Sunday 1 March 2020

Questions and Answers

I came a cropper yesterday on the Priti Patel/Sir Philip Rutnam story, but I'm returning to the fray today regardless.

The BBC's involvement in the story intrigues me, because they have been absolutely at the heart of it.

Here's what we know: Sir Philip's resignation was choreographed in tandem with the BBC. On resigning, he contacted the BBC's Laura Kuenssberg. BBC cameras and the BBC's political editor were then present to film his resignation speech. A BBC staffer even held an umbrella over Sir Philip's head to protect him from the rain.

Today, the BBC's home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw entered the fray, unhelpfully for Priti Patel, piling on more pressure with 'breaking' news. BBC News "has been told", he said, that Priti was formally complained about while serving as a minister in the Department for Work and Pensions. The complaint "is believed to have been made by a member of her private office".

So what's going on here? And what's the BBC's role in all of this? 

The BBC are obviously being used - by Sir Philip for starters, and also by that person who "told" them about the DWP complaint - but is that in any way wrong if it's a neutral journalistic scoop? After all, who'd look a gift horse in the gob?

Is being fed stories like this, even if the feeding is very obviously being done by people on a mission to bring down Priti Patel, actually part and parcel of proper, decent journalism?

Or is it not neutral journalism at all? Might not the BBC itself be on a similar mission?


Meanwhile, Charlie's comment at the top of the latest Open Thread prompted me to check out who the BBC has invited on to discuss this story since it first broke yesterday morning. 

Using TV Eyes to track them down, but only checking Radio 4's politics programmes and the BBC News Channel, here are the results. 

The colour coding is simple: Those in red were pro-Sir Philip/anti-Priti. Those in blue were pro-Priti/anti-Sir Philip. Those in green were neither one nor the other. 

Broadcasting House - Lord Kerslake
The World This Weekend - Jonathan Powell; Lord Butler
PM - Dave Penman; Yvette Cooper; Crispin Blunt
BBC News Channel - Lord Kerslake; Owen Jones; Cindy Yu; Sir Anthony SeldonYvette Cooper; Sebastian Payne

Of course, the Government isn't putting up people to speak on its behalf, but - still - this is quite an unbalanced list, don't you think?


  1. The BBC has a seemingly endless supply of ex civil servants, ambassadors, etc and quango heads who are prepared to attack the government but remarkably few who will defend it. Those contacts are cultivated carefully over time by the BBC forward planning team as a resource when news stories break or are being researched.

    1. There's a new 'Yes, Prime Minister' script begging to be written about that, Robin.

      Lord Kerslake has been BBC TV and radio's main man today and yesterday (especially today). Shaun Ley mentioned it once yesterday on the BBC News Channel, but Paddy O'Connell and the various BBC News Channel presenters today didn't mention it at all, that Lord Kerslake is very close to the Corbynite wing of Labour. Paddy simply called him a cross-bencher, but His Lordship advised Jeremy Corbyn before and during the last election, worked hand in glove with John Trickett and has been a close ally of John McDonald, He even compared Theresa May's stewardship of the Home Office to Nazi Germany. He may chuckle a lot and sound like a posh lord, but he's far-Left and the BBC shouldn't make him sound like just another ex civil servant now sitting on the cross-benches of the House of Lords.

    2. Spot on. Also their favoured think tanks and politicians who they can rely on to be ‘on message’ for their news stories. In this case Yvette Cooper and Lord Kerslake.

    3. Especially the Institute for Government bankrolled by Arch-Remainiac billionaire Lord Sainsbury.

      The fact virtually no senior ex civil servants can be found to defend the government or back Brexit pretty much proves what Cummings and Patel are saying about civil service resistance. Senior ex civil servants shouldn't be getting involved in partisan politics in any case. They never used to, realising it undermines the current Civil Service's reputation.

    4. Absolutely right MB. Who is agitating this resistance in the background I wonder?

  2. ‘Pressure grows on Priti Patel’ is the headline on tonight’s 10pm main BBC One news.

    So far as I can tell the only pressure being applied is from the BBC who seem determined to whip this one up. Presumably they want her head.

    She ticks a lot of boxes for the BBC but is not a progressive left liberal, hence she is fair game.

    1. Exactly.

      Probably tens of millions of people around the country have been sworn at by their boss, or had a hostile confrontation at some point in their careers. There will be little sympathy for Cry-Baby Rutnam on his £180,000 salary and probably £80k pa pension. Most people won't see why he should get some mega compensation just because he had a row with the boss. I suspect it was just a row and nothing like Bercow's height-assisted bullying.

      I hope Priti plays the full female/race card and trashes him at any hearing. Even if he wins, she should still play the female/race card and refuse to resign.

      We need to know where the battle lines are!

      Patel is one line, Cummings is another, Coronavirus is another, Boris's private life is another...The BBC and their mates are preparing to charge all of them.

  3. You can add the Victoria Derbyshire show to the list above; Lord Kerslake (again) and Alan Johnson (ex Labour Home Sec.) both interviewed on the programme and highly critical of Priti Patel. I can think of several commentators (Dan Hodges, Brendan O'Neil among many) who could have offered an opposing view.

  4. The BBC are still peddling this story. Politics Live played an extract from Sir Philip Rutnam's piece to camera the other day. In an effort to 'get Priti', Jo Coburn put on her most serious voice to flog the dead horse one more time.

  5. In his speech Philip Rutnam spoke of his difficulties with Ms Patel over ‘the last 10 days’. Poor soul, in a lifetime at work 10 days is nothing. Anybody can have a boss in a bad mood for a couple of weeks. To anyone in work he came over as a wet idiot, more like a junior clerk than a perm sec. if I got in touch with the BBC to say I was resigning because my boss was bullying me (I have been in that situation where colleagues reported it on my behalf and there was a formal investigation) but the BBC would not have been interested. The BBC obviously didn’t need time to consider Rutnam’s statement, after all he was only bullied in his words for 10 days. It is obvious that a story against Priti a strong supporter of Brexit and by implication an attack on Boris must have taken minutes if not seconds for them to decide to run with. I might add there had obviously been briefing against Priti for at least a couple of weeks, and had I been her, I wouldn’t have been very pleased at staff who may have authorised it.

  6. Two things. First Rutnam is living example of Peter Principle. Should have been out years before. Second, the whole scenario brings to mind Fleming speaking through Goldfinger - "Once is happenstance, twice coincidence, the third time is enemy action." The Blob is after them all.

  7. The British approach to a Civil Service can only really work if everyone abides by the rules. Firstly the Civil Service can advise (not "speak truth to power" as it is now fashionable to claim - Civil Servants are no more guardians of the truth than the Guardian is). However they cannot obstruct. Obstruction will cause friction and difficulty and fatally undermines our constitution. Secondly (this applies to the more senior civil servants), after they leave the service they still have to maintain the fiction that they are essentially apolitical, intervening only on matters of grave constitutional import. Gus O'Donnell, Kerslake and the rest have wantonly abandoned that important principle, so now everyone knows and accepts that senior civil servants are highly politicised creatures who broadly support a soft left, pro-Remain, pro-EU, anti-Brexit, progressivist and anti-populist agenda (similar to the BBC in fact). This has seriously undermined the contract between the Civil Service and Ministers. Ministers are rightly concerned that senior civil servants are pursuing their own political agendas e.g. writing in domesday scenarios into their advice and then leaking them to the media to put pressure on Government to toe the line they want to see adhered to.

    I suspect in former days where a Minister and senior Civil Servant couldn't get on the Civil Servant would have been quietly moved to another post with no loss of status or remuneration, just a little hurt pride. But no doubt the "new-style" Civil Servant, the Rutnams of this world, refuses to be moved.


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