Sunday 30 September 2018

Andrew Marr v Theresa May

An awkward moment

Well, well, well! With the exception of a few irreconcilable still talking about Mr Marr being "a Tory shill", the vast bulk of Left and the #FBPE crowd on Twitter have been positively brimming with praise for Andrew Marr this morning - though many of their comments have been caveat-laden variations on the theme of "For a change Marr did a good job. Surprised". 

They obviously really enjoyed Mr Marr's Paxmanesque questioning, Theresa May's car crash performance and the very awkward icy silence between her and Andrew as the credits rolled. 

I have no objections to any of that but I do object to the way Andrew Marr brought the interview to a close by making a loaded point of his own about a no-deal Brexit:
Andrew Marr: But per-pupil funding has fallen over the last two years. It's now been frozen. And that's why they're so upset. Lots of your MPs think this country has had enough of the lean years and it's time to change direction radically.
Theresa May: Well, if we look back at what's happened over the last few years, of course when we came into government in 2010 it was necessary for us to take some tough decisions to deal with the public finances because of the mess that he Labour Party had left them in and people have made sacrifices as a result of that. Now...
Andrew Marr: (interrupting) And they may have to make a lot more if we go for no-deal, but I'm afraid we are out of time, Prime Minister. 
Why did he say that? Not very impartial was it?

"Wide-eyed, adolescent-style affection"

The BBC's New York correspondent Nick Bryant is not pleased with Donald Trump. In a tweeted editorial, the opinionated BBC man is today accusing the US president of showing "wide-eyed, adolescent-style affection" for Kim Jong Un:

BBC opts against the term "second referendum"

Just under a week ago, a question...

...led me to half-complete a post. 

It originally ran as follows:
Hmm. Checking TV Eyes for Radio 4 from 6-9am that morning [i.e. 24 September] and listing all the mentions of "referendum" by BBC reporters and presenters found the following: 
"another referendum" - 6 
"a second referendum" - 3 
"a further referendum" - 3
"a new referendum" - 2 
So that's 3 uses of "second referendum" compared to 11 uses of the (non 'People's Vote') alternatives to "second referendum". Two of the uses of "a second referendum" came in a single sentence by Nick Robinson.
Well, maybe I should have finished it as it turns out that, yes, there really is a BBC editorial policy about it and, yes, "second referendum" genuinely is deliberately being sidelined as a term by the BBC. 

It’s not just Labour and the Tories who are tying themselves in knots over a “people’s vote” — the BBC has joined in, too. Its presenters and news reporters have been ordered to stop referring to a “second referendum” on the grounds that it annoys people who think we’ve already had one. 
“Some people regard 1975 as the first referendum,” says a memo from Ric Bailey, the BBC’s chief political adviser. “Others insist that, even if 2016 was the first vote, calls for another referendum now would be asking a very different question and therefore should not be described as the second.” The accepted terms are “further referendum” or “another referendum”. 
A BBC radio source seethes: “It’s absolutely ridiculous.”
It's also absolutely typical of the BBC.

Gone to the pub?

Another Twitter conversation, provoked by the following tweet:

Rob Burley, BBC: This is an odd “exclusive” because that makes it sound as if Tommy Robinson is somebody all broadcasters are definitely bidding and competing for. Whereas, for my programmes anyway, we’re just not.
Owen Jones (to Rob Burley): An honourable decision.
James O'Brien (to Rob Burley): Respect.
Jonathan Dimbleby (to Rob Burley): How strange. The same is true of  BBC Any Questions as well. Who are all those broadcasters busily bidding for Mr Robinson?
Dan Hodges (to Rob Burley): Genuine question. On what editorial basis would you exclude Robinson?
Rob Burley (to Dan Hodges): I’m just not bidding for him. Obviously things could change and he could become a political leader of a significant party etc. but he’s not. So my point was that it’s a funny use of “exclusive”.
Dominic Casciani, BBC (to Rob Burley): I think the appropriate phrase would be “INCLUSIVE: Man finally gets round to speaking to Sky after all of us who are interested have done our bit and gone to the pub”.


Whatever your views of Tommy Robinson, this 12-minute video is an absolute 'Gotcha!' as regards Sky News:

Saturday 29 September 2018

Utter tripe

This blog never properly addressed the much-hyped Bodyguard. Craig, who hadn’t watched it himself, covered it by way of Laura Perrins's Live Tweets.

Bloody Richard Madden

The BBC bigged up Jed Mercurio’s series shamelessly, but at the end of the day, to quote James Delingpole, it was a load of utter tripe.

The only way one could make head or tail of the story was by visiting the Guardian’s recaps - one of that paper’s few redeeming features.

It astonished me that so many viewers actually knew the names of the many indistinguishable characters, whom they referred to with such familiarity, ”Craddock”  and “Sampson”,  you’d think some of them actually knew what was supposed to be going on.

Haddock and Salmon

Anyway, Dellers has done such a good job, we at ITBB need go no further. Here are some of his best bits:

Even more distracting than the gratuitous sex, mind you, was the diversity casting. The whole exercise was like an extended United Colours of Benetton advert, with black female snipers, an Indian/Pakistani SWAT team head, an oriental bomb disposal expert, etc. If you sincerely believe — as the BBC demonstrably does — that the primary function of contemporary TV drama is to act as a make-work scheme for BAME actors then this is admirable. But from the point of view of most viewers it is distracting, insulting and discomfiting — for it forces you into noticing something you’d rather not be forced to notice. 
Worse still than the diversity stuff, though, is the relentless equality agenda. […] In BBC dramas now, it is absolutely de rigueur for anyone in any position of authority, including most of the police force, to be a strong, capable, confident woman. That includes, in this case, the female Muslim suicide bomber who — to allay any concerns that this might be racist stereotyping — was indulged with a little speech at the end announcing how proud and omnicompetent she was, not some male jihadist’s stooge, but an independent trained engineer with a mind of her own. 
I wonder, do BBC writers like Jed Mercurio feel any twinges of artistic self-disgust as they churn out this Social Justice Warrior propaganda? Isn’t it a bit like being a composer under Stalin, knowing you’re free to write whatever music you want, so long as it’s revolutionary, anti-bourgeois and celebrates the struggles and triumphs of the proletariat? Do they never worry at all what the audience might think?
They should because some of us have had just about enough. If it weren’t required for my job, I would seriously be thinking about stopping paying my licence fee. It’s a monstrous injustice — and, of course, a betrayal of its charter principles — for the BBC to charge people £150 a year on pain of imprisonment only to spit in their faces if they don’t hold the correct ‘woke’ views on anything from climate change and the EU to multiculturalism and feminism. My prediction is that the BBC is going to become increasingly marginal, partisan and irrelevant” 

I haven’t acclimatised myself to new-look Channel 5 yet, since I firmly associate it with voyeuristic topics like nature’s ‘freaks’ and physical abnormalities. But recently, according to James Delingpole, it has reinvented itself and it’s now the place to go for proper documentaries.

Whereas with Channel 5, what you see is what you get. Michael Buerk’s How the Victorians Built Britain (Saturdays), for example, tells you most of the stuff you need to know about the Industrial Revolution, why they built the Manchester ship canal, how the sewing machine changed fashion, and so on. You don’t get quite the production values that the overindulged BBC can still afford. But you don’t get the PC bollocks either, for which relief much thanks.


Album cover from 1970

(Almost) away from questions of bias...

BBC Radio 3 has been building up all week to a BBC Symphony Orchestra performance tonight of Holst's The Planets, first performed 100 years ago this very day.

Now, please guess (if you want to) just who BBC Radio 3 has invited to guest host the performance tonight?

Go on, go on, go on, have a guess!...

(Clue: It's surely the choice you'd expect the predictable BBC to make if it's a classical piece vaguely connected to 'space' and 'planets', even if the piece is actually far more astrology than astronomy - not that that's the kind of thing that would bother the BBC! - and even if the presenter in question is far more closely associated with Blairite pop music).

So it's surely got to be?...

Further Clue: His name is an anagram of 'Cox Brian'.)

Personal blogger moment:

While other late 80s teenagers were cheerfully singing along to Kylie and the rappy disco stuff emerging at the time I, having joyously enjoyed the Golden Era of Pop Music (1981-1986), was now disenchanted with pop and clinging on to Holst's The Planets instead

That, along with Copland's Appalachian Spring, Chopin's Etudes Op. 10 and Bach's Happy Chappy Clavier (played on a harpsichord by Wanda Landowska - and broadcast on Radio 3 before 7am, when every other '80s student was asleep) - was the very thing which really hooked me on classical music.

But, yes, it was The Planets, beyond all of those, that particularly obsessed me at university, long, long ago. I'd write endless pieces of coursework to The Planets, only pausing to rewind my cassette tape back to the beginning every fifty minutes or so. It was my muse. I'm sure I listened to the piece well over a hundred times over a year.

And I still like it. And it still never grows stale for me.

And this was the very version I kept listening to. It was performed by my Morecambe friend Eric's musical accomplice Andrew Preview and a non-BBC London orchestra...

...and it still sounds worth listening too at least a hundred times more:

"Whether this happened or not..."

Here's another transcript, just for all of you Katty Kay fans (and I know there are legions of you out there). It comes from the BBC News Channel's Outside Source.

I've highlighted in bold some of the choicer passages. The way Katty and, indeed, Ros drop in those little sops to impartiality whilst being anything but impartial and immediately contradicting themselves is almost...almost...worthy of grudging admiration (especially if you're into Machiavelli).

Ros Atkins: And Katty, even if the Republicans do take Brett Kavanaugh's side of the story, does his demeanour have any bearing on their decision? Because a lot of people have been watching this and thinking, this man's not calm, this man is not reflective as you might expect a judge to be, and he certainly is not nonpartisan. 
Katty Kay: So, in 1991, Clarence Thomas was accused of sexual harassment by Anita Ford (sic). She gave her testimony and was seen to be very credible. He then came back after her testimony, fighting and very defiantly. He called it a high-tech lynching. He was absolutely furious and angry and he was then confirmed to the Supreme Court. He still sits on the Supreme Court's 27 years later. So it's quite possible...there's a precedent here for a judge to come out and be angry like this, to be emotional like this and still be confirmed to the Supreme Court. We've heard it happen before. The partisan site is interesting because Clarence Thomas did not take on Democrats and the left in the way that Brett Kavanaugh has done during the course of this hearing. I don't think, however, that that will mean that you will have Republicans suddenly saying, oh dear, he's too partisan, we can't vote to confirm him. 
Ros Atkins: Now Katty, on the Outside Source screen I've just put up the picture here from the hearing that the New Yorker tweeted out showing the view that Christine Blasey Ford was facing - a raft of white older men - and you and lots of women around the world watching her testimony commented on how the whole experience was profoundly uncomfortable, regardless of whether you believe her story or Brett Kavanaugh's. 
Katty Kay: Yeah, I think there would have been a lot of women who listened to the account she gave...and you just played it there. That's I think the fifth time I've heard it, and it's hard to listen to, Ros, frankly, every single time. And I think there will have been women who have been the victims of sexual abuse who will have listened to that and felt a certain amount of PTSD. Whether this happened or not, and we may never know what happened or did not happen in that room, whether this happened or not, her account was very compelling, it was very emotional. I had read the testimony beforehand but it was a punch in the gut to hear it. To hear her deliver it was very powerful and it will have had a big impact on women who've been through similar things. 

Tropical Trump

Today's From Our Own Correspondent began by focusing on the frontrunner in the upcoming Brazilian election.

The BBC presenter (Kate Adie) and BBC correspondent (Katy Watson) strew around a fair few adjectives about this man, Jair Bolsonaro. According to them he's "controversial", "right-wing", "notorious", "sexist", "homophobic" and "infamous". Plus he argues some things "falsely" and is guilty of "scaremongering". 

Maybe it's just me but I couldn't help getting the feeling that they weren't that keen on him. 

As for his likely left-wing opponent in the second round, he was described as "left-wing" and...oh, nothing else. So he must be OK then. 

The title of today's episode on the BBC website is:

John Simpson's Hobby-Horse

From this morning's Today...

John Humphrys: 15 years ago the invasion of Iraq had just taken place. Saddam Hussein was still on the run. The armed resistance to the Americans and their British allies was just getting going. Nowadays Iraq is struggling with a range of problems, including water shortages and the effects of climate change. 
Our World Affairs Editor John Simpson reflects on how the country is faring while the attention of many in the West is turned elsewhere: 
John Simpson: The marshes of southern Iraq are some of the most exciting, ancient and visually stunning stretches of landscape on earth, and they are in serious trouble once again. 
When I first visited them in 1991 they were just starting to recover from Saddam Hussein's efforts to drain them. When I went back in 2005 they seemed mostly thriving. Now though the villain isn't Saddam. It's global warming. 
The two rivers that feed into them, the Tigris and Euphrates, are disturbingly low this year. And although corrupt and ineffectual government has got a lot to do with it, plus some pretty cack-handed dam-building efforts, the real problem began last winter when the thick snows that usually fall over the mountains in the north of the country didn't appear. In springtime the streams and rivers that should have fed the two rivers of Mesopotamia and which make Iraq habitable, even pleasant, were often just a trickle. And when the ferocious Iraqi summer arrived  the water shortages got serious. Temperatures in Baghdad are often in the 40s centigrade from May onwards. This year they were nudging 50 - which, if you think in terms of Fahrenheit as I tend to, is 122 degrees. South of the marshes the city of Basra suffered even more. Supplies of clean water were sometimes non-existent. There were riots and open battles in the street, and only the ferocious heat quieten the violence down. 
And yet at the start of this year things seem to be going Iraq's way at last. All the old talk about the country falling apart into its three constituent sections has faded. For now at any rate the pressure for Kurdish independence has eased off, and most Sunnis and Shiites have reached an accommodation with each other. The price of oil has gone up sharply, which suits Iraq very nicely, and there have been improvements in pumping and processing Iraqi oil. 
But politically things have been getting worse. Neighbouring Iran is doing its best to control the Shiite politicians, as was bound to happen if Saddam Hussein was overthrown. The Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has been clinging on to power desperately but doesn't seem likely to last all that much longer. 
In only a few more weeks the snow should start falling in the mountains and if it doesn't expect even more trouble next year. 
But - and this is a bit of a hobby horse of mine - will most of us hear much about it? 
In 2003, and for five or six years afterwards, Iraq and its violence were big news. Nowadays though only the BBC and a small handful of other news organisations maintain bureaus in Baghdad. Getting information about Iraq becomes quite hard, even though Britain and America in particular bear so much responsibility for the way things are there. 
But maybe if the marshes start drying up big time even we will start paying a bit of attention at last. 

Innocent until, etc....

Not a fan of the patriarchy

Last night's Newsnight made the decision to frame the controversy over the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court, along with the recent testimonies of Judge Kavanaugh and his accuser Professor Christine Blasey Ford, as being about the success - or otherwise - of the #MeToo movement.

As well as interviewing Ana Maria Archila, the left-leaning activist who confronted a Republican senator in a lift yesterday, the programme interviewed three very similar-minded women (albeit with wildly different tones of voice) - Emily Birnbaum from The Hill, writer Mona Eltahawy, and author Sadie Doyle

The whole thing sounded like what I imagine a Guardian editorial meeting to sound like (with added Americans).

Accept for a couple of 'devil's advocate questions' from Emily Maitlis, Newsnight's own narrative echoed that of its four guests, for example:
But for many, there have been inescapable echoes this week of an almost identical situation 27 years ago. In 1991 Anita Hill made claims of sexual abuse at the hands of Clarence Thomas - a prospective Supreme Court judge who was nevertheless confirmed. She faced an all male, all white panel - who chose to humiliate her testimony. So that perennial question - what if anything has changed? 
And after all four guests had piled in on Judge Kavanaugh and in support of his accusers, Emily brought the section to a close by saying, in a somewhat tagged-on way:
Thank you all very much indeed. We should add that Brett Kavanaugh, of course, denies the allegations against him. We really appreciate your time here on Newsnight
Hmm, especially if Judge Kavanaugh is innocent (and he's not been found guilty of anything yet), this certainly wasn't very fair broadcasting. Would it have harmed to to have included someone who took a different view?

P.S. You'd hope the presumption of innocence was still a commonly-believed thing, but please watch today's Dateline London and see what happens when Alex Deane tries to argue for it in this case. He finds himself on his own. 

A Landmark Moment for the English Language

In years time will you look back at this moment and remember where you were when you heard the news?

Give Your Story a Voice

Remember this post? Perpetually funding Gaza?

I wrote it in a reflexive, knee-jerk fit of disgust.  Here’s what BBC Watch has made of it - it’s a much more knowledgeable take-down of Ed Stourton’s Sunday Programme than mine - starting with the missing ‘d’ in the name of one of Stourton’s two interviewees, the representative of Embrace the Middle East, Nigel Varndell,
I didn’t check the name, and I didn’t research the organisation in question, Embrace the Middle East.
 “Headed by Jeremy Moody, who has an extensive history promoting anti-Israel sentiments. “
As a relatively well-informed (obviously not well-informed enough) pro-Israel listener I merely reacted to the interview, having spotted enough bias in Ed Stourton’s approach even without the facts I neglected to ascertain.

The interviewees’ partisan interests were not properly identified. Sarah Elliot was defined dismissively as a “Trump supporter”, While Nigel Varndell was presented as a ‘do-gooder” from a Catholic charity. While doubting the veracity of Sarah Elliot’s assertion concerning UNRWA textbooks (by demanding ‘evidence’ of antisemitic content) Ed Stourton failed to question, let alone challenge an allegation about child mortality, which appears to have been based on selective information sourced from Chris Gunness of UNRWA. 

To sum up - BBC Watch:
“Radio 4 listeners heard more than an academic discussion. They heard a significant contribution from the “head of marketing and fundraising” at an NGO that is raising money for this particular cause – a cause that was repeatedly portrayed to the Sunday morning audience as the right “moral” choice.”

It also seems that a PR firm with the slogan: Give your Story a Voice describes ‘Embrace the Middle East’ as one of its clients and claims to have been involved in the item’s production – shouldn’t listeners have been made aware of that?

"Most neutral observers would think..."

Fran has a point, hasn't she?

Interviewing the Traumatised

For those who are interested, here's a transcript of the later discussion on this week's Newswatch:

Samira Ahmed: Now, one concern that's regularly raised by Newswatch viewers is over interviews with people who've just undergone or witnessed traumatic events such as a terrorist attack. After last year's terror attack at the Manchester Arena, for instance, a number of viewers posted online their objections to how the story was being covered by some members of the press. A Twitter user called Laura said she "had to turn the TV off because I am absolutely appalled at the way 'journalists' are pushing traumatised children for interviews". And Sue McDonald agreed: "Wish journalists would stop trying to interview freshly traumatised, shocked and tearful people and asking such dumb questions". Well, the BBC has developed new training for its journalists on how to handle such interviews. And to tell us more, I'm joined from Nottingham by the senior news reporter, Jo Healey, and from Salford by the BBC's North of England correspondent, Judith Moritz. Judith, first, you reported on the aftermath of the Manchester Arena bombing. Lots of news media were there. What was the experience of some of the survivors and relatives of those who died? 

Judith Moritz

Judith Moritz: I think in the first moments, the first day, couple of days of the attack, it was a very intense time. It was relatively chaotic. News was very quickly rolling round the clock. You spoke there about people seeing those who were traumatised being interviewed at the scene. I got to know some of those who were directly involved, some of the families particularly who lost loved ones in the attack. And it was only by talking to them over a longer period that we started to build up trust with each other and a relationship which I am pleased to say in some cases continues until today. And that was one of the lessons I learnt through reporting the Manchester Arena attack, was that this was not something that was appropriate for us to turn up and report, and leave and forget about. It is certainly, here in Manchester, and beyond still, an attack along with many others which resonates, which has left people's lives changed forever and we have a responsibility to continue telling that story. 
Samira Ahmed: Jo, you've written a book as well as developing training for the BBC about how to speak to people who have gone through this kind of trauma. Can you tell us what sort of advice you're giving? 
Jo Healey: Well, yes, as reporters, are you were hearing, so many of us so regularly can be working so closely with people who are emotionally vulnerable. They are very much at the heart of the course. Its message to reporters is - do your job, do it well, do no harm. It is about, as well as being a human being, being professional. So we look at openness, honesty, transparency, at managing expectations, at our use of body language, our use of language, the all-important skill of listening to what people are trying to tell us. Of getting our facts right, that basic trust when people have entrusted their story to us. And we apply this sort of good practice to each step of the reporting process. So, to approaching, to the relationships that we create, as you heard, to interviewing, to filming with them, which is often out of their comfort zone, and to writing about them and framing their stories. 
Samira Ahmed: Judith, can you just tell me a bit more about what happened after the Manchester Arena bombing? Because we know relatives did report being... Getting really intrusive questioning in the immediate aftermath by some journalists. 
Judith Moritz: We know because the family spoke to Lord Kerslake, who produced a review into the arena, in which they were damning about the treatment by some parts of the media, press reporters turning up unannounced on the doorstep, they said it was very intrusive. One family told me that in fact their children had discovered that their brother had died by reporters coming to the door. And that prompted us at the BBC to see whether we could do something about this. Whether we could put together those experiences to learn from them and to teach journalists, not just within the BBC, but externally as well, through the BBC Academy, about the way things are done and shouldn't be done, and to see whether there can be some sort of improvement. 
Samira Ahmed: Jo, we know that, in the aftermath of these terrible incidents, journalists have a duty to report. What is the view now on the wisdom of broadcasting interviews with relatives who might say they are willing, but they break down in the interviews, and it does distress viewers who feel the BBC perhaps shouldn't be broadcasting this? 

Jo Healey

Jo Healey: So, parents whose children, a number of parents whose children were killed, children whose parents have died, and survivors of abuse, have gone on film for the course, they were all interviewed by a number of reporters at a time of great distress, and on film they spell out what they liked and disliked about that process. A teenage girl whose mum died, she says "Don't switch the cameras off because I consider that a disservice against not showing the rawness of my emotion". A young boy who was 12 whose dad died by suicide, he says, "Actually I need a minute, I need a break." So you can't club these families together. Everyone is different. And it's so important to treat them as individuals and to listen to how they want to be treated. And that goes back to preparing them, talking to them and giving them control. 
Samira Ahmed: Judith Moritz and Jo Healey, thank you both so much. 

Fake/Not Fake

This week's Newswatch was interesting but odd. 

It began with a couple of complaints about 'the #honestmistake tweet' sent out by BBC World after a BBC reporter misheard what President Trump had said to the UN and tweeted that he'd said "war to come" vis-√†-vis Iran rather than "more to come", with the BBC compounding the 'mistake' by leaving the incorrect tweet up long after posting a correction - naturally, with the wrong tweet 'going viral' and the correction not 'going viral'. And then Samira segued to another item:
That error led to cries of fake news and that charge was levelled again after this shocking video featuring soldiers in Cameroon began to circulate widely in July. 
This proved to concern an accusation of fake news against the BBC which the BBC has now proven to be anything but fake news. 

It's a fine piece of BBC journalism, and you can read all about it here

The odd bit is that no Newswatch viewer appears to have commented about the BBC's Cameroon coverage. This was just Newswatch paying tribute - over several minutes - to a great piece of BBC reporting. It seemed to be going out of its way to prove that some claims of 'fake news' about the BBC are themselves fake.

And the other main segment of the programme was given over to discussing a new BBC project to better handle traumatised members of the public. And it featured a couple of unspecific (non-recent) tweets complaining about journalism in general (rather than about the BBC).

Is Newswatch there to randomly hand out bouquets to the BBC or discuss projects that reflect well on it? Isn't it supposed to be about viewer's opinions of the BBC, both critical and complimentary? 

I hope new editor John Neal isn't going to make a habit of this. 

Runner and Riders

The latest odds:

Of Spitfires, Heroes, Heroines and Statistics

As part of the blog's '...and any other matters that take our fancy' remit, here's a discussion from this week's More or Less that caught my attention concerning survival rates among World War Two Spitfire pilots, and I thought I'd share (via a classic ITBB transcript):

Tim Harford: Loyal listener Andrew wrote to us to ask:
Andrew: It is often mentioned that the average lifespan of a Spitfire pilots was four weeks. Those pilots were heroes of course, but I've never quite understood how that figure for life expectancy was calculated. Can you explain? Is it correct?
The Battle of Britain took place around this time 78 years ago, in British airspace between the 10th July and the 31st October 1940. On the British side flew nearly 3,000 men, including nearly 600 from allies such as Poland, New Zealand, Canada and Czechoslovakia
Archive clip: In the first year of this war British pilots brought down 1,750 in raids on this country. These are the men that do it...
There were heavy losses on both sides, but was the life expectancy of pilots in the iconic Spitfire really just four weeks? Well, Lizzy McNeill is our tame historian and she's been looking into the stats. Hello Lizzy. Welcome to History Today.
Lizzy McNeill: Thanks. This stat comes up a lot. It seems that every major newspaper has included it in an article at one point or another. For example, the quote appeared in The Independent as: "The average life expectancy of a Spitfire pilot during the battle of Britain was an astonishing four weeks". Now this quote is talking specifically about Spitfire pilots who were in action during the 16 week period in 1940 known as the Battle of Britain.
Tim: But is it true?
Lizzy: Doesn't seem to be. I first went to the Ministry of Defence and spoke to a wing commander who just happened to be by the phone. He was a bit confused about the question, so I then went to the National Archives. I'd heard rumours that the RAF had completed a census during the War to get this figure, but Dr George Hay from the National Archives wasn't convinced by the rumour or the statistic and he told me that it wasn't one he could find properly verified or referenced by any official source. He also pointed out that it would be a bit of an odd exercise for the Air Ministry and certainly would not have helped morale if shared publicly.
Tim: Good point.
Lizzy: Yep. The RAF Archive also told me they had no record of this statistic, either from the War years or later.
Tim: So there is no official data to back up the claim. We can't leave it there though. You're a historian, Lizzy. Do some history on it. Do we know about the life expectancy of pilots?
Lizzy: Well, I actually think it's kind of a strange question. I mean, the battle only lasted 16 weeks, so it really feels more natural to talk about survival rates than life expectancy. Sp that's where I've started. 
Tim: And what did you find out?
Lizzy: Well, I found 781 Spitfire pilots who were awarded the Battle of Britain clasp, which was given to men who flew at least one sortie during the battle. Of those 781 pilots, 151 died during the Battle of Britain which, remember, only lasted 16 weeks.
Tim: So the majority actually survived the Battle of Britain. So the claim can't be true.
Lizzy: Yes. Even if you look only at the men who died, the average survival time was about 7 weeks. But, remember, these are only the 151 men who died.
Tim: So that tells us nothing, except to confirm that the figure of four weeks must be wrong. And, obviously, the people who died during a 16 week battle are on average only going to last few weeks. It would be mathematically impossible for them to live longer than 16 weeks.
Lizzy: Yes, but what we do know is that it was a very dangerous job. About nine pilots died each week out of a total force of 781 pilots. So the mortality risk was more than 1% every week - and perhaps more depending on how many of those 781 pilots were active at any time. Still, as a Spitfire pilot you were more likely to survive the Battle of Britain than die in it.
Tim: What about the entire war?
Lizzy: Well, fewer than half of these pilot survived the War. Almost 20% died during the Battle of Britain and a further 33% died later in the War.
Tim: So the life expectancy of four weeks is one of those statistics that isn't true but isn't challenged because everyone feels, well, it's the kind of thing that ought to be true. But I don't think the heroism of Spitfire pilots needs to be exaggerated with dodgy numbers. 
Lizzy: No.

Mary Ellis

Tim: I did have a question though, Lizzy. Just this week there was a memorial service for Mary Ellis, who flew Spitfires and many other planes during the War but managed to live to the remarkable age of 101. How many women flew in the Battle of Britain and what was their survival rate?
Lizzy: Ah, well, as we often say on More or Less, behind any statistic there is someone counting or measuring something, and in this case, remember, I was counting pilots who were awarded the Battle of Britain clasp and neither Mary nor any other women were given that clasp because Mary and her colleagues didn't fly in operational sorties. They were in the Air Transport Auxiliary
Archive clip: Bombers and fighters in the hands of the ATA, he Air Transport Auxiliary  - the men and women who take the planes from the factories and deliver them to operational stations. An essential service to the RAF, increasingly important as the volume of air production increases.
They had to learn to fly dozens of different kinds of planes and move them around to where they were needed.
Archive clip: ATA pilots must be able to handle every kind of plane, from fastest fighter to the slowest trainer, from the largest air sea rescue amphibian to the heaviest bomber, and every Halifax or Stirling or Lancaster that's delivered by the ATA is used ultimately to deliver bombs on the Axis. 
They were highly skilled but they did not fly in the Battle of Britain, and that's what the original question focused on.
Tim: And what were their survival rates?
Lizzy: None of the original eight ATA women died during the War. By the end of the War 164 women pilots had served with the ATA and 15 died. So a mortality rate of nearly 10%.

Wednesday 26 September 2018

Pushing Up The Daisies and Joining the Bleedin' Choir Invisible Open Thread

Time for a new open thread. Many thanks for your comments. You're making the blog livelier than the BBC's Salford HQ:

Hypothetical Question Time

Here's a hypothetical exam question for any passing PPE students:

Imagine that the United Kingdom faces the prospect, after an election, of a far-Left government headed by a grandfatherly anti-Semite who, along with his legion of fiery supporters, manifests authoritarian tendencies with regards to free speech and a free press. What is 'the nation's broadcaster', the BBC, supposedly a guardian of British democracy, to do about that?
                                                                                     (10 points)

Top of the agenda ..."Palestine"

Apparently, somewhere in the Telegraph, it says: “When submitting motions/discussions for conference CLP's voted Palestine top of the agenda above any domestic problems the UK may be having.”

Indeed, the first thing the ‘Labour gov’ment’ will do, announced the Grand Wizard of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition to Israel -- is “recognise the State of Palestine”.

Standing ovation. 

That was further evidenced by the BBC’s Vicky Young who was stationed outside the auditorium to question people as they streamed out, after Jeremy Corbyn’s conference speech.

“What impressed you most about what dear leader said in his speech?” she asked (not verbatim)

“Palestine!” came the reply from several ecstatic Corbynites. 

If she had further enquired “Why?”  I suppose the answer  would be something like “Because of what Israel is doing.”  

Here’s a comment from Harry’s Place regular “Anton Deque” which captures the mood.
(I do hope Mr Deque doesn’t mind me stealing the whole thing)

“It is emblematic and damning that the issue of Israel and Palestine obsessing Labour (sic) has absolutely no daily impact on the lives of millions in the United Kingdom who are in the tenth year of Austerity. Dramatic rises in rough sleepers, street begging, 'hot sofa' homeless young people and the impact of economic migration mean less than casting pointless votes on matters outside the competence of any likely future government. But it also illustrates better than any other fact the absolute chasm that now exists between Corbyn's Troto-Labour and its enthusiasm to exploit Islamic detestation of Jews and the real and pressing daily problems affecting the working class the Labour Party was founded to defend. 
Nothing could be more explicit nor irrelevant to the lives of no wage and low wage people here who need hope. It is, however, utterly defining of the theocracy of the far left: World Revolution, continuous, begins, unsurprisingly to students of the far left, with the destruction of the Jews.”

No soft soap for the President

It was followed by that other beauty, Jon Sopel, sneering again whilst mocking President Trump for his UN speech. He has stopped reporting news of events completely and now just gives his personal opinions on the negative aspects of Trump's engagements and he always finds plenty of negatives.
Well, yes. Here's how that report began:
Jon Sopel: When roads are closed for you and red lights really aren't a thing, there's not much excuse for being half an hour late for a journey of less than a mile. But Donald Trump missed his speaking slot this morning and made himself even later by stopping to talk to reporters on his way in. But when he did get under way, he went on a bit of a victory lap, with unexpected consequences. 
Donald Trump: In less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country. America's... So true. [LAUGHTER]. Didn't expect that reaction, but that's OK. 
The audience just giggled. US presidents are occasionally reviled, sometimes adored, but they're rarely laughed at.   



Some 19 hours later the BBC deleted the original tweet and tweeted this instead:

Mark Easton is biased

There was a classic example of pro-mass immigration reporting from Mark Easton on last night's BBC News at Ten.  

We had:
(a) Mark quickly asserting that "it's fair to say" that Corby's prosperity relies on EU migration.
(b) His use of vox pops which found a 2:1 majority in favour of mass immigration.
(c) A further assertion from Mark, this time stating that a slowing of EU immigration is already having a bad impact.
(d) The use of a business manager who backed Mark's thesis.
(e) The use of someone from a think tank who also backed Mark's thesis, and
(f) No opposing voices, other than Vox Pop 1. 
And also note that (g) the think tank in question - the IPPR - wasn't labelled 'left-leaning'. 

All in a day's work for Mark Easton! 

Here's a transcript:

Huw Edwards: Let's stay with Brexit because the Cabinet has been discussing what should happen to immigration to the UK after Brexit. Ministers agreed in principle that highly-skilled workers from all over the world should be prioritised and EU nationals should not be given preferential treatment. But some business leaders fear that accepting fewer low-skilled migrants from the EU could damage the economy. Our home editor Mark Easton sent this report from Corby.   
Mark Easton: Corby's been described as England's fastest-growing town. Thousands of EU migrant workers, particularly from Poland, have seen its population and its economy expand rapidly in recent years. Now, it's fair to say that the prosperity of this town is reliant on often low-skilled workers from Europe, but the pace of change has also created real tensions here. With Government ministers suggesting special treatment of EU workers will end with Brexit and a squeeze on low-skilled migration, do the people of Corby think that's good or bad for the town? 
Vox Pop 1: I think it's a good thing, actually, because I think we've got enough unskilled workers. We could do fair enough with people that's got skills, but I think we've got more than enough of our own.
Vox Pop 2: They bring more money in as well as us. I mean, we've got a load of people that work in care in our place at work, Eastern Europeans, and they do the amount of stuff what we do.
Vop Pop 3: It would be detrimental to the town. I talked to a neighbour the other day who runs a job agency and he said he's looking for 600 staff, all various jobs, skilled and unskilled, can't get anyone.
The corrugated sheds which typify Corby's economic expansion already struggle to find the people they need because of a slowdown in European migration. In this one, the boss says making it more difficult to recruit would pose real challenges. 
John Temple, General Manager, Tablecraft Ltd: 50% of our workforce is migrant European workers. So that is, you know, if you take those away from us, then we're going to be struggling to find good people.
Mark Easton: Well, why don't you train up British workers?
John Temple: We will train up anybody who comes to work for us. We get very few people from the UK wanting to come and work in this environment.
Corby's migration has been a focus of particular study for analysts at the IPPR think tank, who reckon the Government's proposed limit on low-skilled migrants would mean many potential workers from the EU would be unable to get a visa to work in the town. 
Phoebe Griffith, IPPR: Our estimate would be that about 80% of the people living in Corby today from the European Union would not qualify to be working, to come to work in Corby in the future. 
Corby's steel industry was forged from the imported muscle and sweat of Scottish labour. When that declined, new growth came with arrivals from Eastern Europe. Now, this resilient town, like many, may have to reinvent itself for a new chapter. Mark Easton, BBC News, Corby. 

Tuesday 25 September 2018

Speaking for the Palestinian people

No Pasaran!!
Emily Thornberry being given a standing ovation by people wearing PSC badges after an impassioned speech about defeating racial hatred, and screeching “No Pasaran!” was bizarre. What’s she on about now? Oh, it’s the fascists; like the EDL.

Not sure, but I think she means Islamophobia - she’s bothered about racism at any rate. Palestinian flag, anyone?

"I'm speaking for the Palestinian people." But why? Why is  Harlow delegate Colin Monehen speaking up for the Palestinian people in particular?

I like the injection of poetry though. It would be a nice touch if the Harlow delegate ended his speech by disappearing like a snowflake in the hot sun. Instead, he enjoyed a warm, appreciative handshake from the leader of Her Majesty’s disloyal opposition.

Monday 24 September 2018


Are Andrew Marr’s ears burning, d'you think?

Shame. The media is smearing Poor Jeremy with the truth. 
I wonder if John literally meant “friend?” or “friend” in a collective way? 

I’m thinking one minute there’s a rumour that if the antisemitism expos√© row threatens to jeopardise Labour’s prospects the shadow chancellor is willing to dump Dear Leader. I thought I just heard him say on Politics Live something like: “The new leader should definitely be a lady”. 

Oh well. This was definitely a cringe-worthy moment - even without the warm embrace - I notice it’s not in the transcript on the Spectator.

Oddly enough, Faiza didn’t want to talk about it.

Them and us

Gabriel Gatehouse and a Dutch activist on 'Newsnight'

If you missed this - Gabriel Gatehouse on yesterday's From Our Home Correspondent - here's a transcript:

Being a foreign correspondent is easy glory. Trips to the frontline with friendly rebels. The crack of bullets behind walls for cover. "Come, come, this way is safe!" Scary? Absolutely. Dangerous? Sometimes. But there's camaraderie too, and hospitality. "Stay for lunch. Thank you BBC. Thank you for telling our story to the world."

Those three magic letters - BBC - they act as a badge of integrity. They open doors. Often the people we report on see our presence as part of their struggle against the Establishment. 

Reporting from home is different. At home we're often seen as the Establishment, and those same three letters can carry with them a lot of baggage. 

I learned this while reporting on a story about Tommy Robinson. 

He campaigns against what he calls "Muslim grooming gangs" - cases like those in Rotherham, where groups of men, many with Pakistani heritage, systematically sexually abused young girls and women, many white and from working class backgrounds. 

This is an explosive issue, Robinson and his followers believe there's an Establishment conspiracy to cover-up such cases. Many did go unreported for a long time. Many of the convicted perpetrators have indeed been of Pakistani origin. 

But Tommy Robinson founded the English Defence League. Even though he has since left the group, saying it had been taken over by racists, some accuse him of using cases like Rotherham for political gain, to label an entire community as child abusers. 

Tommy Robinson was recently jailed for contempt of court. He'd broken the law by communicating details of an ongoing trial, potentially threatening the collapse of the case, but his followers saw yet another Establishment cover-up. 

Over half a million people signed a petition calling for his release. That's more than a fringe movement. 

I wanted to talk to these people - the concerned citizens, not the far-right activists - and find out what was motivating them. The problem was none of them want to talk to me

Ahead of a rally in his support I contacted half a dozen people. Some at first agreed to meet, only to cancel at the last minute. Others told me to eff off straightaway. 

"The biased BBC? You must be joking!", one woman yelled at me down the phone. "You just want to stick me on TV and call me a racist". 

Even though that was precisely the opposite of what I was trying to do, I could see her point. To talk to a journalist is to cede control over what you say to those who will edit your words into a report. The polarised politics of recent years has been the enemy of nuance. 

I made my way to the rally. "The BBC are here," one speaker announced from the stage. The crowd booed and hissed. "When are you going to report the news?", one man shouted at me. "They are covering up the facts", another said. "The paedophile problem goes right to the top of our Establishment", said yet another, adding "and it started with Jimmy Savile". 

Their beliefs and their anger seemed genuine. These were people who don't see the stories they're concerned about on the TV news bulletins - the stories they do read about on social media. 

Sometimes those stories are false or only half-true but, in the age of Facebook, organisations like the BBC no longer control the national conversation in the way we once did. 

Also at the rally were people whose anger seemed less raw, more politically calculated. UKIP's leader was there. So were representatives from nationalist movements in Europe and the United States. I told a group of Dutch activists I was from the BBC and they said they'd be happy to be interviewed, but when we switch the camera on one suddenly asked, "What channel are you from?". I was taken aback. We'd just been through this. "The BBC?, he said in that flawless way most Dutch people have with the English language. "No way!" he told me, and shoved the camera away. It was pure performance. 

Like the friendly rebels in the foreign war zone the new populist nationalists understand the power of the camera but with social media they don't need the BBC. They have their own channels. And in their struggle they see us as the enemy.