Monday 30 April 2018

Consider the aftermath

It is with great regret that I am resigning as home secretary. I feel it is necessary to do so because I inadvertently misled the Home Affairs Select Committee over targets for removal of illegal immigrants during their questions on Windrush.
Since appearing before the select committee, I have reviewed the advice I was given on this issue and become aware of information provided to my office which makes mention of targets. I should have been aware of this, and I take full responsibility for the fact that I was not.
The Windrush scandal has rightly shone a light on an important issue for our country. As so often, the instincts of the British people are right. They want people who have a right to live here to be treated fairly and humanely, which has sometimes not been the case. But they also want the government to remove those who don't have the right to be here. I had hoped in coming months to devise a policy that would allow the government to meet both these vital objectives - including bringing forward urgent legislation to ensure the rights of the Windrush generation are protected. The task force is working well, the residence cards are being issued well within the two weeks promised, and the design of the compensation scheme is making good progress.
The Home Office is one of the great offices of state and its job is to keep people safe. It comes with the responsibility to fight terrorism, support and challenge the police and protect people against the abuse, as well as manage migration.
It has been a great privilege to serve as your home secretary. I have seen first-hand the second to none commitment and bravery of our police, fire and intelligence services, they truly are the best in the world and we should rightly be extremely proud of them.
I have been particularly pleased that we were able to set up the first Global Internet Forum for Counter Terrorism which has led the way with encouraging social media sites to go further and faster in taking down radicalising and terrorist material, which plays such a dangerous part in increasing extremism.
Setting out new laws to tackle the scourge of knife crime and acid attacks and helping to steer our young people away from a life of crime and violence by providing them with credible alternatives have been particularly important to me.
Opportunities to work on issues that safeguard the vulnerable, champions women and make a lasting impact on people's lives particularly stand out for me. New policies to fight domestic violence and abuse against women are out to consultation, and will lead this country to taking a new approach. Helping to bring thousands of refugees, including child refugees from both Calais and the Middle East region, and meeting some of the families who fled the terrible situation in Syria and have now been given a chance to rebuild their lives here in the UK in safety and security is something we can be proud of.
It has been an honour to work on a new security treaty with the EU as part of our new partnership going forward and to participate in your Brexit sub-committee helping to ensure that we have the best possible EU deal for our economy, businesses, jobs and people across the UK.
The new Economic Crime Centre that i launched with the first use of unexplained wealth orders will be important to the confidence of London as a financial centre.
I will continue to support the Home Office ministerial team whenever possible on all these important subjects, supporting the government from the back benches and continuing to work hard for my constituents of Hastings and Rye.
Best wishes,
Amber Rudd

Here is the prime minister's response:

Dear Amber,
Thank you for your letter of this evening tendering your resignation as home secretary. I was very sorry to receive it, but understand your reasons for doing so.
When you addressed the House of Commons and the Home Affairs Select Committee last week on the issue of illegal immigration, you answered the questions put to you in good faith. People who have entered the United Kingdom illegally or overstayed here should expect to face the full force of the law and know that they will be removed if they will not leave this country voluntarily. Just as importantly, people who have come here legally and enriched the life of our country should not expect the state unreasonably to challenge their presence here; rather, it should help them prove their right to continue living here and contributing to the life of our nation.
Under your tenure, the Home Office has been working to enforce a firm but fair immigration policy - working to increase the number of illegal migrants we remove, while ensuring that we continue to recognise the huge contribution of everyone who has come to the UK legally, and remain open to the brightest and best from across the globe.
When you spoke in the House of Commons, you said that you had not agreed specific removal targets, but that the Home Office's Immigration Enforcement command had been using local targets for internal performance management. You also said that you were not aware that those operational targets had been set.
I understand why, now that you have had chance to review the advice that you have received on this issue, you have made the decision you have made and taken responsibility for inadvertently misleading the Home Affairs Select Committee.
I am very sorry to see you leaving the Home Office, but you should take great pride in what you have achieved there - working with internet service providers to set up the first Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism and take extremist and terrorist content offline; countering the cyber threat to British families and businesses; standing up for the victims of crime, abuse and domestic violence; offering shelter to refugees from Syria and elsewhere; and advancing the cause of equality as minister for women and equalities.
This comes on top of the considerable contribution you have made to Government since 2012 - first as a whip, then as minister and subsequently secretary of state at the department for energy and climate change - as well as the devoted service you have always given, and will continue to give, to your constituents in Hastings and Rye.
As a former home secretary myself, I appreciate the particular demands of that great office of state. You should take great pride in the way you have led the Home Office and its dedicated public servants through a number of serious challenges, including five terrorist incidents and other complex national events. You have done so with great integrity, compassion, and selflessness - notwithstanding the personal and political challenges you have faced during this period.
I know that you have a great contribution still to make to national life, and look forward to seeing you do so.

“Amber Rudd seemed slowly to be escaping the worst of her troubles yesterday.  Now she has gone.  Did she come to consider her position too vulnerable, after all?  Has she simply had enough? Or is there some twist to the tale – some as yet undiscovered Home Office document or exchange – that we don’t yet know about?  At the moment, it looks as though the second is the case, but we will doubtless find out more in due course.
So Michael Fallon, Priti Patel, Damian Green and now Rudd have left the Cabinet that Theresa May formed last summer.  That’s a departure rate of almost one of its members every three months – an indication of this Government’s essential fragility.  The Prime Minister will not have wanted to lose a senior former Remainer from her Cabinet who can now cause her Brexit trouble – and perhaps tell recent tales of dealing with both May’s Home Office legacy and her internal management of leaving the EU

I thought the first part of Paul Goodman's article was fine, but I'm not quite so keen on the speculation about who will replace Rudd in the latter part of the piece. Let’s hope May isn’t forced (by ‘quota maths’) to choose someone weak, vulnerable and colourless.

I like Stephen Daisley. He goes on to make some interesting suggestions for revamping the Home Office; do read the whole thing in the Spectator.
The Home Office is not a government department; it’s a nervous breakdown minuted by civil servants. It is too big, too unwieldy, and too overstretched. It is an uber-bureaucracy of overlapping remits and contradictory objectives, at once sclerotic and dementedly populist. Tony Blair recognised this and hived off courts, prisons and probation to the Ministry of Justice. It was a good start but the decade since has proved that more radical restructuring is needed. 

Sometimes it’s vital to know who said what to whom and who knew what when, but I feel that the media is placing far too much emphasis on that aspect of the 'targets' affair in this case.

I prefer to look at the wider picture. In the Conservative press, there is some sympathy for Amber Rudd, in particular with regard to her competence in seeing through the proposals for putting things right for the Windrush generation. On the other hand, the Guardian was at the head of the campaign to depose her. Just imagine what the Home Office would be like under Diane Abbott. Is that really what the Guardian is aiming for?

After the business of the left dismissing the latest racism scandal in the Labour Party as a politically motivated smear, how can Diane Abbott get away with pretending that her crusade-like campaign against the government is any different?  

Let’s hear the BBC’s flagship political experts like Smith, Marr and Humphrys challenge Labour as ‘robustilly’ as they have been doing with the Rudd, May and anyone who ventures to defend them.
Depose the fragile Conservative government and usher in an utterly shambolic and vindictive opposition?  As in the Iraq debacle, this time please let’s consider the aftermath!

Ah! It's Sajid!

Sunday 29 April 2018

BBC Radio 4 marks a year out from Brexit - a review

This, you may recall, was the BBC's way of marking one year before the date when we leave the EU, and it was evidently meant to showcase the BBC's range, depth and impartiality.  

I've not have the time to write about it so far, frustratingly, but I have (at last) finally heard it all.

In lieu of a full-scale review (to come, no doubt, from the good folk at News-watch), I'll give my own impressions at, hopefully, not too great length (as John Milton might have said before preparing to publish Paradise Lost)....


Iain Martin in his lab

The Brexit Lab

Firstly, the day did feature a programme presented by a pro-Brexit (non-BBC) journalist. Iain Martin's The Brexit Lab focused on possible positive outcomes for the UK after Brexit. 

Lord Pearson of Rannoch has been challenging the BBC for nearly two years now to name a single example of a Brexit documentary that focused mainly on the positives of Brexit. Answer there came none...

...until The Brexit Lab.

I thought at the time that it was going to be used as the BBC's 'Get Out of Jail Free' card and that they'd plug it for all it's worth - and, if last week's Feedback is anything to go by, that's already proving to be the case.

The BBC's political advisor Ric Bailey said, if you recall, "And incidentally, there was an entire half-hour programme which Iain Martin did on Radio 4 a couple of weeks ago, precisely on that point about the opportunities Brexit, so they are there, and we are, you know, it’s an active part of our journalism."

Well no, Ric, it's not an active part of your journalism. On Radio 4, it's been a complete and utter one-off. 

(The occasional A Point of View from Roger Scruton or John Gray doesn't count as they aren't documentaries).

The fascinating thing though about Iain's The Brexit Lab is that it was 'more BBC than the BBC', so to speak. It really did try to be impartial. The guest list ranged far-and-wide and had a very decent balance of Remainers and Leavers, and lefties, righties and centrists (Caroline Flint, Paul Mason, Oliver Lewtin, Greenpeace's Douglas Parr on one side, Joshua Burke, Michael Gove, Mark Littlewood and Gerald Lyons on the other, with David Halpern, Nicole Badstuber and Julie Fourcade floating somewhere hard to place in between.) And Iain Martin was very generous in letting all sides have their say whilst toning down his own views.

The particularly interesting thing about this programme, however, is that Radio 4's continuity announcer announced it as:
a very personal view
I heard that live as I drove home from work that day and thought, "Well, I've never heard a programme announced like that before".

I mean, it wasn't just that the BBC announcer called it "a personal view", he called it "a very personal view".  

Have you ever heard a Radio 4 programme announced like that before (and, more importantly, can you name it)?

It strikes me as fascinating that the one pro-Brexit-leaning documentary broadcast by BBC Radio 4 since June 2016 was introduced with such a heavy distancing caveat by the BBC. 

No such caveats preceded (or followed) any of the other BBC programmes that day - even those presented by strongly anti-Brexit (non-BBC) presenters like David Aaronovitch and Jonathan Freedland.


Uriah Davis?

The EU After Brexit

And now let's move onto the rest, starting with the only programme I listened to fully at the time: The EU After Brexit (though also half-hearing The Brexit Lab), co-presented by Evan Davis and David Aaronovitch.

I rolled my eyes at it at the time, and those eyes of mine are still rolling on (like Ol' Man River). Here - unlike Iain Martin - you have a BBC man and an anti-Brexit man. And yet - unlike Iain Martin - neither of them (BBC or non-BBC) made the slightest attempt to balance their programme. 

Seriously, please listen to this and compare it to The Brexit Lab. While The Brexit Lab had a wide variety of voices, The EU After Brexit - over the course of an entire hour of BBC broadcasting - did not see fit to include a single Eurosceptic voice. 

It's not as it there aren't plenty of Eurosceptic voices across the EU, but Evan and David didn't talk to a single one of them. 

Before listening to it I laid out my expectations for what an unbiased BBC programme about the EU after Brexit would be. and top of my list was that - given the depth of Eurosceptism across Europe - it would feature Europhile and Eurosceptic voices. I thought that was the least it could do, and actually expected at least some sop to 'BBC impartiality' by the brief appearance of, say, some 'far-right populist' (for balance!). But even that never came. 

There wasn't a Eurosceptic voice anywhere to be heard. This was a view 'from Europe' which excluded Eurosceptic voices. 

This programme was, therefore, deeply and unquestionably biased.

The David Aaronovich bits featured pro-EU former ECB banker Jean-Claude Trichet, pro-EU Daniela Schwarzer of the German Council on Foreign Relations, pro-EU Labour former Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem and an academic from Warsaw University called Justyna who put the Polish point(s) of view in a dispassionate, academic way. 

Then came Evan Davis's bit featuring three EU businessmen - Lorenzo Bini Smaghi, chairman of Société Générale (former ECB); Matt Regan, Senior Vice President & Head of Europe of Novo Nordisk (Denmark); and Teofil Muresan, chairman of Electrogrup (Romania). 

Evan's opening commentary was about UK pro-Brexit people saying that being attached to the EU was being "shackled to a corpse", to a "shrinking proportion of the world economy" and to a zone that's "ill-adapted to change". What did his three EU business leaders make of that, he wondered. Well, guess what? They all think the EU is flipping marvellous!! 

Evan's little 'Evanisms' were all present and correct too. His first question to his first question was 'What is good? What is bad? about the EU. This second question to his second guest dropped the 'What is bad?' part of it and just went with 'What is good?' And when Evan told one of them not to 'talk Brexit', he later asked all three of them for their views about Brexit (with very predictable results). 

This programme is one that goes entirely into the pro-EU-biased column. 

BBC reporter Adam Fleming's commentary during the programme is worth looking at too, especially as regard President Macron (a dubious pro-EU take on why people voted for him - because he's pro-EU!) and anti-EU "propaganda" (as Adam put it) from Hungary's Viktor Orban that would make UKIP types "blush" (as Adam also put it) - highly loaded language.


Jean-Claude Juncker (after one too many glasses of claret)

The Long View

As for Jonathan Freedland's The Long View Brexit Special, well, yes, anti-Brexit Jonathan's guests throughout were pro-Brexit Kwasi Kwarteng and anti-Brexit Eloise Todd.  

So far so balanced. 

The programme, however, was fascinating, full of historically questionable analogies - and deeply biased. 

Expert One used to flight of some Anglo-Saxons to Asia Minor after the Norman Conquest to talk about the "rhetoric" of "nostalgia" that has "bled into the Brexit debate" - " the emotional connection to an ideal of a land rather than perhaps a more critical understanding that sometimes history changes and that sometimes you can’t turn back the clock". 

Jonathan Freedland then asked Kwasi Kwarteng about "older voters" behaving like those Anglo-Saxons "unnerved by hearing alien tongues" (nudge, nudge, hint, hint - not that Kwasi picked up on what JF was implying!) whilst asking Eloise Todd a very different kind of question, about whether it was her "understanding" that it was "a kind of nostalgic longing" that motivated those doomed Anglo-Saxons. Eloise then blew JF's not-so-well-hidden cover by immediately answering about Brexit and Leave voters and pretty much calling for a second referendum. 

The expert then praised the good things the Norman Conquest had brought and ended by opining, "And, in fact, the point about people today being uncomfortable about hearing different languages, again, I think goes back to the point of nostalgia for a place that is an ideal rather than a reality."

I won't go on, but the rest of the programme continued in a similar vein. 

There was the Napoleon blockade bit about how bad it was for the UK and how the UK wanted to be at the heart of Europe to counteract it. (JF: "So there’s George Canning then, Foreign Secretary, asserting Britain’s right to sit at the very centre of the European system.  Listening to that, Kwasi Kwartang, don’t you think George Canning would be amazed today if he heard that Britain was voluntarily taking itself out of the single market, the trading market of Europe, when he was prepared to use military might, naval might in order to make sure that Britain was right there in the centre of that trading system?") 

And then the programme, taunting Brexiteers, resurrected that old canard that Winston Churchill was in favour of an Anglo-French union in the early years of the Second World War. 

We've been here before. (See here too). It's not true.

Winston Churchill after bathing in the sea at Deauville, France (1922)

And JF, being biased, naturally used it in contrasting ways. To his pro-Brexit guest he asked:
Kwasi Kwartang, no figure in British history is more lionised by all sides, but especially by the Eurosceptic side of British politics than Winston Churchill, the great British bulldog, and there he is, calling for merger between Britain and France, the declaration says there won’t be two nations anymore. Surely that is a shocking fact for Eurosceptics and particularly their view of Winston Churchill?
To his anti-Brexit guest he asked:
Eloise Todd, when you hear that, of the man voted the greatest ever Britain calling for a union between Britain and France, does that alter your perspective on Britain’s relationship with Europe?
As you can see, he was asking the same question from the same stance both times, disadvantaging the pro-Brexit guest and advantaging the anti-Brexit guest. That's how biased interviewing works.

To conclude Jonathan Freedland asked his three experts for their summary. I think I need to quote this in full to give you a flavour of just how unbalanced the programme was in choosing its experts from all the available opinions and framing the questions. (Only David Reynolds refused to reveal his hand):
Jonathan Freedland: Let’s broaden out a little bit. History has played a big part in this Brexit debate, it’s raging right now with these protestors in Westminster. Erin Goeres and David Andress our historians from earlier have rejoined us here on College Green, and Erin Goeres, start with you, history is often very contested, what role do you think it has played in the debate about Brexit? But perhaps more importantly, what role should history play in this today?
Erin Goeres: I think looking back at history is a good reminder that we don’t stand at a unique moment we have seen from all of these examples that Britain has a long and complicated relationship with Europe, it is an issue that is revisited time and time again.  Britain has always been a part of Europe culturally, linguistically, politically, it’s just to what degree should we negotiate that.
Jonathan Freedland: But it seems like it’s almost always been an uncomfortable relationship, there’s always jostling and jockeying and arguing, David Andress?  I know there was a group called Historians for Britain that was on the pro-Brexit side, I think you signed a letter on the other side of the argument, can history play an important role in this discussion?
David Andress: Well, I think one of the important things we have to remember is that people don’t really learn very much history.  They learn a lot of things that they think are history, they think they understand where we’ve been in the past, because they vaguely remember things they were told at school, or politicians or newspapers use historical reference.  But in the context that I was talking about earlier, a couple of hundred years ago one of the things that you absolutely have to recognise is, on the one hand, Britain absolutely wants to remain part of this jostling European process, it cannot conceive of itself working in the world without being part of a European concert of nations. And on the other hand, when we look back and talk about British greatness, its prosperity, over the intervening two hundred years, it’s absolutely connected to the fact of Empire, to the fact of dominating and exploiting tens of millions of people all around the world. We’re simply not in that position any more.  We were the America and China combined of 200 years ago, and we no longer live in a world where we can expect to take anything by force, we have to cooperate and collaborate.
Jonathan Freedland: David Reynolds, the bit of history you talked about with us, of 1940 and Britain standing alone, it’s entered the mythology it’s in some ways the sort of founding narrative of modern Britain, it was a big part of the Eurosceptic case that Britain had stood alone, didn’t need the rest of Europe and could stand alone again.  What’s the reading you have of that 1940 episode in terms of Britain’s relations with Europe?
David Reynolds: Well you see, I’m not so keen on the idea of using history as analogy, I’m not so keen on the idea that it’s a source of lessons we can pull of the shelf and say, ‘Ah, this is a 1940 moment’ or whatever it is. For me, history is a way of thinking, and what one is trying to do as a historian is understand, if you like, complex situations from the past, what’s the elements that went into decision-making then, all the different factors and that’s then a way of helping people to open up their thinking about the situation is now, what kind of factors should be taken in, how should leaders respond, don’t go for the quick fix, ask yourself . . . don’t ask for the lessons from history, say, ‘Well, what’s the story we’re in now,’ and then try and make some sensible judgements. 

That could hardly be less impartial as a piece of broadcasting #despiteKwasiKwarteng. And yet, unlike with Iain Martin's programme, it wasn't introduced as either "a personal view" or "a very personal view" - something that speaks volumes about BBC impartiality and how the BBC sees BBC impartiality.


Really, Craig? Are you really going with this image to illustrate the next section of the post?

Oh dear, this short summary is already getting close to Miltonian length (without the magnificent language), and I've not even touched on the big main Radio 4 current affairs staples on Radio 4's Britain at the Crossroads day.

I'll try to be brief (as Tolstoy said before writing War and Peace - according to the BBC's Reality Check)...

The World Tonight

Working backwords, The World Tonight featured (as its only Brexit feature) a truly classic BBC report from BBC veteran Allan Little.

It was everything a cynic would expect from a BBC report - and the mighty Allan is a veritable master of such things.

It featured a balance of talking heads - two pro-Brexit ones, followed by three anti-Brexit ones. The first pro-Brexit voice was an aggrieved fisherman, the second a pro-Brexit blogger.

After the latter appeared, Allan said (in a subtly undermining way), "But is this anything more than a leap of faith, based on ideological conviction, rather than evidence?

And guess what? Everything that followed gave an emphatic, undermining 'no' to that question.

First came an historian talking of "Imperial amnesia" on the part of Leave voters.

Next came a fruit processing company that fears Brexit - the "fear that that Brexit vision will cut Britain off from the workforce it needs".

And finally come another Kent businesswoman who pronounced herself "petrified" about Brexit.

And Allan Little ended with the less-than-reassuring words:
No one knows what kind of Britain will emerge in the years that lie ahead, but the journey begins a year from now.  There is no return ticket and the destination remains unknown...
Seriously, Allan is one of the absolute masters of biased BBC reporting. If I were teaching the dark angels of Hell in the arts of subtle reporting (to Hell's advantage) I'd start with a thorough exploration of Allan Little dark genius at this kind of thing - and this very example. 

Allan's particular genius, I suspect, is that he doesn't believe he's being biased, even for a second. I bet it never even occurs to him, and that he sees any criticism as his reporting as being simply invalid.


That day's PM meanwhile gave over a lot of time to BBC Reality Check's supreme guru Chris Morris - someone whose bias against Brexit we've spent hours and hours detailing. It's no longer available on the BBC iPlayer but I heard it and it was typical Chris Morris as far as Brexit is concerned.

I should have transcribed it to capture it for posterity, but if you know your Chris Morris (as regular readers will), you'll easily imagine what you've missed.

The World at One

That day's The World at One featured (like that night's The EU After Brexit) the view from the Continental EU - from the BBC's Chris Paige in Ireland, the BBC's Lucy Williamson in France, Jenny Hill in Germany and Adam Easton in Poland. 

It was all disappointment and negativity about Brexit. 

The famous Laura Kuenssberg....

....(and, for all passing Corbynistas, I'll say "Boo!!" for you here to save you a little time)....

....popped up in between interviewing Theresa May on the Brexit issue. 

'Tory' Laura pressed the Tory PM on whether there would be a 'Brexit dividend', specifically as regards NHS spending. (We don't need to guess which much-mentioned bus motivated that line of BBC questioning). 

To sum up the other contributions here: Chris Paige said that Ireland is looking to the EU more than ever; Lucy Williamson said that "President Macron’s gaze is fixed towards Europe, not across the Channel"; and Jenny Hill said that the "back in business" Mrs Merkel is focused on the integrity of the EU, not Britain and its "baffling" decision to leave the EU.  Oh dear, Britain.

As for Poland, Adam Easton said that even the "most Eurosceptic" government there since Poland joined the EU "knows the benefits membership brings". 

And then Mark Mardell began his new history of the EU-UK which I'll return when it finishes. It began with Mark highlighting that OMG The Daily Mail was in favour of us joining the EEC and went on from there. 

Some bridge in Stockton-on-Tees


And as for Today, what can be said? 

Well, its starting point defined it. 

It started from Stockton-on-Tees with Mishal Husain saying "And to mark that anniversary we've come to a car parts factory on Teesside", and then adding: "Before the referendum its managing director warned that leaving the EU would be business suicide. Today, however they voted, his staff just want the process over with".

And guess what? The factory's managing director, interviewed later, still thinks that leaving the EU is a bad idea.

That's a good one for Lord Adonis. One this landmark day of BBC broadcasting why did Today decide to broadcast from a factory whose owner had previously declared it would be "business suicide" to leave the EU? Did they expect him (wrongly) to have changed his mind, or did they expect him (rightly) to still hold much the same anti-Brexit view?

Matthew Price was on hand throughout too. His first contribution was typically downbeat:
Absolutely, good morning, yeah. We’re going to hear a lot about the uncertainty that the people in this factory feel during the programme, and in fact, the BBC's internal surveys show us that people as a whole understand less about the Brexit process now than they did even just 6 months ago. 
And gloomy Matthew also ended the programme in the same downbeat way:
The BBC carries out internal research to see what audiences make of certain issues. People are concerned about the impact on the NHS, they are concerned about the way it’s going to affect the pound in their pocket, their jobs.  One of the most striking observations before we leave, one year before we leave the EU, is the growing number of people who feel they just don’t fully understand Brexit. 
To which Mishal gave the closing reply, "Matthew, thank you."

In between came sections featuring employees at that company and a young people's panel, plus BBC reporters from the three non-English nations of the United Kingdom, a section on the Arts and Brexit, as well as interviews with the Lib Dems (Jo Swinson), Labour (John McDonnell), the Conservatives (Liam Fox) and the SNP (Stephen Gethins). And, for good measure, there was a short, interruption-strewn interview with John Longworth of Leave Means Leave and a longer, much-less-interruption-strewn interview with Tony Blair. However you class John McDonnell, that's a tilt towards anti-Brexit interviewees. 


So, as you can see, there's still at lot to dig into - especially as regards Today - but the trajectory remains clear.

For a day of Radio 4 broadcasting that was, apparently, meant to exemplify the BBC at its impartial best, this day of BBC broadcasting in fact showed the BBC to be incapable of producing a fair package of programmes on the issue of Brexit. 

It was - with the exception of The Brexit Lab - the usual BBC stuff, pumping out negativity about Brexit pretty much all of the ways.

And it really is no use the BBC citing Lord Adonis & Co. in 'complaints from both sides' evidence here, grasping at The Brexit Lab and instantly escalating it to Ofcom in a colossal huff. The balance of that day's Radio 4 broadcasting was a tsunami of bias in favour of negativity about Brexit. 

I seriously challenge anyone (with time on their hands) to review this day's output for themselves and argue otherwise. You will fail (I think).

In Praise of David Lammy MP

To be sarcastic or not to be sarcastic, that is the question....

We don't often complain about Radio 4's Profile

Speaking for myself (and, so, not presuming on Sue!), I find it to be generally very engaging and pretty scrupulous when it comes to questions of balance and bias.

This week's edition, however, took me by surprise - so much so that I'm now posting (and strongly moaning) about it.


It profiled a prominent UK politician. 

Now, Profile often profiles politicians and, I'd say, usually succeeds in giving a fair and balanced view of them. 

Not this time though. 


Seriously, O Dear Reader, please listen to it for yourselves and see if you agree with me that (this week) Profile came far, far too close to sounding like a puff piece for the politician concerned.

Even presenter Mark Coles (a very engaging presenter) dropped his trademark John Peel-style deadpan irony. 

Indeed, listening to it, I thought of it as being a radio version of one of those notoriously hagiographic Wikipedia entries which turn out to have been edited (on the sly) by the very politician in question!


The politician profiled by Radio 4's Profile, if you were wondering, was Labour's David Lammy. 

Every voice featured -
his godmother Auntie May; his sister; Alastair Campbell; his school friend Patrick; his fellow choir member Kate; his former deputy head Trevor; his former Harvard professor Alan Stone; and Huff Post editor Paul Waugh 
- had only good things to say about him, and defended him against the very rare mentions of criticisms of Saint David of Tottenham featured in the programme...

...(including a fleeting mention of his, ahem, slightly embarrassing Mastermind experience).


I was genuinely taken aback by this Radio 4 Profile. (Should I have been?)

I expected (from past experience) to hear at least one or two dissenting voices - (that's what Radio 4's Profile usually does as far as profiling UK party politicians goes) - but there were no dissenting voices...

...and that is very unusual for Radio 4 Profile.


What got into the BBC here? Why didn't they dare to bring balance and irony into their profile of David Lammy? Why the near hagiography? Did the excellent Mark Coles cringe whilst reading out this script? What were they up to?


If you think I'm in any way exaggerating, please listen for yourselves and feel free to to disagree (and I'd love to hear an attempted defence of the BBC here).

Meanwhile, in the wake of this programme, I'm off to pray at the premature shrine of Saint David of Lammy, as he makes our present saints (on the evidence of Radio 4's Profile) sound like sinners.

One of Our Stories is Missing

The Sunday Times front page (and two more pages inside) has Russian Twitter bots tried to swing general election for Jeremy Corbyn. As at 1:30 there is nothing on the BBC News website - only Voter ID plans 'deeply flawed', says Electoral Reform Society.
Indeed, The Sunday Times story hasn't been a story on the website all day [except in the online paper review of course]. I checked at 7.30 am and it wasn't there, though it was the fourth story on both the Sky News and ITV News websites. I checked again around 11.00 am and it was still the fourth story on the ITV website but had slipped to ninth place on the Sky website, but still nothing on the BBC News website. Now, at 2.00 pm, it's still the fourth story on the ITV News website but has slipped to 11th place on the Sky News website and remains absent from the BBC News website. 

It is very interesting what interests some broadcasters but not others. 

Paddy O'Connell falls for fake news

Poor Hugh Sykes got teased on Radio 4's Broadcasting House this morning for misidentifying a singing bird in his garden. He thought it was a blackbird but a hundred or so BH listeners protested that it was a thrush. Apparently he has form too, getting his swallows and swifts mixed up in Syria a few years ago. 

Meanwhile his teaser, Paddy O'Connell, was busy telling the audience:
The rapper Kanye West has come out for Donald Trump. West, who praised their shared dragon blood, gained an important friend in the White House but lost 10 million followers on Twitter.
Now, Paddy should have then got his Trump impersonator to say, "Paddy, you're FAKE NEWS!", because that was fake news. As The Independent put it:
Kanye West isn't actually losing followers on Twitter despite his use of it to support Donald Trump. 
In the wake of West's string of posts, a number of websites claimed that his follower count had dropped by millions in just a few minutes. A number of viral tweets suggested that his follower count had dropped by nine million users in just a few minutes, after he posted tweets including a picture of a signed Make America Great Again hat. 
But despite the controversy around the posts, West's followers do seem to be staying the same, at around 27 million. The number might be changing on some people's screens, but that appears to be a problem with Twitter rather than people taking issue with his posts. 
A Twitter spokesperson that the fluctuations were a mistake. 
"We can confirm that Kanye's follower count is currently at approximately 27M followers," the company said. "Any fluctuation that people might be seeing is an inconsistency and should be resolved soon."
In fact, Kanye appears to be closing in on 28M followers now.

Oh Paddy!

Admiration, admiration, admiration

From this morning's paper review on The Andrew Marr Show...

ANDREW MARR: Let's turn to someone who probably won't be turned away by Immigration when he arrives. Donald Trump is coming to visit the country in July.  
LYSE DOUCET: Yes he will, and I think a lot of people in Britain are asking about that so-called 'special relationship', when they saw another relationship on show this week. "Bromance" was very much in the world headlines last week, and in The Observer they are showing what they're calling "dandruff diplomacy"... 
ANDREW MARR: Oh dear! 
LYSE President Trump flicks away a speck of dandruff, and he says, "There now. You're perfect". And judging from the images coming out of Washington, all the pomp and circumstance, Emmanuel Macron wanted to shake hands with President Trump more than Melania Trump did! But there is serious intent to all this. Emmanuel Macron has really weaponised in diplomacy the bear hug because, after days of hugging and hand-holding, he went to Congress then and ripped into many of President Trump's signature policies. A great line, he said "There is no planet B". Now for those of you who still hold onto that special relationship - I'm not sure you still do - there is a letter in The Sun that "there is no greater alliance than you and us"..."you and the US" and "we need it even more" - the Ambassador looking ahead to the visit by Donald Trump. It's now been confirmed for July 13th.  And we already know from the property mogul, Donald Trump says "I'm not going to cut the ribbon at that embassy. It's in Nine Elms?! You should never have moved from Grosvenor Square. Location, location, location!".  
ANDREW MARR: Nine Elms is a little bit south of the river for the Donald. 
LYSE DOUCET: Even Donald Trump. He's a property man.  
ANDREW PIERCE: Did you see. There's a great cartoon in The Sunday Times again on Trump and M. Macron. There's Donald Trump saying to Mr. Macron, clutching their hand very tightly, "Boy, you're hot!" to which Mr Macron says "That'll be global warming", because he was out there of course to talk about ...get him to stick to the Paris climate change. 
ANDREW MARR: An interesting balance between really kind of cosying up to the Donald on the one hand and then hammering him on the policies. A very, very acute piece of diplomacy there. 
LYSE DOUCET: It's an interesting new tactic.  
ANDREW MARR: Nice in person, but... 
LYSE DOUCET: President Macron is called "the Trump whisperer". I think Theresa May wanted to have that kind of a role. Let's see...She held hands as well if you remember when she went to see President Trump. She was the first world leader to go and visit him.  
ANDREW PIERCE: And she's been criticised for it ever since, of course. 

This crowded isle

Here's a remarkable visualisation, courtesy of Oxford University's Max Roser - "a cartogram of where the world population lives – each square represents the home of half a million people" (click to enlarge):

Canada and Russia are particularly striking, with Canada barely visible and Russia shrinking drastically. Also striking is the largeness of the United Kingdom. Evidently (despite what Mark Easton says) we are a densely populated country.

Saturday 28 April 2018

Partisan agenda

There was an astonishing interview on the Today Programme just after the eight o’clock news.  In the studio with John Humphrys were Michael Gove and Diane Abbott. If you didn’t hear it, you should listen here. Go on.

The topic was immigration and in particular those contentious targets. You know, the targets that led to a small fleet of innovative “go-home” buses intended to generate a hostile atmosphere for illegal immigrants, who would obviously take one look and immediately flock to the airport in droves or drive to the airport in flocks.

John Humphrys was super-indignant and incredulous that the Home Secretary hadn’t seen the memo and/or didn’t know about the targets, especially after the Guardian had got hold of some damning evidence or other. He was so incensed that he started speaking in that staccato way of his, where each word is enunciated separately as if someone had scattered full-stop-confetti over his head. But Michael Gove wasn’t having any of it. 
“John, John! You’re making yourself an instrument of a highly partisan campaign against a highly effective Home Secretary.” 
Way to go! And it was followed shortly after by:
“John, John, in your desire to maintain the prosecutorial stance in the service of a partisan agenda..”
“You’ve gotta withdraw that!” said John, helplessly. Realising he had to let it go, he said, “I’ll let it go”.

I had almost forgotten that Diane Abbott was there, so quietly and patiently had she been waiting.

All she wanted to do was relate the tragic cases of Windrush grannies who have been herded into deportation camps in droves. (or driven in herds) Humph must have been conscious that he’d better grill the shadow Home Secretary as fiercely as he’d tried to grill the Gover, otherwise, that immaculate impartiality of his, which he had reminded us of moments earlier, might be called into question. 

However, he couldn’t quite raise the same passion with Diane and resorted to telling her to concentrate on the targets rather than describing some non-specific Windrush cases in an emotive fashion. She accused the government of deliberately confusing illegal immigrants with the Windrush generation. Deliberately!  It really was an astonishing interview for oh so many reasons. 

However, the bottom line is, and I’m straying from the astonishing interview now, but I think I need to ask… where can we see some facts? Like, for example, are there any statistics on erroneously deported individuals? What became of them? Can they be compensated? How about the people that were not deported but erroneously disenfranchised and prevented from working, driving and being treated on the NHS. Are there any statistics on these cases, and can they be compensated or is it now too late? 

I think we need some idea of the scale of the problem rather than hearing Diane Abbott emoting and hurling out innuendos. That’s one thing. Then there’s the matter of how difficult was it for the Windrush people to regularise their status? Because obviously, some have done so.   

This whole business is far too reminiscent of a parallel scenario, where the pro-Palestinian movement is generally far more concerned with attacking Israel than helping the Palestinians.  The politicised agenda we have here means that Labour seems far more concerned with calling for Amber Rudd’s resignation than actually helping the people they say they’re concerned about. 

Almost on cue, moments after that interview, John Humphrys spoke to a very satisfied customer. A member of the Windrush generation who had received his certification and was a very happy bunny. 

The Labour Party is mired in antisemitism. One would think they’d be embarrassed about calling for a symbolic resignation when the bleeding obvious applies to their own leadership a thousand times over. 


As I've not been able to blog much recently, I'm having to confine myself to short surveys at the moment and, as a result, suddenly remembered one of Charles Moore's two questions for testing bias, "Who is in the dock?"

("In almost all major stories, you can tell very quickly who this is.")

I then thought I'd apply it to this week's editions of Newsnight and see what happened.

Well, for what it's worth.....

....and it may be very little as some segments - such as the Macron/Trump visit, and the various Korea bits - didn't actually put anyone in the dock {you may be surprised to hear!} so can't actually be included.... list reads as follows:

Amber Rudd
A Maoist cult

Amber Rudd
Bill Cosby and other male stars
Viktor Orban 

Amber Rudd
Bullying MPs (very briefly)
Incel/alt-right supporters

Jeremy Corbyn
Putin's Russia, 'pro-Russian internet trolls'
(Possibly Alastair Campbell for the Iraq War dodgy dossier)
Rev. Giles Fraser (for allegedly giving the Assad regime cover by visiting Christians in Syria)

Amber Rudd
The Government's Brexit policy 
(Possibly Donald Trump, over the issue of more women trying to enter US Politics)

If we're looking for patterns here, the fact that Amber Rudd's awful week wasn't made any better by Newsnight stands out for starters! Windrush was a main story on four out of five editions. (That's an easy one). 

The 'bad guys' of the internet - people who post in apparent sympathy to the viewpoints of Putin's Russia or Assad's Syria (for whatever reason - individual or state-sponsored), or who join woman-hating websites linked (it's said) to the alt-right - were another focus. (Newsnight has been focusing on such people for some time now, as old surveys on this site show).

The abuse of women by men (in various forms) got two outings this week (thanks to MPs and Bill Cosby). 

The three foreign governments in the dock this week were those of Hungary, Russia and Syria. 

(Those of the US, France and North and South Korea were discussed but not placed in the dock).

Jeremy Corbyn had a bad night on Tuesday over antisemitism (Jonathan Arkush being the only interviewee). And a Maoist cult was made the focus of a worthwhile report on Friday. So the further ends of the Left (of various shades) certainly didn't get off scot-free. 

If you can see any other patterns here (or don't see the patterns I've seen), please have your say below...

BBC Reality Check v Jon Sopel

According to CNN, who interviewed Kang Kyung-wha, "South Korea's foreign minister has said she believes President Donald Trump is largely responsible for bringing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to the negotiating table". 

According to CBS, "National security experts, and even the South Korean foreign minister, are crediting Mr. Trump for bringing North Korea to the table."

Well, that's their view, but it's not the view of the BBC's ever-so-impartial Reality Check.  

"Does Trump deserve the credit for peace talks with North Korea?", it asks. before answering its own question with a clear 'No':

So there you go. It's the South Koreans and the Chinese who deserve the credit, according to the BBC, and not Donald Trump. 

Indeed, the article goes out of its way to give Donald Trump no credit whatsoever.

And all the BBC's chosen experts agree with the BBC - and disagree with CBS's chosen experts. 

Intriguingly, the BBC's Reality Check is also at odds here with the BBC's North America editor, Jon Sopel. On last night's BBC One News at Six, he was asked, "Is Donald Trump claiming much of the credit for this?" and replied:
I think Donald Trump could justifiably say, "I have done this and no other President could probably have brought this about". Look, he inherited a policy of strategic containment. That was going nowhere. Then North Korea were suddenly doing these tests which showed they were much more technologically advanced. And Donald Trump, unlike another other President I think would have done, ramped the language up to Volume Ten, "weapons being locked and loaded", there would be "fire and fury", and he even talked to the UN about the total destruction of North Korea. I think that had two effects: I think it made North Korea realise that they were dealing with a rather different US leader and I think it made the Chinese worry as well about what could happen to the peninsula. The Chinese have played a key role in this and Donald Trump has acknowledged that. Now, of course, all these talks could go wrong. They may not happen. But at the moment it looks almost certain that talks will happen with Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un, and six months ago we were talking about the possibility of a nuclear confrontation. Now we are talking about the possibility of peace. And, in anyone's language, that must be seen as progress.
Maybe the BBCs Reality Check needs to give Jon Sopel a 'reality checking'. 

Or vice versa.

Friday 27 April 2018

25 Myths; Debunked

I came across an unusual blog post in the Times of Israel. It is unusual for a couple of reasons. Firstly because it did what it said on the tin, which is to debunk 25 of the most ubiquitous - what shall we call them? I suggest ‘smears’. Yes, they are genuine smears, against Israel.  if I have to spell it out, I’m using the term in its strictest sense, (damage the reputation of (someone) by false accusations; slander) and not as a trumped-up smokescreen, as in the tactic infamously used by the antisemites in the Labour Party to mask the truth.

The second reason the blog post is unusual is that it was written by someone of “Arab origin”. in other words, it was written  As-an-Arab. 
If the exact same piece had been penned by a Jew, it might well have been passed off with a Mandy Rice-Davies (they would, wouldn’t they) type of shrug, rather than a Jeremy Corbyn (don’t know/don’t care) type of shrug. 

You’ll be familiar with Richard Ingrams's infamous boast, which is that he looks first at the author of any letter concerning Israel - and if the name looks “Jewish’ he bins it; by a parallel token, if a supporter or defender of Israel happens to be NotaJew, like, say, John Mann MP, Denis MacEoin, Douglas Murray or Rod Liddle, the words carry extra weight and are more likely to be taken seriously. One might also speculate that the antisemites find them the most infuriating.

Here is what Mr. Maroun says about the “AsaJew” party members that the Labour party flaunts to disguise its antisemitism. (Extracted from myth number 16.)
“Some naïve Jews feel guilty over accusations that Zionism is a modern form of Nazism but the number of Jews who buy the dishonest anti-Zionist rhetoric is very small and very marginal. They are a convenient tool in the hands of Israel’s enemies, so they are quoted often and their importance is magnified well beyond their numbers.”
Did you realise that it is illegal in Lebanon to communicate “in any fashion” with an Israeli?

If Fred Maroun only represents a tiny fraction of the world’s Arabs and Leftists, he still earns his brownie points by dint of his non-Jewish identity. 

I would very much like to reproduce the piece in full, as I think it’s an invaluable resource for anyone who suddenly needs to refute any of those widely believed myths neatly and succinctly. However, I don’t want to abuse bloggers’ etiquette and steal the entire content without asking permission. So I’ll compromise, and list the 25 headings here, and post an edited and abridged (by me) version over the fold. I think it has relevance for the BBC, as many of these myths crop up (in fact or innuendo) within much of the BBC's reporting of matters concerning Israel.
The original provides links, and not only to pro-Israel sources. Do go to the article itself to get the full picture, because I can’t guarantee that my editing has done justice to the original.

1. “Israel can end the conflict by withdrawing from the “West Bank””
2. “Israel keeps stealing Palestinian land”
3. “Gaza is an open-air prison / under siege”
4. “Israel is an apartheid/racist state”
5. “The “West Bank” is an even worse apartheid”
6. “Jewish settlements in the “West Bank” are illegal”
7. “It is the Israel-Palestinian conflict”
8. “Trump caused Arabs to riot in Jerusalem”
9. “Israel threatens Lebanon”
10. “Israel is run by a right-wing government that is no better than Hamas
11. “Israel commits genocide against Palestinians”
12. “If some Palestinians behave badly, it is out of desperation”
13. “Israel created the Palestinian refugee crisis”
14. “The conflict is a dispute over land”
15. “Zionists are the new Nazis”
16. “Even Jews think that Israel is a terrorist state”
17. “Israel targets civilians and children”
18. “Israel is an imperialist project”
19. “Israeli Jews are European”
20. “Jews have no right to have their own state”
21. “Europe supported Zionism because of guilt over the Holocaust”
22. “Israel’s support for LGBT rights is a cover for its crimes”
23. “The BDS movement is a reasonable response to Israel”
24. “Hatred of Israel is okay because anti-Zionism is not antisemitism”
25. “Israel is the cause of conflicts in the Middle East”

Thursday 26 April 2018

Dealing robustily

Talking of missed opportunities, let’s not forget the antisemitism scandal. (Jonathan Arkush speaks for the Jews and Norman Smith speaks for the Labour party)  Lots of coverage following the “Missed opportunities” verdict from various members of the Jewish delegation following their unsatisfactory meeting with Jeremy Corbyn.

The Daily Politics with Andrew Neil. Peter Dowd MP, Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury is in the hot seat. A little sheepish, but still loyal to Dear Leader. Andrew Neil had a long list of examples of Labour’s outrageous conduct, (reputedly lifted from Guido Fawkes) which he read out, item by item. Dowd had no answer, but he did express regret. 

The Today programme featured Kier Starmer who said the party should “deal robustily” with the antisemitism. 

We mustn’t forget Len McCluskey who has written a nasty piece in the New Statesman in which he dismisses it all as a smear

Did you know that Jennie Formby is a former partner of Len McCluskey a relationship from which they have a son? She’s the one who has the task of dealing with it, no doubt robustily.

Missed opportunity

One of the joys of working for oneself is that one can watch The Daily Politics and PMQs live, if one should feel the need.

Yesterdays PMQs was particularly acrimonious. Jeremy Corbyn gave an impassioned speech about the Windrush debacle, calling on Amber Rudd, or possibly Theresa May (some people aren’t quite sure which) to resign. 

The theme was that the Tories had deliberately created ‘A Hostile Environment’ for immigrants and that both legal and illegal immigrants were ‘caught up in the fallout’. It suited the Labour Party to conflate the two whilst angrily accusing the Tories of doing the very same thing. See how Dawn Butler MP operates on The Daily Politics (arguing with David Jones MP.) 

It’s impossible to get a straight answer out of her. She knows what she wants to say and she isn’t budging from the script. I’d like to know what Jo Coburn really makes of this performance.

Isabel Hardman describes PMQs here “The Maybot returns…” but fails to mention the potential elephant trap that the Labour leader set for himself when he chose to refer to the Stephen Lawrence affair and screeches in that old-man-Steptoe voice of his:  “we must stamp out institutional racism”.

You’d think, under the circumstances, that mentioning institutional racism was treading on dangerous ground. Unforgivably, Theresa May missed her open-goal-level of an opportunity to hit the back of the net. 

The most striking contribution, towards the end, came from Yvette Cooper. Looking a bit like a very indignant chipmunk, she blurted out a bombshell that could prove to be a big embarrassment for the government.

When I listened to Andrew Neil and Laura Kuenssberg giving their customary summary of what had just gone before (in case we lesser beings needed to have it spelled out it in big print for the hard-of-comprehending) they described something I barely recognised. More interested in Yvette Cooper’s intervention than anything else, harshly critical of Theresa May, it was apparent that they accepted Corbyn’s histrionics as par for the course, as they ignored them altogether; it’s as if they hold the current Labour Party to a different set of standards than all the rest. As if, like the Palestinians, Jeremy Corbyn and his followers have little or no agency.

As far as a gentler, kinder politics, this was not it. Jeremy Corbyn was rattled; near hysterical, while May’s manner was exaggeratedly condescending and painstaking as if explaining a simple principle to a very thick child (!) and the child was just not getting it. Both sides made a pig’s ear out of the whole thing, and everyone, not least the BBC, missed their respective opportunities, dragging the tone from poor to abysmal.