Saturday, 3 November 2018

For IFS's Sake

All through Tuesday, the BBC led with the news that the Institute for Fiscal Studies — ‘expert’, ‘independent’, ‘respected’ etc etc — thought Philip Hammond’s Budget was ‘a bit of a gamble’. One has nothing much against the IFS, but why is this news? Why is it not treated the same way as the Institute of Economic Affairs on the free-market right or of the Institute for Public Policy Research on the Blairite left — as a body whose views are probably worth hearing, but only as one among many? Behind the IFS’s exaggerated prominence is a false idea that it is objective and the others are biased. They are all biased — or rather, coming from a particular political point of view — and there is nothing wrong with that, so long as it is stated. The IFS is a centrist, anti-Brexit outfit of the usual Whitehall-ish goody-goodies. It is not the court of final appeal as to whether this is a good or bad Budget.
He's not wrong about the BBC leading with the news all day. Here's how BBC One's three main news bulletins began on Tuesday:
BBC News at One: The big winner of the budget is the NHS - says a leading think tank - but warns yesterday's budget may be a bit of a gamble with the public finances. The Insitute for Fiscal Studies also says that more than 2 million families on Universal credit - the new flagship benefit - will be hundreds of pounds better off a year but some public services will continue feeling the squeeze.  
BBC News at Six: The Chancellor is accused of taking a gamble with his Budget despite an uncertain economic future. The Institute for Fiscal Studies suggests Philip Hammond may have to increase borrowing and says many public services haven't benefited. 
BBC News at Ten: Tonight at Ten, the Budget was a gamble with the public finances - the independent verdict of a leading research organisation. 


  1. How does this jibe with the supposed edict to not hide behind one degree of separation mouthpieces without at least framing the context?

    1. How indeed. The last one (the News at Ten one) is the 'best' - "independent" and "leading" with just three words between them.

  2. There's another aspect to this. The BBC has billions of pounds in revenue. I can't recall how much they spend on news and current affairs but it is certainly more than £500 million. That sort of figure is way more than is available to these little think tanks (IFS has about £8 million to play with).

    Why does the BBC have no confidence in its economic staff to produce an objective and balanced analysis of the budget?

    Perhaps its because so few of its economics staff actually studied economics at university and are bluffers really.

  3. Seems like the government (finally!) is also pretty p'd off with the BBC's biased reporting of the budget, though it's more the Resolution Foundation stuff that has been the source of annoyance.