically the regular updates from BBC reporter Emma Vardy this morning - I found that Mr Blair's Brexit-related arguments were first laid out, then the BBC reporter said that some say that Mr Blair is "irrelevant" now while others say that he's "still a big player" and that his arguments "may carry some weight". Emma did also add that the "evidence" for Mr Blair's claim on EU willingness to countenance concessions on freedom of movement was something "we are not really seeing", which struck me as being fair enough - though she didn't present actual counter-arguments to his arguments.

Tonight's PM on Radio 4 interviewed a reporter from the pro-EU FT (Alex Barker), who put the EU side, and a passionate pro-Remain-voting Labour MP (Paul Bromfield), who criticised the UK government. Jane Hill conducted both interviews in a fairly hands-off way. This was the most heavily 'tilted' bit of BBC coverage so far (tilted in the usual pro-EU direction).

Tonight's BBC One news bulletin, though leading with the story and putting Mr Blair's claims in the spotlight, swung things back somewhat in the other direction. Eleanor Garnier's report talked of Tony Blair's claims as being "claims", adding that they "directly contradict what those in Brussels are saying". She then cited Leaver criticism that there's "no evidence to back up Mr Blair's claim" - and then featured Conservative MEP David Campbell Bannerman saying just that -, and noted that Jeremy Corbyn "rejected" Mr Blair's position "insisting his party respects the result of the referendum" - and then featured Mr Corbyn saying just that -, and then featured the Government's response saying that Tony Blair is again demonstrating that he's "out of touch with voters". Eleanor's pay-off line was, "Once he helped determine Britain's place in the world. Now this former Prime Minister must settle with commenting from the sidelines." All in all, I don't think this was the most helpful of reports for Mr Blair, though it did get his central message out there. I'm going to give that another 'Fair enough!' I think.


This has been a very ITBB post, hasn't it? What I've seen of the BBC's coverage today hasn't been entirely monolithic, despite all BBC outlets firing in the same general direction.

As ever, please feel free to disagree with any of my takes on all of this. 


  1. I, for one, am going to thoroughly enjoy the spectacle of the BBC rehabilitating Tony Blair and presenting him as some sort of respectable expert on foreign affairs. They all hated him after Iraq, and now this pathetic volte face all because he's useful to push the EU agenda, and well, I'm having a good laugh about it.

    I wonder if any of them feel a bit dirty now. As you show, it's a boon to the Corbynistas as well, so bonus points in a weird way.

    1. Amusingly, one of the BBC's new Corbynista regulars, Ellie Mae O'Hagan, has recently tweeted:

      "The problem isn't Blair having opinions, it's that national newspapers publish them as top stories as though they actually matter."

      Maybe it's the fact that she's now getting invites to the BBC that she's failed to notice the BBC's prime role in making the Evil One's views the main story today.

    2. "National newspapers". Another Beeboid pretending the BBC has no influence, and is a lone candle in the dark.

    3. Excuse me? They hold truth unto power, and power to account. Apparently.

      Just... right wing tabloid press power only.

      Their left wing broadcast power is exempt.

      Ask Leveson.

  2. Frankly they could give him his own channel as far as I can make out, if the aim is to undermine the Remain dags.

  3. Travelling abroad at mo and internet-free much of time, so apologies if this has already been said, but just supposing Blair is telling the truth this time and EU states really are prepared to be flexible on freedom of movement, how come it can happen now, but couldn't when D.Cameron was negotiating? Could it perhaps be that the EU has suddenly realized Brexit is going to leave a dirty great hole in its budget? The question, in itself, has nothing to do with BBC bias - unless,of course, the BBC fails to ask it! Sisyphus

    1. Interesting point. The first thought is that it couldn't happen when Cast Iron Dave was negotiating because he told them up front he didn't want to leave and they didn't have to do anything more than give him a fig leaf to wave around.

    2. Bon voyage Sisyphus. It will indeed be interesting to see if the BBC asks it.

    3. David, Yes, I think your 'take' is spot-on.
      Craig, Thank you, having splendid time,but suspect my liver may be wishing it had stayed st home! BTW, just watched Alastair Campbell being interviewed on A2 tv news program - reluctantly impressed by his flawless French!Sisyphus


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