Friday 16 March 2018

Is the IFS biased?

Here's something I thought you might enjoy from Charles Moore's latest Spectator's Notes:
Saturday’s Guardian carried a long interview with Paul Johnson, the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies. He came across as a well-informed, public-spirited man. He did not come across as impartial. He seemed a typical social democrat. He thinks more public spending is better than less, doesn’t like first-past-the-post politics because it weakens the middle ground, and wants tax penalties for second homes. Above all, he is anti-Brexit: ‘The economics are obvious. If you make trade with your richest trading partner more expensive, you will make yourself worse off.’ He says there is no economic case for Brexit, just a ‘controlling-immigration case’ (no mention of the key sovereignty/democracy case). Mr Johnson is entitled to all these opinions, but he and his IFS are given lots of BBC airtime as unbiased experts. Yet they are just as viewy as the IEA or the Centre for Policy Studies. The difference is a) that they don’t declare it and b) that their ‘objective’ beliefs chime with those of the BBC. To think that the case for Remain is an objective one and the case for Leave isn’t is the most out-and-out Remainer view of them all. Neither case is objective, nor should it be. On its website, the IFS describes itself as having, during the referendum, provided ‘a vital impartial voice in the debate’. It is bad for our public culture that such flat untruths can be smugly asserted by people earning their livings as ‘experts’.


  1. According to wiki, he worked in several government departments during the Blair and Brown years. And is a member of Climate Change committee.

  2. Can I just mention again that Chris Morris in a BBC Reality Check (that's a super-misnomer!) stated that IFS's close cousin, the IFG (Institute for Government) was independent, whatever "independent" is supposed to mean. He quoted from it extensively as an impartial non-partisan body measuring the impact of Brexit...just one problem: its board of directors is chaired by Lord Sainsbury, prominent anti-Brexit campaigner who donated a whopping £2.3 million to the Remain campaign during the Referendum.

    I have never thought of Paul Johnson as impartial...wrong, provably so on many things, but impartial? - no.

  3. Finally, someone has got round to nailing this insufferable propagandist. As Monkey Brains rightly points out, he and a raft of other 'experts' the BBC uses regularly as 'objective' sources are in reality a vital component of their partisanship.

  4. I don't mind mind "experts" with a particular point of view I might not agree with - In fact I would welcome them. What I do want, however is to hear experts with opposing points of view as well.

    1. The problem here is that the BBC use IFS as impartial when it is partial. Of course many of the independent experts and pundits they use are very carefully chosen and their pronouncements used to further the overarching BBC narrative.

    2. They are all very carefully chosen.

    3. Yes I get that WWBBC, but I what I was alluding to was the idea, no doubt impossibly idealised, of a BBC that didn’t resort to the kind of deception you have described and presented the public with both sides of an argument. In fact I would like to see nonsense like “Reality Check” dropped, along with the whole patronising and fundamentally dishonest notion of “explaining the news” to us apparently ignorant plebs. The sheer arrogance of the BBC, quite apart from the political bias is astounding.

    4. Terry, I've noticed "explainer" (as in "an explainer", a shortish news item designed to "explain" the basics of an issue) is flavour of the month in BBC medialand.

      A lot of the explainers could be called "framers".

      And yes, I agree with you. We are grown up enough to hear opposing views from "experts".

    5. Terry, both sides of the argument fairly put would be very helpful but I can't see the BBC doing it without 'framing the issue' as MB mentions above.

      The BBC has created a peculiar/unique purpose and mission to educate and inform with very specific social values. Over the years this has become the culture of the organisation which is what informs every action the BBC take across its people and output.

      Once developed, culture is hugely difficult to change, hence the state we find the BBC in right now.


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