Thursday 30 December 2021

Looking Ahead and Back

This year's Correspondents' Look Ahead will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 8pm on New Year's Eve. 

In anticipation of that, here's a review of last year's edition when BBC correspondents Lyse Doucet, Aleem Maqbool, Dharshini David, Gabriel Gatehouse, Justin Rowlatt and Katya Adler gathered on New Year's Day this very year to look ahead to 2021.

It's a remarkable listen, showing the BBC echo chamber in full cry  - or, perhaps more accurately, full echo. 

I've never attended an Observer-sponsored round table conference for journalists, left-wing activists and campaign groups, but I imagine this is what it might be like. 

For starters

Just consider this, for starters: from Lyse Doucet's introduction as she looked back to 2020 and said that, “as always”, there was “some good” amid “so much bad” in 2020. These are the two things she put on 2020's 'plus' side:
The Black Lives Matter movement put injustice and diversity on the agenda as never before and the pandemic focused minds on saving not just lives but our planet in our climate emergency.

Hm. I rolled my eyes at that! The BBC's Chief International Correspondent was signalling her very BBC views there.

Dharshini David opines and predicts

The programme's powers of prediction haven't greatly improved over the years. The first substantial contribution came from BBC economics reporter Dharshini David. Having nailed her colours to the usual BBC 'spend, spend, spend' mast by openly praising the Bank of England and Chancellor Rishi for pumping money into the furlough scheme - a “financial vaccination” she called it, describing it as both “good” and “good news” - she went on to make predictions for the UK economy in 2021. She said a double-dip recession “is pretty much a given, Lyse. I think that ship has really sailed. Well, we're 12 months on and it's still not sailed quite yet. She also predicted unemployment “continuing to grow for some time”, which again didn't happen this year. Bias and inaccurate predictions - a cracking start!

My eyes kept on rolling, but they needed to calm down as we were only in the foothills and they needed to brace themselves to follow my eyebrows as they rose up ever higher... 

Familiar fare 

Katya Adler then, predictably, painted a rosy view of Mrs Merkel's Germany.

Left wing round table chat

Lyse then discussed protests and coronavirus in the US in terms of how the pandemic had exposed inequality in its disproportionate effect on African-Americans, Hispanics and Latinos and Aleem Maqbool drew the comparisons with how much better white Americans were doing in a context-free, BLM-style fashion.

Lyse then discussed with Justin Rowlatt the issue of “less privileged” countries not receiving their fair share of vaccines and Justin criticised the “unseemly behaviour” of the developed world. He held out hopes though for Bill Gates and the WHO riding to the rescue and getting a project going. 

Do you take my point about it being like eavesdropping on a left-leaning convention?

Box-tickers to watch

Moving on to a regular feature, the next section was the BBC correspondents' traditional 'persons to watch' bit. Those for this year were:

[1] Alexey Navalny, who Gabriel Gatehouse predicted would “make waves” if he went back to Russia - which he did in January before being imprisoned in February and dropping out of the headlines.

[2] Deb Haaland, a Biden appointee who Aleem Maqbool discussed in identity politics terms as being “the first native American to lead the Department of the Interior...with its history of oppression against native American people”. It was all about identity politics. 

[3] Janet Yellen, a Biden appointee who Dharshini David also discussed in identity politics terms as the the first woman Treasury Secretary. “The US have beaten us...we've had none...” here in the UK in the top financial jobs, she said. It was all about identity politics. 

[4] Alok Sharma, who Justin Rowlatt chose for his role in the “crucial”, “terribly important”, “very important” and “crucial” COP26.

[5] Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who Lyse Doucet predicted would become Saudi king in 2021, which didn't happen. She also predicted he'd become more powerful. Except for taking over Newcastle United FC, he didn't really feature on BBC News very much this year.

[6] “The ever growing shadow behind Angela Merkel”, which Katya Adler also discussed in terms of identity politics, talking of the “three slightly aging, middle-aged white men” of the CDU fighting to succeed Mutti and “probably” win the September election - which none of them actually did as the CDU failed to win. 

Besides the inaccurate predictions, it really is quite something how much identity politics informed this part of the conversation. It continued from the earlier discussion. And it continued. 

It was the 'post-BLM' edition of Correspondents' Look Ahead.

The man who tweeted too much

US politics - the change from Trump to Biden - was next for discussion.

I had to chuckle on hearing Lyse Doucet begin it by sticking to focusing on The Most Important Thing For The Likes of the BBC for the Entirety of the Trump Presidency  - Donald Trump's tweets - saying he's “still certain to unleash tweets from his own account”. Well, she got that wrong as the censors at Twitter swiftly banned him. 

Aleem Maqbool goes full CNN

Aleem Maqbool then talked about inequality, and the plight of women and minorities, and the polarisation that “won't go away” even after the “figurehead” [Donald Trump] has been removed - thus presenting the polarisation in a rather one-sided fashion himself. 

And - of course - Aleem talked about race, which he very much filtered through a BLM lens, saying:

The race issues. So much protest happened, so many people took to the streets. There's been very little in terms of structural change on race and policing over the last year.

Aleem predicted a lot of political violence in 2021. I suspect the events at the Capitol in January will be dwelt on and cited as a successful prediction in this Friday's programme. He also predicted the return of mass shootings. 

Aleem then talked of fixing immigration and asylum and “reuniting children who were separated from their parents under that system under Donald Trump” - which [a] was a very BBC focus on the needs of immigrants rather than numbers or the problems caused to the host community and [b] repeated the falsehood that the child separation issue arose under Donald Trump when it actually arose under Barack Obama and his VP Joe Biden. [As we now know, because of the Biden administration's policies, there's been chaos on the southern UK border this year]. 

As for Joe Biden, Aleem Maqbool said he's playing the card of “a uniter” - “and he's playing it relatively well so far”. [Well, that didn't last long]. 

More good news

Then “Good news” from Day 1 was predicted by Lyse and Justin for the Biden administration's climate change actions for what Lyse called the “climate emergency”. She also worried about people she called “climate deniers”. Quick as a flash, Aleem replied “But at least there won't be one in the White House”, said Aleem. 

Are you feeling the impartiality? 

Lyse pulls the rug from under Aleem

One amusing moment came when Aleem employed the 'some say' strategy beloved of BBC reporters trying to make a point through other people's mouths, talking of “a lot of.. as many people see it” regarding “the damage done” by Donald Trump's environmental policies. He later added an “as they see it”, referring to Trump critics' claims of damage, thus putting further 'fake impartiality' distance between him and them. And then Lyse Doucet went and ruined it all by giving her opinion and dropping him in it too, saying “As Aleem says, a lot of the damage has been done”. Haha!

Justin sings 'For Xi's a jolly good fellow'

On the same theme, Justin Rowlatt found President Xi's climate pledges “enormously optimistic”, which he seems to believe. Green energy is “the cheapest”. he said. [Fact check?]

Places to watch [or not]

For flashpoints/places to watch: 

Gabriel chose Taiwan [a very safe bet that it would remain a worrying issue in 2021].

Aleem chose Venezuela for a looming humanitarian crisis moving towards a flashpoint [well, it didn't really reach that point].

Dharshini chose Dover [for possible Brexit problems].

Justin chose Denmark [for a company that's transitioned from being an oil company to a renewables company and that might become a giant].

Katya chose Italy [to wonder how it would cope in 2021. I wonder how many reports she did about it in 2021 as I've heard very little about it?].

And Lyse, inevitably, chose Afghanistan, predicting that the Taliban might come close to power or achieve power either through negotiation or the battlefield. [She didn't predict the disastrous handling of it by the Biden administration which gifted the country and billions of dollars of US equipment to them].

OMG, Brexit!

The final segment seems 'very a year ago', as Lyse asked whether there would be a Brexit trade deal between the EU and the UK - then still in doubt in a 'final hours of diplomacy' kind of way. 

This was a classic BBC discussion:

Darshini said there should be if economic sense is followed but 2020 suggests that if we've learned anything it's that “Brexit isn't about the economics” and there'll be “a fudge”. 

Gloomy Katya said “the thing that's really going to hit us in 2021 is that even if there is a deal it's a very narrow deal because this is at best a hard Brexit and at worst a no-deal Brexit” and piled on the negatives about both, including worrying about whether you'd be able to take “Boris the dog” to Europe if you're blind and need your guide-dog - a stark reminder of the remarkable negativity and negative language about Brexit that assailed us on a daily basis back then. 

Justin said he “agreed” with both Darshini and Katya [of course he did because they were in an echo chamber] and thought “a very, very narrow deal” would be “sneaked over the line”, predicting “a very, very uncomfortable New Year for the UK”. 

And Gabriel, continuing to be cautious, sensibly said he'd “duck the question”. 

Are you still feeling the impartiality? 

Looking ahead

Friday's panellists looking ahead to 2022 will be Faisal Islam, Gabriel Gatehouse, Katya Adler, Laura Trevelyan and Nick Eardley. It looks as if there's a greater focus on UK politics from the presence of Laura and Nick, but we'll see. I expect it will be blander. I wanted Aleem Maqbool, Darshini David and Justin Rowlatt back. Still at least Lyse Doucet's still in the chair. 

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