Saturday 19 October 2019

Bias, bias, bias

Tonight's Newsnight featured a remarkable report from the programme's economics editor Ben Chu.

It's a fascinating case of BBC bias, especially in its use of 'bias by authority' (we get "analysts" and "experts" and " the Treasury") and 'bias by labelling'  (we get "the non-partisan UK in A Changing Europe think-tank" and "credible" and "serious analysts"). 

And, I don't for one moment think coincidentally, every single one of those examples helps Ben to bolster his own argument. 

For starters, I'm afraid, charming as he is, that I don't believe Anand Menon is an entirely neutral analyst/expert. He's never been pro-Brexit, to put it mildly. 

And to describe UK in A Changing Europe as "non-partisan" is only technically correct if you define "non-partisan" as meaning "not affiliated to a party". 

And the Treasury of former chancellors Philip Hammond and George Osborne is far from being a trusted source of neutral 'analysis', given its recent record, so why would large swathes of the public take its word for anything?

Note also that Ben, the ex-economics editor of The Independent, gives Labour something of a thumbs-up in the criticism of Boris's deal - which is unhelpful to supporters of the deal. 

And note that this isn't an 'either/or' kind of balanced report. It's a single-minded argument, with supporting quotes and statistics. No disagreeing voice is included. 

And, finally, note just how inexorably negative it is about Brexit. Twice we get the word "negative" itself, and the piece concludes with the thoughts of "economic damage to the UK".

Kirsty Wark: I will talk to two politicians who oppose the deal in just a minute. But how different is this deal from the Theresa May old failed deal? Of course the backstop has gone - instead, a set of arrangements which critics argue leaves a border of sorts somewhere in the Irish Sea. Beyond that - what kind of Brexit is this? How might it work for our economy - and what about Labour's fears over workers' rights. On which, as you heard earlier from Nick, the Government has made concessions tonight designed to entice more opposition waverers to fall in line. Here's our economics editor Ben Chu on the impact of these historic choices on the UK economy.  
Ben Chu
Jeremy Corbyn: So we believe the deal he's proposed is heading Britain in the direction of a deregulated society.  
Keir Starmer: Why on earth would the Labour Party, the trade union movement back a deal which is starting down a slippery slope to deregulation? 
But are they right? What course does Boris Johnson's unexpected deal with Brussels actually chart for the UK? And what does it really mean for UK businesses, for families, for workers? Analysts say Theresa May's deal pointed to a reasonably close partnership with the EU on things like customs and single market rules but that Boris Johnson's putts us on a very different track. 
Anand Menon (UK in A Changing Europe): The key difference for me is the final destination and ultimately there, Boris Johnson seems to want a far loser relationship with the European Union than that that Mrs May was seeking, and that will have economic consequences for us that will be negative. 
High common social employment and environmental standards are mentioned in the non-legally binding political declaration in the new Brussels agreement. And the Government has tonight made various promises to protect those rights, but experts say the Brussels deal itself does not preclude a divergence on these rights an standards over time, giving some substance to Labour's concerns ant deregulation.
Anand Menon: I think what they are saying to some people on the Labour side is look, we are serious about these regulations don't worry about it, we have no intention of cutting standards, the point is while Mrs May's deal enshrined the level field conditions in law, meaning that you didn't have to believe promises, you had the law to fall back on, this is a question of trust and if there is one thing that is in perilously short supply in our politics at the moment it's trust. 
Furthermore, Mr Johnson has made it clear he is aiming for a very limited Canada-style free trade agreement with the EU that members of the Conservative European Research Group have long said they want. So what's the economic impact of less integration with our largest trading partner? Last year analysis by the Treasury projected a negative impact from Theresa May's preferred deal of 3.9% of GDP over 15 years. Neither the Treasury nor the Office for Budget Responsibility have yet analysed the impact of Boris Johnson's deal, but researchers at the non-partisan UK in A Changing Europe think-tank have, and their work suggests Theresa May's deal would have left the economy smaller by 1.7% per capita than it otherwise be over ten years. That's a cost of £500 per person. By contrast, they estimate that Mr Johnson's destination would leave the economy 2.5% smaller, or £800 per person. And if you add in credible estimates of the impact of more intensive trade on national economic efficiency, the potential hit from Mr Johnson's proposal rises to 6.4% per capita, or £2,000 per person. 
Stephen Phipson (Chief Executive, Make UK): Half the exports of the country are manufactured goods and about half of those go to the EU and that is hundreds of thousands of jobs dependent on us having a close relationship, outside of the EU, we understand that, but a close regulatory alignment in a new free trade arrangements that protects those jobs and those investments. 
Anand Menon: What's worrying is the government is doing this whilst denying that there'll be any sortr of adverse effects. 
These are only estimates, with uncertainty about the precise impacts, and the Government insists there will be long-term economic benefits from Brexit. But the choice for MPs, nevertheless, is whether or not to approve a deal that staves off a no-deal Brexit of which serious analysis still suggests we do economic damage to the UK.


  1. Invariably Remainers dredge up worst case forecasts and ignore best case forecasts. Every interviewer should look at these experts' previous forecasts and compare them with what actually happened. You'll probably find their forecasts were inaccurate and hence they fall into the Michael Gove category of experts who were wrong and therefore by definition not experts at all.

  2. My comment from the Open Thread:

    Ben Chu on Newsnight with a big Fake News item: referencing Treasury forecasts re Brexit as fact. No mention of the very real fact that the Treasury forecast an immediate recession in the event of a Brexit vote that never materialised - instead, we got richer as an economy.

    Of course there are no official forecasts for the current deal so Chu reached for the forecasts of the "non-partisan" UK in a Changing Europe.

    How they've managed to undertake a complex analysis of the economic effects of the deal when (a) it was only published a couple of days ago and (b) we've no idea what if any Free Trade Agreement with the EU will emerge at the end of it, Chu didn't enlighten us.

    A senior fellow of this "non-partisan" agency is Jonathan Portes - one of the geniuses who predicted that the impact of immigration from Poland and Romania would be small. He is now a tireless and relentless advocate for mass immigration, which according to him brings unalloyed joy and prosperity to those countries that experience it.

  3. GDP is a very, very poor measure of prosperity. For instance, these forecasts of GDP don't take account of a number of issues:

    1. How much of that GDP stays in the country. The Republic of Ireland has a huge GDP per person but much of that just passes through Ireland on its way to company HQs around the world (because of their low corporation tax).

    2. How much of your GDP is going to non UK citizens. If your economy becomes a job creation scheme for citizens from other countries your own populace is not necessarily benefitting. That seems to be what has been happening in many parts of the UK.

    3. How much of predicted GDP growth is due to immigration or migration-related population growth (a huge amount of ours has's not difficult to grow your GDP if you let in additional millions every decade).

    4. How equally your GDP is distributed among your citizens. If your GDP growth is a lot to do with attracting millionaires and billionaires from overseas to come and live in your country for much of the year (again, that's our economy) then a lot of that GDP is being concentrated in a few hands, so it can be a misleading figure.

    5. Disposable income. What most people care about is their disposable income ie the opportunity to spend their money on things they wish to spend them on: cars, holidays, TV subscruptions,meals out, latest gadgets, education, health , movies, day trips, gym membership and so on. GDP tells you little about that. I don't myself count housing costs as part of disposable income, but the government does, I believe.

    6. It can be hard to get to the nub of what "disposable income" is. You can have a high GDP country with relatively little disposable income because taxes are high, and there are numerous charges for various government services and you are maybe sending £10 billion to some superstate project!

    7. Growth in GDP does not translate to personal prosperity if there is an excessive rise in asset prices and the average person ends up paying an excessive amount for housing. This is precisely what has happened in the UK. Due to mass immigration and consequent population growth, people now pay much more of their income on housing (including a lot of hidden housing costs like home insurance).

    8. If you have a high proportion of recent migrants in your country (as we do) they send a significant amount of your GDP "home" as remittances.

    9. Tourism and a large business visitor population (UK again) also can distort your GDP totals, giving a false impression of prosperity among the general population.


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