Friday 30 November 2018

Yet Another November Open Thread

Thanks for all of your comments. As the last Open Thread is getting full, here is another one. 

Williamson's Park, Lancaster, looking worth a visit

eg me

Well, it's an idea:


And there's more:

I think Paul may have a point though about the BBC's "panel of hand-picked numpties". That's my worry too. 

"Me? The BBC? Here? In charge of choosing a panel for a major Brexit debate? At nine o'clock in the evening? With our reputation? What were they thinking of?"

Reality checking

Readers with long memories might recall various posts here about Professor Justin Lewis of Cardiff University, including the following:

To summarise: Professor Lewis has been involved in many reports about media bias over the years, including ones about the BBC. He 'found' (a) that the BBC was pro-Iraq War, (b) that the media exaggerates the threat from Islamic terrorism, (c) that the media gives Muslims a bad press...

...and (d) that the BBC is pro-Eurosceptic, and (e) pro-Conservative, and (f) pro-right wing think tanks.

Yes, really.

Despite this, he remains broadly supportive of the BBC. 

But he's anti-consumer capitalism, and believes that we must "change the way we organise media and communications" to get ourselves beyond consumer capitalism. 

Knowing all of this about Professor Lewis, you can probably imagine my surprise on hearing Roger Bolton, whilst discussing Peter Lilley & Chris Morris and the BBC's Reality Check, preface his interview by saying:  
Time for me to turn to an impartial journalistic expert. He's Justin Lewis, a Professor of Journalism. He spoke to me from his office at Cardiff University.

And guess what? Professor Lewis is a fan of the BBC's Reality Check and stuck up for Chris Morris. 

Moreover, he speaks the same language that leading Remain critics of the BBC speak when it comes to the question of BBC impartiality on issues like Brexit. 


Here's a transcript. 

Fair does to Roger Bolton for putting some reasonable points along the way, but Professor Lewis - the "impartial expert" - didn't surprise me in anything he said, and some of it struck me as being slightly sinister:


Roger Bolton: I asked him whether he thought the BBC's reality check was worthwhile.
Justin Lewis: I think it's a very valuable piece of public service broadcasting. I think that most listeners find it difficult, I think, in an age when they hear politicians on either side debating an issue, and you get that tit-for-tat argument, especially around issues like Brexit or the economy. What they want to know, I think, is: what does impartial expert opinion say on this? Is there a consensual view, and what it that? So I think actually Fact Check is an extremely useful thing to do.
Roger Bolton: If there is, indeed, anything impartial. This seems to be one of those issues where impartiality is almost impossible. Both sides believe they're right. Both sides immediately condemn anybody who questions what they do as being obviously of the other side.
Justin Lewis: Absolutely. And I think it's one of those issues where objectivity and impartiality push you in different directions. If you want to be objective you have to report what you think of as the most likely or plausible version of the truth is, but if you're being impartial you don't really pay as much regard to that. You just give both sides equal say, regardless of whether one side has more evidence on it than the other. I guess we saw that around climate change. For a long time climate change was reported as a controversy, and you would get roughly equal time for sides pointing out that there might be something called climate change and those that disagreed with that. Now the BBC, I know, has moved on from that, as many broadcasters have, and acknowledged that the scientific consensus is so overwhelming on one side that there's no longer really a controversy to be discussed.
Roger Bolton: This comes to be...the difficulty, it seems to me, it's called 'a reality check'. Some would call in a 'fact check'.
Justin Lewis: Yes.
Roger Bolton:  Actually, in some ways, if you're not careful, it can be a view of a judgment. When we're talking about what will happen in the future about negotiations, what is likely to happen, it's very difficult to have a reality check about a judgment - something that would rise in future negotiations.
Justin Lewis: That's true, but I think what people like Chris Morris, and other people who do fact checking, try to do is point out what the factual basis is for making a judgment one way or another, and I think he was quite careful actually, when he was challenged, to say what he was trying to do was establish what we know.
Roger Bolton But it was unfortunate, wasn't it, to have a situation in which a supposed reality checker gets involved in an argument with a politician? It's not ideal. But it was an accident waiting to happen. I've noticed on other occasions, for example, when a Today presenter would interview, let's say, the Prime Minister or someone else, and afterwards you'd come to Laura Kuenssberg who was asked, basically, 'What do you make of that? And do you think she's telling the truth? What's she not saying?'. If you do an interview with someone and then immediately afterwards you have a reality checker the impression is, well, 'actually you shouldn't really trust this politician but you should trust us'.
Justin LewisBrexit is an issue where this was inevitably going to happen, because this is an issue where there is quite a large body of evidence and some of that evidence clearly favours one side, some might favour the other side, but I don't think one can just say, well, you've got two equal bodies of evidence here. I think it's the responsibility of a broadcaster to basically say here's where the evidence appears to lie, now you can hold this view or this view but we're going to tell you what we think the evidence says. And I think listeners want to hear more of that.I think they're a little tired of getting the kind of claim and counterclaim around issues when it's very difficult to make any kind of judgment about what is true and what isn't. So I think a good faith attempt to try and establish what the factual parameters are around an issue is absolutely something the BBC should be doing.
Roger BoltonAnd do you think it's more important now in the age of what we call fake news that we need reality checks in a way almost more than ever before?
Justin Lewis: We really do. I mean, we have too much opinion now and not enough facts. And I think there is a real...a  real hunger, I think, for reporting that focuses more on a kind of sober analysis - or even not necessarily a sober analysis, any analysis - of where the factual evidence lies, and less claim and counterclaim, because we get an awful lot of tit-for-tat - this politician says that, this politician says the opposite - and it really doesn't leave us anywhere the wiser.
Roger Bolton: But the danger for broadcasters is that they get drawn into a situation where they're portrayed as the opposition. So a broadcaster in a situation of a highly contested area has got to be very careful that pointing out the reality of the facts doesn't lead them into providing the opposition to one of the sides, one or other of the sides.
Julian Lewis: I think that's true, but I think we have to ask ourselves: suppose you have two particular viewpoints and one side says something that is demonstrably untrue. Should an impartial broadcaster just sit back and make no comment, or should it say, actually, we know that is demonstrably untrue,  or here is an expert to say that it's demonstrably untrue. I think we do need to know that, If we don't do that then really anybody's view becomes as valid as anybody else's. And I think in this instance the BBC has to bite the bullet a little bit and be an adjudicator. And it's going to get really criticised for doing it, we know that, but I think it's the responsibility of a public service broadcaster .
Roger Bolton: Our thanks to Professor Justin Lewis. And if you go to the BBC's Reality Check website you can find lots more statistics to argue over.


Maybe next week's edition of Feedback will have Lord Lilley on to give his view of Professor Lewis!!

Thursday 29 November 2018

More on the BBC man who can't tell his Tolstoy from his Trollope

Back in the early summer of 2013, I launched a series of full-length reviews of Radio 4's PM, reviewing every item every day for a month or so. 

Looking back at them (examples here, here, herehere) I think they were fair - and they found that, with exceptions, PM itself (and Eddie Mair, its main presenter back then) was pretty fair too, and often highly interesting and entertaining as well.

Times change. Presenters change. 2016 happened. (Brexit, Trump). And now, out goes Eddie and in comes Evan. 

Having dipped into recent editions, I listened to it in full tonight. And what a falling-off there's been! Hyperion to a satyr!

Seriously, there's been a change, and it's not been a change for the good.

Is it a case of PBTBH (Post-Brexit-Trump-BBC-Hysteria) Syndrome? Or is it all down to Evan Davis being Evan Davis and not Eddie Mair? 


Evan's introduction, for example, included the following - and this really is a genuine transcript, not a piece of satire on my part!:
On Brexit Theresa May says there will be no second public vote. But could there be a swing towards the idea? We'll get the opinions of Professor John Curtice, Justine Greening and Labour's Dame Margaret Beckett.
I laughed, rolled my eyes and gave in to my eyebrows' very strong urge to impersonate Fiona Bruce after that.

The first item though concerned Donald Trump and what Evan called an "important" development in the Robert Mueller investigation. His guest - one Angela Bernstein - was even more emphatic, calling it "very, very important". She clearly wasn't a Trump fan. 

The second item was launched by talk of a second referendum, with Evan saying "Let's focus on it". And focus on it PM duly did, with pollster Sir John Curtice, pro-Second People's Vote Remainer MP Justine Greening and Dame Margaret Beckett. Dame Margaret sounded close to endorsing a Second People's Vote too but wouldn't entirely commit herself, provoking Evan to press her and sound somewhat exasperated when she wouldn't clearly, boldly and decisively state her (obvious) view on the matter. 

Then it was onto audiobooks (good or bad?), prompted by the sainted Michelle Obama's new book, with TES editor/Radio 4 Front Row host Stig Abell and  feminist publisher Carmen Callil of Virago Press presenting both sides of the argument, and our Evan not sounding like an audiobooks fan.

And then poor Evan got Trollope and Tolstoy confused and had to excuse himself. (I kiddeth thou not).

Then Evan announced that is was important to register the moment that a second MP announced that he has AIDS. 

And the much-reported Syrian refugee bullying school story came next, with 'the bystander question' being discussed with a Canadian psychologist Linda Papadopoulos.

And, leaping one item, the programme ended with a United Nations-related celebration of reggae with a guest who called it "a music of resistance".


The surprise item here for me was the latest instalment of Mark Mardell's Brexit: A Love Story? 

I thought that had finished. And it used to be on The World at One.

But, no, here was Mark Mardell back again, with the Simon Bates 'Our Tune' theme tune, and - apparently - the second episode of the second series, with more episodes to come. (Be still my beating heart!)

I noted down the contributors as I listened tonight and found that Mark had talked to:

(1) Former Mrs May advisor (and declared Remain voter) Katie Perrior.
(2) Former David Cameron communications director (pro-Remain) Sir Craig (no relation) Oliver.
(3) Former senior minister under Mrs May (and declared Remain voter), Damian Green.
(4) Former Lib Dem coalition minister (and declared Remain voter) David Laws.
(5) Pro-Brexit MP Stewart Jackson (described by Mark as being an "ardent pro-Brexit MP").
(6) Former (tricky to place) Mrs May advisor Chris Brannigan.
(7) Former (strongly pro-EU, pro-People's Vote) mandarin Lord Kerr.
(8) Former George Osborne advisor (anti-Brexit, pro-People's Vote) James Chapman, and
(9) (Anti-Brexit, pro-People's Vote) Conservative MP Heidi Allen. 

The labelling (or lack of labelling) by Mark was striking here.

I've tried to label the nine contributors mentioned as accurately and fairly as I can - via lots of listening to what they said and even more Googling about what they've previously said. But Mark Mardell didn't provide any background, Brexit-opinion-wise, on seven of them.

Heidi Allen was one exception. Mark said she'd "campaigned hard for Remain" but simply let her speak.

The other exception - the ninth was Stewart Jackson MP.

As cited above, his first contribution saw Mark describe him as an "ardent pro-Brexit MP". His second contribution saw Mark call him a "pro-Brexit MP".

I know we're getting somewhat into heavy detail here, but heavy detail counts. And Mark Mardell's 'bias by labelling' here is absolutely textbook.

More importantly, however, was Mark's narrative, and this, in large part, amounted to how Mrs May's advisors, Fiona Hill and (strongly pro-Brexit) Nick Timothy, gave uninspirational Mrs May confidence. And how, as a result, she "gave in to a hardline vision".

(Seriously Mark Mardell of the BBC? Mrs May giving in to a hardline pro-Brexit vision? What are you smoking, or drinking, Mark?)

They refused to talk to Mark Mardell - as Mark kept grumpily repeating. And they were the main 'baddies' here.

So: 9 contributors: 7 Remainers. 1 Leaver. One hard to place. And Mark Mardell.

And don't forget the 'bias by labelling' either.

Please note my list above and listen to it for yourselves. Stewart Jackson was the only obvious pro-Brexit voice here among a sea of Brexit doubters, and enemies, and Mark. Mardell.

And this whole PM was very BBC.

"We really want to help you come to a view on that"

If you recall Peter Lilley's robust exchanges with Evan Davis on Monday, you'll doubtless remember that it arose as a 'right to reply' feature following a previous Evan Davis PM interview with 'impartial expert' Anand Menon. 

You can listen to the original Evan-Anand interview here (beginning 35 minutes in). It was first broadcast on 20 November, exactly a week earlier.

That began with Evan Davis saying:
Now, the core of the argument over whether the Brexit deal is a good one - and we really want to help you come to a view on that - at the core of it is an argument over whether Britain needs to sign up to some kind of customs union with the EU.
And even before Evan began talking to Professor Menon, he gave Radio 4 listeners an editorial of his own, this time regarding Peter Lilley's Today confrontation with BBC Reality-Checker-in-Chief Chris Morris. He stuck up for Chris Morris against Lord Lilley. He said:
Chris Morris was faithfully arguing what most experts and exporting businesses think. He was entirely in line with the consensus of opinion. It was that Peter Lilley thought the consensus is wrong. Chris Morris was not a Remainer. He was simply arguing the facts as most people who have thought about it do see them. 
So that was Peter Lilley told! (No wonder he wanted to have words with Evan afterwards). 

Yes, Evan evidently really wanted to 'help us come to a view' on the Chris Morris/Lord Lilley encounter too, and did so simply by telling us exactly what to think about it!

As for Anand Menon, he was then introduced as "Professor of European Politics at King's College London" and as someone who "thinks very hard about these issues". 

And after Prof. Menon had 'put Lord Lilley straight', Evan concluded the interview by again saying, "Anand Menon there hopefully clarifying it for you so you can hopefully make up your mind about the deal."

Evan Davis is clearly determined to use PM as his personal bully pulpit. 

Image choice

A BBC tweet:

And a response from TCW's Kathy:

Breaking news...

A train of events this lunchtime:
  • Breaking - BBC wins broadcasters race to host Brexit deal debate on Sunday December 9, at 8pm.
  • BUT hang on: This is still dependent on Labour agreeing. Corbyn said to prefer ITV's pitch - not least because of its 7pm start time, avoiding a clash with I'm A Celebrity. All still in play, I'm told.
  • Labour party spokesman: "Negotiations about the debate are still ongoing". Fury in Team Corbyn, accusing No10 of trying to bounce them.
  • Interesting. I'm told BBC are promising a far bigger audience because their debate would follow Strictly's result show. On same Sunday last year in 8pm slot, BBC had 11.9m viewers, vs ITV's 4m. I’m A Celeb's big audience bounce only kicks in at 9pm when it starts.
  • I also hear that the BBC's debate will not be hosted by Andrew Neil. A shame, but unsurprising neither May nor Corbyn would agree to that type of box office savaging.
  • BBC  format for TV debate would also include panel of  "names" involved in Brexit to quiz PM and Jeremy Corbyn.
  • It's understood Labour do not believe BBC format for TV debate is a genuine head to head - as it would also involve a Brexit panel.
  • Labour believe ITV also offer  bigger, more diverse viewing audience for TV debate.
Hmm. Not liking the sound of the BBC's use of a panel of "names".

A man after my own heart

You may have to turn the sound up on this one - and, yes, I know it's silly - but Simon McCoy makes me laugh (in a good way). The BBC is busy bringing us another dollop of Brexit doom-and-gloom, and then Simon says this:

Viktor and George and Evan and Kevin

Continuing with last night's PM, here are Evan Davis and Kevin Connolly on Hungary's Viktor Orban. Look out for Evan's introductory remarks about George Soros, and savour the irony (perhaps) of a report about the threat to democracy in Hungary which features voices from just one side of the political divide there:

Evan Davis: George Soros is a wealthy and powerful advocate of liberal causes in the modern world. He uses his huge private fortune to promote the cause of greater openness and, somehow, he's emerged as a peculiarly intense focus of hate from right-wing campaigners, who have even been blaming him for funding the caravan of migrants making their way through Mexico from Central America to the US. But nowhere is he more controversial than in his home country Hungary, where a liberal arts university he founded says it's on the point of being forced out of business by the populist-nationalist government of prime minister Viktor Orban. Mr. Orban's critics say he's shown a pattern of trying to crush or control institution he doesn't like, including Hungary's independent judiciary. Here's the second in a series of special reports from Budapest by our Europe correspondent Kevin Connolly:
Kevin ConnollyWe're on a huge Ferris wheel in the heart of Budapest which offers a spectacular perspective on the landscape of Viktor Orban's Hungary. Architecturally, it is impossible not to be charmed. The glittering Danube threads together the city's elegant parks and palaces. But somewhere down there, in the courtroom and colleges, there are growing fears that Viktor OrbΓ‘n's instincts are authoritarian and that, slowly, he's moving to erode academic freedom and the independence of the judiciary and, above all, to force his least favourite seat of learning out of town altogether.
Eva FodorThe government has forced us out of this country. It's this simple. It's very obvious that it's designed to make our lives impossible.
Eva Fodor is pro-rector of the Central European University, a graduate college established in Budapest by the Hungarian-born financier George Soros. His liberal globalist instincts seem to really rile Viktor Orban. Eva says the University is being forced to relocate to Austria next month because the Orban government won't sign the papers that would give it the legal authority to operate in Hungary.
Eva FodorThis is an obvious and clear violation of the principle of the rule of law. The government passes ad hoc regulations without consulting people. This is an obvious and blatant restriction on academic freedom. It's actually closing a university. So this government, the Hungarian government, has designed the legislation that closes a university. This has not happened within the European Union, so it is a purely authoritarian move.
The Central European University can. to a certain extent, look after itself of course. Its students can take to the streets to denounce Viktor Orban's authoritarianism. as they did here. And, in the end, George Soros can afford to fund the move to Vienna, even if he doesn't really want to . But what of the judiciary, which feels itself to be under a similar kind of attack? Hungary's government is taking control of judicial appointments and lowering the compulsory retiring age for experienced judges to create more vacancies for its own people. Zsuzsa Sandor was forced out of her job as a judge under the new rules and says Viktor Orban's Fidesz party is putting the legal system under more pressure than the Communists did back in their day. Mrs Sandor says this is all about Viktor Orban wanting to control every area of life in a way that is just not compatible with proper democracy. Already, she says, prosecutions against Fidesz people only go ahead if the courts get the nod from someone at the very top of the party. Now, of course, no one is saying that Hungary is heading back into the kind of political darkness remembered here at the Terror House Museum, which commemorate victims of the Nazis and the Soviets. Indeed, Mr. Orban's defenders say all the complaints from academics and lawyers are just the predictable moaning of liberals who simply don't like him. But there is surely something more profound at work here. Hungary only emerged 30 years ago from a largely non-democratic history that included occupation by the Austrians, the Germans and the Russians. Small wonder, says the academic George Baron (sp?), that there's a taste for strong leadership here - a taste that brings with it certain dangers.
George Baron: In every nation they would like a strong leader, a father-like figure, but the strong institutions of democracy could make limitations to that desire. If the institutions are weak there are no limitations, and if a cynical guy with talent would like to seize total power he can do it if the institutions are not strong enough. 
The views from Budapest's Ferris wheel are breathtaking and the Budapest the tourists see is as beautiful as ever, but below the surface this is a troubled landscape, and there are real fears here the Fidesz government is eroding the strength and freedom of civil society in a manner that is disturbing and that is not pretty to watch.

"Casting about aspersions of honesty"

For your interest, here's a transcript of the PM interview last night between Evan Davis and Jacob Rees-Mogg MP:

From an earlier occasion when Jacob told Evan off

Evan Davis: Let's talk to Jacob Rees-Mogg, Conservative MP, chair of the European Research Group. Very good evening to you.
Jacob Rees-Mogg: Good evening.
Evan Davis: Let's start with the Government ones. You don't think those are fair simulations. Correct?
Jacob Rees-Mogg: There's a fundamental flaw if you read the Government's paper, which is that it doesn't take into account global economic trends. And one of the major global economic trends is that 90% of future global economic growth is expected to come from outside the European Union. So if you take out that level of growth you end up with figures that are not likely to be accurate.
Evan Davis: Except that...that to be taken out, you would have had that growth regardless of whether we're in or out, so we can sell more to India whether we're in the EU or out of the EU. So it's only the difference, which is why their report says they don't think it's very significant.
Jacob Rees-Mogg: No, I don't think that's accurate, because one of the reasons we have difficulties getting into other markets is because of the protectionist racket run by the European Union that keeps out low-priced goods of high quality from countries outside the European Union. Bear in mind, we put protectionist tariffs and non-tariff barriers on goods that we don't even manufacture in this country to protect inefficient incompetent European businesses at a high cost to British consumers. We can get rid of that once we've left the European Union. That's why global economic trends are crucial.
Evan Davis: And the Treasury thought it wasn't a very significant factor,. which is why they didn't model all that growth. Let me just ask you...
Jacob Rees-Mogg: (interrupting) Indeed, but let me just finish on that, because bear in mind the Treasury said that we would lose 800,000 jobs, up to, simply by voting to leave the European Union. That was nonsense. It said we would have a punishment Brexit [presumably he meants 'Budget' there]. That was nonsense. The Treasury's reputation has been for politicised forecasts,...
Evan Davis(interrupting) Right, and interestingly...
Jacob Rees-Mogg: ...which is why George Osborne set up the Office For Budget Responsibility to do it independently.
Evan Davis: And interestingly, all the independent forecasts give you the same story: This isn't economic calamity, unless we have a disorderly Brexit. It's basically 1-5% loss in our kind of long-term national income. Shouldn't you just be honest and say, look, that is what is going to happen folks. It's worth it because you want to take back control or have lower immigration, whatever it is, but there's a small price to pay...
Jacob Rees-Mogg(speaking over) No, I...
Evan Davis: ...and you will notice it after 10 or 15 years.
Jacob Rees-Mogg:  I think casting about aspersions of honesty it is an improper thing for the BBC to do. I think you have to take on good faith what people come on your programme to say, and I think it's disreputable of you to put it in that way. People have honest disagreements, and there are economists, who actually got many things right before, who disagree. And bear in mind the consensus view was that joining the euro would be good for us, being in the Exchange Rate Mechanism would be good for us...
Evan Davis(interrupting) There was enormous division on those things and there was not the same consensus about them.
Jacob Rees-Mogg: (speaking over) Oh hold on! On the Exchange Rate Mechanism there was an almost entire consensus that us being in the Exchange Rate Mechanism was good for the country, and I think that to rewrite history in that way is simply inaccurate. And these consensus forecasts are very bad at getting inflexion points. As Andy Haldane, the senior economist at the Bank of England, has himself said - and wrote a very interesting paper about - why didn't the forecasters get 2008 right? The reason: they're not good inflexion points, and leaving the European Union is unquestionably an inflexion point.
Evan Davis: Let's get a quick reaction to the Bank of England's projection. It's a much shorter term one: Disorderly Brexit, worse economic crisis - a worse shock, than the financial crisis - economy shrinking by 8%. You just have to say everybody's biased, everybody's out for your...for your case, don't you, because this is a completely separate, independent forecast?..
Jacob Rees-Mogg: (interrupting) It's not independent. It's by the Bank of England and by Mark Carney, who has been hostile to Brexit all the way through, is a second-tier failed Canadian politician who, unfortunately, we have running one of our most distinguished institutions, who has trashed its reputation by his succession of hysterical and wrong forecasts. And for the Bank of England to be talking down the pound is, I think, unprecedented. It is not what the Bank of England is there to do. and it's deeply irresponsible of them.
Evan Davis: You can't accept? got cross with me when I said you need to be honest about the economic effect, you got cross with me for saying that, but you cannot accept that if the Bank of England as an institution is capable of sitting down, using a set of very conventional models - there are not outlying models. It's not like they're saying much that's different from anyone else who looks at this -  you can't accept that they just do their best to model and tell the country what it's in for if it has a disorderly Brexit?
Jacob Rees-Mogg: I think the Bank of England's activities around the Brexit debate were quite extraordinary, that it doesn't interfere in general elections but it decided to interfere in the referendum and to make highly speculative and so far erroneous forecasts, and I think it's that reputation that makes these further forecasts less than credible.
Evan Davis: Jacob Rees-Mogg,...
Jacob Rees-Mogg: (speaking over) It's a pleasure.
Evan Davis:  (laughing) ...thanks for, thanks for joining us.

He'll get his coat

Regular readers will be delighted to know that veteran BBC foreign correspondent Hugh Sykes is still having his say on Twitter. Here's his take on Mr. Rees-Mogg MP:

Side of a bus

Talking about last night's BBC News at Ten, here's how Laura Kuenssberg's report began. (Note the dig at the Leave campaign):
This isn't a general election, even though it looks a bit like it. The Prime Minister's Brexit deal is the candidate, MPs are the voters. She's hopeful the Government's numbers today show her compromise is better than nothing. 
Theresa May: It shows that the deal we have negotiated with the European Union is the best deal available for jobs and the economy, that also delivers and honours the referendum. 
There are lots of possibilities that today's statistics just don't and cannot include. But the Brexit campaign certainly didn't say the economy would slow down on the side of a bus. The Chancellor this morning was remarkably clear:
Philip Hammond: If we are only looking at the economic benefits, remaining in the EU, is a slightly better economic outcome than the Prime Minister's deal. But the Prime Minister's deal gives an outcome remarkably close to the benefits of staying in. 

Uganda netball

Sorry to say I missed this:

A forecast or not a forecast: that is the question

Spot the contradictory reporting in BBC News at Ten's coverage of Mark Carney's dire no-deal warnings:
Clive Myrie, BBC newsreader: Good evening. The Bank of England is warning of an immediate economic crash if the UK leaves the European Union without a deal. The Bank's forecast is of a shock to growth more damaging than the financial crisis of 2008, with the economy shrinking by 8%. The Governor, Mark Carney, says interest rates would rise, house prices would fall, and unemployment would increase.  
Simon Jack, BBC Business Editor: Enter Brexit centrestage. A man with a warning. Leaving the EU without a deal could trigger an economic crash worse than the one that followed the financial crisis. [Clip of Mark Carney, saying, "We have constructed a worst case no deal, no transition Brexit scenario with a series of events including friction is at the border, difficulties at ports, sharp moves in financial markets would costs more for people and businesses to borrow, a series of events happening at the same time"]. Now this is not a prediction or a forecast, merely a possibility in the Bank's worst-case scenario  
Simon Jack, BBC Business EditorI can't stress this enough, Clive: These are not predictions or forecasts. These are just possibilities, lots of possibilities. Of all the possibilities you could look at, this is the worst. 
Evidently one BBC hand doesn't know what the other BBC hand is doing.

Following on...

Just a few snippets of Evan Davis from last night's PM:

Evan Davis: Now you might say, well, economic forecasts are hopeless, but do bear in mind these are not forecasts. They are not saying what will happen in 2033, because lots can change. They look at what happens if you change just one or two things - trading arrangements or migration - so, to take an analogy, it's hard to predict precisely how long any of us will live but it is much easier to analyse the effects of smoking on average length of life, cos you're just changing that one thing, smoking. Also note these projections tell a similar story to others that have been done by independent economists. They're all in line. These scenarios are the economic consensus. Rebel economists have different figures, but sometimes to get them they've assumed that we changed our economy in quite radical ways.
Robert Buckland MP: And there's a good reason for that. It's not about me being secretive, Evan, it's about a convention that has long existed within government, and not just this government but governments across the world....

Evan Davis: (interrupting) You can break the convention. Parliament has actually voted on this one. You didn't oppose the vote in Parliament. Why didn't you oppose the vote in Parliament if you wanted to stick by this convention?
Robert Buckland MP: I made the arguments very clearly, Evan, that the convention was there for good reason, which is about the indivisibility of collective decision-making...
Evan Davis: (interrupting) But Parliament...Parliament was aware of that when it unanimously supported the idea of publishing, on this occasion, for this particular vote, all the legal advice.
Robert Buckland MP: Yeah, but, what,what I think we are seeking to do is to strike absolutely the right balance between the need for openness and understanding by parliamentarians across the House as to the legal basis for the government's decision-making and also respecting what I'm afraid is an unavoidably important constitutional convention. If this starts to break down, then what future to we have for proper collective cabinet decision making. I shudder to think frankly...
Evan Davis: (interrupting) Oh come on! (laughing)
Robert Buckland MP: ...and that's why it's important. I'm sorry, Evan, it is...
Evan Davis: (interrupting) We're not going to have children starving if we publish government legal advice! We take your point, Robert Buckland, Solicitor General, and the Speaker may rule on whether it's a contempt of Parliament. But you've made the case for keeping some of it back. Thank you very much for talking to us this evening. 

Wednesday 28 November 2018

Evan's Song

(In honour of the latest manipulative John Lewis advert...
Evan, this one's for you. 
And you can tell everybody.)

Well, I put my arm bands on and took the plunge tonight, and decided to give Evan Davis's new-look travelling-show version of PM a listen. 

(As a blogger about BBC bias, I'm not one of those who can easily hide from such things.)

I managed the opening Brexit-focused quarter of an hour and then climbed out, shivering and grasping for the gift of someone's (maybe David Furnish's?) towel.

Given what you've already said in the comments, I had a strong feeling inside that there would be some biased editorialising from Evan worthy of blogging about, but this wasn't just 'some' editorialising; it was full-on, hardcore editorialising, replete with staggeringly biased language (and metaphorical feather trim and flamboyant glasses).

It's a little bit funny but, as a blogger, it seriously made me groan. So, excuse me, and I hope you don't mind, but I'm about to moan (as it made me quite cross): 

Should I spend an hour transcribing the whole thing to put down in words its bias for posterity? Or should I just put myself through a few minutes of less-than-pleasurable re-listening in order to quote only its most biased highlights (of which I registered several)? 

Yeah. Dilemmas, dilemmas!

And then came the interview with a Tory minister, broadly reinforcing Evan's editorial, with help from Evan's biased questions. 

And then came the very end of that interview, when the previously obliging minister refused to oblige Evan over a different point. 

What happened? 

Well, Evan took the 'then again, no' approach, and (literally) laughed at him, and put him straight, and then told him they'd run out of time, and then moved straight on without giving him a chance to utter even so much as a grump of objection - a classic 'getting-in-the-last-word' kind of point-scoring behaviour that's my own pet hate when it comes to BBC political interviews - a kind of behaviour Evan Davis is particularly prone to. 

I know some of you (unlike me) didn't take to Eddie Mair (my favourite ex-Radio 4 political presenter), but this was just so atrociously opinionated and bad that even the most ardent Eddie-haters must surely be longing for his return if this is what Radio 4 listeners are going to have to put up with from now on. 

Maybe I'll transcribe the whole thing tomorrow. I know it's not much, but it's the best I can do. And if I do, it's for people like you who keep it turned on. After all, you have the sweetest eyes I've ever seen...

Apologies for the Elton John-themed nature of this post, but it's midweek and I've been exposed to This Song all flipping day.



Please have a read of this latest tweet from John Simpson:

Obviously, Big John is displaying his usual impartial disdain for Donald Trump here, but I'm struggling against the thought that The Donald might actually have got one over here on the BBC's World Affairs Editor, intelligence-wise.

In the 1970s 'global cooling' was a scientific conjecture widely reported in the media (however much it might have been a minority view amongst scientists at the time) and now the media is widely reporting that 'global warming' could prove catastrophic for the planet (however much it is a majority view amongst scientists of our time). 

On January 11, 1970, the Washington Post reported that "Colder Winters Held Dawn of New Ice Age. 
So did super-intelligent John Simpson simply misunderstand what the US President was saying? Because I can't see anything wrong with what Donald Trump said. Can you?


John's reply is eagerly awaited.

And if you read the very Washington Post article that John Simpson doubtless read before issuing that tweet you might see that John was simply regurgitating the Washington Post's present-day take on things - a take that cites magazines like Newsweek and Time over 'global cooling' (in the 1970s) but doesn't cite its own equivalent 1970s articles (such as the one cited on Wikipedia quoted above). 

Or am I missing something? (Please feel free to tell me if I am).

Monday 26 November 2018

"Erm, let's get the weather..."

Tonight's PM on Radio 4 featured a remarkable interview between Evan Davis and Lord Lilley. 

It's so remarkable that I thought I'd transcribe it for you - even though, because of all the 'speaking over', it wasn't always easy to hear what was being said.

(Ain't I the martyr?)

Evan's introduction immediately stopped me in my tracks.

I've not listened to PM since he took over (following Steady Eddie's departure), but maybe my monitoring focus should shift there and stay there.

When Evan said that the programme has attempted to get to the bottom of a key issue in the Brexit debate "by examining Brexiteer claims about trade and borders", the thought immediately arose, 'And what about 'Remainer claims? Have you examined those?'

And when Evan cited our old friend Anand Menon as "an expert...from King's College, London", my eyebrows took a distinctly 'Fiona Bruce' turn towards the universe beyond us. Peter Lilley was absolutely right to raise questions about Prof. Menon in response.  

The whole interview is a clash between two people who think they're right, as per their "experience".

One is a politician, the other a BBC presenter. And the BBC presenter's side is the one with the larger bully pulpit. 

So here's the transcript:

Evan Davis: Now, on two occasions in three weeks we've attempted on this programme to get to the bottom of a key issue in the Brexit debate by examining Brexiteer claims about trade and borders. Many Brexiteers think that the worries about border controls in Ireland, or between Dover and Calais, are overblown and that we can cleanly leave the EU, the Single Market and the Customs Union and still easily trade without too much fuss at the borders. Well, last week we used an expert called Anand Menon, from King's College, London, to critique the views on trade and borders of a Brexiteer, Lord Lilley - Peter Lilley - who'd been on the Today programme that morning. Professor Menon disagreed with a lot that Peter Lilley had said. Well, Lord Lilley felt that the Brexiteer case was stronger than implied, and he has joined us now to make that case. Cos I thought on the programme I thought we'd been pretty fair because we'd acknowledged...
Peter Lilley: (interrupting) Pretty fair?! (laughing) Grotesque! You didn't mention that the professor is not a Professor of Trade or Economics. He's Professor of European Politics. He has very strong views on Europe, to which he's entitled. He's a Remain campaigner effectively, but you didn't label him as such. You labelled me as a Brexiteer...
Evan Davis(interrupting) No, no, he's not a Remain campaigner. I'm sorry, he's an academic worker. He's an academic worker.
Peter LilleyHe's an academic worker! Come off it! Name me a single thing he's ever said in support of a Brexit. 
Evan Davis: Right. Can I just...the first point which I wanted to...
Peter Lilley(interrupting) Actually no, no. I think this whole business raises an important issue. I'm very flattered that the BBC thinks it needs to deploy four people to debunk my pamphlet: John Humphrys; then someone labelled 'a reality correspondent'...
Evan Davis(interrupting) Chris Morris, yeah, yeah. 
Peter Lilley: Presumably you're not 'an unreality correspondent'? What you're.. (indecipherable) you're detached from reality? This man is deemed to have a special grasp of reality which other people don't. Then you had you; and then you had this professor. Now, very kindly, you're having me back in. But four-to-one seems a little odd. And none of you mentioned a single myth, quoted a single myth, from my document, which is available at, for those who want actually to find out what I said.
Evan Davis: I really want to pin you down, because I didn't think you disagreed with Chris Morris. Most experts and businesses disagree with the way you've made your argument...
Peter Lilley(interrupting) That is simply untrue.
Evan Davis: That is untrue, is it? OK. Through my experience I...Look,...
Peter Lilley(interrupting) Hang on, hang on! Let me give my experience here because you've had yours four times. If you'd read my paper, if Chris Mason had read my papers...
Evan Davis(interrupting) Chris Morris.
Peter LilleyChris Morris, sorry...he would have found that I quote a trade organisation representing 19,000 customs, logistics and freight companies across Europe which said all the ingredients to ensure a smooth exit process of the UK from the EU, and which allow almost frictionless trade after the exit, are readily available. I went to their conference to learn more and talk to people. I sent a draft of my paper to four of the people I met. They came back with comments I incorporated. That's what I call 'reality checking'...
Evan Davis(interrupting) OK, no, let's, no, well that's, that's, that's, that's important, but it is MY experience - and it may be that I'm more in the ambit less of the trade experts and more in those of the EU experts who are are maybe not so much on trade - but I have to say most of them...  
Peter Lilley(interrupting) You will admit you were wrong...?
Evan Davis: (speaking over) No, I don't admit...Let's go to the next one...
Peter Lilley(speaking over) stating that.this organisation has...
Evan Davis(speaking over) ...Let's go to the next one...
Peter Lilley(speaking over)... OK. You're not going to escape from that one, are you?
Evan Davis:  No, I'm not, because I don't...we're not going to resolve it. So you say experts are on your side...
Peter Lilley(interrupting) I'm saying...
Evan Davis(interrupting) I say my experience is different.
Peter Lilley: This trade association  published it, thought that this paper...
Evan Davis(interrupting) That's good, that's fine, and you've made that point. Let's go onto another one, because there was a very specific factual thing that you said, and lots of others have said, which is we trade with the US under WTO rules...
Peter Lilley(interrupting) Yes. That's not in this document.
Evan Davis: No, but it was said in that interview and was...and it had infuriated some people...
Peter Lilley: (interrupting) Well, yes. I'm very happy to talk about that. I'm writing something about it now...
Evan Davis(interrupting) Can I just ask? Do you acknowledge that actually there are a lot of, if you like, side deals that also govern trade...?
Peter Lilley: (interrupting)...(indecipherable) of WTO. There are lots of side deals. I'm writing something about it at the moment...
Evan Davis(speaking over) So, other deals, other deals...
Peter Lilley: (speaking over)...discussing, separate from what's in this document. And...
Evan Davis(speaking over) Right. It was said on the 'Today' programme...
Peter Lilley: (interrupting) For instance, the EU has 97 such deals with Russia.
Evan DavisCorrect. So the point is very few countries literally trade under WTO rules. And you acknowledge that one?
Peter Lilley: Yes.  
Evan DavisOK, that was a good one...Erm, do you also acknowledge, cos this I think is an interesting one, that if we had a no deal Brexit there would be borders, or there would be a likely requirement for borders, both in Ireland and a bigger border, more significant border, in Dover-Calais?
Peter Lilley: No. I quote Her Majesty's Customs and Revenue CEO, who has given evidence to countless select committees. who said there are no circumstances in which Britain...
Evan Davis(interrupting) But we would put a border.
Peter Lilley: Hang on!...we wouldn't need to erect infrastructure or have checks at the border. So the only issue is whether the EU has to. Now, the ERG...
Evan Davis(interrupting) But he...he...
Peter Lilley: ...has published a separate document which has shown that even under EU rules it should be possible not to have checks or infrastructure at the border. They've been and discussed it for two hours with Mr. Barnier. They got a letter back saying it's very helpful...
Evan Davis(interrupting)  Just to be clear about what Jon Thompson said. He thinks you can't apply normal arrangement at the border and he has no idea whether the European Union would try and apply normal arrangements because there's...
Peter Lilley: (interrupting) Well, he's not responsible for the European Union... 
Evan Davis(speaking over) No, no...
Peter Lilley: I'm putting him on the British positive side...
Evan Davis(interrupting)  On the British side. So there might be a border, a European border, or there might be...the Europeans might feel it's annoying to have no border in...
Peter Lilley: Well, there'll be a border. The question is whether the checks require infrastructure at the border. Nearly 100% of customs declarations are made electronically and actually checked in a computer in Salford that is what would happen to the bulk of them. Now, you may have to checks some animals. We already check 100% of animals coming from GB to EU (indecipherable), very visually and...
Evan Davis(interrupting) Can I get to a bigger question, Peter Lilley, about whether...Do you...cos a lot of people think the BBC, you know, has put up a politician against an expert and treats them like they're the same, and the public are left bamboozled and don't realise that the expert is the person they should be listening to, not the politician...
Peter Lilley: (speaking over)Well, hang on!
Evan Davis(speaking over) Do you...? I'm not (indecipherable)...
Peter Lilley: I was responsible for Customs and Excise. I've been Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. I helped negotiate the Uruguayan Round, which set up the WTO. Admittedly for two years you haven't had me on the 'Today' programme because you think that expertise is irrelevant, but carry on!...
Evan Davis(interrupting) No, no, I'm just wondering what you, how you, think in public debate how the public should decide who to listen to?
Peter Lilley: Well, they certainly shouldn't take the advice of BBC reality correspondents. That we've ascertained...
Evan Davis(interrupting) No, we haven't ascertained that (laughing).
Peter Lilley: They don't even read the documents they criticise. He didn't...he clearly hadn't read the document, otherwise he wouldn't have said that about 'most customs officers not having this view' when the trade association that's mentioned has come out and said we can have frictionless, almost frictionless, borders.
Evan DavisI'd love to continue this. We're literally out of time. Peter Lilley, thank your for coming in, and I'm glad you had your chance to get your own back on us. Erm, let's get the weather...