Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Something nasty in the woodpile

So talking of things you’re supposed to ‘know’ not to say,

“The term ‘nigger in the woodpile’ is not racist. It may have historical racist connotations and contain an unpleasant word, but it is not itself racist per se, unless the person using it means it to be. I have a woodpile next to my garage. If I saw a black person hiding there and said, appalled: ‘Look, there’s a nigger in the woodpile!’, that would be racist and deeply offensive.”

Back in the politically incorrect days of old, pet owners often named their beloved four-legged friend in a straightforwardly descriptive, if somewhat unimaginative way; for example a black animal might be named “Blackie”. Many a  brown dog went by the name “N-word”.
Did it cross our minds that this was pejorative or more racist than, say, Fido? Or Fenton?

To test out this argument properly I tried to think of a meaningful phrase containing the word ‘Kike’ to see if I would feel offended. I couldn’t think of anything analogous so I inserted the offending word into the woodpile instead of the N-word. It did sound pretty offensive, but without the etymology it was pointless, so I left it. But how are you supposed to decide anything if you cant even go ‘eeny meeny miny mo’? Remember! O U T spells ‘out’ and out you must go.

Brexit. The German view

I’ve been chatting to Germans. Not all Germans, obviously, but people who regard themselves as representative of the vast German middle class.  I was seriously taken aback by the way they regard Brexit. As you might expect, they take an almost diametrically opposite view to the view we are used to hearing here. A mirror image, if you like.
I think they accept what their media says, unquestioningly. They must trust their media more than we trust ours.

Their primary response to Brexit is….. a feeling of deep sadness. They insist they don’t want to punish us and they’re just sorrowful.

They say their ideological (pro EU) position trumps all concerns and worries over trade issues. In other words, even if they do ‘need us more than we need them’ trade-wise, they’ll happily suck it up for the sake of the Union. Unity within the EU reigns supreme, specially with Macron onside. If necessary we are all prepared to cut off our nose to spite our face.

As for the status of EU nationals living and working in the UK and UK nationals living and working in the EU, the German attitude might surprise anyone who had only been listening to the British media. 
Far from a question of EU intransigence, they believe Theresa May snubbed them with her mealy-mouthed proposal, having completely ignored their paper, which contained a very generous offer.
This EU paper, which predated ours, was hardly mentioned in our domestic media, although the Guardian had: 
“The EU’s offer was handed to May on 12 June after consultation with groups representing Britons in about a dozen countries. But it got little attention and was not publicised by Westminster, which was reeling from the surprise election result and then the Grenfell Tower disaster.

And the Guardian also set out the German position on this matter quite clearly here: 
“Theresa May’s proposal to protect the rights of EU citizens after Brexit is so poor, it will badly damage the rights of Britons living in Europe, campaign groups have told the European commission. 
In an official response to the EU Brexit negotiating team, British in Europe and the3million have said that if May’s proposal is adopted it would represent a “severe reduction of the current rights” enjoyed by Britons in Europe. 
Last week they expressed fears that Britons would be the “sacrifical lambs” in the Conservatives’ mission to reduce immigration.”

That’s exactly what they’re saying in Germany.

However, there are only 900,000 UK citizens and expats residing in the EU, while there are over 3million EU citizens in Britain, so one might think that either side rigidly insisting on ‘reciprocity’ shouldn’t be an insurmountable  issue.  If the EU wants to occupy the moral high ground, what’s to stop them from unilaterally granting Britons the rights they are asking for? The main thing Brits in the EU now want is certainty about their future. (Just as the Europeans residing here do.)

If any agreement necessitates using ‘humans as bargaining chips’ then the morality police in the Labour Party can’t really criticise the Conservative government for intransigence, nor should they be able to get away with badgering Theresa May to make a unilateral and unconditional offer of ‘everything’.

One topic about which I didn’t hear much discussion was... migrants. They played down “Cologne”, almost dismissing it as irrelevant, and insisted that Angela Merkel is clamping down hard, with a policy of zero tolerance. Migrants are compelled to go to language classes and obey German law or be deported.

They were as fond of those familiar ‘out of context’ soundbites as we are, though the thrust of the soundbites was a bit of a one-way street. In particular, Boris has incensed them with his ‘cake and eat it’  and his ‘go whistle’. These are things a politician is supposed to ‘know’ not to say.

Having said that, there is this controversial piece in the Spectator by Markus Krall "The EU will be the only loser if it plays games over Britain's departure"
‘This is not about punishing Great Britain,’ declared Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s interim foreign secretary, on his recent visit to London. I fell about laughing, because this is precisely what’s going on. It is as obvious to us Germans as it is to the Brits: the EU cannot tolerate the thought of a successful United Kingdom outside the Brussels sphere of influence because, if that were allowed to happen, others might dare to start thinking about leaving the club too.”

Is Mr Krall representative of anyone other than himself?  I don’t know. I only know how annoying it can be when some ‘self-hating’  individual is quoted to “prove” something that is patently false. 

And in the Times (£) this article about MEP Hans-Olaf Henkel:
“Hans-Olaf Henkel, deputy head of the European parliament’s industry, research and energy committee, warned other MEPs “not to listen” to Michel Barnier, who he said wanted to impose a bad Brexit deal on Britain.”

And this piece by Mr. Henkel about Euratom, the organisation through which Britain and Europe have co-operated on nuclear power and nuclear science, and this interview with Hans-Olaf Henkel on the Today Programme. 
“A German politician has accused the European Union’s chief negotiator of trying to punish Britain by making a deliberate “mess” of key elements of Brexit. Hans-Olaf Henkel is deputy chair of the European Parliament’s industry and research committee and Katya Adler is the BBC’s Europe editor.”

I’m quite happy to accept that these controversial views do not represent the mainstream German view, but what I found particularly interesting was that when Mr. Henkel had finished the BBC turned to Katya Adler for her interpretation of the interview, as they do.  She gave an accurate summary of the German attitude to Brexit (as understood and described above.) Then she did something quite unusual. She put Mr. Henkel into context, more or less advising us not to take his views too seriously.

(Oh for a BBC employee to do that when we’re being subjected to the views of someone who has been introduced as an expert on the Middle East, but who is in fact an antisemitic, anti-Israel activist.)

She reminded us about who Hans Olaf Henkel  is.

Nick Robinson (£250,000 - £299,999):
"Katya, it’s rare to hear this sort of criticism from a European politician of EU negotiators" 
Katya Adler:  (?)
“That is right. Um We have to have a look at who Hans Olaf Henkel is. I mean I think when it comes to Euratom it’s hard to find anybody who doesn’t agree some solution must be found  to keep the UK at least a close associate member of Euratom for the reasons Mr Henkel outlined, but if we take a wider look at Brexit and the negotiators, I mean Mr Henkel is German, most Germans are devastated about Brexit. We’ve heard from the German finance minister who said the door is always open if the UK changes its mind - the Germans meant, I mean if you look at the trade that we do with the EU, a big chunk of it is with Germany and on a wider level the UK and Germany were traditionally very aligned in EU circles and Germans don’t want the British to go; off the record, many said ‘You’re gonna leave us with the French - please don’t go” but as far as criticising Mr. Barnier for example, Hans-Olaf Henkel is formerly of the Eurosceptic AfD party, not typical, I mean his often negative view of things European."

 Nick Robinson (£250,000 - £299,999)
Katya we’ve got to leave it there."

Gender fluidity within British Gas

I’ve only been away for a couple of weeks (it seems like years) but this seemed odd to me. 
Am I the only one who didn’t know that British Gas now uses gender non-specific pronouns? 
I received an email about an appointment. 

“Our engineer will call” it said. “They’ll be coming on…” Perhaps there was to be a team of engineers? 
But no. It was just one guy by the name of David. (I assumed he was a he, which he was  they were.

The appeal of Chris Evans eludes me

What about those BBC salaries? We should ask Phillip Hammond if he thinks any of the BBC’s brightest stars are overpaid. 

Harriet Harperson wondered “What can they possibly do with all that money? (I wondered that too)
The main take-home point from the ‘market value’ argument is the presumption that all these star performers can simply be bought. 

I can understand, say, Robert Peston being lured away from the BBC by ITV’s offer of ‘his own show’, but the thought of, say, Gary Lineker being so mercenary and dissatisfied with all that dosh, (besides the fee Walker’s must pay him) that he’d ditch the BBC for a higher offer seems truly bizarre. Especially now that he’s so sanctimonious.

Beth Rigby was good on Sky. She was first off the blocks with the topic.

I have to say that the appeal of Chris Evans eludes me and gender equality and diversity wrt the BBC bores me to death.

John Simpson loses his cool (again) on Twitter

As you'll know, the BBC has published the salaries of its highest-earning stars today. The BBC's World Affairs Editor John Simpson, one of those stars (£150,000 – £199,999 pa), is handling the matter with all his usual sangfroid - and that strict adherence to the concept of BBC impartiality that's become such a hallmark of his time on Twitter:

A lot of Twitter discussion took place as a result, this exchange being the most striking - as Mr. Simpson reacts with grace, good humour and a total lack of pomposity to a certain Kirstie:
John Simpson: Why does the govt actively seek to damage the BBC, one of the few things the world admires about the UK at present, with this pointlessness?
Kirstie: Nothing admirable about the biased news reporting on the BBC
John Simpson: Sorry Kirstie, but I always block people who can't stay polite. Bye.
Peter Ryan‏: What was unpolite about what Kristin [sic] said?
Craig Millar‏: I think she was polite John, unless you took it as a personal jibe.
John Simpson‏:  My colleagues & I do our damnedest to be honest & straight. Isn't it a bit rude to accuse us sweepingly of betraying our basic principles?
Graham Matthews‏: Not if it is true.
Sophie Petzal‏: It isn't true. Balance isn't always nice, and often feels like criticism. The fact many on the right and left cry 'bias' shows it's not.
Graham Matthews‏: You think the BBC balanced in its coverage of Trump?  When @KattyKayBBC sits on MSNBC attacking him every day?
Kate Edmonds‏: I don't hear attack, I hear reporting. The fact that he comes across badly is entirely down to Trump........

Monday, 17 July 2017

A Comedy of Errors

BBC Watch has an absorbing piece on the BBC News website's reporting (or misreporting) of Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Paris, and the evolution of one article in particular. 

The BBC was evidently copying and pasting from the AFP news agency but still managed to misspell the name it was copying, putting "Elie Barnav, a former French ambassador to Israel" when it should have been "Elie Barnavi, a former French ambassador to Israel". 

And the "former French ambassador to Israel" bit was wrong too. AFP's original French copy had it right, but their English translation got it wrong and the BBC simply copied that incorrect English translation. Mr Barnavi is actually "a former Israeli ambassador to France".

BBC Watch contacted the BBC website and got them to make this and other corrections, which the BBC then did without adding any footnotes to acknowledge the errors in the earlier versions of the report. 

And then, in the final version, the BBC removed all the passages which had caused them such problems earlier.

Oh, the pitfalls of churnalism!

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Anytime Open Thread

Some scoops are more equal than others

It is fascinating which BBC 'scoops' the BBC finds worth running with and which ones it doesn't find it worth running with. 

This morning's Andrew Marr interview with John McDonnell was fascinating on so many fronts, not least of which was Mr McDonnell's 'rowing back' (as the Independent puts it) on Labour's election pledge/promise to wipe out student debt - a pledge that went down extremely well with students (as this HuffPost article demonstrates). 

That 'row back' was so starkly at odds with the promises made by the likes of Mr McDonnell himself during the election, when he pledged to the public that Labour would bring in a free, cradle-to-grave "National Education Service", that, understandably, right-wingers have taken to the media and social media today to demand that this interview be broadcast far-and-wide - and especially towards the young - in order to prove Labour's duplicity.

And it was a scoop for The Andrew Marr Show.

And yet, despite widespread coverage (from the Independent to the Daily Mail, the Telegraph to the Times) and despite even the Guardian making something of this story soon after the Andrew Marr Show interview was first broadcast, the BBC itself held off from making anything of its own 'scoop' for hours after, preferring instead to focus on Philip Hammond's public sector pay comments, making that its lead story.

Finally a BBC website article arrived (some four or five hours after the Guardian) - an article I missed, despite dipping fairly regularly into the BBC News home page. I only found it after Googling 'McDonnell student debt' and then filtering on 'News'. Goodness knows where it appeared first. It's not on the home page even now. It's a low-ranked, small print story on the UK page but, weirdly, is nowhere whatsoever on the Politics page. Its headline Labour: Paying student debt 'an ambition' is a dull take too (uncannily similar to the Guardian's McDonnell: wiping out student loans is 'an ambition' for Labour. No talk of 'rowing back' or 'U turns' from the BBC. 

As I say, it's interesting what captures the BBC's imagination, news-wise, and what doesn't. Corbynistas should be reassured that the BBC doesn't appear to have been acting as 'Tory propagandists' here after all. (Far from it in fact!)

Andrew Marr speaks his brain

For those who can't see beyond the paywall at the Times, Andrew Marr has written an article there on the present political situation:

Employing my antique school English summarising skills, I'd sum up his message like this: 
The plot against Mrs May is a serious one. That said, if she was overthrown during the Brexit negotiations it would make us look "terminally ridiculous". So what Mrs May needs to do is to make friends again with Philip Hammond and to get David Davis to stop Boris from challenging her. Otherwise, Tory madness will bring everything crashing down around her (and us). And Jeremy Corbyn should seriously think about trying to unify not only his own party but the whole opposition (including Tory Remainers) in order to change the government's direction on things like membership of the EU customs union. Yes, that would mean Labour being "less radical than its own manifesto" but by "nudging" Britain in a "new direction" on Brexit it could show that it's not "extreme or dangerous" but "practical and popular", wielding influence and, thus, raising its credibility as a prospective government. Oh, and we need to increase our productivity. 
I don't think it's that hard to guess where Andrew's coming from here.

Come along my dear!

So now we know. The new Doctor Who is a woman. Peter Capaldi will regenerate into Jodie Whittaker, the star of Broadchurch. 

Coincidentally, the new (roadrunner) showrunner of Doctor Who Chris Chibnall was Broadchurch's creator, which is nice. 

The BBC website says that Chris knew that "the 13th Doctor was always going to be a woman". 

Didn't we all?


For those who might think that this post lowers the tone somewhat, here's Samira Ahmed to raise it again with her 'Collected Twitter Thoughts' on the matter (hot off the presses):

  • There that wasn't so hard was it? #doctor13. But don't forget one of the best & most popular assistants ever [Pearl Mackie] was dropped under its cover.
  • Think how truly groundbreaking if u just added a new female doctor. Why does it feel like a one woman in one woman out rule? #Doctor13
  • Obviously don't know about rest of new cast yet but there is a real underlying issue, which is how the gatekeeping on tv diversity operates.
  • Lone exceptional woman surrounded by men populates so much tv. Has for decades. Not a breakthrough.

Who says such things aren't deadly serious!7


What's that I'm hearing from a generic left-wing Radio 4 comedian tonight?: Donald Trump is tweeting that it's a bad decision from the BBC, using the hashtag, #MGGA - "Make Gallifrey Great Again". FAKE NEWS!

Andrew Marr, BBC bias and Brexit - A Short Study

One way to look at the question 'Is the BBC biased?' is to list all the questions put by a particular BBC interviewer on a particular subject over a short (or long) period of time and see if they show evidence of bias. 

Things to look out for would be the perspective the interviewer asked their questions from. Is it a consistent perspective used against all interviewees, regardless of their own positions (partial interviewing) ? Or is it a varied perspective responsive to the interviewee's own position (i.e. impartial, devil's advocate interviewing)?

Well, here's a list of all the Brexit-related questions/comments put by Andrew Marr during his one-on-one political interviews throughout the last three editions of The Andrew Marr Show. Do they show a pro-Brexit or an anti-Brexit bias, or no bias either way? 

I'll add my own verdicts in italics after each list. Do you agree with them?

P.S. Only one of the seven interviews was with a declared Leave voter (Michael Gove). All the others were declared Remain voters (however John McDonnell actually voted).

[Update: This P.S. reads badly. I wish I hadn't added it.

If there's one thing you can say in defence of The Andrew Marr Show - and I've said it often enough myself - it's that their (party political) guest selection is usually well-considered and carefully balanced. The main political parties, and most of the smaller political parties in Westminster, are lacking in pro-Brexit voices, but, to give credit where credit's due, the AM show does try to keep up a decent tally of pro-Brexit voices.



Questions to John McDonnell:
  1. Well, let me ask you about the business side, the corporation tax, because we are on the edge of these Brexit negotiations. 
  2. Do you think that leaving the customs union would be disastrous for British business?
  3. What does that mean? Does it mean staying inside or leaving?
  4. What about the transitional arrangements? Because a lot of businesses want us to effectively stay inside the EU for maybe four-five years ahead so that they can plan for the exit.
  5. And when it comes to what happens in the House of Commons, you want the Conservatives to collapse and to have a general election soon, but there’s no necessary sign of that. They could carry on for five years. So inside the House of Commons you can exercise some pressure as the opposition party, so do you use that to get a different kind of Brexit?
The perspective the questions were put from here came from the pro-'soft Brexit' standpoint.


Questions to Philip Hammond:
  1. So these are hard-core Brexiteers who want a hard Brexit and a fast Brexit attacking you for that reason?
  2. Can I continue asking you about Brexit in particular because there’s reports again in today’s papers about Paris, perhaps not surprisingly, trying to steal the trade of the City of London. There’s been reports of quite a sharp fall in levels of investment, particularly in the British car industry, heading towards a 75% fall in investment in the British car industry. You’re getting all these businessmen coming to you, getting all these reports on your table, are you worried about the state of the economy as we go into these Brexit negotiations? Is the slow down happening?
  3. And this could go on for three or four years, the transitional arrangement. That’s what a lot of business wants.
  4. But this would be a number of years during which in effect we’d still be members of the single market, in effect we’d still be paying in, in effect we’d still be coming under the ECJ. 
  5. Have you any idea about how long we’re talking about?
  6. All right. What we do know for sure at the moment is that Mr Barnier and the European team desperately want to sort out the money before anything else happens. You’re the man in charge of the money. Have you budgeted for an exit fee for the EU?
  7. But do you accept, because there was a statement in the House of Lords that appeared to suggest this, that we have ongoing obligations to the EU which are financial which we must settle early in the negotiating period?
  8. So they should just go whistle for it then?
  9. Well a lot of people are talking about 40 billion.
  10. Okay, is 40 billion a ridiculous figure?
  11. Is it possible for this government to negotiate a proper Brexit when the Cabinet is divided over the issue?
  12. I was just picking up what you were saying, that people are going for you because they don’t like the kind of Brexit that you want. 
  13. Is it almost as simple as if you and David Davis can agree the proposed terms of Brexit you can sell that to the Conservative Party?
From the 'Remainer' language of the first question here to the questions based on alleged negative effects of Brexit, this also largely came  from an anti-Brexit or pro-'soft Brexit' standpoint, with only Q4 suggesting the contrary position.


Questions to Vince Cable:
  1. On Brexit, do you want Britain to fail economically?
  2. The reason I asked that, if I may interject, is that you have said you have to hang on while the economy deteriorates before the public mood changes and that’s your moment, which makes it sound as if you’re going to be a kind of economic Eeyore as it were, observing disaster happening and just waiting for your moment. 
  3. Let me ask you about this parliament because in the end around a hundred MPs or a sixth of the MPs voted for that motion which suggests the single market issue is now dead for this parliament, but you’ve talked about making alliances and talking across parties, do you begin to see an alliance sufficiently deep into the Labour family and deep into the Tory family as well of pro-EU politicians which is big enough to frustrate Theresa May’s ideas on Brexit?
  4. Really?
The questioning here, though brief, came from a pro-Brexit perspective, if only negatively so - (i.e. nothing positive about the possibilities of Brexit just questioning of Sir Vince's behaviour). The third question, however, was a plug for a pro-EU centre movement, so could be put in the anti-Brexit column.

Questions to David Lidington:
  1. Let me turn to Brexit. As I said at the beginning you were a very fierce supporter of the European Union during that referendum campaign and we’re now told that we can have all the benefits of the single market access without being inside the EU. Can I just play to you what Michel Barnier, the UK’s (sic) chief negotiator, said about this this week. [clip of Barnier: I’ve heard some people in the UK argue that one can leave the single market and keep all of its benefits. That is not possible. I’ve heard some people in the UK argue that one can leave the Single market and build a customs union to achieve frictionless trade. That is not possible.] And that is the truth, is it not, that we face a really tough choice between having the free access to the single market, having all of those advantages and effectively staying inside the EU despite the referendum or getting out completely and not having those advantages?
  2. David Davis talks about it being the exact same benefits after we leave. Barnier’s making it absolutely clear that can’t be the case.
  3. You pay in.
  4. It’s been called government by fax.
  5. Can I ask you a very straight forward question then. Is it possible for British business to have as good access to the single market as it does now, once we’ve left the EU?
  6. Surely the answer is no?
  7. You thought during the referendum campaign that leaving the EU would be a catastrophe for British business and British prosperity. Looking now from where you are and looking at what Donald Trump and Mr Modi and .. have said at the G20, do you now regret what you said then?
  8. Do you think a big new trade deal with Trump’s America, for instance, could make up most of the damage done by leaving the EU?
This interview, despite Q7 being put from a pro-Brexit perspective, tilted heavily towards being anti-Brexit, with the final question - " Do you think a big new trade deal with Trump’s America, for instance, could make up most of the damage done by leaving the EU?" - being particularly striking in that respect. 


Questions to Stella Creasy:
  1. You voted with the Chuka Umunna amendment on the EU which said that Britain should stay inside the single market. That’s completely impossible given the result of the referendum. People voted to leave the EU. Leaving the EU means leaving the single market.
  2. It means staying in, it means paying money into the EU, it means accepting EU laws and it means no chance of control over migration. Those are the things on which people voted. 
  3. You had a hundred MPs more or less went through the lobby on this out of 600. Britain’s membership of the single market is now over. You’ve fought that battle and you’ve comprehensively lost it, it’s over isn’t it?
  4. But there’s a big change of tone in the Labour Party since the election. Jeremy Corbyn has been a long term opponent of the EU in many ways. He made his view of the single market very, very clear. Was he right do you think to sack people who voted against him this time?
The questioning here, though brief, came from a pro-Brexit perspective. The final question began an angle that Andrew Marr was to pursue at length with Jonathan Ashworth later in the same edition.


Questions to Jonathan Ashworth:
  1. (after quoting Nigel Farage half-praising Jeremy Corbyn) Were you pleased when you saw that tweet?
  2. ‘Almost a proper chap.’
  3. Well, it would have been had you not had a hundred Labour MPs or thereabouts – 50, sorry – backing, with others, a motion which was against the views of the leadership. Where Nigel Farage may well have a point is that Jeremy Corbyn has been an opponent of the EU all the way through his career. He has been completely consistent on this subject. In 1975, voted against it. 1993, Maastricht Treaty, voted against that as well. Voted against the Lisbon Treaty. All the way through he has spoken and voted very consistently against the EU. Isn’t the truth that Labour is now an anti-EU party?
  4. Just, just a budge.
  5. From your point of view, what was wrong with the motion against the Labour leadership?
  6. The manifesto didn’t make it clear whether you would stay inside the single market or not.
  7. But – I’m sorry, but you’ve got a leader and a Shadow Chancellor who are staunchly against the whole idea of the EU. They see is as bankers-ran, they see it as a capitalist conspiracy, and the reason I’m asking about this is so many young voters who came to Labour in this election partly because they were upset by the Brexit referendum result have been fooled in a sense. They thought they were voting for an essentially pro-European party, but actually they were voting for a party which is now led from an essentially anti-EU standpoint.
  8. Alright. I thought the manifesto was a fudge on that matter, but that’s my view. Can I ask, are you in favour of a second referendum still?
  9. So you’ve dropped that?
  10. Yes.
The questioning here began with the angle that the Labour leadership is anti-EU and that that's embarrassing for people like Mr Ashworth (especially having Nigel Farage praise Jeremy Corbyn) and not good news for young pro-Remain voters, from whose standpoint the questioning appeared to come. Andrew also openly expressed an opinion here, saying that the Labour manifesto did not commit Labour to leaving the Single Market. ("I thought the manifesto was a fudge on that matter, but that’s my view.").  That, of course, isn't the view of those who say that 80% of voters in the general election voted for parties that committed us to leave the Single Market. 


Questions to Michael Gove:
  1. You are chastising me for not sticking to your own brief, so I’m now going to return to your brief. Is this headline true? The headline says, ‘no foreign fishing in our waters.’ Is it going to be completely banned once we leave the London Convention?
  2. No French, no Spanish boats at all in those waters?
  3. So it might not be true. There may well be French and Spanish boats still fishing?
  4. Isn’t there a problem with the Irish? Isn’t there a border problem in terms of extending our fishing area too close to the Irish Republic?
  5. Many people will be hoping it’s the last time. Can I move on to farming?
  6. I need to take back control of this interview, just one thing at a time.
  7. I must ask you one thing without you asking, I’m sorry.
  8. Ah, that’s what I wanted to ask you about. That is fantastic, because you have said that we need a free trade deal with America and the Americans are very keen on that, but what the American Farming Association is also very clear about is, for that to work, we will have to accept some American standards that we don’t in our food at the moment. Chlorine-washed chicken, beef created with hormones, which some people think affect cancer and puberty and so on. All sorts of GMO products, without necessarily being labelled. And as part of a free trade deal we will have to accept them. Are you absolutely clear that our environmental and food standards will not be loosened in any way as a result of leaving the EU and doing free trade deals with other countries, including America?
  9. That’s very brief. Okay, in that case let’s move on.
  10. That was a very, very long question. Can I ask you another relatively long question, which is up until the end of this parliament farmers have been guaranteed that subsidies aren’t going to come down. After that it’s a moot point. You have suggested that very, very wealthy farmers who get huge amounts of money from the EU at the moment, like Sir James Dyson and others, will get less money under the new regime. Is that true?
  11. Another fantastic – let me move on. Is no deal better than a bad deal?
  12. Would no deal be a very, very bad outcome for Britain?
  13. Very, very bad?
The questioning here, focusing on Brexit-related 'problems', came from anti-Brexit standpoint. 


Conclusions: Andrew Marr didn't ask all of his questions from just one perspective and there is evidence here of some impartial, 'devil's advocate' questioning. But they were fairly rare moments, and... 

(a) Most of the questioning did come from the anti-Brexit part of the political spectrum, despite all but one of the guests being a declared Remain voter, and there was a strong measure of consistency in the viewpoint from which the questions were put.

(b) The impartial, 'devil's advocate' questioning from the pro-Brexit standpoint came across as halfhearted, perfunctory even, especially in comparison to the often detailed and pointed questions put from the anti-Brexit/pro-'soft Brexit' standpoint.

So, yes, I think overall that Andrew Marr did display a significant degree of bias against Brexit/a 'hard Brexit'.

Please read the questions for yourselves though and see if you agree. 

If I'm onto something then this exercise would be worth widening and deepening. 

'Social murder'

Talking of The Andrew Marr Show, there was a fascinating exchange this morning between Andrew Marr and John McDonnell that ought to be transcribed for posterity. So here it is:

AM: One other thing I must ask you about. Do you regret saying that the people who died in Grenfell Tower were killed by 'political murder'?
JMcD: No, I don't regret that. I was extremely angry at what went on, and I'm a west London MP. This site is not far from me. Political decisions were made which resulted in the deaths of these people. That's a scandal.
AM: But 'murder' means a specific thing. 'Murder' means a volition to actually kill another human being, intentional killing.
JMcD: No, there's a long history in this country of the concept of 'social murder', where decisions are made with no regard to the consequences of that, and as a result of that, people have suffered. That's what's happened here, and I'm angry with that.
AM: You do regard it as murder?
JMcD: I believe social murder has occurred in this instance and I believe that people should be held accountable for that.
AM: And so who are the murderers?
JMcD: I think there's been a consequence of political decisions over years that have not addressed the housing crisis that we've had, that have cut back on local government so proper inspections have not (been) made, cut back 11,000 firefighters jobs been cut as well, even the investment in aerial ladders and things like that in our country.
AM: So the politicians who sanctioned the cuts are murderers?
JMcD:  I believe the politicians have to be held to account. I remain angry at how many people have lost their lives as a result of political decisions that have been made over years. I was one...I set up...
AM: (interrupting) This is, to be absolutely clear, these decisions happened under Labour and Tory governments, over the years, over the years...
JMcD: I set up the Fire Brigades Union parliamentary group way back in 2004. I raised the issue of sprinklers. All through that, this last seven years in particular, I have been going along with ministers on behalf of the FBU saying "Stop cutting firefighter jobs. Stop undermining national standards", and no one was listening at that point in time.
AM: Very, very strong word to use, but 'murder' is still how you regard politicians who took those decisions?
JMcD: I do not resile from what I said, and I remain angry at the loss of life that has taken place not far away from my constituency. 

BBC Political Correspondent Ross Hawkins appeared to be the first to spot the term 'social murder's origins. Given John McDonnell's Marxist views, it's hardly surprising:



For those keeping note, this morning's Andrew Marr introductions (on BBC Breakfast and The Andrew Marr Show) ran as follows:

7:30am: Well, I have been covering politics for 30 years, following it for 40 years, and I cannot remember a morning when Cabinet level briefings and poison and feuds in the morning's papers were quite as bad as they are today. And the guy at the centre of it all, the target of many other Cabinet ministers, seems to be the Chancellor, Philip Hammond. He will be among my guests, as will his opposite number, John McDonnell. I've got the great, great musician Daniel Barenboim talking about his wife Jacqueline du Pré, and other events I'm not yet at liberty to divulge, but it will be a busy and interesting hour I can promise you that. 
9:00am: Good morning, if the government is to deliver a decent exit from the EU, and talks start again tomorrow morning, the first thing it has to do is stick together. Precious little sign of that this morning. The Sunday papers are brimming with the most poisonous cabinet briefings and feuds we have seen since the Referendum result. And in the cross hairs of the worst of the sniping, the Chancellor. So I am pleased that Philip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer, joins us this morning to talk politics, public sector pay, and Brexit. And if the Tories go on for much longer like this we may see this man in Number 11, John McDonnell, wouldn't that mean higher taxes and even more debt? And  the great conductor Daniel Barenboim, on his love of the Proms and how he is keeping alive the memory of Jacqueline du Pré. And since we are feeling classical, there will be some Mozart as well. Reviewing the news this morning, I'm joined the former Labour adviser and stand-up comedian, Ayesha Hazarika, the former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith and refereeing them both, Jane Moore from the Sun. 

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Wrong. Oh so wrong

A Lib Dem councillor, Matthew Hulbert, writes an article for the pro-EU weekly The New European headlined 'BBC and Channel 4’s obsession with so-called ‘impartiality’ is stifling true debate' and argues that the BBC should be more like MSNBC's Rachel Maddow and make a stand against people whose views "should be mocked, not respected" (i.e. Brexit supporters). 

The New European then sends out a tweet linking to this article, and the BBC's Nick Robinson responds to it:

It's the old 'Complaints from both sides' thing again. The BBC may be (and is) guilty of a pronounced and proven anti-Brexit bias but because some anti-Brexit zealots think that the BBC isn't as pronounced and proven in its anti-Brexit bias as they would like it to be - and they, as here, are fully open in wanting the BBC to abandon any pretence of impartiality and to take their side (the side of truth) instead whilst claiming that the BBC is guilty of "stifling true debate" (a sinister form of words if ever there was one) in allowing Brexiteers an equal say (sic) - then we're expected to believe that the BBC is getting it about right. It isn't, and The New European is 'coming it' massively.


You know who

Should the BBC have made so much of Tony Blair's latest intervention in the Brexit debate? 

From what I can make out, Mr Blair wrote a piece for his Institute for Global Change think tank, published overnight, and the BBC decided to follow it up by interviewing the former PM at 8.10 on Today this morning.

His intervention has led the BBC News website all day and was the main story on PM this evening. It also led this evening's main BBC One news bulletin.

Leave-supporting Labour MP Kate Hoey tweeted, "Why is it headline @BBC news that Tony Blair wants us to stay in the EU ? #Brexitbias" 

Well, Sky and ITV also made it their main story today, following the BBC's lead, so it's not just the BBC that considers the story newsworthy, and Mr Blair's claim that the EU might relax its rule on freedom of movement for the UK if the UK chose to stay in a reformed EU is something new - if true.

But the BBC does seem to me to have taken the lead in making this story as big as it's become. If the BBC hadn't led, would ITV and Sky (and the like) have made anything like as much of it?

As for how the BBC has handled it specifically, well, I've sampled a bit of their coverage. Being ITBB, it will be as scrupulously fair as I can possibly make it.


Today 'balanced' Mr Blair's interview at 8.10 with a shorter interview with Leave-supporting Labour MP Frank Field at around 7.15. Both were conducted by Nick Robinson. 

Nick's interview with Mr Field was a tetchy affair with Mr Field complaining that he'd been invited on to say what he thought about Mr Blair's intervention. (Nick Robinson had begun interrupting him and trying to move away from the subject of Tony Blair).

I don't agree that Nick's interview with Mr Blair was sycophantic but it was certainly a much less tetchy affair and much more helpful to Tony Blair than it had been to Frank Field.

Mr Blair, unlike Mr Field, got to say what he wanted to say, and Nick was quite jolly throughout, asking a fair number of 'useful' questions...

...though, that said, he did also (in a short burst of contrariness) tell Mr Blair that the EU "never, ever" changes, that the EU has regularly overruled democratic votes and carries on regardless, that the EU referendum was "the biggest vote in British history", that voters in the general election chose by an 80% margin parties that pledged in their manifestos to leave the Single Market.

So, all in all, Today advanced the pro-EU cause this morning but made enough nods to impartiality to cover the programme's back.

That said, of course - and it's a big 'of course', of course - all of the above does rather depend on whether you think that having Tony Blair on your side, advancing your cause (however the media outlet in question handles him), can actually ever help the cause he's advocating. Many might very well think that any cause that Tony Blair is involved with is more likely to be damaged than helped by having his 'toxic' name associated with it.

Emma Vardy

Monitoring the BBC News Channel's coverage - specifically the regular updates from BBC reporter Emma Vardy this morning - I found that Mr Blair's Brexit-related arguments were first laid out, then the BBC reporter said that some say that Mr Blair is "irrelevant" now while others say that he's "still a big player" and that his arguments "may carry some weight". Emma did also add that the "evidence" for Mr Blair's claim on EU willingness to countenance concessions on freedom of movement was something "we are not really seeing", which struck me as being fair enough - though she didn't present actual counter-arguments to his arguments.

Tonight's PM on Radio 4 interviewed a reporter from the pro-EU FT (Alex Barker), who put the EU side, and a passionate pro-Remain-voting Labour MP (Paul Bromfield), who criticised the UK government. Jane Hill conducted both interviews in a fairly hands-off way. This was the most heavily 'tilted' bit of BBC coverage so far (tilted in the usual pro-EU direction).

Tonight's BBC One news bulletin, though leading with the story and putting Mr Blair's claims in the spotlight, swung things back somewhat in the other direction. Eleanor Garnier's report talked of Tony Blair's claims as being "claims", adding that they "directly contradict what those in Brussels are saying". She then cited Leaver criticism that there's "no evidence to back up Mr Blair's claim" - and then featured Conservative MEP David Campbell Bannerman saying just that -, and noted that Jeremy Corbyn "rejected" Mr Blair's position "insisting his party respects the result of the referendum" - and then featured Mr Corbyn saying just that -, and then featured the Government's response saying that Tony Blair is again demonstrating that he's "out of touch with voters". Eleanor's pay-off line was, "Once he helped determine Britain's place in the world. Now this former Prime Minister must settle with commenting from the sidelines." All in all, I don't think this was the most helpful of reports for Mr Blair, though it did get his central message out there. I'm going to give that another 'Fair enough!' I think.


This has been a very ITBB post, hasn't it? What I've seen of the BBC's coverage today hasn't been entirely monolithic, despite all BBC outlets firing in the same general direction.

As ever, please feel free to disagree with any of my takes on all of this. 

Business as usual

Eunice Goes and Mustapha Karkouti 

Today's Dateline (with Shaun Ley) had one of those generic Dateline panels that didn't include a single right-winger, only various shades of left-liberal thought. 

And Brexit supporters were also conspicuous by their absence - unlike their EU-enthusiast opponents, painting the "poorer" future we face as a result of Brexit (including Polly Toynbee ranting about how "ridiculous" the Brexit vote and how it will make the UK a "flyover zone for everybody else").  

President Macron also got a wholly positive press from the panel today....unlike President Trump, who was uniformly trashed again. 

So, alas, classic unbalanced Dateline then, almost approaching a parody of itself.

I wonder what Mark Urban would have made of Shaun Ley's framing narrative, summed up in these statements/questions?:
Hello. They're leaders, but are they leading? Donald Trump was treated like - well, royalty - in Paris as the French celebrated their revolution on Friday's Bastille Day. In London, Theresa May was trumpeting a different sort of revolution, publishing the legislation that will take Britain out of the European Union. Yet Mrs May is a much diminished figure after losing her parliamentary majority, and President Trump is distracted by the investigation into links between his campaign - and his family - and the Russians.  
And we have a European leader who's at least giving the impression of that. He sent his Foreign Minister after the Gulf, I am talking about President Emmanuel Macron of France, taking a lot of diplomatic initiatives - one in the Sahel a couple of weeks ago, now in the Gulf - trying to work as an honest broker. Is he filling a vacuum of leadership do you think?

Mark Urban tweets

Newsnight's Mark Urban remains one of the best and least predictable of BBC reporters. It's rare to find tweets like these on BBC reporters' Twitter feeds, so they stand out even more sharply and, therefore, are worth pointing out, even if only as exceptions that prove the rule:

Est Europa nunc unita

The Guardian has a gleeful write-up of pianist Igor Levit's pro-EU encore after his performance of Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto at the First Night of the Proms last night

Mr Levit, sporting an EU pin throughout, returned to play part of Liszt's transcription of the 'Ode to Joy' from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony - aka 'the EU anthem' - with added improvisations of his own. 

He was making a point.

According to the Guardian, Mr Levit "sneaked" it in:

The BBC News website's own account, however  - headlined 'EU anthem played at Proms' first night' - makes it clear that Igor Levit did not 'sneak' it in at all. He had the BBC's consent in advance to do so:

What next? Nigel Kennedy improvising variations on 'Oh, Jeremy Corbyn!' after a performance of Khrennikov's First Violin Concerto while sporting a 'Jez We Can' pin? 

That said, Igor Levit's performances of the Beethoven Third Piano Concerto and the big tune from the finale of the Ninth were so good that I'll let him off.

Not so new

I had to smile at this fresh-in tweet from Guido Fawkes:

I'm not sure where Guido's got the idea that this is "new" from. The BBC has been pushing something close to this line for at least the past year.

Woman's Hour presenter accused of gender stereotyping

Emma Barnett, pursuing her bone

There was a moment of irony on this week's Newswatch when occasional Woman's Hour presenter Emma Barnett found herself being accused of 'gender stereotyping':
Samira Ahmed: Another political interview caused more controversy this week, one conducted on Thursday by Emma Barnett for Radio 5 Live. She asked the Prime Minister how she reacted on election night when she saw the exit poll. 
Emma Barnett: Did you have a cry? How did you feel?
Theresa May: Well I felt, erm, I suppose, devastated really.
Emma Barnett: Devastated enough to shed a tear?
Theresa May: Erm,, yes, a little tear.
Emma Barnett: Yes. At that moment? At that point and moment?
Theresa May: At that moment, yes. 
Samira Ahmed: That admission was headlined on television news bulletins throughout the day. Now, it's worth bearing in mind that interviews like this are arranged between the Prime Minister's office and a programme, and perhaps the line of questioning is anticipated. But some viewers felt the prominence given to it and the line of questioning played into gender stereotypes. Marcella Meehan wrote, "I can't help but wonder if such a headline would have been made in the Prime Minister were a man. Pressing Theresa May to admit she had cried as unnecessary; was David Cameron asked such questions when he lost the EU referendum? The BBC should know better than to use such blatant casual sexism in this day and age". And Julie from Reading agreed: "I thought it was unfair of Emma Barnett to badger Mrs. May into admitting that she 'shed a tear'. It was obvious that she didn't want to answer the question, which was personal, but Emma was like a dog with a bone".
I've just realised that I've got nothing more to say about this, #casualindifference.

Et vous ressemblez à un sac de merde, vous idiot rustre!

Oh dear, the American president has really gone and done it now! He told Brigitte Macron, "You're in such good shape". It's got everyone from CNN to the Guardian reaching for the smelling salts - plus, of course, some at the BBC. Here's Jane Garvey, for example:

Personal protection

The extraordinary claim from Charles Moore that Laura Kuenssberg has been "given personal protection" by the BBC following online threats from Corbyn supporters is now being widely reported (everywhere from the Sun to the Independent, the Mirror to the Telegraph, the Mail to the UK Press Gazette, the Evening Standard to Metro, RT to the Herald, etc,), and a further BBC source has now been quoted reinforcing the story:
Laura is a well-known public figure and as such the BBC has a duty of care. The very nature of covering politics means sometimes you go to events with big crowds and there can be hostility. When situations arise that are deemed a threat, precautions are taken. 

Friday, 14 July 2017

Weekend reading

My copy of The Spectator dropped through the letter box today and the first thing I read was Charles Moore's Spectator Notes. There's quite a BBC theme this week. 

In the row which has rumbled on about Laura Kuenssberg’s allegedly biased coverage of the general election, one significant factor has not come into the public domain. Early in the campaign, Kuenssberg was assailed by Labour supporters. But later on, and in the post-election recriminations, it was Conservative supporters who were the more annoyed with her. Perhaps this is simply explained by the fact that Labour did better than expected and the Tories did worse. However, the bit the Tories haven’t said in public but keep complaining about in private is that the BBC never reported that Kuenssberg was so badly threatened online by Corbyn supporters that she was given personal protection. They feel that this subdued her capacity to cover the contest clearly. They suspect that if Theresa May had possessed fans as thuggish as Mr Corbyn’s, the BBC would have made a meal of it. I do not know the details of this story, and the BBC won’t comment on security questions, but I have had it informally confirmed from within the BBC. If it is correct, surely the BBC should disclose it. For my own part, I don’t share the resentment against Laura Kuenssberg. She is guilty of the generic sin, encouraged by the BBC in political reporters — including, over the years, Andrew Marr, Nick Robinson, Norman Smith and others — of giving smart-arse analyses with pithy punchlines rather than just telling us what is happening. For this the Corporation, not the individuals, is to blame.
It did cross my mind during the election that Laura K. was toning it down with regards to criticism Jeremy Corbyn, though I put that down to the BBC as a whole seeming to 'tone it down' as well. But what if Laura was toning it down because she had been successfully intimidated by Corbynistas? Wouldn't that be a jaw-dropping state of affairs, with serious questions for Labour and the BBC? 

Without wishing to add to Laura K's woes, I also think that Mr Moore absolutely hits the nail on the head when he says that Laura K. is guilty of a generic BBC sin, that "of giving smart-arse analyses with pithy punchlines rather than just telling us what is happening". 

There was a small but historic moment on the Today programme last week. John Humphrys introduced a report on Saudi Arabia’s support for terrorism as being by the ‘highly respected’ Henry Jackson Society. This flustered the BBC’s security correspondent, Frank Gardner, to whom Humphrys turned. Gardner said that he needed to explain at once that the Henry Jackson Society was ‘right of centre’, not ‘absolutely bang down the centre’. What Gardner meant, but dared not quite directly say, was that in BBC theology ‘highly respected’ means centre-left. Thus the King’s Fund and the Institute for Fiscal Studies are ‘highly respected’ (or, sometimes, ‘independent’). ‘Centre-right’, ‘right of centre’, ‘right-leaning’ think-tanks can just about be tolerated, but can never be ‘highly respected’. A ‘right-wing’ think-tank, tout court, means ‘really bad’. So Gardner was clearly shocked by Humphrys’s description of the Henry Jackson Society and was trying to steer the listener in a different direction. It will be interesting if the Henry Jackson Society remains ‘highly respected’ when it next pops up on Today. Was this a bold move by the excellent new editor, Sarah Sands, or just freelancing by Humphrys? 
Tracking down that exchange to the 5 July edition of Today, here's a transcript of what transpired:
John Humphrys: Saudi Arabia is the biggest source of Islamist extremism in Britain. That is what a report by the highly respected Henry Jackson Society has concluded after extensive research. Saudi Arabia is, of course, our closest ally in the Middle East - or perhaps I should say one of our closest. Frank Gardner, our security correspondent, what do they mean by 'biggest source of Islamist extremism' Frank?
Frank Gardner: Right. First of all I should just say that the Henry Jackson Society, which has spent the last 4 months, 5 months producing this report, it's is a right-of-centre thinktank, so it's not absolutely bang down the centre. It's right-of-centre and they particularly take aim at Islamism, extremism and Putin in Russia. That's their sort of agenda.
I'd rather the BBC dropped labels like 'respected' and 'highly respected' altogether. Let the audience judge whether these organisations are worthy of respect or not.

"But with Brexit looming..."

BBC One's London News tonight had a report on female Spanish scientists living and working in London. Naturally, BBC reporter Sarah Harris posed this very 'BBC' question: "But with Brexit looming, will these talented female researchers move on again?"

Why can't BBC reporters see Brexit as anything other than some kind of menacing iceberg destined to bring us all to grief?