Saturday 14 September 2019

Down Memory Lane (With Mark Mardell)

Returning to the theme of Sue's post about James Harding’s Impartial Journalism in a Polarised World on Radio 4 (which, like Sue, I also enjoyed), all I'd add is that I was particularly taken by Mark Mardell playing the BBC Roundhead to Robert Peston's Cavalier.

Robert Peston - ITV's dandy highwayman - declared himself proud (as a journalist) to pronounce TheTruth. His example? Telling us - as he has been doing for three years now - that Brexit will make us poorer. Other journalists should do the same, he suggested.  

Mark Mardell recoiled from that and declared that the BBC impartiality he evidently believes himself to embody means that journalists shouldn't make themselves the arbiters of Truth but simply present a range of voices and let the listeners judge.

Ironies abound. Robert Peston could be speaking for the BBC's World Affairs Editor John Simpson here, and Mark Mardell is a man whose opinions have haemorrhaged through his reporting for decades.

On which theme, Mark also made a bold claim:
Shoot me if you like. But I was the guy that insisted when I was Europe Editor that UKIP and Farage should have a voice, because they fell between the cracks. They weren’t at Westminster and they weren’t getting their hearing. So I think it’s important to hear the people who are behind them.

One of the first things I remember as a blogger was noting Mark Mardell's Today report about UKIP during the 2009 European election - the infamous "BNP in blazers" report.

Let's just recall that in all its 'glory':
A small sea, more like a pond perhaps, of Union flags drop in front of a diminished group of men in the European Parliament.   
They thought their election heralded a revolution, but what have they achieved?  
Not, obviously, their main ambition of getting the UK out of the EU.  
Most members of the European Parliament regard UKIP as profoundly unserious pranksters with a weird obsession.  
‘Criminal betrayal’ – so said UKIP’s rising star Robert Kilroy-Silk MEP, the former Labour MP and daytime TV host. He’s the man with the orange complexion, you’ll remember, before he quit the party.  
‘An incompetent joke’ – that’s the verdict of another leadership contender.  
The pronouncements of sore losers, perhaps, but there’s something of a theme here which real opponents have been quick to pick up on. 
‘Fruitcakes, loonies, closet racists’ was what David Cameron said about them, and it’s the last bit that annoys the current leadership. 
Nigel Farage has dismissed the idea that they’re the BNP in blazers, but their main plank in this election is perhaps their opposition to unlimited immigration, and Mr Farage admits he’s spent a lot of time and energy fighting off a take-over by the far right.  
That must say something about the sympathies of some members. 
And what about the MEPs? Of the dozen elected, Robert Kilroy-Silk has disappeared from the political scene and two others have been expelled, one jailed for fraud, the other awaiting trial on similar charges.  
UKIP condemns the EU gravy train, but a good proportion seem to have prominent gravy stains all down their blazers. 
The European Parliament, for all its bad reputation, is a place where the politicians have a serious job modifying, tweaking, even kicking out proposed new laws. UKIP don’t boast of any achievements on this front, and their opponents say they’ve voted against Britain’s interests in a host of areas from fishing to trade talks. A UKIP news release ruefully admits that occasionally UKIP do miss pieces of legislation. 
If not the BNP in blazers, then there is something of the golf club militant about UKIP – so old-school they’re in constant danger of being expelled, the boys who didn’t make prefects because they were too ready to cock a snook and put two fingers up at the establishment.   
But there’s no doubt there is a market for this at the moment, but in a parliament that’s about quiet conciliation not gestures, they make a lot of noise, no one is unaware of their cause.  
For them the risk is that they become part of an institution they despise, the licensed court jester, who can poke fun at the EU’s po-faced pretentions, as long as they make withdrawal look like a lost cause for mavericks.
I'm betting, even now, that Mark Mardell would re-read that and think himself a splendid fellow and a beacon of impartiality, despite it being a massively biased piece of reporting - as demonstrated in pretty much every one of its sentences. 

And how complaisant it seems now. Nigel Farage's golf club militant went on, within seven years of this, to compel a Conservative PM to hold a referendum on the UK's membership of the EU - and the people voted OUT. 


  1. Great post Craig. Mark's pretensions well and truly skewered.

  2. And this is why ITBBCB is important, albeit niche.


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