The BBC’s sensationalist coverage of the South Yorkshire police ‘investigation’ of Sir Cliff Richard over alleged sexual impropriety stank to high heaven from the beginning. Now that the 75-year-old singer has been totally exonerated, it stinks even more.
The Richard saga began in August 2014, when – according to an official report by retired Chief Constable Andy Trotter, one of the country’s leading police experts on press relations – the Corporation pressured the South Yorkshire force to make a preliminary search of Sir Cliff’s home into a major primetime television news event.
It should be noted here that although Trotter was as thorough as he could be in reaching his findings, he was handicapped heavily by the conduct of the BBC. Though it had milked to maximum extent the high drama footage of the ‘raid,’ Corporation news chiefs refused point blank to give evidence to his inquiry.
When the report was published in February, this stonewalling was compounded. The only trace on the BBC website of the report is in the South Yorkshire section; in their eyes, therefore it had only local significance.
In his report, Trotter said the BBC had, in effect, misled the police about the amount of information about the investigation it had, and had thus duped the press office into putting pressure on officers to allow them to witness – and, in effect, be part of – the raid.
The way the two organisations acted together was, according to Trotter, totally unwarranted, and outside proper police procedures. Leading leftist human rights barrister Geoffrey Robertson – normally a natural ally of the Corporation – said the nature of the BBC’s coverage amounted to a ‘conspiracy to injure’ the singer.
In the aftermath of the raid, the Corporation’s then deputy director of news Fran Unsworth justified the massive intrusion into the singer’s life by blaming the pressures of the news agenda. In other words, an insolent ‘Not us, guv, we were only doing our job’. BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw compounded this by alleging that if anyone was to blame, it was South Yorkshire police in ‘a deliberate attempt to engineer maximum coverage’.
Part of the Corporation’s stonewall response – and refusal to tesify to Trotter – was that it claimed that a hastily-convened Commons home affairs committee hearing held a few weeks after the raid by the pro-BBC chairman, Keith Vaz, had exonerated its conduct.
It did no such thing, because Vaz, in his haste to finger the police and let the BBC off the hook, reached his conclusions long before the full facts were known. It was Trotter, reporting the following February after a thorough forensic investigation, who – despite the BBC’s refusal to cooperate with him – brought to light the correct picture of collusion, incompetence and misinformation.
After this this sorry, obstructive saga, how did the BBC report this week’s exoneration of Sir Cliff?
To be fair, they have published prominently on the BBC website the singer’s statement about the investigation which included his claim that he had been ‘hung out like live bait’ by the police investigation and his anguish over that his ordeal had last almost two years.
“We applied normal editorial judgements to a story that was covered widely by all media and have continued to report the investigation as it developed including the CPS’s decision today – which is running prominently across our news output.”
Normal editorial judgments? If this is so, then the BBC inhabits a different moral universe. The reality is that, as the Trotter report found, they deliberately chose from the outset to exaggerate the significance of the raid, and used their immense clout to manipulate and hoodwink an incompetent South Yorkshire police in their efforts.
What it boils down to is that in the pursuit of this story, the BBC did not give a damn for Sir Cliff or the laws and journalistic conventions that are designed to protect the innocent from being unfairly presumed guilty.
Why? Probably because, unlike the BBC’s rock-star heroes such as David Bowie – whose recent death was treated as a world tragedy in the Corporation’s coverage – Richard does not flaunt his sexuality, has never espoused drug use as an essential part of the creative process, and now appeals principally to a middle-of-the road, aging, white, middle England audience. In other words, everything that the BBC abhors. That’s what made him fair game for this in-the-gutter journalism.
A principal issue here is that it illustrates yet again the BBC is impervious to criticism of its journalism and is a law only unto itself. Its guaranteed, lavish funding by a regressive tax allows it to be. In similar vein, as the EU referendum poll fast approaches, it continues to churn out biased pro-‘remain’ coverage for exactly the same reasons. The Corporation is a menace to both the democratic process and moral decency.
Tuesday night’s ITV ‘debate’ was not just a travesty of this term – you could hardly called this pre-planned, separate tables, Q&A format a debate – it was also a case of helping mud stick with a supposedly impartial broadcaster applying the brush. Nigel Farage may be an old fashioned beer drinking and fag smoking bloke but that hardly makes him a racist. He may wear clothes more suited to the golf course than Westminster, but neither does that make him a racist.
I imagine he is the first to spot a racist when he sees one. Anyone who’s taken the trouble to read the Ford and Goodwin’s fact-packed account, Revolt on the Right, of the rise of Ukip under Nigel Farage’s tutelage knows that his slate is clean. Far from finding examples of racism, these two left-leaning sociologists uncovered a history of Ukip leadership fighting it and on constant guard against entryism.
None of this stopped Britain’s mainstream media from going into overdrive a few days ago, accusing Farage of scaremongering for the crime of citing recently released German crime statistics – including sexual offences – which demonstrated that migrants are ‘over represented’. It wasn’t playing cricket, they judged, to warn the British public of the price Sweden and Germany is already paying for uncontrolled male economic migrants from different cultures. Unpalatable truths, it seems, become racist over night, and certainly when Archbishop Welby takes a hand and adds his moral authority to this hypocrisy and sanitising of the truth.
Here in the ITV studio stood a man already condemned as a racist by the ‘tricoteur’ hierarchy of the press and the Cof E – without resort to trial or jury. And it was inevitable that Farage’s questioning would be more hostile than Cameron’s – evenThe Guardian conceded that. So it behove presenter Julie Etchingham, all the more, to be even handed; to allow the already condemned man time to counter accusations of “inflammatory” scaremongering and racism – the worst crimes (apart from paedophilia) you can be accused of today.
She was not and she did not; she curtailed his defence by pandering to the questioners angry and prejudiced interruptions. ‘Calm down’, Nigel appealed to one of them. Julie leapt, not to Nigel’s but to the questioner’s defence. The question was stated calmly, she said. No, Julie it was only so in tone. The content was far from calm – it was of itself inflammatory.
Predictably, neither the studio audience nor the commentators afterwards were pressed to explore or deny the facts on which Archbishop’s Welby’s and the audience’s accusations rested. On the ITV news programme that followed, what did we get as a result but the whole debate again – over whether Nigel Farage is a racist or not? There was still no reference to the undeniable evidence of Cologne or why politicians of both parties are so keen to buy into this demonisation of Farage. His accusers should have been challenged on the threat to the morally defunct and out of touch leaderships of both Tory and Labour parties posed by the rise of radicalism and nationalism inspired by the Ukip leader.
You can plant a thought in people’s minds, bed it down with some discussion with eager fellow travellers, then nurture it by interviews with so called ‘ordinary’ members of the public, one of whom gave the game away by referring to Mr Farage as such and the Prime Minister as ‘David’. That in a nutshell is what ITV did with this debate. Mr Farage has to be congratulated on his measured handling of it.
Predictably too the Twitterati verdict deemed Nigel’s interactions with two of the women who questioned him as unattractive and patronising. I thought these rather good adjectives better applied to Mr Cameron, who seemed to me to be p…ing on all of us.
Kathy Gyngell is co-founder of News-watch and co-editor of The Conservative Woman, where this article was first published.
BBC bias comes in many forms. One of the most insidious is bias by omission, when the Corporation chooses not to report key developments or perspectives in areas of major controversy.
It is a major issue in the referendum campaign. For example, the Corporation barely touched the story about a poster – ostensibly designed to encourage ethnic minorities to vote – which crassly depicted those who oppose immigration as a bullying skinhead thug.
The reason? Covering the story would have unavoidably opened a can of worms in the ‘remain’ strategy.
Front-line presenters John Humphrys and Nick Robinson have both admitted that such bias has been particularly evident in BBC coverage of the immigration debate. The views of opponents of the unprecedented levels of mass immigration into the UK since 2004 have routinely been ignored by the BBC or, just as bad, dismissed as racism or xenophobia.
It has also applied for decades in the BBC’s general reporting of the EU. Until forced to change by the EU referendum rules, the BBC vastly under-reported the withdrawal perspective, and anything to do with the case against the EU, as Brexit The Movie so vividly confirms. Emphatically, you did not hear those arguments first on the BBC.
Although the BBC is now reluctantly giving the opponents of the EU some airtime, it is mostly through gritted teeth. The default-position is still almost invariably Brussels good, Westminster bad.
Evidence of this? As Andrew Marr illustrated vividly at the weekend ‘remain’ figures such as Sir John Major – who was given a platform to attack viciously his perceived opponents – often get much better treatment than ‘leave’ supporters.
Such negativity to the ‘leave’ case is abundant elsewhere. For example, Today presenters Justin Webb and Mishal Husain filed three-part special reports (from Cornwall and Northern Ireland respectively) about what were said to be the local ‘facts’ in the referendum debate. Both, it turned out, injected a central theme: the cardinal importance of ‘EU money’ to the deprived economies in each area.
Neither bothered to tell the audience in their relentless focus on EU benevolence the simple but vital fact that, in reality, ‘EU money’ is actually from the British taxpayer.
Compounding the glaring omission, Justin Webb seemed conveniently not to know that a recent official report commissioned on behalf of local ratepayers in Cornwall had found that the spending of £500m of this ‘EU money’ had been so questionable and inefficient that, for example, it led to the creation of only 3,300 local jobs at a staggering cost of £150,000 per job.
Such blatant bias by omission by the BBC in the EU’s favour extends heavily into other areas.
Take for example, the reporting of one of Brussels’ latest highly controversial initiatives: to combine with Microsoft and other web giants in rooting out what the European Commission calls ‘hate speech and xenophobia’.
‘Microsoft, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook have pledged to remove hate speech within 24 hours, in support of a code of conduct drafted by the EU. The freshly drafted code aims to limit the viral spread of online abuse on social media. It requires the firms to act quickly when told about hate speech and to do more to help combat illegal and xenophobic content. The firms must also help “educate” users about acceptable behaviour.’
What’s not to like? But hang on. Did no-one in the 8,000-strong BBC newsroom think to check out the potential threats to civil liberty and journalistic freedom involved in such a move? Seemingly not. There’s not a peep about such issues in the web story.
The reality – as the Spiked! Website eloquently explains – is that phrases as vague as ‘hate speech and xenophobia’ and ‘acceptable behaviour’ are a legal nightmare and a lawyer’s paradise. They can be interpreted with deeply sinister intent, and, for example, can be used by the EU to attack and attempt to silence those who disagree with its free movement of people and immigration policies. Indeed, that may be the central agenda here.
The background of this new move also speaks volumes about how undemocratic and insidious the EU is. The loosely-phrased laws against hate speech and xenophobia were first enacted by the European Commission in 2008. Has anyone ever been seriously consulted about them? No.
Yet since then, a vast continent-wide operation has gradually been set up to root these twin perceived evils out, including a European Commission against ‘racism and intolerance’.
The latest initiative with a Microsoft, therefore, is arguably a very substantial intensification of the Commission’s assault on those who disagree with its policies towards free movement, as the reams of explanation in the press release about the development clearly show.
And the BBC accepts this without a murmur. Why? Because, it still instinctively supports the EU, and will publish derogatory views about Brussels only if forced.
In this referendum, the BBC should be grasping every opportunity to explore EU-related issues, and especially the controversy surrounding them. Andrew Marr will call Boris Johnson ‘abominable’ for daring to raise Hitler in connection with EU operations, but he and his colleagues ignore EU actions that are patently and blatantly a threat to our fundamental, hard-won freedoms.
John Wilkes? He will be surely turning in his grave.
The BBC1 News at Ten flagship bulletin is carrying a series of reports which it says are about ‘asking about the factors that are likely to influence the way people vote’. They are obviously intended to inform the audience’s choice, and of course, the BBC will insist that they are balanced. Analysis of the six reports broadcast as part of the strand between Sunday May 22 and Friday May 28 suggests very strongly otherwise. In order to understand what is being presented, News-watch has dissected each report and looked at the presenter comment, and the ‘exit’ and ‘remain points’ made. The full transcripts are included at the end.
In summary points of concern that emerged were:
The reports stressed repeatedly that EU money was vital and beneficial to aspects of the UK economy – in building new sports facilities, and in stimulating business growth and revival in stricken economic areas.
On the other side of the coin, there was no explanation that ‘EU money’ actually derives from the UK taxpayer. A fundamental part of the ‘exit’ side’s concerns about the EU was thus omitted from analysis. The only mention of its true origin was in passing from a programme contributor – a Welsh hill farmer who supported Brexit.
Northern Ireland, according to the BBC reporter who filed this edition, could return on Brexit to a regime of tiresome and economy-damaging border checks and the re-introduction of customs houses on roads throughout the province. It was stressed that ‘EU peace money’ had been strongly beneficial.
But there was no explanation that travel and border arrangements in Ireland are governed not at all by the EU but by bilateral UK-Eire arrangements under the Common Travel Area, which has existed for almost a century. It was also not sufficiently explained that barbed wire border checks were introduced only to deal with security issues during the Troubles.
Analysis of the various vox pops (a central feature of all the reports) shows that broadly, those giving reasons for ‘remain’ were edited so that they included a wider and more coherent range of views such as: the EU provided more opportunities for jobs and travel, that it promoted diversity, better security, that introducing border security was ‘completely insane’, that the EU was not broken, that being outside the EU would make the UK ‘very vulnerable’, that the UK was too small and no longer had strong enough armed forces to stand alone
‘Out’ vox pops points tended to be shorter and narrower in scope. They included: that the UK’s influence was waning in an expanding EU, that the EU had taken millions (of pounds) from the UK, that being in the EU allowed in too many immigrants and led to too much Polish food being in Tesco, that jobs were being lost to immigrants.
The vox pop imbalance was most pronounced in Mark Easton’s features from Eastbourne and Knowsley. Each was very strongly weighted to the ‘remain’ perspective. In Eastbourne, the contributions of the younger supporters of ‘remain’ were edited to suggest that the EU was vital to employment opportunities, a non-prejudiced outlook (more detailed analysis in the next section). In Knowsley – which Easton said was likely by virtue of demographics to be among the stronger supporters of exit – he edited the contributions so that the ‘remain’; side were concerned about security, economic viability, because they liked being part of Europe, because the UK needed to combine with others to reduce it vulnerability, and because being in ‘Europe’ was more comfortable. Those in favour of ‘out’ only said that they wanted to get Poles out because they got everything, and because there were too many foreigners who took jobs, Easton summed this up as ‘clear anxiety about the perceived threat from outsiders’.
The more detailed named interviewee contributions in the editions about Northern Ireland, Wales, and Scotland also tended to favour the ‘remain’ side. Barry McGuigan, speaking from a sports facility paid for (it was said) with EU peace money in Northern Ireland, claimed that joining the EU had been strongly beneficial for Eire, and felt on balance that the UK was part of Europe The owner of a whisky distillery in Islay said that the EU provided an essential market for its product, that ‘exit’ would damage jobs and take the local economy back to ‘the dark ages’. In Wales, a university lecture who had published research showing that the EU contribution to Wales was £79 per head, argued that local people did not appreciate that and were focused instead on immigration.
In these three editions’ the exit’ side from named contributors enjoyed much less prominence. From Ireland the DUP leader made what came across as an almost meaningless observation about border control; in Wales, a hill farmer said that EU subsidies were actually UK money and that exit would lead to less regulation; and in Scotland a small business owner argued that the UK could survive outside the EU. All these contributions were significantly shorter than the ‘remain’ contributions.
The arguments for ‘remain’ on an edition-by-edition basis were:
May 22: Reporter Chris Buckler suggested that ‘out’ could lead to the re-imposition of customs borders and Northern Ireland-Eire roads, with associated delays and security checks reminiscent of those in the times of the Troubles. He stressed that Northern Ireland had benefitted from ‘peace money’. It had helped build a sports facility. Former boxer Barry McGuigan, in the sports centre, said that Eire had benefitted ‘enormously’ from being part of Europe. His ‘feeling’ also told him that the UK should be part of Europe. A vox pop said the idea of re-introducing borders was ‘completely insane’.
May 23: Mark Easton said that polls showed that 70 percent of the under 25s wanted to stay in the EU. In an Eastbourne college, one student said that she could not think of a single thing that the UK would lose by remaining or by the huge influx of migrants, another accepted that immigration ‘could cause problems’ but immediately countered that immigrants had helped ‘our country so much’, another supported ‘diversity’ encouraged by the EU, Another said he was very comfortable in the EU and it was not broken. In the final sequence, a student ‘not wanting to sound rude’ said young people’s ideas about Europe were more valid because they were going to be here longer than the Over 50s, and students wanted to go to Europe, and travel in Europe, and study in Europe. Another student contended that their chances of going to Europe as teachers – which they wanted to do – would be jeopardised is there was exit. Europe would also not be ‘so accessible’.
May 24: Huw Edwards said that an academic report indicated that Wales benefitted by £79 per head from the EU. Reporter Hywel Griffith said that since 2000, millions of pounds had come to towns like Ebbw Vale from the EU, and there were signs of spending ‘everywhere’. Dr Daniel Evans said that people in wales did not seem to be aware of the amount of money received by Wales from the EU and were instead talking about issues such as immigration. A car business owner warned that uncertainty over the EU was bad for business and asked why a marriage that was working should end.
May 26: Sarah Smith noted first that polls showed 75% of Scots wanted to remain in the EU. She said that on Islay, the ferry docks had been completely rebuilt with millions of pounds from the EU. She noted that the EU now bought 50% of the output from a revived local whisky distillery which was providing ‘much needed jobs’. She added that the distillery owner believed that leaving the EU would have dire consequences. The owner then said that an exit from the EU would be a ‘return to the dark ages’ that did not bear thinking about. The EU had lifted the local economy in a ‘a very dramatic way’. Smith said after his contribution that he also believed that uncertainty about the EU could delay investment and cost jobs’. In Edinburgh, a remain campaigner emphasised that Scots were happy with the ‘third identity’ that EU membership gave them.
May 27: In vox pops in Knowsley, Mark Easton, the first contributor wanted to stay in for economic reasons, and the second for security. The third liked being part of Europe and did not want to leave. He found another vox pop who did not want to leave ‘because it had all changed now’. Someone else argued – in more depth – that because the UK was a ‘small unit in the world’ being alone meant that fighting was not possible, ‘I think it makes us vulnerable’. The final vox pop agreed that the UK was a small country compared in square footage to the likes of Spain. Britain used to have a strong army, navy and air force, but now staying in ‘makes me feel comfortable’.
The equivalent analysis of ‘exit’ arguments was:
May 22, Arelene Foster, leader of the DUP in Northern Ireland, said: “We have such good relations now that we will be able to build on that, and I don’t foresee watchtowers going back in South Armagh, if that’s what the question is… Well, as I say, there are borders all across Europe and those things will be negotiated if there is to be an Out vote.”
May 23: In Eastbourne, in vox pops, members of an Over 50s club said the EU’s influence in the EU was reducing because there were now so many members and another said that too many immigrants were coming to the EU. A third said the EU had taken ‘millions from us’. A student in separate vox pops accepted that ’immigrants could cause problems’.
May 24: Bridget Rowlands, a hill farmer, said that she received thousands of pounds in subsidies from the EU but this was British money that should not go through the EU in the first place. She said that EU meant many rules and regulations and did not feel that farmers benefitted from them. Two vox pop contributors in Ebbw Vale said that immigration was a threat to jobs that should be ‘tightened down’.
May 25: A Broadway resident noted that an issue was that there were ‘two long isles’ of Polish food in the local Tesco, and that the change had been a revolution rather than an evolution (but said he was undecided in terms of the vote).
May 26: In Edinburgh, an exit campaigner said the EU rules prevented the UK having a say, and the EU had appropriated a lot of powers in such a way that it prevented Britons having what they wanted. A Glasgow car parts business owner said he wanted out and wanted to end the notion that leaving would mean pulling up the drawbridge.
May 27: In vox pops opinions included (very briefly) wanting to pull up the drawbridge, wanting to be out for no specific reason (twice) , wanting to get ‘all the English in here’ and all the Poles out, a fear that immigrants were taken jobs, and ‘jobs were being thrown at them’.
BBC NEWS AT TEN TRANCRIPTS – MAY 22 to May 27, 2016.
May 22, 10.49pm – Northern Ireland
MH: What would next month’s EU referendum mean for Northern Ireland, the only part of the UK to have a land border with another European country? In the first of a series of reports hearing views from around the UK – our Ireland correspondent Chris Buckler has been travelling along that border. Chris?
CHRIS BUCKLER: Mishal, I’m standing right at the border, not that there is much sign of it today. Of course, it was very different during the years of Northern Ireland’s troubles when there would have been checkpoints, often queues of cars. And Leave and Stay campaigners have been involved in a heated debate about what would happen if the UK were to leave the EU. Could it mean a return of checkpoints and the end of completely open roads? As it is, the easiest way of knowing whether you’re in the north or the south is by looking at the speed limit signs. In the Republic, they’re in kilometres per hour, in the North they’re in miles per hour. And I’ve been taking a journey along that border, and I should warn you my report does contain some flashing images. Fermanagh sits at the edge of the UK. There is a point in this land where Northern Ireland ends and the Republic begins. But could that invisible border soon mark the line where the UK meets the EU? What looks like a haphazard red line on that map is actually the border and on this one road, as you’re travelling down it, you move in and out of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland several times. In fact, coming up here we’re just going back into Fermanagh, back into the UK. But during the violent years of Northern Ireland’s Troubles, there was huge security where the two countries met, and some are asking whether checkpoints would return if the UK was to vote to leave Europe.
ARLENE FOSTER MLA First Minister of Northern Ireland: We have such good relations now that we will be able to build on that, and I don’t foresee watchtowers going back in South Armagh, if that’s what the question is.
CB: Nobody means watchtowers, but we need some kind of checkpoints, or something that says there’s a physical border there?
AF: Well, as I say, there are borders all across Europe and those things will be negotiated if there is to be an Out vote.
CB: Northern Ireland’s First Minister is a supporter of the Leave campaign. But other parties at Stormont are worried about the potential impact of an exit on the economy here, and the government in the Republic share some of those concerns. Approximately £1 billion of goods and services is traded between the UK and Ireland every week. Towns along this shared border have benefited from European peace money. It’s helped to build among other things this sports facility in Clones in County Monaghan. The town’s most famous son is former world boxing champion Barry McGuigan. But in the fight over Europe, he’s not sure which corner to be in.
BARRY McGUIGAN: The south has benefited enormously from being part of Europe. I’m still relatively undecided about whether I now live in the UK or whether they should be part of Europe or not, and none of the politicians have convinced me, that’s the interesting thing. But my gut feeling tells me that the UK should be part of Europe.
CB: Politically and practically, checkpoints on Irish roads might not be an option, but if Britain was outside of the EU and the Irish Republic within, migration controls might be necessary. Currently, you don’t need a passport to travel between these islands. But with modern security concerns, some have suggested that that could change.
VOX POP MALE: I think you should have to show passports regardless. You’re on a ferry, it could be anybody getting on this ferry. It could be terrorists getting on the ferry.
CB: But other travellers, used to crossing seas and borders, don’t like the idea of new restrictions.
VOX POP FEMALE: Where we live borders is completely . . . it’s completely insane, like again to re-establish a border.
CB: Britain and Ireland have always sat apart from the rest of Europe geographically, but this referendum is about where the UK sits politically, and the final decision will make a difference across both islands. Chris Buckler, BBC News.
May 23, 10.28pm – Referendum Generation Gap
HE: Well, with just a month to go to that EU referendum – we’re asking about the factors that are likely to influence the way people vote – and one of those factors, certainly, is age. Recent polls suggest that 70 per cent of those aged under 25 want to remain in the EU. It’s very different for those aged over 65 – nearly 60 per cent of those said they’d vote to leave. Our home editor Mark Easton is in Eastbourne with more on the generational gap, Mark?
MARK EASTON: Yeah, well this is a town, Huw, that likes to look out past the pier and across the water to its continental neighbours. And how people react to their neighbours really does depend as you say on their generation. It’s interesting, isn’t it? The generation that voted us into Europe, the EEC back in 1975 now largely wants to vote out and the generation that’s not known anything different wants to vote in. I’ve been trying to find out why. On England’s southern shore Eastbourne is a mix of young and old. Some parts of the town are full of student digs and in others the average age is over 70. At an over 50s club a creative writing class where every single member tells me they’ll be voting to leave the EU. Where you live, John, I think what, 80-odd people, overwhelming support for Out?
JOHN: I think basically they probably want to get the England that they knew when they were younger.
VOX POP FEMALE: We are diminishing with our say, we are just one, first of all we were one in eight or nine, now we’re one in 32 (sic), we’re going to be one in 50, we’re going to be one in 100. We’ve got to scale back.
VOX POP MALE: I think it’s ridiculous that the EU have dictated to us over immigration, that we’ve got no control over our borders, that so many immigrants are coming in. Many of them illegally.
ME: Across town students dance to a different tune. Among these trainee physical education teachers, every single person tells me they’ll be voting to stay in the EU. I think your generation appears to be more comfortable with diversity, people moving around? VOX POP FEMALE 2: Times have changed from the way that our grandads and grandmas’, like, generation, I think, like, diversity has become more, like, accepted.
VOX POP MALE 2: I don’t do the same things as my grandma used to do back in the day. I just get on with it, you know,
VOX POP MALE 3: If it’s not broke, don’t fix it, I’m a very proud Brit, but I’m very comfortable within the EU.
ME: There is an argument that huge numbers of Europeans coming to the UK will change our identity somehow?
VOX POP FEMALE 3: I can’t think of one British thing that we have to lose.
ME: Control of our borders?
VPF3: Yeah, I suppose, you do have immigrants who can cause problems and everyone are worried about, but then again you have the immigrants who come in who have contributed to our country so much.
ME: With such different views on Britain’s relationship with his neighbours across the water we decided to invite representatives of both groups to meet here on Eastbourne’s historic pier. The generation gap is wide. Can it be closed? We took the search for common ground to the pier’s tearoom.
VPM: These Europeans are taking billions of money, why would you want to stay in with them?
VOX POP FEMALE 4: I think it is a matter of accessibility for us. A lot of us are training to be teachers and would like to be able to go and teach abroad and we feel that if we do come out then our chance of that would be jeopardised and it would not be so accessible.
VOX POP MALE 4: They are interfering with our way of life. We didn’t ask them to but they are doing it.
VPF: Everybody keeps coming over to us and we are going over to them, your jobs wouldn’t be there.
VPF3: I don’t mean to sound rude but we are going to be here a little bit longer than you are so therefore surely we should have more say on it because we are the ones who like to go to Europe and travel in Europe, who might study in Europe, so therefore I believe that our views are a little bit more valid than yours.
ME: But actually older people are much more likely to vote in the referendum than the young, so their voice will be louder. Young or old, it’s who takes part that may well decide Britain’s future relationship with its neighbours over the water. Mark Easton, BBC News, Eastbourne.
HE: A quick reminder that Newsnight is coming on BBC Two, with a special programme asking what kind of country the UK would be if there was a vote to leave the EU.
May 24, 10.27pm – Wales and the Referendum
HUW EDWARDS: Much of the debate in the EU referendum campaign centres on the cost of membership. A new report by the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University suggests that in 2014 there was an overall net benefit to Wales of around £79 per head. The Remain campaign says this would be at risk if Britain left the EU – a claim that is hotly disputed by those in favour of Leaving. Our Wales correspondent, Hywel Griffith, has been sampling opinion in South Wales.
HYWEL GRIFFITH: From verdant hills to slowly greening slag heaps, a journey across the Heads of the Valleys Road reveals a lot about Wales’ past, but what about the future?
SAT NAV: Proceed along the A465.
HG: While it’s argued Wales gets more out of the EU than it puts in, the decision facing every voter is far from straight-forward. Bridget Rowlands farms above the Swansea Valley. Every year she receives thousands of pounds in subsidies via Brussels, but she argues the money is really British and shouldn’t go through the EU in the first place.
BRIDGET ROWLANDS Farmer: So, obviously, the more area you’ve got, the bigger the payment is.
HG: For Bridget, the EU also means a lot of rules and regulations. She’s not convinced farmers really benefit.
BR: My payment is down considerably this year and, by 2019, it’s going to be down considerably more. So the amount of money that I’m receiving, if I’m in or out, it’s not going to have a significant impact upon me.
HG: Head east and you come to some of the most deprived areas, not just in Wales, but in the entire European Union. Since the turn of the century, millions of pounds have come via the EU to towns like Ebbw Vale, which has lost its steelworks. There’s signs of spending everywhere, but that doesn’t mean voters here are desperate to stay in.
DR DANIEL EVANS Cardiff University: The issues that people have been talking about, when they’re talking about the EU referendum, don’t seem to be about Welsh issues. They don’t seem to really seem aware of the amount of money that Wales has received from the EU. They really seem to be focussing more British wide issues – such as immigration, security and so on.
HG: Only 2% of people here were born outside the UK but, for the voters we spoke to, immigration is the key issue.
VOX POP FEMALE: The main concerns are people taking jobs and coming in and, with all the threats at the moment, it’s worrying because you don’t know who’s coming in and they’re not being vetted, and stuff like that.
VOX POP MALE: I think we’re far too lenient and lax with immigration. I think it should be tightened down.
VOX POP FEMALE 2: It probably has an impact but, obviously, you’ve got to have, you know, immigration and, you know, people coming in. You know, obviously, us going out to other parts of the EU, you know, so we can get jobs.
HG: Over in Abergavenny, at the end of the road, they’re desperate to keep every avenue open. The boss of this car parts company says he’s already had customers, like BMW and Audi in Germany, asking him what’s going to happen – just the uncertainty is bad for business.
GEOFF HANCOCK Managing Director, NSA Ltd: I think it’s the fear of the unknown. There’s a lot of ideas out there what could happen. But the fact is, we’re inside a marriage now which is working and why get divorced when there’s no need to?
HG: Wales can’t choose its own direction in this referendum, it’s the UK as a whole that will decide whether staying in or leaving is the right route to take. Hywel Griffith, BBC News.
May 25, 10.27pm – Undecided Voters in Worcestershire
HUW EDWARDS: Voters will go to the polls, four weeks tomorrow, in the referendum on Britain’s future in the EU and recent polls suggest that as many as a quarter of voters may not have decided yet whether to Remain or Leave. Our home editor, Mark Easton, is in Worcestershire tonight on the trail of the undecided voters. Let’s join him now.
MARK EASTON: Welcome to Worcestershire Huw, King John is buried in the cathedral behind me, and just across the city of Worcester is the scene of a famous victory for the parliamentarians in the English Civil War which is why the tourist brochures like to call it the home of British liberty and democracy. But when it comes to the EU referendum, Worcestershire is divided. All the local MPs are Conservatives, but they can’t agree on which way to vote, so I’ve been exploring what I call the agony of the undecideds. The jewel of the Cotswolds, the village of Broadway epitomises what JB Priestley called “the most English landscape, Conservative, with large ‘C’ and small it is an ancient place with a polished patina of self-assurance and conviction.” But when it comes to the EU referendum, resident Tories, like Peter Reading, find themselves undecided. His daily newspaper, and his party of course, seem equally unclear. Outside the Broadway Hotel, I met Peter and his wife Joan, among the 20% of Conservative voters who say they still haven’t made up their mind.
JOAN READING: There are people on either side, on the yes and the no, who you admire their views and yet suddenly they’re antagonistic views and it’s who do you believe? Which side do you go for?
PETER READING: I think my default position is probably to go out, but my head tells me that perhaps I should stay in, but I want to see the argument persuade me to stay in.
ME: You don’t feel that? No. What about you, Joan?
JR: It’s, I think, as Peter said, it’s almost a head and heart situation. You know, I’m British, I’m proud of being British and the things that we stand for.
PR: Let me give you an example. If I go to our largest Tesco’s here, there are two long aisles full of Polish food. I believe that countries will always evolve but, at the moment, it is more like a revolution.
JR: You know, why couldn’t we have some economists do a for and against without being biased? It’s getting . . .
ME: You want the facts, don’t you?
JR: I want the facts!
ME: Clear, unambiguous, unbiased.
JR: Yeah, I’m a scientists. I want the facts.
ME: It’s a refrain you hear over and over again. People say they want more facts. They want the arguments clearly set out. And that’s probably why politicians are reporting large numbers turning up at village and town hall meetings and referendum debates, far more than at the general election. In the Cap and Gown, in central Worcester, the saloon bar is packed for a debate on the EU. There are supporters from both camps and the undecideds are here, too.
VOX POP FEMALE: I think what’s difficult is dealing with all the nonsense and all the facts, (makes ‘quotes’ symbol with fingers) ‘facts’ that are coming out on both sides and I find I can’t believe any of them.
VOX POP MALE: But I’m open-minded to change, if I get a sensible argument and so far I have not seen a logical, sensible argument.
VOX POP FEMALE 2: You know, none of us have voted yet, we still can all be swayed in either direction, can’t we?
IN CAMPAIGNER: I think we’re definitely better where we are in the EU.
OUT CAMPAIGNER: We, from the Get Out campaign, do not wish to join the single market. Trade deals don’t sell goods . . .
ME: Normally in politics people stick to well-trodden, tribal paths, but the EU debate has left many feeling they’re lost in the jungle.
CHAIR: In favour of the motion, that being in the EU is good for business?
ME: On the night, Remain narrowly won the debate, but many were still undecided.
VOX POP FEMALE3: I don’t know. I’m… I’ve seen a lot of talking heads and I’d like to look at raw data.
VOX POP MALE 2: People say one thing, people say another thing and you never know who’s telling the truth or who’s right.
ME: Voters are having to do their own homework, consider the arguments, test the claims. Whatever the result, the process has at least been refreshing for our democracy. Mark Easton, BBC News, Worcestershire.
May 26, 10.21pm – Hebrides
SARAH SMITH: In [the BBC TV debate from Glasgow, aired earlier], the Leave side then went on to argue that the money saved from not paying contributions into the European Union could be spent here in the UK on public services. Now, they were arguing about issues that matter across the UK. If you look at opinion polls here in Scotland, it’s very interesting: consistently about two thirds of voters here say they would like to remain in the EU. And I’ve been round the country asking voters what issues matter most to them, starting off in the Hebrides. Navigating through the swell of arguments in the EU debate looks a little different in Scotland’s more remote communities. On the Isle of Islay, the ferry docks at a harbour entirely rebuilt with millions of pounds of European funding. And Europe consumes about half of the island’s exports of Scotch whisky. A recent surge in sales has seen the Bruichladdich Distillery brought out of mothballs, and it’s now producing over a million bottles a year, providing much-needed jobs.
CARL REAVEY Bruichladdich Distillery In here you’ve got the sweet . . . (word unclear) from the . . .
SS: They’re convinced leaving the EU could have dire consequences for an industry the island relies on.
CR: It has really lifted the local economy in a very dramatic way. And the thought that it might actually be threatened in some way is really quite scary, and the idea that we may return to those dark ages, which many, many, many people on this island will remember, doesn’t bear thinking about.
SS: Whisky is one of Scotland’s biggest exports. Bruichladdich admit they don’t know what would happen to sales if we leave the EU, but say even that uncertainty could delay investment and cost jobs. Of course, people won’t choose how to vote based purely on whether or not they think EU membership is good for business. Less than two years after the independence referendum here in Scotland, voters know this is a decision which is not just about economics. The EU referendum also raises questions of identity and sovereignty. Voters must look into their hearts as well as their heads. In Edinburgh, people who are campaigning on each side to leave and to remain, think perceptions of national identity may help explain how Scots will vote.
LAURIE PRESSWOOD Remain Campaigner: We’re very used to having a sort of split identity. So, you know, we would identify ourselves as being both Scottish and also British, which, I know they’re two quite separate identities, so I think perhaps we’re more accepting of having this third European identity.
SS: Whilst those who want to leave feel they have lost control of the decisions that govern their lives.
MORVEN ALLISON Leave Campaigner: There’s a lot of things that we don’t get our say in because of the EU having their own rules. Like, we’ve thought of, like, tons of things that we would like to control over here, but they take them over to the European Union and they’re like, ‘no, you can’t have that, you can’t have that.’ And it’s not . . . it’s not correct.
SS: There are plenty of sceptics in Scotland. In what remains of the country’s industrial belt near Glasgow, workers worry about immigration and its impact on jobs.
ALASTAIR MACMILLAN: These are all fork lift pumps, principally for Japanese trucks . . .
SS: In a factory full of hydraulic pumps, many of which are destined for Europe, worries about the economic impact of leaving the EU are dismissed. Trade will continue, they’re certain.
AM: I think we’re to get out of this perception that if we leave the EU, we’re pulling up a drawbridge at Calais and we’re saying, ‘Right, we’re off on our own.’ That’s not going to happen, that’s . . . pragmatically, realistically, that is not going to happen.
SS: Intriguingly, the parts of Scotland most eager to leave the UK and become independent are also the parts most likely to vote to remain in the EU. If they do so in large enough numbers, it could be Scottish votes that keeps Britain in. If that does happen, if there’s a tight vote, and it is seen to be a majority of Scots who voted to stay in the EU that keeps the whole of the UK inside, that could cause repercussions throughout the United Kingdom, there could be resentment about that. But if it goes the other way, if there’s a vote to leave, but a majority of Scots did vote to remain, well, Alex Salmond the former leader of the SNP, he said at this debate here tonight, he thinks that that would trigger a second referendum on Scottish independence, that within the two years in which Britain was negotiating to leave the EU, there would be another vote here in Scotland as to whether or not Scotland should leave the UK. The repercussions of this may be felt for quite some time to come.
HE: Indeed, Sarah, thanks very much. Sarah Smith our Scotland editor in Glasgow.
May 27, 10.20pm – England and Englishness (Knowsley)
FIONA BRUCE: Now, four weeks from today, we’ll know the answer. Will the UK be staying in or leaving the European Union? All this week, we have been hearing people’s views across the UK about the referendum. Tonight, we’re focusing on England and Englishness. Our Home Editor, Mark Easton, reports from Knowsley on Merseyside.
MARK EASTON: There’s nowhere in Britain as white, English and Christian as Knowsley. Immigration has barely touched this area. Only 2% of residents were born outside the British Isles. But it’s also the second most deprived neighbourhood in England, a place anxious about change. Experts have looked at all the numbers and concluded that this area should be among the most Eurosceptic in the country. But is it?
VOX POP MALE: I personally think we should stay in.
ME: Do you?
VPF: For economic viability.
VOX POP FEMALE: The country is getting a bit too overpopulated. And we need to, erm . . .
ME: Pull up the drawbridge?
VPF: Yeah, 100%, that’s the word. (laughs)
VOX POP MALE 2: I’m going to vote stay in.
VPM2: Yes. Purely for security reasons.
VOX POP MALE 3: I like being part of Europe. I don’t want to be out of it.
ME: You’re going to get a vote in a few weeks, which way do you think it will be, in or out?
VOX POP MALE 4: Out.
VOX POP FEMALE 2: Out!
VPM4: Out. And sooner, the bloody better! (laughs)
ME: It is only a snapshot, but it does seem opinions are more nuanced than simple analysis of the polls suggests. The referendum issues are complicated and disputed, far removed from the realities of people struggling to get by in one of the poorest and least-educated communities in the country. How do you feel about the European Union referendum?
VOX POP FEMALE 3: What does that mean?
VPF3: (laughter in voice) I don’t know what that means.
ME: The polls suggest that places like this are more likely to want to leave the EU and there is clear anxiety about the perceived threat from outsiders.
VOX POP FEMALE 4: My opinion is, get all the English in here and get all the Polish out. We can’t even get a house, the Polish get everything before we get them.
VPF3: There’s more foreigners coming into our country and it’s hard enough for us to get jobs, but they seem to be getting jobs thrown at them, where we can’t get a job in our own country.
ME: So you, you’d like to leave the EU?
VPF3: No, I wouldn’t like to leave the EU, but what I’m saying is, it’s all changed now, hasn’t it?
ME: It is a hard one, isn’t it?
VPF3: Yeah, it is proper hard.
ME: It is proper hard. The fear of change from being in the EU against the fear of change from being out. English nationalism tends to mean support for the Leave campaign. It is easier to love England than the EU. But in The Bulldog pub down the road, again, it’s not quite as simple as that.
VOX POP FEMALE 5: I think we’re a small area, small unit in the world. I’m not sure that being alone, we could fight anything. I think it makes us vulnerable.
VOX POP MALE 5: We’re a small country, maybe in size of square footage compared to the likes of say Spain. We are British. We are a strong nation. We used to have a strong army. We used to have a strong air force and a strong navy.
VPF5: But I’m not sure going out and staying in there is going to be that much difference, actually.
VPM5: So why vote for staying in?
VPF5: Because it makes me feel comfortable.
VPF5: Yeah, that’s your opinion. That’s fine.
ME: What the people of Knowsley seem to be telling us is that if they vote in the referendum, it won’t be based on class or party allegiance, but on what makes them feel more secure, and the reason it’s so hard to call is that they know both options carry risk. Mark Easton, BBC News, Knowsley.
Mark Mardell, presenter of Radio 4’s The World This Weekend, has been on his travels again, this time to Berlin. His purpose was to find out whether Germany – in his words the country that ‘ran Europe’ – would treat a UK exit from the EU with kid gloves or a mailed fist. The structuring of the report left no doubt: Germany would be displeased.
His analysis was pitched in such a way that it prompted his studio guest, the former Liberal Democrat MP Vince Cable – arguably one of the most staunchly pro-EU figures in the UK – to say that the conversation he’d had in Germany was ‘very balanced and very good’. The ex-business secretary added for good measure:
The only real, heavy endorsement of the Brexit position came from that ex— that, er, the MEP from the extreme right wing German party, which is not an endorsement I would want.
What was that ‘conversation’ as edited and presented by Mardell?
He spoke first to the Reuters Brussels correspondent, who confirmed that there had been secret talks by the EU to deal with Brexit and to head of the (associated) rise in ‘far right’ parties.
Next stop was Artur Fischer, CEO of the Berlin Stock Exchange, who warned that if the UK decided to leave the EU, it would not enjoy the economic benefits that it currently enjoyed.
Christian Ehler, a senior MEP from Angela Merkel’s ruling Christian Democrat party, warned that a European parliamentary report he had coordinated warned that a British exit would lead to a ‘nightmare’ – ’Mr Putin will laugh his butt off’.
Mardell noted that Ehler had also worked for Biotech, a multinational corporation, and asked for his reaction to Brexit in that capacity, too. His response was that it would be ‘a disaster’ and ‘very messy’ and warned that jobs and big contracts involving companies such as Rolls-Royce in the supply of Airbus would be at risk.
The next interviewee was Daniela Schwarzer, director of what Mardell said was the ‘German Marshall Fund’s Europe programme’. What he did not say was this was an organisation set up in 1972 to foster stronger relations between the EU and the United States.
Schwarzer conceded that the UK might still be part of the Single Market, but warned that it would not be involved in the political decision-making of the EU. Prompted by Mardell, she also warned that it was important to stop (for the rest of the EU) the idea that this was ‘an easy game’ and to make it clear that a ‘visible cost’ was attached to leaving the EU.
Next up was MEP Beatrix van Storch, vice chair of the Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD) party. This, stressed Mardell, was ‘Germany’s hard right party’, though he did not explain any of their policies or why they had earned that label.
Van Storch said first that from the German taxpayers’ point of view, she wanted the UK to stay in the UK because it was the second largest contributor to the EU budget. But she added that on the other hand, she wanted the UK to leave, to show that it could survive and not everything would break down. She asserted that it would be possible to trade with Europe without being part of the EU. To suggest otherwise was ‘complete rubbish’.
Mardell chose not to explore this further. Instead he asked whether the political elites would react by saying that other countries could not follow their lead ‘like the Front National in France…’ you are not asking Germany to leave but they would not want to…anything that would encourage you either, I guess’
Van Storch replied that any attempted punishments would only encourage ‘these movements’.
Mardell then – without explaining specifically why – spoke to two students, who he said had studied in London and Paris as well as Berlin. His point was presumably therefore that they had balanced views about the EU and ‘Europe’. One duly said it would be a shame if Britain left the EU because it was ‘very valuable’. The other was worried that British exit would lead to the need for the re-introduction of visas.
The next interviewee was Artur Fischer again. This time he warned that nationalism was not a good thing. British exit would lead to Germany becoming nationalistic again, and that would lead to the ‘thin layer’ of civilisation collapsing. The EU created the chance of compromise; without it he warned that Germany would instead look for ‘a winning’.
Mardell’s final port of call was Juergen Maier, whom he introduced as MD of Siemens. What he did not say is that the company is possibly one of the most pro-EU businesses in any EU country, and that it has been warning for many years about any form of Euroscepticism.
Mardell asked him what sort of a deal the UK would get outside the EU, and then carefully coaxed him to spell out each of the various obstacles. He made no attempt to be adversarial. Maier warned that barriers to the imposition of tariffs would first be taken down, then that new rules that disadvantaged the UK would be written – without the UK being round the table – then that German companies, along with those in the rest of the EU, would find it more difficult to invest in the UK, and finally that it would take much longer than two years to negotiate any new arrangements.
In summary in this report from Berlin, Mardell produced two senior industrialists, one senior politician and two students to say that Brexit would be a more or less unmitigated disaster and nightmare for the UK and would lead to the rise of nationalism and collapse of civilisation. Against this torrent of Europhilia, he produced one AfD politician and stressed that she was from the ‘hard right’. At various points in the report, he stressed how much of a threat the ‘hard right’ was seen to be and how the EU was fighting to prevent forces such as the Front National in France.
Mardell’s report was bookended at the beginning and end with discussion involving Vince Cable and Gisela Stuart MP from the Vote Leave faction. Mardell first put it to her that a Vote Leave letter warning about levels of immigration did not say how exit would allow better control of the problem. She said a new points system with the people’s consent would be devised at Westminster that better reflected the economic needs of the country.
His next question was whether there was any unease about the growing attacks on David Cameron. Stuart responded that he had not spelled out the consequences of remain or immigration at current levels. After the Berlin report, Mardell suggested that the UK would not get the sort of trade deal it enjoyed through being in the EU. Stuart replied that the euro was pulling the EU down and Britain was best outside. Finally, he asked her if British exit would be the end of the EU and whether that would be a good thing. She replied that the UK departure would allow closer integration within the remaining EU. Britain needed to get out because current performance in the Eurozone was dragging the economy down.
Before the Berlin report sequence, Vince Cable – in response to Stuart’s points about immigration – argued that the UK had signed up to free movement under Margaret Thatcher and that all reports from economists showed that immigration was good for the economy. He attacked the Conservative party for making promises about levels of immigration it could not keep. He emphasised that immigrants’ contributions to the UK were overwhelmingly positive and that they swelled the tax income of the Treasury. In the final sequence, he reinforced Maier’s warning that exit would generate very serious uncertainty, and, in turn, a fall in living standards and business opportunities. He warned that leaving the EU would take the UK out of the single market ‘which was absolutely fundamental to our manufacturing industry and the traded sector of the economy’. He concluded:
it’s completely unnecessary to walk away from that, with all the uncertainty and all the damage that that will create.
Overall, this The World This Weekend sequence had superficially reasonably balanced contributions from Gisela Stuart and Vince Cable. But in between was a report from Berlin by Mardell that presented with only minor tempering, a full-on case for ‘remain’. Those who disagreed were described as ‘hard right’. In that context, Stewart’s arguments for exit were totally swamped by Mardell’s overt bias.
Transcript of The World This Weekend, Sunday 29 May 2016
DIANA SPEED: The infighting within the Conservative party has intensified with senior MPs and the Leave campaign making personal attacks on David Cameron and some Eurosceptic backbenchers suggesting there could be a vote of no confidence in him after the referendum. Boris Johnson and Michael Gove accused Mr Cameron of corroding public trust by failing to meet a promise to cut immigration. Here’s our political correspondent Susana Mendonça.
SUSANA MENDONÇA: The Leave campaign say this spat is about the UK’s ability to limit EU immigration, but the sight of two senior Conservatives Boris Johnson and Michael Gove accusing the prime minister in such a public way of undermining the trust that voters place in politicians has made this debate deeply personal. And the infighting hasn’t stopped there – the employment minister Priti Patel has gone a step further in her criticism, suggesting that Mr Cameron was too rich to care about people’s concerns regarding migration. All of this appears to have unleashed the wrath of Eurosceptic backbenchers Leave campaigner Nadine Dorries has called Mr Cameron an outright liar and said a letter was being circulated among backbenchers calling for a vote of no confidence in the prime minister, who she warned would be toast within days after the referendum even if remain narrowly won. Number Ten said the Leave campaign was just trying to focus attention away from the economic debate which it claimed Leave had already lost.
MARK MARDELL: The prime minister stands accused in a letter from the Vote Leave campaign of corroding public trust by making a manifesto promise which it says is plainly not achievable while we stay in the European Union. That promise is to cut immigration to the tens of thousands; what makes the letter explosive is it’s signed by two of the most senior Conservatives who stood on that manifesto Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. But the issue itself is perhaps even more important than the impact on the Conservative party – the letter challenges the prime minister to admit that a vote to remain is a vote to permanently maintain free movement of people from the European Union including allowing what it calls economic migrants with or without a job, putting a strain on schools and hospitals and pressure on the wages of low paid British workers. To discuss that the former business secretary Liberal Democrat Sir Vince Cable and Labour MP for Birmingham Edgbaston Gisela Stuart who is the chair of Vote Leave and provides the third signature on that letter to the prime minister. Good afternoon to both of you. Gisela Stuart, first of all, conspicuous by absence in that letter is any way you would actually control immigration?
GISELA STUART: It, actually, the letter has two points, first, it’s outlining the risks of remaining and it also makes it quite clear that whatever immigration policy you have, it has to have the consent of the people and therefore this is a letter which addresses both a democratic issue about consent, but also the economic consequences, particularly on the low paid if you don’t have control over immigration.
MM: We, we know people are constantly (fragment of word, unclear) asking for facts in, in this debate, would you . . . are you talking about visas? Are you talking about work permits, how would you control it if you got that power back?
GS: Whatever system you end up with, and it will be a combination of something like an Australian points system, there’d be visa-free areas, but the key thing is, it’ll be, the decision will be made at Westminster in striking the balance between the economic needs of the country, the kind of skills we need and historic links, and it’s that absence of any control, combined with the economic pressures, because we’ve got an underperforming European economy, creates risk if we stay in.
MM: So Vince, the letter is correct, isn’t it that without leaving the European Union you can’t fully control the migration of workers from Europe?
VINCE CABLE: That’s correct, yes, it is a single market, it’s something the British sought originally and negotiated in Mrs Thatcher’s day, which is free trade in goods and services, free movement of capital, and free movement of labour, that’s the package, that’s what we bought into and it’s brought us . . .
MM: (speaking over) Right, so, so it it . . .
VC: . . . considerable benefits.
MM: Is it correct that it corrodes public trust, because we can’t control that in a democracy?
VC: I don’t think that (fragments of words, unclear) free movement of labour and the single market corrodes trust, but what has corroded trust – and this is one of the few points where I agree with Mr Gove and Boris Johnson – that when the Conservatives made this pledge to cut immigration to under 100,000 back in 2010, and then actually, foolishly, repeated it last year, for the very simple reason that you cannot directly control in a market economy levels of net migration. It isn’t just free movement of labour in Europe, we can’t control immigration, we don’t have a wall to stop British people coming and going and the volume of people coming and going depends on the state of the economy. And our total level of net migration also includes substantial numbers of people like overseas students, who are not immigrants at all. So, the figure itself, I said repeatedly in government, my Lib Dem colleagues repeated it, this was a very foolish commitment to have made, and it has corroded trust, making a promise that could never be met.
MM: Gisela Stuart, you’ve been on the battle bus with Boris Johnson, was there any sense of unease that they’re making this so personal, attacking the Prime Minister?
GS: I think we, we have to challenge the Prime Minister who makes those promises, and . . . force him to spell out what the consequences of a Remain vote are. And these consequences are spelt out in that letter: if you’ve got an underperforming economy in mainland Europe, and you cannot control people coming, then essentially, you will have huge pressures on . . . which will hit worse the low paid in this country. And that is simply bad for this country, and the Prime Minister, I think, needs to answer the questions in that letter.
MM: Sir Vince, you served in cabinet alongside these people, what do you think this sort of debate will do for, for them?
VC: Well it’s not helping them, but can I just reply to Gisela’s points, which are perfectly fair. Of course, there are immigration in some areas which do create pressure on some public services, though we do know from the work that’s been done that there is an overwhelmingly positive contribution to the British Treasury, therefore public spending from immigrant workers who are young and they pay taxes here, but one specific area I was responsible for in the coalition and that was low pay, and the Low Pay Commission on the minimum wage, and, and the simple truth of the matter is that low pay is protected, provided it’s enforced by the minimum wage. And . . . added to of course, tax credits, which I also believe in, and that’s the way to deal with low pay, and all of the research we did in the coalition government showed that there was very little impact of migrant workers for (sic, means from?) Europe on, on pay amongst low paid . . .
GS: (speaking over) But the . . .
MM: Vince Cable, Gisela Stuart, thanks very much. We’ll be talking to you again in a moment, but the other great debate within the referendum campaign is what leaving would mean for our economy. A lot would hang on what sort of deal we could do with the rest of the European Union. The first, secret, talks have taken place in Brussels about how to cope if Britain does leave, vote to leave in 25 days from now. Alistair Macdonald is the Brussels Bureau chief for the Reuters news agency and broke the story.
ALISTAIR MACDONALD: Whatever the result is, the EU will have to respond and they want to respond in some kind of co-ordinated manner. We know that senior officials in Jean-Claude Juncker’s office, his chief of staff chaired a meeting at the beginning of this week with senior diplomats and ambassadors from a number of key countries, particularly France and Germany with a number of countries also involved, notably Slovakia and Malta who will be running the rotating chairmanship for European Councils over the next 12 months starting in July.
MM: Any hints at all about what the attitude might be if Britain did vote to leave, what they might say?
AM: They will say, almost certainly, they regret the British decision, that they respect the will of the British people and there’ll be a third, perhaps less clear message which is: this is going to be very painful for you, which is a way of saying, ‘please don’t anybody else try this at home’ they will want to head off centrifugal forces in other countries, they do not want Marine Le Pen in France, the Dutch Geert Wilders or a whole number of other Eurosceptic forces in Europe to take heart from this and start agitating. So décourager les autres – as they say in Brussels.
MM: Alistair Macdonald from Reuters. Indeed, there’s an irony here: if the UK votes to leave, the internal politics of the European Union might matter more than ever before for Britain’s future. Would Europe’s biggest power, Germany, want to treat others with kid gloves or deal a blow with a mailed fist? I’ve been to Berlin to try to judge the mood. In a big Berlin store, the sound from high-end hi-fi’s and speakers and headphones is testimony to Germany’s technological prowess, as are the rows of red toasters and espresso machines. Outside, there’s a queue of Mercedes taxis. Germans are proud of what they make and we like it to, last year, the exported £67 billion worth of goods to the UK, we were there third most important export market after the US and France, and they wouldn’t want to put that at risk, would they? Artur Fischer is CEO of the Berlin stock exchange.
ARTUR FISCHER: In Europe, we agree on a number of rules in order to take down the trade barriers. And Great Britain doesn’t like some of the rules. Now, our industry will be against any kind of trade barrier, be it for countries inside the EU or outside the EU, they obviously don’t want it. I work two days a week in London, and because of the EU, because of agreements, I don’t have to ask for a work permit, I just go over there and I work. However, from a political point of view I’m pretty sure that Great Britain will not enjoy, after they left the EU, the benefits they currently have.
MM: Berlin is not Europe’s economic powerhouse or manufacturing centre, but this friendly, attractive city is one of its political centres. And I’m in the political quarter. Fountains are playing in front of the white-walled, tinted glass cube that is the Kanzleramt – the Chancellor’s office. Outside, fly side-by-side the German and the EU flags. Angela Merkel runs a Germany from here, and arguably Europe, at least what she says matters hugely. Christian Ehler, is an MEP and senior member of her party, the Christian Democrats – and industry committee coordinator in the European Parliament, where some are braced for Brexit.
CHRISTIAN EHLER: We were asked by the general secretariat what would be the result of an exit, and our report back has been pretty much easy, saying it will be a nightmare for three years. And I mean, Mr Putin will laugh his butt off.
MM: Christian Ehler is wearing cufflinks. One says, ‘trust me’, the other, ‘I’m a politician.’ But he also used to be MD of the multinational Biotech. What do you think would happen if Britain did vote to leave, what would be the reaction here?
CE: Take my constituency, and one of the biggest employers is Rolls-Royce, I mean, it’s a totally integrated economy, and the reaction would be at first sight, total confusion. I think the outcome for my constituency will be a disaster.
MM: Why would it be a disaster for your constituency?
CE: At the given moment, Rolls-Royces producing half of the engines for AirBus in Germany, shall we put the British out? But then my constituency is out.
MM: Would there be any political impetus to treat Britain, frankly, badly, so not to encourage other people to go down a similar route?
CE: That doesn’t make sense, I mean that is, that is the thinking of the 19th Century, I mean, this discussion is driven to some extent in the UK and to some extent in other European member states by people having the arguments of the 19th of 20th Century. We are beyond that. My boys are attending school in England, my former company was heavily affiliated with UK, so it’s no longer that Germany or Europe treats the British in a certain way, I mean, it’s simply an integrated market and to sort that out is complicated. Obviously, both sides have interest not to create a complete mess, but it would be a mess anyway.
MM: I’m now in front of the wonderful Reichstag – a 19th Century building with a modern, glass dome, the past fused with the present. Modern Germany’s sense of self is very firmly intertwined with the European Union, which tempers its economic and political eminence of the continent. The shocks of the migration and the Greek crisis, and the fierce criticism of Mrs Merkel’s conduct in both have meant to heightened awareness of the European project’s fragility. If there’s another shock, the German political class’s instinct may be to wrap a protective arm around the EU. Daniela Schwarzer is director of the German Marshall Fund’s Europe Programme.
DANIELA SCHWARZER: One of the objectives on the German side will very likely be to have a good deal with the UK, but it is not part, obviously of the political decision-making of the European Union, but still a part of the single market.
MM: There may also be a feeling, of course that we don’t want to encourage other people to do the same thing, particularly with the French elections coming up?
DS: One motive will be not to make others think that this is an easy game – you have a referendum and then you get what you want, right? So, there has to be a visible cost attached to the choice of leaving the European Union.
(German speech, ends with ‘Alternative für Deutschland’)
MM: ‘Take part in the change’ – the slogan of the rising force of the AfD – Germany’s hard right party. Just three years old, among the victors in the regional elections a couple of months ago. They are watching our vote very carefully. The party’s vice chair, MEP Beatrix von Storch says if the UK leaves, Germany will pick up the bill.
BEATRIX VON STORCH: From the German taxpayers’ point of view, I would like them to stay because, as we all know, UK is the second-biggest net payer for the European Union, so, if they leave, it’s going to be even more burden on the German taxpayers. On the other hand, I think it will be good if they leave, just to show that they will survive, because this is what now is told, if they leave, no one can leave, without the European Union everything will break down, you can’t trade any longer you can’t travel any longer. I think it’s completely rubbish and I would like to see how it works. And I think we will see that it’s possible to trade with (words unclear ‘a new’?) European Union, not being part of it.
MM: And you don’t think that trade barriers would go up? That there would be a reaction against it?
BVS: I think it would be very stupid to punish the trade which serves the people on both sides.
MM: Might there not be an instinct from the, the people that you’re against, the political elites in the European Union to say, ‘We can’t have this, we can’t have other countries following their lead, like the Front National in France’, and indeed, you’re . . . you’re not asking Germany to leave but they wouldn’t want to . . . anything that would encourage you either, I guess.
BVS: If they start to punish the UK after they voted to leave, I think this will strengthen all the movements you want to leave the European Union.
MM: Under the stony eye of a statue of Alexander von Humboldt, students at the University that bears his name in central Berlin, tell me how they see the UK. Nora and Theresa are both law students, who’ve studied in Paris and London as well as here.
NORA: I personally think Britain is very valuable, I think it’d be a shame if they left. I they’re also actually valuable by always being critical, because you always, you need criticism to develop something, to develop a project, to see where one needs reforms, what doesn’t work.
THERESA: We don’t need visas, so we can just go to Britain with our passport.
MM: Do you think that would change?
T: I hope not.
MM: (church bells) Just a Berlin church, but if Britain votes to leave, Europe’s politicians will be asking if the bell tolls for them too. There will be reflex actions, some within the EU would see it as an opportunity to question its very purpose and direction. But more would automatically, defensively, talk of building a better, stronger Europe. Daniela Schwarzer again.
DS: There has usually been a movement of deepening in a moment of deep crisis. So take the Eurozone, or take the whole discussion on EU border controls and immigration policy, in a moment where the migration crisis hit.
MM: Artur Fischer from the Berlin Stock Exchange has deep worries about what a British exit could mean for his country and the whole continent.
AF: I always had a feeling that being nationalistic is not a good thing. So, if the EU would be damaged and the value of the EU is already fragile, and if Great Britain is out, the temptation is that the German population will also consider what are the benefits, why don’t we do things on our own. It gives you a very eerie feeling – how thin that layer of civilisation is. Look at it. We’re only a few years away from this, and we all call ourselves civilised and, like, you know, it’s not going to happen anymore. We just have to make sure that people realise how small that step is and that we do everything possible not to cross that line. And . . . to do that together with other countries in the EU gives us a chance . . . to come to a compromise, if we have differences of opinion. If we are not in the EU we will not look for compromise, we will look for a winning.
MM: Artur Fischer in Berlin. There are, of course, big German companies based here. One of the biggest, Siemens UK. I asked their CEO, Juergen Maier, what sort of deal he thought the UK could get outside the EU.
JUERGEN MAIER: Over a period of time there will be trade agreements that Britain can do with the EU, and of course with other nations. But the much more important thing here is the non-tariff barriers, which, over many, many decades we have taken down, we have created a level playing field across the EU, that’s what the single market is all about, and we would be outside of that signal market and we would, over a period of time, not from today to tomorrow, but over a period of time, we would see those nontariff barriers rising, and that would be a disadvantage to especially British manufacturing companies, who are exporting into those EU markets.
MM: But why would they rise, because those on the Leave side have said time and time again that it’s in nobody’s interests, neither the remainder of the European Union, nor the United Kingdom, to have those sort of barriers raised. It is of course true that, you know, Germany will want to continue to trade with Great Britain, as we will want to continue to trade with them. But we will have just said, ‘Actually, we’ve left your club’, and in the real world what happens is that the people who are then left sat round the table – remember, we’re not around that table – they will be writing new standards, they will be done in a way that certainly does not advantage, and probably could disadvantage Great Britain.
MM: Do you think there will be a difference in Germany between business interests if Britain leaves and political interest?
JM: If we were in a situation outside of the European Union then, you know, companies like ours, but, you know, the many German companies we have that invest in Great Britain would find it more difficult to create new investments here, or, let’s put it another way they would just find it easier to do that for countries within the European Union. And the interesting thing about it is that actually, currently, with us being in the European Union, we, in Siemens – and I know that from many other companies as well – we see the UK as a fantastic place to invest in new R&D. You know, we think the environment here, the business climate, the investments that are going on are absolutely tremendous, so why make it more difficult for ourselves?
MM: I suppose what I’m asking is if the German government and other governments in the European Union said, ‘Look, we’ve got to make it difficult for Britain, for political reasons, for the rest of the European Union’ – would businesses say, ‘No, come on, hang on, we can’t have that’?
JM: No, I mean, there, there will no doubt be, you know, some of that, but what I think would happen is, is that, you know, the European Union would, would, you know, obviously accept the decision of the British people at the end of the day, and the European Union will do whatever it can to make sure it continues to prosper, invest and grow its activities in the European Union. And yes, Great Britain would not always be right on the inside of the . . . of the negotiations, and, and that club. Would they completely alienate us and not want to work with us at all? No, I mean that’s just . . . that’s just crazy thinking.
MM: Do you have emergency plans, or plans for what you do if there was a vote to Brexit?
JM: We haven’t, no, we’ve clearly er, you know, thought about some of the immediate risks and some of the things we might need to do, but the fact is, is that should there be a Brexit, there is this two-year period that we all know about. My own view is, is that would probably end up needing to be extended, because it would take longer to negotiate trade agreements, so, you know, we would have that time in order to consider what we need to do around, you know, things like exports regulations and paperwork and red tape and, you know, all of these things that we’d actually have more of and not less of, you know, so we’d have plenty of time to work that out.
MM: Juergen Maier. The Labour MP, Gisela Stuart, who was born in Germany and came here in 1974, and Sir Vince Cable are still with me. Gisela Stuart, we got a sense there from Berlin that, you know, there wouldn’t be any desire to harshly punish Britain, but we just simply couldn’t expect the sort of trade deals that we have now?
GS: Well, but it also ignores the, the real big game-changer in this whole conversation, which was the introduction of the euro. We’ve had a European economy which, in the last decade, you know, hasn’t managed to grow in comparison to other economies. You know, the US grew 6% faster. So you’ve got a, a, a trading bloc that is actually not growing as fast as it could, you have got a single currency that requires much deeper integration, for Germany to succeed, we are not part of the single currency, and by that decision we would be much more successful if we were outside. And Germany, for example has just introduced a minimum wage, which is lower than our minimum wage, so, if you’ve got high unemployment on mainland Europe, and you have got jobs and a minimum wage here, you will increase the pressure on the United Kingdom and the public services and all the things that we talked about before, which is why I say, you know, vote Leave on the 23 June.
MM: Sir Vince, it’s a failing bloc and we’re better off outside it?
VC: Well, some of the countries in the European Union have had . . . done very badly, of course Greece most extremely, Italy and others. Germany, of course, consistently has outperformed the UK, has got much higher levels of productivity. Spain is growing quite rapidly, it’s recovered, in many ways, from the crisis, so it’s a very, very mixed picture. But I think your comments er, the, the conversation you had in Germany was actually very, very balanced and very good. The only real, heavy endorsement of the Brexit position came from that ex— that, er, the MEP from the extreme right wing German party, which is not an endorsement I would want. I thought Juergen Maier’s comments at the end captured it just about right, but you’ll have two or three years of uncertainty, probably upheaval is overstating it, but very, very serious uncertainty in the UK about where we go next as renegotiate new arrangements, and then you have a gradual loss of business and . . . undermining our living standards because of the difficulties of continuing to operate in the single market, which is producing common standards, particularly in manufacturing, which we’re no longer part of, I think that was a very good summary of the problem.
MM: Gisela, you know there’s very deep worry among Germans about the future of the European Union if we left. Would it be the beginning of the end? And would that be a good thing?
GS: I think the beginning of a managed process which would allow the Eurozone countries to achieve that deeper political integration which they need in order for their single currency to succeed, and for those countries who are outside to disentangle and establish different relationships. And, you know, even in countries within the Eurozone which have got high growth, Spain still has 45% unemployment of the under 25’s. This is a currency bloc which is in deep economic problems, they need to do something which is right for them, which is simply not appropriate for us, and the sooner we realise that a managed separation would be beneficial for both sides, the better.
MM: Sir Vince, we’ve only got a minute left, but would it be the beginning of the end?
VC: It would certainly be very difficult if we left, I’m not into kind of Armageddon-type arguments, but you know, Gisela’s argument that we have to separate ourselves, we are separated by the fact that we’re not part of the monetary union, that’s a decision we’ve made, and we’ve gone our separate ways, but you don’t need to compound the differences with the European Union by also leaving the single market. The single market, which Britain sought and has profited from is absolutely fundamental, particularly to our manufacturing industry and our traded sector of our economy, it’s completely unnecessary to walk away from that, with all the uncertainty and all the damage that that will create.
MM: Sir Vince Cable, and Gisela Stuart, thank you very much indeed.
How Should I Vote, the BBC’s first formal programme of the referendum campaign aimed at helping voters to make their minds up, was on BBC1 on Thursday night. It was hosted from Glasgow by Victoria Derbyshire, who presents a current affairs show on BBC2 and the BBC News Channel. The key parts of the audience – all of whom were under 30 years of age – were made up of groups of 40 ‘leave’ and ‘remain’ voters, on either side of 55 ‘undecided’ voters.
Was it fair? Well at the end of the programme, most of the ‘undecided’ voters indicated that they had been persuaded to join the ‘remain’ camp’. Was that down to the eloquence of ‘remain’ speakers Alex Salmond and Alan Johnson, and corresponding failures of the ‘leave’ panellists Diane James and Liam Fox? Of course, it is not possible to know for certain what led to the changes in views, especially as no clear indication of how the panel was chosen was given. Were they really all convinced ‘undecideds’ – and in any case, how could such a stance be defined with certainty?
What is certain is there are question marks about Derbyshire’s handling of the debate’s flow, and in particular, she appeared a more robust and negative approach to the ‘leave’ questions and panellists. Below is a series of transcripts of sequences where, arguably, she showed distinct favouritism.
Problems included interruptions of the ‘exit’ panellists, apparent comments in favour of pro-‘remain’ tweets, preventing one of the most penetrating ‘exit’ questions being put, making partisan points on immigration and the alleged freedom to travel generated by EU membership, a throwaway remark in favour of the ‘remain’ side’s views about the advantages of EU membership, and an over -zealous put-down of a point made by a ‘leave’ side audience member.
The difficulty of such analysis, is, of course, that it is impossible to be certain about what will sway an audience. This was a fast-moving programme, and there could have been no pre-planned or deliberate fixes. However, what emerges from this analysis and the transcripts is that Derbyshire seemed more keen to intervene against the ‘leave’ side.
8:17:50 Victoria Derbyshire interrupted Diane James when she attempted to link immigration to house prices, and didn’t interrupt or try to change the flow of argument of the Remain guests in this way:
VICTORIA DERBYSHIRE: Diane James?
DIANE JAMES: Well, isn’t it interesting, and I take the point about migration . . .
VD: Can we just stay with Michael’s question . . .
DJ: Okay . . .
VD: Which was the warning from the Chancellor about house prices falling.
DJ: (speaking over) I wanted to come back first, I wanted to come back first there, to make, to make . . .
VD: (speaking over) We will, we will come back to that . . .
DJ: . . . a link . . .
VD: I promise you.
DJ: . . . to make the link, Victoria . . .
VD: Let’s talk about h— . . .
DJ: On the basis that, your point is about can you afford a house, effectively, can you, if we remain a member of the European Union, is that going to be even a remote possibility.
8:18:46 After Diane James’s contribution finished, Victoria Derbyshire did the same to Liam Fox:
VICTORIA DERBYSHIRE: Okay, Liam Fox?
LIAM FOX: I’ve got no problem with migration, and controlled, and controlled . . .
VD: (speaking over) This is about house prices, the question was why . . . why the Chancellor’s warning about house prices falling is meant to be a bad thing, when it’s not.
LF: I’m coming to it. I’ve no problem with migration, and control migration can bring benefits, but if you have an uncontrolled number, the arithmetic tells you it will put pressure on public services, on the health service, on schools and on housing (continues)
8:27:01 Derbyshire read out Tweets from audiences watching at home. The syntax of the third Tweet was problematic – it was difficult to precisely discern where the commentary ended and the tweet itself began. Was it Derbyshire herself saying ‘a good and overlooked point, I think’, or was this contained within the text? Subsequently, Derbyshire was also sure to place the word ‘foreigners’ in verbalised quotation marks, eliciting laughter from the audience, and simultaneously drawing attention to, and distancing herself from, Diane James’s earlier use of the word:
VICTORIA DERBYSHIRE: A couple of tweets using the hashtag #BBCDebate, er, Stuart Young says ‘Will the economy be strong enough if we leave?’ Ghosthands on Twitter says, ‘People should look at the bigger picture, rather than their own personal gain, when it comes to the EU referendum.’ And Mellon . . . who . . . er, is going to vote to Remain says, a good and often overlooked point, I think, the Brits have free reign through Europe as well as – quote – ‘the foreigners.’ (laughter from some sections of audience)
8:32:45 Derbyshire cut off one of the most interesting questions of the night, which would have been difficult for the Remain side to answer:
AUDIENCE MEMBER: I just want to ask the Remain side, if David Cameron believes all this scaremongering that we’re going to have a World War III (some laughter from audience) that our economy’s going to be completely awful – why are we having a referendum? Surely (applause and cheers) somebody who cares about the country wouldn’t give us one if it was that dangerous?
VICTORIA DERBYSHIRE: We are where we are. Aren’t we, I mean you can (fragments of words, unclear) I just want to . . . (moves on to ask another audience member what they think of the Remain’s side of the campaign)
8:34:51 Victoria Derbyshire interrupted Diane James to make a partisan point on migration:
DIANE JAMES: The aspect that I brought up is if you can’t control the number of people, if you can’t control demand, because you can’t control supply, you’re forever in a spiral downwards . . .
VICTORIA DERBYSHIRE: (speaking over) But you can, you can . . .
DJ: (speaking over) I . . . I . . .
VD (speaking over) You can control net migration from outside the EU, and we had the latest figures today, which show . . .
DJ: (speaking over) 330,000 today, 184,000 from the EU . . .
VD: . . . that as many people are coming from outside the EU, which Britain can control as are coming from within the EU.
DJ: Yes, but what we do know is we want, for instance, more medics, nurses (continues)
8:38:50 Derbyshire frequenly interrupted Liam Fox with overtly political arguments, in a way she did not with pro-Remain guests. Despite Victoria Derbyshire’s contention – that no one was suggesting that ‘you’re not going to be able to have a holiday in Mallorca if you want’ – earlier in the debate Alex Salmond had said specifically, ‘You’ve got the ability to go and travel, to work, to . . . er, to visit, without a visa, you can go into Barcelona, watch some decent football, you’ve got the whole of that European community at, at your disposal’:
LIAM FOX: The idea that because we’re not in the European Union, you’re not going to be able to have a holiday in Mallorca is getting to, is getting too ridiculous . . .
VD: (speaking over) I don’t, well no, well no one is . . . no one is, to be fair, no one is suggesting that . . . we’re not going be able to have a holiday in Mallorca if you want. According to the Complete University Guide, as members of the EU, anyone here would usually be able to study in other EU nations as home students . . .
LF: That’s right.
VD: . . . Compared to the fees charged to international students, home fees are generally lower or non-existent.
LF: But it’s here’s the difference that young lady at the back, the point about the difference between Europe and the European Union, because programs like ERASMUS, which have got bigger student programmes are not just . . .
VD: (speaking over) That’s an exchange programme.
LF: (speaking over) Yes, the exchange programme is not just the European Union, it’s the European continent, so it’s countries like Turkey as well, Norway, Iceland does that . . . Europe is a great continent of individual nations, with their own history, the European Union’s political construct . . .
VD: But . . .
LF: Europe, Europe (applause) Europe and exchange and trade and travel existed before there was a European Union and they . . .
VD: (speaking over) But Stephanie’s fees might be higher . . .
LF: . . . will continue.
VD: . . . if Britain is outside the European Union, if she wants to go and study at university.
LF: Why would that be, because the programmes are decided because they’re in the mutual interest, it’s the same as trade, it’s in both our interests to do so . . .
VD: (speaking over) Why would that be, because we wouldn’t be members of the EU?
LF: And we had all these programmes before we were in the European Union, and we’ll have them where were not in the European Union, just as we have programmes (continues, but is interrupted by a speaker from audience)
8:43:32 Derbyshire made a throwaway aside, (which ultimately made little sense given that we’re presently in the EU and have no requirements for travel visas) – but it served to reinforce the idea that visas might be required for travel post-Brexit, despite this being contested by the Leave side during the debate:
ALAN JOHNSON: No other country has more of its citizens living and working in other developed countries than Great Britain. Now, if we’re not have visas, and Diane you said we wouldn’t, to go on holiday, or for people to come here, there are 2.5 million tourists who come to Scotland every year. How are you going to differentiate between the Polish plumber and the Polish tourist? It means, surely, a system of visas. And if you haven’t got a system of visas, then how are you going to deal with . . . you’re going to be telling people we’re going to stop free movement, but you’re not going to introduce visas so free movement will still be there. And you’re also, incidentally, unless you put a border and watchtowers across the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, going to have people coming in across there, because it would then be an EU country and a non-EU country.
VD: Well that, so, so that’s . . . dealing also with (name unclear’s) point about easy . . . I mean, you can just get up and go anywhere in Europe . . .
AUDIENCE MEMBER: I mean, I can leave right now if I wanted to, and just . . .
AM: You can come with me if you want, we can go together (laughter from audience)
VD: But do you I mean, do you . . . (applause and cheering from audience) I haven’t got a visa. (laughter from audience)
8:54:45 Victoria Derbyshire chastised an audience member and ‘shushed’ them when they tried to interject during an Alan Johnson contribution. Although Derbyshire obviously needed to keep a handle on the debate, including of-microphone interjections, she could have picked up the point raised by the audience member herself. Alan Johnson didn’t, as he promised to do, return to the issue of TTIP:
ALAN JOHNSON: I think of all the arguments that the Leave side are putting forward, I think the NHS is the most ludicrous. We’ve had the current chief executive of the NHS and his two predecessors saying, look, the NHS is a tax-based system it’s . . . it’s not a free system, it’s free at the point of use, but it’s paid by taxpayers. If our economy shrinks, the NHS is in trouble . . .
AUDIENCE MEMBER (attempts to interject, but away from mic so words inaudible, judging by Alan Johnson’s response, question was on TTIP)
AJ: And going back to what we were saying earlier . . .
VD (to audience member) Hang on a minute, wait, wait, wait, shhhh. Don’t just shout out. Hang on a minute.
AJ: I’ll tell you about TTIP in a second, but let me just deal with the first question . . .
Has Jeremy Vine presided over the most biased programme so far of the referendum campaign? And possibly the most biased programme that could be devised?
Someone on the BBC Radio 2 production team – the same service, it may recalled, that thought Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand’s humiliation of the gentle Fawlty Towers actor Andrew Sachs was acceptable entertainment – had a brilliant wheeze.
Plan A was that they wanted to reflect the ‘diversity’ of views about the EU by sending Vine round all 27 member countries. That was ruled out as impracticable, so it was on to Plan B. Instead they invited someone living in the UK from each of the 27 countries to come to the Radio 2 studio. Vine would then chat casually to them for an hour or so to provide deep insight into the key issues of the referendum debate.
Vine claimed – as this slow-motion car-smash unfolded – that they had no idea in advance about what any of them thought about the EU. But it soon became clear. And golly gosh, how they loved the EU – and hated the idea of Brexit. Jana Valencic, from Slovenia, set the tone as she was asked if she enjoyed living in the UK:
I enjoy very much the country, I’m, lately, I’m coming across some pretty nasty people just because I’m European.
JV: Oh, lawks, really?
YV: Yesterday they said ‘get back to my country’?
JV: Really, for real?
YV: And I was told, erm, in a department store in Norwich that people come to their store and don’t want to be served by Eastern Europeans, and this is what this Brexit has done to us.
Guest number 22 was Szofi Barota from Hungary. She said:
…and I was born and raised in the tiny country, controversial country of the EU, Hungary, and er . . .
JV: Why is it controversial?
SB: Well, you know, we have a bit of a controversial Prime Minister called . . .
JV: (interrupting) Oh, is that the right-wing thing, or the left-wing thing, I can’t remember.
SB: Absolutely right-wing.
There was no doubt whom she meant – that nasty, immigrant-resisting, racist Viktor Orban. By this time, the programme was getting into its stride and Vine started quizzing his guests. First up in the comment stage was Yana Valencic again. She declared:
Well, increasingly, I think this country (the UK) is spoiling Europe for everyone else, er, because it insists on opt out of many things like Workers Rights and a few others, and the one I’m particularly unhappy about is that it, it’s er . . . it erm vetoes any good European, anybody who could be a good European official, and insists on the lowest common denominator.
Angela from Bulgaria then said that the EU was very important because it facilitated ‘cultural exchange’ and engendered ‘a broader view of the world’. Monica from Romania agreed and added that it also meant that people could ‘travel easily’ and ‘had more information about Bulgaria, for example’.
Imke Henkel from Germany now chipped in. She said:
Erm, actually, can I say that I think, from a German perspective, Britain is not at all spoiling the party, although there is quite a bit of annoyance with, with the British always being difficult, but I think from a German perspective it’s actually very important for Britain to stay in, and that is precisely because of the balance of power. Because Germany has become, in a way, powerful within Europe, which is not good for Europe which is not good . . . The UK must save the EU from Germany.
Vine tried to get more people to agree, but Austrian, Susanne Chishti had a different point:
I mean, from our point of view it’s about collaboration, you know, because you need to collaborate on the innovation side, and London and the UK is a tech nation and I think we have got so many entrepreneurs, you know, who need to work together, and for the UK, within Fintech, you know, in the technology sector, we have got a talent pool coming from Europe, and we just don’t want it to stop, because it would be just negative.
And Andres, a Cypriot opined:
I believe Britain should stay, should stay as part of the European family, it should stay here, and if we spend all these millions and billions to go to war for the principles, they have to spend some pennies for the, for the Europeans.
Rob from Malta said:
Well, I think it doesn’t get any smaller than Malta, so I mean, for us, Czech Republic is quite a big country, so I obviously concur with what Sweden and the Czech Republic were saying immigration wise. However, it’s important to point out that immigration is a phenomenon which will exist regardless of what happens. Erm, and I think the positives of the EU outweigh the negatives.
With that cue, Vine began to fish for other negatives. Marta from Poland was worried that too many Polish doctors were working in other EU countries. Vine asked Dina from Portugal to respond. The problem was that pesky national sovereignty. She said:
Yeah, well I agree with, I agree with these guys, I mean it was good to, it is good to belong to . . . to EU, but I think, as Europe, er, we, we, we’re all getting a bit older and we need new ideas, new ways of being, of being a group and not being separate countries. I think er . . .
JV: You want to get even closer?
DINA: Yeah. We (fragments of words, unclear) I think we can . . .
JV: (speaking over) Why would you want, why would you want France to make your laws . . .
DINA: . . . forget about borders and forget about all these things that are just . . . you know, scrubbed or whatever in er . . .
JV: (interrupting) Hang on, hang on, are you saying . . .
UNKNOWN FEMALE: It’s not about France making laws for Portugal, it’s rather about all make laws together, and that is always forgotten (people say ‘yes’ in agreement) if, if they say that Brussels actually makes the laws, it’s all the 28 countries who come together and agree together which will be the laws.
Ever closer union. Vine noted at this point that this was now a ‘really interesting discussion.’ Michael from Ireland jumped in Did he agree? He said:
It is Jeremy, but I think, first of all, symptomatic of how great the European Union is, is this gathering here today. And we’re all likeminded people, not so long ago we didn’t even know some of the countries that are actually part of the European Union, that’s extremely important. But like every organisation it’s about compromise, (someone says ‘hm-hmm’ in assent) and it’s not always going to work perfectly, erm, but if you’re not in it, you can’t fix it.
In other words, avoid Brexit at all costs. Michael’s enthusiasm generated a strong round of applause and Thanasis from Greece decided to comment. Vine first observed that his country had been through ‘an absolute horror show’. Surely he would not back the EU? Wrong. Thanasis said:
Yeah, you name it we’re there (female giggles) the euro disaster that you mentioned, the refugee crisis and everything, and you add a thing, the democratic deficit and the lack of accountability. But the thing is that’s why . . . even we want to stay in the EU and we want Britain in, because with you, you know, with this instinctive scepticism towards the EU . . .
JV: Oh, you like Britain because we, we think it’s not working properly as well?
THANASIS: Well, someone needs to be there and change it.
JV: Why don’t you just leave, you guys, I mean, even the currency doesn’t work now?
THANASIS: Of course the currency doesn’t work, but . . . it would be great if (fragment of word, unclear) if everyone left the eurozone, but not just Greece, because we would be doomed, even, I mean, I think . . .
JV: So you’re, you’re kind of . . . what, regardless of whether the EU is a good thing or not, you feel Greece is trapped in it?
THANASIS: No, I think (fragment of word, unclear) the EU is a good thing, I mean, in principle, we just need to make it work better.
That promoted Yorick from the Netherlands to reinforce how wonderful the EU was and to point out that nasty, negative forces in his country were daring to conspire against further integration and expansion by disagreeing that the Ukraine should come on board. He said:
Okay, this is er . . . something, you might remember about a month ago, the Dutch had their own vote on one part of legislation within the EU, which is to come closer to Ukraine. Er, was that reported at all on the BBC? I don’t think it was, because the BBC is quite insular, with the rest of the British media . . .
JV: Well, our bulletins are only half an hour long, but yes.
YORICK: Absolutely. Erm, there was a referendum about one particular piece of legislation which was funded and fuelled by the far-right, in which er . . . in the end, the far-right won, so Holland is the only country which doesn’t agree with closer union to the Ukraine. And so, what we realised is that the people who are voting and profiting from a Brexit situation would be the far-right.
Bingo! Vine now had a full-on attack on the right and the idea that the BBC was being moderate and ‘insular’ by not reporting such extremism. Next came another attack on Brexit, this time from Luxembourg:
The main compromise cost for Luxembourg was giving up privacy and banking secrecy (some light laughter) and that was a pressure put on us by many of the other nations. On the other hand, Luxembourg may be one of the only countries benefiting from Brexit more than, more than other countries, because . . .
JV: Why’s that, why’s that?
JOHN PIERRE: Because possibly, the financial institutions, if they have to open branches in other places, they may choose Luxembourg to do that. (male says ‘hm-hmm’ in assent, some laughter).
Michael from Ireland now returned to the fray. He wanted to point out something else that Brexit would not solve. Supporters were living under an illusion:
Just a point that people need to be aware of, and Sweden have raised the refugee crisis, it’s important for the people to understand that Britain’s obligations under international law will not change if they leave the European Union.
Michelle from Belgium now wanted to contribute with another point about the wonders of the EU; why it was necessary. She observed:
So, I’m from Belgium, a small country that really benefited from, from the EU and that . . . a country that suffered so much during the, the, the last war, so I think people generally do not complain (fragments of words, or words unclear) about the whole project.
She thought that economies might be made in how many languages the EU used. Then came a bombshell. Inese from Latvia declared:
Yes, erm, being in the EU, it meant our fishermen got quotas, they’re not allowed to fish any more as much as they did before, a few of our factories were closed, we are not allowed to produce our own sugar, we have to buy it from Denmark for some reason, er, ignoring the fact that we were producing sugar for more than 100 years . . . Also many young people are coming to . . . EU to live, this is economic migration, and our country is losing people, losing children, we have to accept refugees . . .
At that point Vine suggested she was a Eurosceptic. Shock horror. Was she? Of course not:
anyway, no, I’m not Eurosceptic, but I’m pointing out minuses and you said, as you required . . .
The next component of the show was a phone in. Gary from Plymouth opined that the reason that the 27 supported the EU so strongly was because most contributors – unlike Britain – were net beneficiaries, that is, they got more out of their EU membership than they put in. Patricia from France observed:
Actually, Gary, I would agree on one thing, with you, is that France is benefiting most when it comes to farming, erm, because they do actually have a big chunk of the, of the farming budget. But, in terms of anything else, especially when the UK benefits from highly educated (phone ring tone) people coming into erm . . . into the UK . . .
Charlotte from Sweden claimed:
Even though if UK pays a lot of money to EU (sic) they actually get (fragment of word, unclear) 75% back from the EU, that’s the deal that Thatcher did, ’84 with the EU.
This, of course was blatantly untrue, Britain’s rebate reduces its contribution from (roughly, under a very complex formula) £18 billion to £13 billion (around 30%). But Vine did not challenge her. Instead, the ever-eager Michael from Ireland had another pro-EU point:
It’s also important to point out that, like Switzerland and Norway, for Britain to continue to trade with the EU, outside the EU, they will have to make massive contributions in any event.
JV: Yeah, but you gave up your currency, Michael?
MICHAEL KINGSTON: We did, but it’s about . . .
JV: (speaking over) Don’t you regret that?
MICHAEL KINGSTON: No I don’t, because it’s about compromise, and we’re in a much better position now in Europe with peace and everything else that we benefit than, than the situation we were in.
Susanne from Austria wanted to answer the point made by the listener who called in:
It’s Austria, yes, so we all live in London since many years, and I live since 20 years here, and what we can see as Londoners, you know, as UK, we all are UK residents now, that the UK benefits so much from being in the EU, and getting access to the talent, to the investors who invest here, and if the UK would leave, the talent wouldn’t come (words unclear due to speaking over)
She added that if the UK had not been in the EU, she would not have come at all, and she had stayed because the UK was in the EU. Thiana from Croatia said her country had only been in the EU for only three years so it was hard yet to say what the benefits were. But Vibne had different ideas. He suggested it had ‘helped stop fighting’ with its neighbours. Thiana agreed. Vine then asked Johanna from Finland whether she thought the UK would stay in.
I think UK should stay in, I (fragments of words, or words unclear due to speaking over)
JV: (interrupting) Will, will it stay in?
JOHANNA: I mean, all of us, most of us are living here, working here, paying our taxes here, you know, consuming our salaries on, on the UK soil, so we are actually boosting your national economy as well, so it’s also a benefit for the UK.
JV: Germany . . .
JOHANNA (shouting, but away from mic) Don’t leave!
Vine returned to Imke from Germany. She said:
I fear if Britain really were to leave that in 10 years’ time, 5 years’ time, everyone will turn round and say, ‘Whatever possessed us, what folly possessed us actually to leave this . . . very powerful community of countries where we . . . where we can actually have an impact.’ Just look at TTIP – people are very sceptical . . .
JV: (interrupting) The transatlantic trade deal, yeah . . .
IMKE HENKEL: With the United States. Europe and the United States are about on equal terms, if the UK would leave they would either have an independent deal with the United States, which would be (voice says ‘Yeah’) which would be much worse, because the United States is far . . . or they would have no deal at all, and then hardly any trade.
JV: Alright. Thank you, well listen, I think we’ve got to play some music now, but listen, thank you so much we’ve . . . to get 27 of you . . . has anyone not spoken? Can I just check, I’m looking round the room, it’s really important. Every single 27 – and I spoke a bit as well as number 28, so . . . I think . . . yes, hang on. Slovakia? Did you have one more thing?
ZUZANA SLOBODOVA: Yes.
JV: As the most senior person here.
ZUZANA SLOBODOVA: (laughs) Well, what I want to say is that . . . er . . . people who come here from European countries work for very little money and are very well qualified, so (sounds of assent from others) so . . . who benefits from the difference is the country where they work, which is Britain. (male voice says ‘great’, there is cheering and applause).
In summary, this programme by Jeremy Vine whipped up in the studio a pro-EU frenzy; in an hour only three or four mildly sceptical EU points were made.
As already noted, it was not explained how the guests had been selected but it very quickly became clear that every one of them were supporters of the EU to the point of fanaticism. Of course Vine might host a future edition of his daily show with a pro-Brexit bias. But it’s hard to see how this huge level of support for the EU could be balanced without filling the studio with a similar number of hand-picked supporters of ‘leave’ with a widely varied background.
Another major production issue was that Vine failed to challenge a blatantly wrong claim about the level of the UK’s EU contribution. It’s hard to think why a presenter of his experience and declared passion for statistics would not have known instantly that Britain’s rebate is not 75% of its contribution.
This show was massively biased, and the show’s producers – despite Vine’s claim to the contrary – must have known this was virtually a foregone conclusion of assembling 27 guests on this basis. Vine tried a few times to evoke eurosceptic responses, and made a few Eurosceptic points, and there was one phone-in call from someone who thought they could explain the in-built bias. But overall these negativities about the EU were only tiny fig leaves; Vine presided over a programme that at every turn was rammed full of reasons why Brexit was a bad idea. This is impossible to justify in a period when there is supposed to be balance in the referendum debate.
Main Photo: Tweet from Jeremy Vine’s account, posted on May 18 2016, with the text: “TWENTY-EIGHT guests in our EU discussion just now – the British one (circled) seemed curiously neutral on #Brexit”
The eagle-eyed people over at Heat Street website noticed at the weekend that the BBC overseas website was running very prominent ‘remain’ banner ads, targeted at the 2 million ex pats in Europe, from the Britain Stronger in Europe group. They contained the highly misleading Project Fear message from Chancellor George Osborne that exiting the EU would cost every British family £4,300 a year – a claim that BBC home editor Mark Easton was busy debunking on the Today programme as the ads ran. The BBC took the ads down as soon as they were challenged about them by Heat Street. A BBC spokesman said they had been run ’in error’. The statement in full was:
“This advert appeared outside the UK as the result of a third party error and was blocked as soon as we were alerted to it. We are investigating how this happened and we are taking steps to prevent this happening in the future.”
There was no further information, leaving unanswered how long the ads ran, how many page impressions they generated, and thus the extent of their overall impact. And it also remains a mystery how they ever saw the light of day. Surprise, surprise, the BBC slipped up in exactly the direction that its editorial output so strongly favours. Important here is the background. BBC services in overseas areas (primarily BBC World News) are allowed to take ads, and they raise substantial revenues, a total of £72m from around the world.
This being the BBC, however, the precise information on revenue is not available. Efforts in the past have been made to get at the exact figure through freedom of information requests, but the Corporation has resisted on grounds of ‘commercial sensitivity’. The only information in the public domain is that around £20m of revenues was generated by relevant European operations in 2011. The proportion of that from website advertising, as opposed to on television output, would almost certainly, of course, have been relatively small, but nevertheless significant.
The second important point, this being the BBC, is that advertising and sponsorship is regulated by a 28-page publication called Advertising and Sponsorship Guidelines for Commercial Services, last updated in 2015. One look at it makes it very clear that the appearance of the BSE ad was a jaw-dropping breach of the codes. Why? Well first of all, the main purpose is to ban very firmly numerous categories of commercials and to emphasise that any transgressions will be viewed very seriously. Paragraph 1.4 says (in bold red):
Any proposal to step outside these guidelines must be editorially justified. It must be discussed and agreed in advance with a senior editorial figure. BBC Director Editorial Policy and Standards must also be consulted.
It goes on (2.3):
Advertising must not jeopardise the good reputation of the BBC or the value of the BBC Brand. It should: a) be suitable for the target audience; b) meet consumer expectations of the BBC brand; c) not bring the BBC into disrepute d) not give rise to doubts about the editorial integrity and independence or impartiality of the BBC.
And 2.9 is this:
Advertisements in the following categories must be approved by a senior editorial figure before they can be accepted for broadcast or publication: a) political advertising (on services where this is allowed); b) advertising by governments and government agencies (except tourism boards and trade or investment boards); c) advertising by lobby groups; d) advertising for infant formula or baby milk; e) advertising for any product or service which shares a name or trademark with a prohibited product or service, sometimes referred to as ‘Surrogate advertising’.
And then there is 2.13 (also in red):
Any advertisements that deal with a controversial issue of public policy, or which raise doubts about the BBC’s editorial integrity, must be referred to a senior editorial figure.
Every page is filled with similarly strong warnings and prescription. What this boils down to is that whatever happened over the BSE advert, it was a major breach of the advertising code and a clear failure of management procedures at a particularly sensitive period when the EU referendum was underway. Almost certainly, there was also a breach of the BBC’s (separate) specially-devised EU referendum coverage guidelines.
The BBC blamed a ‘third party error’ for the breach. But how on earth was supervision allowed to be so lax during the referendum campaign? This was a gaff on a gargantuan scale. To blame a third party when the codes make it clear that decisions in this arena are of central importance to the reputation of the BBC is a total disgrace. But, then, at the very top (the BBC Executive Board) has got extensive form in blaming the wrong parties for its own mistakes.
Finally, an issue here is that it is impossible to gauge the likely impact of this breach on the referendum. How many ex pats and British holidaymakers did it actually reach? All the signs are that the poll remains on a knife-edge and overseas votes could well be crucial in determining the outcome. Tellingly, the ‘error’ was in favour of the pro-EU side, in line with much of the BBC’s other referendum output.
image: Peter Thompson, Heat Street
This month marks the 17th anniversary of tracking by News-watch of the BBC’s EU-related output. The first survey was commissioned by a cross-party group of peers who were concerned that the case against the EU was not being aired by the BBC. It covered the build-up to the European Parliamentary elections on June 10, 1999.
The findings can still be read here. Key points relating to BBC bias are eerily familiar. They included bias by omission: election-related items on BBC television added to only 2.5% of airtime. Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight described the voters’ reaction to the poll as an ‘outbreak of narcolepsy’. In the event, only 24% of the electorate voted, which still stands as the UK record lowest turnout in a national election.
Other points in the report were the virtual ignoring of the infant Ukip, despite the fact it came fourth, attracted 700,000 (7%) of the votes cast and won three seats; a totally-predictable crude comparison of Ukip to the BNP in the sole interview featuring the party; a heavy and disproportionate focus on the breakaway Pro-Euro Conservative Party, which despite all the publicity, polled only 140,000 (1.4%) of the total turnout; a constant search for ‘Tory-splits’, even though – Michael Heseltine apart – the evidence seemed to be that William Hague’s party was remarkably united on EU policy; and virtually no exploration of either the overall Labour approach or potential splits within the party over the euro.
All of which brings Brexit the Movie – which, from today will have a permanent, prominent place on this site – neatly into focus. For those of you who have not yet heard of it, this 71-minute feature by Martin Durkin – which was partially crowd-funded – is a must-see. It’s a total revelation because it is a first: it straightforwardly and vigorously presents the ‘out’ case.
In Durkin’s estimation, negatives about the EU include that there are a staggering 10,000 European Union employees paid more than David Cameron; that Switzerland – despite being outside the EU – is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, with earnings double the average in the UK, and unemployment far lower; that the EU ‘Parliament’ is the only body with that name in the world which has zero powers to propose legislation; that although the EU claims to be a promoter of trade via the ‘single market’ , the reality is that for most of its history it has been a repressive force against the free movement of goods; and that far from promoting harmony, the fundamentally undemocratic structures of the EU are promoting unprecedented frustration and triggering the rise of extremist parties of both left and right.
This is a perspective and a range of information that News-watch monitoring shows beyond doubt that the BBC has never presented in a coherent form. Of course the BBC, it will probably argue, is not in the business of producing such material. But why not? Last year, the Corporation commissioned and broadcast with great fanfare The Great European Disaster Movie, which showed at length the chaos and panic the makers claimed would ensue, if, God forbid, the UK exited the EU.
That film was made by former Economist editor Bill Emmott, a self-declared EU-fanatic, who has a set up his own ‘charity’ (with Richard Sambrook, a former Director of BBC News) to promote such propaganda. The BBC was so keen on his film project that it applied for (and obtained) EU funding so that it could be translated into as many languages as possible; the fruit of their efforts is that screenings are due in Geneva, Bologna, Cardiff University and Bucharest over the next month.
Continuing monitoring by News-watch during the referendum campaign shows that the BBC is at last – for the first time – airing some detailed elements of the Brexit case. But at best this effort can only be described as begrudging and half-hearted. Craig Byers, for example , of the Is the BBC Biased? site has shown this weekend that since April 14, the BBC1 News at Six’s coverage of EU-referendum related headlines have led with ‘remain’ headlines 14 times, compared to the ‘out’ side three times.
In the same vein, News-watch analysis of the May 11 and 12 News at 10 coverage of the Mark Carney, Sir John Major and Christine Lagarde interventions into the referendum debate was heavily skewed towards the ‘remain’ case. And other long-term investigations have shown that Newsnight, World Tonight and The World This Weekend coverage of referendum matters is strongly similarly imbalanced.
What is certain is that – although it is impossible to frame a definitive verdict at this stage about BBC coverage – the facts assembled by Durkin have never been presented in such a way by the Corporation. Don’t hold your breath that they will. Watch Brexit the Movie instead.
Thursday was ‘the big day’ at the BBC, and yesterday morning’s Today was all over Mr Whittingdale’s Charter Review report.
Did the BBC treat the story impartially?
Well, on Today there was Lib Dem peer Lord Lester QC sticking up for the BBC. And Labour’s Tessa Jowell sticking up for the BBC. And former BBC, Sky and ITV employee Professor Lis Howell half-criticising and half-sticking up for the BBC. And BBC presenter Nick Robinson not exactly firing, in ‘devil’s advocate’-style, on all impartial cylinders either.
They did have the SNP’s John Nicholson, for ‘balance’ though, demanding a Scottish News at Six – and getting a rough ride from Mishal Husain in the process. ‘Who wants that?’ was Mishal’s basic point. (A fair point, probably).
And then came The World at One on BBC Radio 4. And that was even worse.
After a short review of events in Parliament came a discussion between the BBC’s Martha Kearney and Steve Hewlett of the Guardian/BBC Radio 4’s Media Show, which suggested the Charter review wasn’t as bad as the BBC and its supporters feared, but that there are still issues of concern for them.
Then came a much shorter interview with Peter Bone MP, a BBC critic. It was the ‘balancing item’ -even though it lasted barely more more than a minute (the shortest interview by far).
Astonishingly, Martha forcefully stopped him in his tracks as as soon as he raised what he described as his “main concern”: BBC pro-EU bias. Martha clearly wasn’t going there for anything in the world. Realising that, Mr Bone just laughed.
Then came Jesse Norman MP saying that the government’s plan is great and the BBC is great.
Then came Labour-supporting former BBC Trust boss Sir Michael Lyons (not that Martha even hinted at such a thing) attacking the Government for going too far but saying that there is a problem with BBC bias: bias against Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn. A somewhat-startled-sounding Martha Kearney not only didn’t cut him off when he raised it (in contrast to how she treated Peter Bone when he tried to air his concerns about pro-EU BBC bias) but actually went on to press his pro-Labour ‘BBC bias’ point with Lord Hall.
And Lord Hall was the big WATO interview.
He didn’t agree with Sir Michael about the BBC’s anti-Corbyn bias (you won’t be surprised to hear), saying that the BBC is impartial (you also won’t be surprised to hear) and that the BBC brings “light to controversy”.
Lord Hall sounded pleased with what the Government has announced. The BBC’s Martha (gently) pressed him largely from a pro-BBC, Wolf Hall director Peter Kosminsky-type standpoint rather than an anti-BBC Andrew Bridgen MP-type standpoint.
And that was that: Lots of pro-BBC types having their say, plus (very briefly) Peter Bone.
Meanwhile over on BBC One’s News at One bulletin we got more of the same, plus three items on the EU referendum: Mark Carney of the Bank of England’s dire warnings of the economic dangers of voting to leave the EU came first. A little later came the Vote Leave/ITV spat over whether Nigel Farage should be involved in a TV debate with David Cameron. And finally, immediately before the sports news (i.e. as the last ‘serious’ news item), came the news that the ONS has finally conceded that immigration from the EU has been massively under-represented in the government’s official figures (not that the short BBC news item put it like that) – a point that many people have been saying might well give a huge boost to the Leave campaign.
So why did BBC One choose to ‘bury’ that story as a very short new item near the end of its lunch time news bulletin?
Wasn’t that Peter Bone’s point being proved?
And then came BBC’s News at Six.
BBC One’s News at Six began with another pro-Leave point: Bank of England governor Mark Carney’s dire warnings about a vote to leave the EU:
A warning from the Bank of England: Leaving the EU could trigger a recession.
The bulletin’s reporting was ‘impartial’ in the BBC sense, in that:
- (a) the bulletin kept using words like “stark” and “strong” to describe the governor’s comments.
- (b) the BBC’s economics editor Kamal Ahmed, after laying out Mr Carney’s anti-Brexit case in detail, said that “many economists agree with the Bank’s gloomy prognosis” and then featured one such economist doing just that…
- ‘…balanced’ by (c) a clip of Norman Lamont saying, very briefly, that Mr Carney is wrong…
- and then (d) BBC political reporter Alex Forsyth setting the context by saying that Mr Carney’s intervention is “undoubtedly a boost” to the Remain campaign as Mr Carney is “a senior, credible figure once again warning in no uncertain terms of the economic risks of leaving.
ITV’s early evening news bulletin also led with that pro-Leave point and, like Kamal Ahmed, ITV’s deputy political editor Chris Ship also laid out the governor’s concerns in some detail.
Unlike the BBC, however, Chris Ship also said “the truth is” that the economic forecasts aren’t great at the moment whichever way we vote, and his ‘talking heads’ included two people who disagreed with Mr. Carney: John Redwood and Wetherspoons boss Tim Martin – both making substantive points against the BoE governor.
ITV struck me as taking its ‘impartiality’ responsibilities far more seriously than the BBC there. The BBC felt outrageously one-sided in comparison.
And after giving us its Mark Carney coverage ITV then moved straight onto the EU immigration question – for many Brexiteers the big story of the day – and those ONS figures with Chris Ship giving us James Brokenshire on one side and Liam Fox on the other, plus talk of economists claiming immigration is good for us on one side and Leave supporters saying we can’t control our border on the side, plus mention of the “true scale” of immigration and the figures taking us into “unprecedented” territory.
The BBC, in contrast, didn’t move straight onto the EU immigration story. It moved on to other stories instead. And we had to wait until nearly the end of the bulletin again for the EU immigration story to appear. And, again, it was given short shrift.
The BBC newsreader, George Aligiah, introduced it as being a case of Leave campaigners “saying” and the ONS “clarifying”. It’s “quite complicated”, said George. Yes, it’s “not very easy”, said the BBC’s Tom Symonds. Tom said that “Eurosceptics say” it’s an underestimate but “the nation’s number-crunchers” have “tried to explain it today” as being just a matter of short-term migrants. He elaborated somewhat on the the ONS’s explanation, explaining their case in a tone of patient reasonableness. Then he said: Eurosceptics say this, the government says that.
‘BBC impartiality’ duly fulfilled. Story duly downplayed. For those who think that the government shamelessly ‘managed’ this story today (the ONS figures being released on the day the BBC was fixating on itself), this might suggest the government was ‘aided and abetted’ by the BBC here.
Is ITV biased? Is the BBC biased?
On the strength of this I’m definitely going with the latter.
Maybe the Charter review should have focused more on that.
- Project Cheer booklet: Reasons to be upbeat about Brexit 26th March 2017 Darren Grimes
- The BBC needs to break out of its institutional culture of Brexit negativity 26th March 2017 John Longworth
- Brexit Department: Where did they come from? 26th March 2017 David Scullion
- It’s time for Northern Ireland to grasp the opportunities Brexit brings 25th March 2017 Brian Monteith
- The EU needs a rethink on its 60th birthday 25th March 2017 Matthew Ellery
- The Government must commit to taking back control of Britain’s fisheries 24th March 2017 Alan Hastings
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