Sunday 17 June 2018

Brexit dividend (3)

Alastair Campbell

I suppose we could just assert that all those wild claims of 'pro-government BBC bias' from the likes of arch-spinner Alastair Campbell (and myriads more on Twitter) over the corporation's reporting today of Mrs May's NHS funding/Brexit dividend pledge as simply the result of the partisan stupidity and utter mendacity of far too many people on Twitter (including Big Bad Al), but I think that blogs like this ought to at least try to do better than that. 

So here's a snapshot of this afternoon's coverage of the story...

You'll find below six lovingly-prepared transcripts of this afternoon's hourly BBC Radio 4 news bulletins. 

Do they prove pro-government bias from the BBC? 

I know I shouldn't ruin it for you with spoilers, but the answer is emphatically 'no'. 

When you see it laid out before you, in print, six hours of BBC Radio 4 reporting becomes sharper in focus. 

Every one of those six bulletins began by framing the story with criticism of Mrs May's Brexit dividend claim. 

All of them gave the the lion's share of the bulletin to reporting the views of critics of Mrs May and her Brexit dividend claim. 

And as for the clips from interviewees chosen, two were from Labour critics of Mrs May and one was from Paul Johnson of the IFS, also being unhelpful to Mrs May. The other (Helen Stokes-Lampard) fell closer to criticism than to praise. None was from someone defending/supporting Mrs May. 

Plus, the only Tory quoted (other than Mrs May) was Sarah Wollaston, who called Mrs May's comments "tosh". 

So there's no reasonable case to be drawn from this whatsoever that the BBC demonstrated a pro-government bias here. They most certainly weren't backing Mrs May and her Brexit dividend.

So does that prove then, as per 'complaints from both sides', that the BBC got it about right?

Well, no. In fact, far from proving that the BBC behaved impartially, I think these transcripts provide compelling evidence that the BBC was actually biased against the government (however right you or might think they were to be so in this instance). 

The framing of the story and the choice of voices were so starkly 'one-directional' here as to leave a massive question mark hanging over Radio 4's impartiality this afternoon. 

Please read them for yourselves and see if you agree...

Update: Though it's aesthetically unpleasing, I've now coloured the transcript to more clearly show the balance (or imbalance) in the BBC's reporting. Blue is for bits that 'help' the Government. Red for bits that 'don't help' the Government. Uncoloured are the bits that are either obviously neutral or which can't easily be ascribed. As you'll see there's much more red than there is blue.

The head of the Institute for Fiscal Studies Paul Johnson has said there is no Brexit dividend to provide more money for the NHS. He was responding to Theresa May's announcement that NHS England will receive an extra £20 billion a year by 2023 in part because of money saved when Britain stops paying into the EU budget. Mr. Johnson said the exit bill and commitments to fund farmers meant that there was arithmetic no money. Labour also dismissed Mrs May's promise as a "hypothetical". The shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry has said it left too many questions unanswered.
Emily Thornberry: How are they going to pay for it? They say that they're going to increase taxes but we've yet to hear who's going to get their taxes increased and how. They say they going to increase borrowing but they haven't told us by how much, and they haven't told us what the effect will be. They've told us they're going to pay for from a Brexit dividend. We don't really know what that means because we don't know what the deal is going to be and what the overall effect on the economy is going to be and, actually, whether Brexit is going to end up costing us a great deal of money.
But the chair of the Royal College of GPs Helen Stokes-Lampard gave the announcement a cautious welcome.
Helen Stokes-Lampard: It's not quite as much as most health leaders have been asking for. The Institute for Fiscal Studies had been pushing for nearer 4% so that we can not just sustain the NHS but really push forward. But nobody's going to be turning their noses up at the 3.4% a year in real terms. So it's how we spend it that will matter.
Separately, the shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said Labour would match the government's funding promise, which he described as "baseline".

1 o'clock
The economic thinktank the Institute for Fiscal Studies has questioned the idea of a Brexit dividend, raised by the Prime Minister when she promised an extra £20 billion a year for the NHS in England by 2023. Theresa May told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show that the country would be contributing a bit more, but she said it would also benefit from no longer sending vast amounts of money to the EU. The director of the IFS Paul Johnson said an extra £20 billion meant higher taxes and/or borrowing. Labour says it will match the government's pledge and go further. Here's our political correspondent Jonathan Blake.
Jonathan Blake, BBC: Making a link between increased funding for the NHS and savings as a result of leaving the EU allows Theresa May to say to Brexit supporters in her own party and beyond that the much-criticised promise on the side of the campaign bus has been met and that the government has gone further. But economists have rushed to point out that once the broader economic picture is taken into account the Government will have less money to spend in the short term after Brexit not more. The Conservative MP Dr Sarah Wollaston called the Brexit dividend claim "tosh" and accused Theresa May of taking the public for fools. Mrs May's suggestion that taxes will also have to rise to pay for this increased spending on the NHS is a significant statement for a Conservative Prime Minister.
Health bosses have welcomed the promise of extra funding, though a number have said more is needed. Concern has also been expressed about the absence of a commitment to provide more money for social care. Here's our health correspondent Dominic Hughes.
Dominic Hughes, BBC: Since the NHS was established 70 years ago its budget has risen by an average of 3.7% a year, but since 2010 that figure has been about 1.2%. At the same time demand for healthcare has been growing, so across the NHS there's a feeling that this settlement is just enough to stand still but it falls short of the 4% budget increase that most analysts felt would be needed to make up lost ground and bring about real change. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will also get extra funds but the devolved administrations will decide how they're spent. This announcement leaves some big questions unanswered, not least the funding of social care, which has such a profound impact on the Health Service. Without those details there are no guarantees even this extra money will significantly ease the long-term pressures on the NHS.
2 o'clock
The Institute for Fiscal Studies has questioned the 'Brexit dividend' quoted by the Prime Minister in her promise of an extra £20 billion a year for the NHS in England by 2023. Theresa May said the country would be contributing a bit more but it would also benefit from no longer sending vast amounts of money to the EU. The director of the IFS, Paul Johnson, said the extra funding meant higher taxes and more borrowing.
Paul Johnson, IFS: If you look at the arrangement we come to with the European Union in terms of paying our exit bill or and if you add to that the commitments that the Government's already made to keep funding farmers and so on there is literally, arithmetically, no money. And, in addition, we know, because the Government's accepted this, that the public finances will be worse as a result of the Brexit vote, the OBR has said by £15 billion a year. It could be a bit more. It could be a bit less. 
Labour said its tax plans meant it would spend more on the NHS and social care.

3 o'clock
The director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies has questioned Theresa May's claim that an increase in NHS funding in England could be paid for with a post-Brexit windfall. Mrs May told the BBC that money saved by Britain leaving the EU would help to provide an extra £20 billion a year by 2023, but Paul Johnson told the BBC the UK's exit bill and a commitment to keep funding farmers meant there was arithmetically no money. The shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said Labour would still spend more on the NHS than the government.
Jonathan Ashworth, Labour: Now the government have announced these new baselines for the NHS we'll match that. That is the baseline that will become accepted, but we're saying you can go further and if the government made the taxation changes we're prepared to make it could be giving even more to the NHS. So Labour will be spending more on the NHS the Tories even after these announcements today.
4 o'clock
There's been criticism of Theresa May's announcement that a Brexit dividend will help pay for an increase in NHS funding in England. Mrs May said an extra £20 billion a year by 2023 could be found partly because the UK would no longer be paying into the EU budget, but the Institute for Fiscal Studies insisted there would be no Brexit windfall because the UK faces a steep exit bill, and the shadow chancellor John McDonnell described the pledge as a publicity stunt. 

5 o'clock
A senior Conservative MP has dismissed as "tosh" Theresa May's claim that a Brexit dividend will help to boost funding for the NHS in England by £20 billion a year by 2023. Sarah Wollaston, who chairs the Health Select Committee, said people were being treated like fools. Mrs May said the country would benefit from no longer sending vast amounts of money to the EU, but the Institute for Fiscal Studies said the Government has accepted that the public finances would be worse as a result of Brexit. 

1 comment:

  1. Clear BBC anti-Brexit bias.

    Let's not forget their first response was to censor all mention of the Brexit Dividend. That was their preferred option. It was only because the claim was getting a lot of attention in newspapers that they knew they had to address the claim. Since then, the coverage has been relentlessly negative with respect to the claim.

    The IFS are constantly touted by the BBC as somehow "independent", "neutral" and "informative". But I dispute those claims. I have never heard them argue for a reduction in public spending. Whether you like public spending or not (I am more of a fan than an opponent, but that's not the issue here), it is clear that IFS is part of a pro-public spending network, that includes the LGA, a number of think tanks and the NHS lobby groups. I have never heard the IFS argue that a reduction in public spending can have any benefits.

    Moreover the IFS weighed in during the EU Referendum campaign on the Remain side publishing a paper that concluded (in their own words) "Leaving the EU would almost certainly damage our economic prospects". Paul Johnson was one of the authors of the report. And yet here we have the BBC running to him as though he is above the fray. He isn't. His reputation rides on Brexit being an economic failure.


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