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Referendum Blog: June 6

Referendum Blog: June 6

‘ABOMINABLE BIAS’: Andrew Marr interviewed John Major and Boris Johnson on his show yesterday (5 June). The BBC has characterised in other commentary the battle now as a ‘blue on blue’ fight, and with only two Sunday shows to go before the referendum, these were ‘big beast’ interviews where there would be expected to be scrupulously balance. There emphatically was not.

One set of indicators were that Sir John Major was interrupted 1.4 times per minute, compared to Boris Johnson 3.4 times. Overall John Major was interrupted 22 times, and Boris Johnson was interrupted 60 times. The Major interview was slightly shorter, at 15 min 55 seconds compared to 17 min 34 seconds, but the difference in words – approx. 3,000 in the Major sequence, 3,600 with Boris –  was the result of different rates of delivery, for example John Major speaking more slowly and more emphatically. The Major interview was also not as confrontational, which also meant the word count was lower.

Of course words alone and rates of interruption are not measures of bias. But in this case they were important pointers because – as will be shown in the analysis below – Marr’s approach to Major was mainly to ask him his views and then to let him speak, with only a few challenging or adversarial questions. With Johnson, the approach was mainly confrontational, including allegations that the campaign in which he (Johnson) was a lead figure, was telling on occasions a ‘flat lie’ to voters.

Marr’s approach to Major – as already noted – was mainly to let him outline his case that Vote Leave was advancing ‘squalid’ arguments in their cause.  His first questions, in effect, gave Major a platform to confirm his views that Leave was guilty of deceit. The only points put to him that were slightly adversarial were that Leave was reflecting genuine concerns about immigration, that concern about Turkey joining the EU was genuine, too, because the effects of the referendum vote would apply for 30 or 50 years in the future, and that the direction of travel of the EU was towards a super-state.  Nothing was taxing, Marr gave Major plenty of space to put his answers (the longest response was 372 words), and he had a platform to attack attacked the Leave side with finger-pointing, anger-filled vitriol.  Marr did little to get in the way of this onslaught.

The approach of Marr to Johnson, as has already been partly established by the much higher rate of interruptions, was very different: much more adversarial and challenging.  The longest answer or explanation given by Johnson was around 220 words, and most responses were shorter than 100 words. He had less time for detailed explanation.

Further, Marr used several of the points put by Major as means of attack. He had been provided with ammo which Marr used without compunction. His questioning was focused onthe credibility of the Leave campaign in line with what Sir John Major had alleged. He put it to him that Leave’s claim that EU membership cost £350m a week was ‘squalid’ (adding that the money that came back helped farmers and universities); suggested that the economic performance of the single market was getting better, and even though VL wanted to leave it Johnson had accepted it could cause business uncertainty; that Johnson was saying that David Cameron was untrustworthy, thus personalising the campaign that the VL claim that Turkey would join the EU imminently was wrong; that Johnson had been wrong to mention Hitler in connection with the EU because the EU had been created to ensure European peace; that he had changed his mind about wanting Turkey to join the EU; that his campaign’s  claims about Turkey  were a flat lie and ‘hogwash’; that in the Turkey and the £350m claims, he and the leave side were engaging in ‘untruth politics’, that because of what was happening the Conservative party was falling apart;  and that Major had said that he was pursuing ‘out’ only for personal ambition, he was  following ‘the best route to Downing Street’.

In addition to this, in the interview of Johnson was a central hugely controversial point made by Andrew Marr that undermined both his credibility and suggested that in his views of the EU, he is not impartial. He put it categorically to Johnson that the he had been wrong to raise Hitler in connection with the EU because it had created to ensure peace, whereas Hitler had been bent on pitching nation states against each other. He stated:

‘In terms of the big picture, isn’t it pretty abominable to compare what the EU as it is today with Hitler and don’t you regret that? Hitler believed in strong nation states fighting each other which has been a long European tradition going right back to Gustavus Adophus and all the rest of it. It’s what the Europeans did and we were drawn in again and again and again. And the EU was set up to stop that happening and we have both lived through a period of peace which the EU has to be given some credit for’.

The reality is that the EU was not set up to establish peace.  Peace after the Second World War and into the Cold War was created in ‘Europe’ long before the EU was established by NATO. The EU itself did not exist in its present form until 1992, and before that, its successor body, the EEC had no major role in foreign policy, it was primarily a customs union.  The EU’s alleged role as the creator of peace on the European continent is therefore a myth perpetuated primarily by the EU itself and parroted by Europhiles as a reason for not limiting its powers. The real ideological reason that the EU was set up was that Jean Monnet, the prime mover in steps towards what became the EU from the 1920s onwards, wanted to hobble the sovereignty of Europe by creating a technocratic ruling body that would take their place. His vision of a EU driving force loyal to only the EU itself is now embodied in the European Commission.

For many reasons, therefore, this was seriously unbalanced journalism. Marr gave Johnson a far tougher time, and isolated out that the Leave side was conducting a campaign that included a central ‘flat lie’, ‘abominable’ references to Hitler, and general political untruths.  No similar claims were put to Sir John Major about controversy (for example) linked to ‘remain’ predictions about the dire economic and social consequences that would follow exit.  Marr himself showed his own political bias in the erroneous claims about the origin of the EU, and also ignorance. He compounded that by making this the basis for his claim that Johnson’s conduct had been ‘abominable’.

BBC Transcript of Interview with Sir John Major

BBC Transcript of Interview with Boris Johnson

 

 

Referendum Blog: June 5

Referendum Blog: June 5

FEEDBACK BIAS: Radio 4’s Feedback, presented by Roger Bolton, ostensibly examined on Friday listeners’ concerns that BBC coverage was favouring the remain side in the EU referendum debate. Michael Yardley from Colchester said:

….I’m concerned about the way the referendum’s being reported by the BBC. It’s my impression that Remain gets better placement in BBC headlines. I also think there’s been a failure to emphasise that many fear-inducing statistical projections made by the Remain lobby are just estimates, guesswork.

Now Roger Bolton – who was editor of Panorama when members of his staff controversially kow-towed to the IRA at Carrickmore – has got form in terms of bias in the presentation of Feedback. In the week when the EU referendum was confirmed back in February, he noted that there had already been listeners’ complaints and observed:

We begin with the much-anticipated announcement of a referendum on whether the UK should remain part of the European Union. And some listeners are already lining up to shoot the messenger.

Before he had even explained what the complaints were, or given any of the complainants a chance to be heard, he was thus dismissing the idea of BBC bias – complainants were simply shooting the messenger.

Four months on, with the referendum now fast approaching, has he and his programme improved at all?

The first point to note is that Yardley’s main point, that ‘remain guests ‘get better placement in BBC headlines’, was not dealt with at all. BBC assistant political editor Norman Smith – who was asked by Bolton to respond to the various points raised by listeners and viewers, did not refer to it, and neither did Bolton.

In the absence of such a response, relevant here is a tally Craig Byers has been keeping on his Is the BBC Biased? website. He noted on 30/5 that in editions of BBC1’s News at Six programme containing headlines about the EU referendum, 21 had led with points from the remain side, whereas only seven were the other way round.  That’s a ratio of 3:1.

The question that Smith did try to answer from Yardley was whether there was a ‘failure to emphasise that many fear-inducing statistical projections made by the Remain lobby are just estimates, guesswork.’ Bolton re-framed this and put it to Smith:

But I wonder if you’re also erm . . . finding it a little difficult to, er, how can I say? Take sides in the way perhaps BBC listeners would like you to take sides on matters of fact. Where one side makes a statement and another one, just, ‘Well that’s not true, it’s all rubbish’, whatever, but are you reluctant to go any further than simply say, ‘One side says this, the other side says the other.’

Smith’s response was extraordinary. He said first that the BBC so much leaned towards the need for impartiality, that they sometimes did not make judgment calls ‘that should be made’.  He cited the example of the Leave side claiming that Turkey would join the EU, and asserted that this was ‘factually wrong’ but said that there had been a lot of debate inside the BBC about this, and that this was diluted within the journalistic commentary to ‘Remain has said this is wrong’.

He stated:

in other words, we attributed the assessment to the Remain side, when we could, of our own, say ‘No, that is factually wrong.’ But, because as an organisation, more than any other organisation, there is a massive pressure and premium on fairness, on balance, on impartiality, I suspect we, we hold back from making those sort of calls, and I do think that, potentially, is a disservice to the listener and viewer.

Bolton then asked him about the BBC stating what the ‘facts’ were in the debate. Smith said there was so much controversy and complexity involved in what were ‘facts’ that it was ‘very difficult to present viewers and listeners with a whole string of unequivocal, clear as daylight facts about the EU.’

The implication being clearly that this was something that was not happening because of the difficulties involved.  Bolton did not press him further on the point and listener Yardley’s point was thus left dangling, there, only partly answered. What Smith did say was entirely in the BBC’s favour – in effect, they were so motivated by journalistic integrity they erred on the side of caution.

Is this true? Well, over recent days, BBC reporters have frequently noted that the economic part of the referendum debate is not the Leave side’s strongest suite, and when leave figures have tried to argue economic points, those same correspondents have stressed how many economists disagree.

In the same vein, the Vote Leave claim that EU membership costs the UK £350m a week has been subject to extremely close scrutiny on all BBC outlets, to the extent when on Today an 18-year-old ‘exit’ supporter mentioned the figure in passing, veteran BBC correspondent James Naughtie snapped at him in headmasterly tones and told him that he was definitely wrong (because the Commons’ Treasury Select Committee said so).

Various BBC programmes, such as Breakfast, have also wheeled out graphics to show how wrong the figure is.

Overall, Feedback was strongly biased against the complaint from Yardley, as it was against the Brexit side.  It was dismissed without considering the key points he made, and with undue focus on erroneous claims made by the Brexit side. Such cavalier dismissal of complaints is  endemic within the BBC.

Full Transcript:

BBC Radio 4, ‘Feedback, 3rd June 2016, Norman Smith and EU Referendum Coverage, 4.30pm

ANNOUNCER:    Now it’s time for Feedback with to Roger Bolton who talks to Norman Smith about listeners views of the BBC’s EU referendum reporting. He reveals which programmes listeners would like to hear much more of and asks is Radio 4 too posh?

ROGER BOLTON:             Hello. Three weeks to go to the biggest political decision for decades and the air is full of personal abuse, internecine strife and questionable statistics. Have you made your mind up yet and is the BBC’s European referendum reporting helping you decide where to place your cross? And who controls the agenda?

NORMAN SMITH:            We are there to report what the main combatants in this referendum say, do, argue and if they keep going on about the economy and immigration then I’m afraid the gravitational pull for us to do so, I think is pretty immense.

RB:        In feedback this week, the BBC’s assistant political editor Norman Smith admits that the BBC could be bolder in its coverage and that sometimes a desire to be impartial gets in the way. The immigration question has dominated the last few days of the euro debate and Pakistani immigrant families were at the heart of the latest instalment of the Radio 4 series Born in Bradford the presenter is Winifred Robinson.

Extract from ‘Born in Bradford’ and a comment on ‘From Our Home Correspondent’.

RB:        But first, to Westminster. I’m standing outside the Houses of Parliament where party politics are the order of the day and which is usually the centre of political coverage. Not for the next three weeks. The European referendum debate that split the parties, split the countries of the UK, and the vote that matters will not take place in parliament but all over the country on June 23rd. How well has the BBC has been covering this crucial debate which will decide our future for years, probably decades ahead? Here are some of your views.

MICHAEL YARDLEY:        It’s Michael Yardley and I live near Colchester in Essex. I’m concerned about the way the referendum’s being reported by the BBC. It’s my impression that Remain gets better placement in BBC headlines. I also think there’s been a failure to emphasise that many fear-inducing statistical projections made by the Remain lobby are just estimates, guesswork.

LEON DEVINE (phonetic) Hi, this is Leon Devine from Worksop in North Nottinghamshire. The whole debate seems to more about the leadership issue in the Tory party rather than the issues behind the referendum. I think the coverage from the BBC has been more geared to generating controversy rather than illuminating some of the issues.

RB:        One of the corporation’s key journalists covering the campaign is its assistant political editor Norman Smith and I’m going to the BBC newsroom in the Milbank building behind me, to put to him some of your concerns about the coverage. Norman Smith how long have you been covering this campaign, does it seem most of your life?

NORMAN SMITH:            It has been, I suppose, the longest running story in British politics because it is the fundamental story of who are we? Are we’re part of Europe or are we something slightly different? It’s about identity, it’s about those fundamental questions of democracy and sovereignty so it is one of the defining political stories which has shaped our whole political narrative, certainly since I’ve been working as a political journalist.

RB:        And yet, there has been criticism of the coverage of this campaign, some from our listeners, some from other figures, for example John Snow said that it erm . . .  was an abusive and boring EU referendum campaign, he cannot remember a worse tempered one. Do you agree with him?

NS:        I don’t actually, no.  I know what he’s driving at, and that the level of invective, acrimony, even personal abuse, has been pretty ferocious, but I think also we have tapped into some of the big issues and big arguments. I mean, most obviously immigration is right up there in the headlights and we have delved into the arguments about levels of immigration, are they sustainable, what can we do about it and I think it’s also reflected in arguments about the economy. So I don’t accept that it has just been a sort of ‘he said, she said’ row, I think actually there has been quite a lot of grit to this debate.

RB:        It has of course been a fight for the agenda, each side trying to choose the territory they feel is most favourable to them.  You’ve got a dilemma, haven’t you?  On the one hand, you’ve got to report the debates that . . . is happening, on the other hand, you have a wider responsibility to cover the issues that you may, and the BBC may believe are really important and should be taken into consideration?

NS:        Hmm.

RB:        How do you deal with that?

NS:        I think there are limits to how far you can book the news agenda and say, ‘enough immigration’, ‘enough economy’, we think we really ought to be talking about the impact on agriculture or universities.  We are there to report what the main combatants in this referendum say, do, argue.  I don’t think it’s up to us to, as it were, go AWOL and say, ‘Well, fine, but we’re actually going to talk about this, because we think that’s what voters are interested in.’ I think we are to some extent bound to reflect their arguments, and if they keep going on about the economy and immigration then I’m afraid the gravitational pull for us to do so, I think is pretty immense.

RB:        You see, again, criticism from some of our listeners, but also, I think, contained into academic reports suggest a degree of bias and concerns about who is appearing.  Leon Devine says, for example, who tweeted us to say, why Tory politicians dominating the airwaves, while others, especially from smaller parties are ignored.

NS:        I guess because the Tory story plays to a bigger narrative about who governs the country after the referendum. So there is, editorially, a pull because of all the question marks about Cameron . . . leadership.

RB:        But I wonder if you’re also erm . . . finding it a little difficult to, er, how can I say? Take sides in the way perhaps BBC listeners would like you to take sides on matters of fact. Where one side makes a statement and another one, just, ‘Well that’s not true, it’s all rubbish’, whatever, but are you reluctant to go any further than simply say, ‘One side says this, the other side says the other.’

NS:        Well, I, I think that is a valid criticism. There is an instinctive bias in the BBC towards impartiality, to the exclusion, sometimes maybe of making judgement calls that we can and should make.  We are very, very . . . cautious about saying something is factually wrong. As I think as an organisation we could be more muscular about it.  I’ll give you an example, which is one that cropped up, and there was a lot of debate within the BBC about it, was when the Brexit campaign suggested that Turkey was poised to join the EU, and that there was nothing we could do about it. Now that is factually wrong, but when we initially covered the story, I think we said along the lines of ‘Remain had said that is wrong’ – in other words, we attributed the assessment to the Remain side, when we could, of our own, say ‘No, that is factually wrong.’ But, because as an organisation, more than any other organisation, there is a massive pressure and premium on fairness, on balance, on impartiality, I suspect we, we hold back from making those sort of calls, and I do think that, potentially, is a disservice to the listener and viewer.

RB:        But perhaps there is a larger problem that you face – which is . . . we in the country in a very long campaign, a lot of us haven’t made up our minds, in a way want you to tell us how to vote, want you to give us facts.  And there are some facts, but in most instances, this is a matter of judgement, er, about the future, but about a value system about what we hold most dear . . .

NS:        Hmm.

RB:        . . . and you can’t tell us, the answer . . .

NS:        (speaking over) No, I mean . . .

RB:        . . . to those things, can you?

NS:        I’ve done things for erm . . . telly and radio, along the lines of ‘EU Fact or Fiction’ and they are complete nightmares to do, because every fact is a matter of argument, there are, there are no sort of biblical tablets of stone which empirically prove one thing or the other, they are used as ammunition in both camps. And it is very difficult to present viewers and listeners with a whole string of unequivocal, clear as daylight facts about the EU.  And I suspect that is the subject of huge frustration for listeners, as indeed it is, indeed, the journalists.

RB:        Tell me, the answer to this honestly – are you enjoying this debate?

NS:        It’s incredibly physically wearing, because it is honestly exactly like a general election, except it’s a general election which seems to have gone on even longer. But it is enjoyable, because it’s one of those moments in your journalistic life when you are on the cusp of history, because of the decisions we make are momentous, and they will affect not just me but my children and grandchildren, so you genuinely feel you are sort of there is history is being made, and that’s a huge privilege.

RB:        My thanks to Norman Smith, the BBC’s assistant political editor.  The referendum will continue to be a subject that listeners have strong views on, of course, in the meantime I’d be delighted to hear your thoughts on referendum coverage or anything you’ve heard on BBC radio lately, good or bad.

Photo by James Cridland

Referendum Blog: June 2

Referendum Blog: June 2

NAUGHTIE BIAS: On Tuesday, James Naughtie, now a roving BBC correspondent emeritus, assembled three Today features about the Scottish reaction to the EU referendum. They were seriously imbalanced towards the ‘remain’ side.

In the opening sequence, at 6.42am, Naughtie explored the views of a young ‘remain’ supporter and an ‘exit’ counterpart. Eloise Reinhardt, the remain speaker, was asked to contribute first and Naughtie let her make her point uninterrupted. Ewan Blockley, who was in favour of ‘out’, contributed next. After speaking less than 30 words, he was interrupted by Naughtie, who told him that his £350m figure for the cost of EU membership was bogus. Naughtie intervened again to stress that it was the Treasury Select Committee that said so.

Before Blockley could explain more, Naughtie cut him off and returned to Reinhardt. At this point, he shifted the agenda.  He suggested to her that if the national vote was leave on June 23, the majority of Scots would want a second referendum on Scottish independence, then that this could lead to Scotland joining the euro. This gave Reinhardt a platform to say she was   a strong believer in Europe because it supported smaller countries.

The agenda had thus been narrowed by Naughtie to consideration of the possibility of a second referendum. On that basis, he asked Blockley  how Scottish independence fed into the ‘Europe’ debate. Blockley replied that there had already been a vote on independence and it stood.

Naughtie then put it to Blockley that the Conservative party in Scotland under Ruth Davidson was more in favour of ‘remain’ than the party as a whole. His observation and question formed the longest contribution so far. It was thus posed a s a major point.

Blockley’s response was that he did not agree and that opinion about ‘leave’ among MSPs was being hushed up.

Naughtie chose not to explore that and turned again to Reinhardt. He reminded listeners that under 16s had voted in the independence referendum. This led Reinhardt to observe:

I think, especially among my generation, I think that erm . . . it was really important, it’s really important to stay within the EU. A lot of people are concerned with jobs, especially at my age we’re all leaving school are looking for jobs, and there was a statistic the other day, something like one in ten jobs are directly linked to our membership of the EU.

Naughtie asked her whether she believed this scare stuff – such as the bogus figure of £350m mentioned by Blockley – because her side had argued at the last referendum that George Osborne had led Project Fear north of the border. He noted that the ‘leave’ side was now claiming that ‘remain’ was a new Project Fear, Did she now believe what was being said?

Her response was that there had been ‘many mixed messages’ that were difficult to decipher. Naughtie – before she answered fully, thus letting her off the hook – asked Blockley why he did not believe the Chancellor, because he was a Conservative. Blockley confirmed he didn’t believe him. Naughtie stressed this was a contradiction, and Reinhardt joined in at this point by laughing.  Blockley said there were definitely differing views (within the Conservative party) but now Osborne was getting his statistics from the CBI and institutions funded by Brussels.

Naughtie again switched emphasis and asked both interviewees if their arguments were based on faith or facts. Both said it was both.  Naughtie finally asked Reinhardt if remain was going to win. She said it would definitely do so. He asked Blockley if his side could ‘pull back’. He replied they could.

Overall, Naughtie’s editing and presentation of this feature led to a strongly favourable projection of the remain case in Scotland.  Blockley was specifically challenged over his figures  pushed continually on the back foot and asked to explain what Naughtie perceived were contradictions in his stance. Naughtie emphasised that the Tories were split on this issue, but less split in Scotland, and favoured ‘remain’. Blockley’s responses to the barrage of pressure were of necessity fragmented and incomplete; he was given no opportunity to offer an uninterrupted expression of the ‘leave’ case from the Scottish perspective. The points that he was able to make were only that   that he believed in sovereignty, democratic will and economic prudence…the figure going from the UK to Brussels was too much; that the ‘leave’ component in the Scottish Conservative party was being hushed up, and that he believed that George Osborne’s Project Fear figures were being fed by the CBI and other Brussels’ sources.

Reinhardt by contrast had three uninterrupted opportunities to put her ‘leave’ case. She said in the three contributions:

I just feel the that if we were to come out of the EU that we would lose our seat at the table, especially within trade, we’re still going to need to pay into Europe, into the trade agreement, and I think that we would lose our seat at the table and that would just be . . . it’s too much of a risk right now…. I think, especially among my generation… I’m, I’m a strong believer in . . . in Europe, I think it’s . . . it is, it’s an institution that’s been there for many years, and it’s supported a lot of smaller countries. I think that erm . . . it was really important, it’s really important to stay within the EU. A lot of people are concerned with jobs, especially at my age we’re all leaving school are looking for jobs, and there was a statistic the other day, something like one in ten jobs are directly linked to our membership of the EU.

Naughtie suggested only one adversarial point to Reinhardt, that the ‘remain’ approach to Project Fear was contradictory, but did not push her to answer, and, in effect, let the matter go.

Naughtie also appeared to have an editorial agenda, which was to push the view that a ‘leave’ vote would lead to a second independence referendum. He steered the discussion in that direction almost from the beginning, and before Blockley had been able to explain fully the ‘exit’ case.  He stressed that the h Conservatives were split about the EU, but less so in Scotland, and focused strongly on a perceived contradiction in George Osborne’s stance to the Scottish and EU referendums. His line of questioning here allowed Reinhardt to join in his discomfiture by laughing at him.

This was projected as an equal exploration of the Scottish ’remain’ and ‘leave’ cases. It was anything but. The ‘leave’ side, because of Naughtie’s approach, was projected more favourably. Through his lens, it was what Scotland wanted.  In sharp contrast, Naughtie put across that the ‘leave’ argument was based on financial inaccuracy, and was being pursued inside a split Conservative party on contradictory statements by George Osborne.

 

SEQUENCE TWO: THE CLYDE

In the second sequence, based primarily in one of the few Clyde shipyards said to be still operational, Naughtie explored differences of opinion between two of the workers there, one of whom supported Brexit, the other ‘remain’.  It turned out, however, that although the exit supporter wanted to leave the EU economic grounds, in other respects he thought it was wonderful.

Before talking in detail to the shipyard  workers,  he included comments from two business analysts in reaction to the point that ship-building as an industry was suffering because it had no national strategy that would engender successful reactions to competition from abroad.  John Whyman, from the Lancashire Institute of economic research, argued that the EU did not allow one section of the single market to be treated more favourably than another, so it was not possible to help firms. He claimed leaving the EU would allow a more active industrial policy.

Naughtie said that Professor David Bailey, from Aston Business School thought this was wrong.  He declared:

There are good reasons for having rules on state aid, so that we get fair competition across the single market. But, this argument that that prevents us from having an effective industrial policy is complete hogwash. I mean, look for example, what happened in the steel industry recently, it was the British government that opposed higher tariffs at a European level against Chinese imports. And if you look at other countries in Europe, being part of the EU has not stopped them intervening to support their steel.

Naughtie then established that Iain Turnball, one of the Govan workers, believed that the EU helped the industry and if there was an exit, he feared they would not get work from elsewhere.  Naughtie then said John Brown favoured a ‘one nation’ industrial strategy, and claimed that other European countries’ failure to follow EU single market competition rules had cost the Clyde orders.

He noted there was ‘an extra ingredient here’.  Brown supported the one-nation industrial strategy, but was ‘never going to be a cultural Brexiteer’. He included a long quote from him:

We like being Europeans, we like being able to go to Spain, go to Seville, go to Rome, we like all that. My grandad’s name was Daniel McConnell, he was an immigrant, I’m married to a Bengali Scottish girl, my son is going with a Kurdish refugee lassie, so I don’t interested (sic) in (word or words unclear) and (word unclear ‘Poles’?) it’s the future for your kids and yourself, and I think a bigger (word or words unclear) that Europe provides us with a safer future, than a tiny wee island.

Naughtie concluded by observing that the question on the ballot paper on June 23 was ‘not the most important question’; the real question was more complex than ‘remain’ or ‘leave’.

Overall, Naughtie, put forward in his editing contrasting views about the way forward for both the ship-yard and its manufacturing sector generally, with reasonably balanced comment from two workers and two economists. The comments brought into play complex themes of industrial strategy and how EU regulations influenced the ability of UK business to compete (or not) in the EU and international arenas.

But the comment at the end from John Brown introduced a substantial imbalance. He argued that the EU was about being ‘European’, being able to travel, being multicultural, and about being safer than was possible in a ‘wee’ island.  No contrasting opinion was included.

 

SEQUENCE THREE: ANGLOPHOBIA? 

In the third of the sequence, Naughtie interviewed Dr Owen Dudley Edwards, an ultra-Scots nationalist who believes that the UK is a ‘grubby little corporation’, and  Alastair Macmillan, a business owner from the Scottish arm of Business for Britain.

Naughtie stressed again at the outset that Scotland was keener to remain than leave and wondered whether this was because of culture or economic self-interest, or what.

Dudley Edwards first observed that the Irish had loved the EU because they had spent so much time on Anglophobia. The Scottish did not dislike the English as much as the Irish, but did think that they got in the way of Scottish self-realisation. He then argued that he thought the Scots saw that the EU intervened in all sorts of ways that were in their interest. He claimed that the MEP Winifred Ewing had gone to the European Parliament in 1979 and it began to mean an awful lot to the Scots because she had ‘got a lot of grants and useful support’.  Naughtie joined in the Dudley Edwards’ explanation and suggested it was then that the SNP had ‘turned on its axis’ and became a euro-enthusiast party and ‘still was’.   Dudley Edwards agreed and said that Ewing had done a splendid job, and was ‘carrying Europe with her’. He said that when people thought about the European Parliament, they thought of her, and then she was succeeded by Neil McCormick. Another MEP just as good.

Naughtie then said MacMillan was a businessman who exported around the world. He asked whether he accepted that in Scotland the debate was more tilted to remain than south of the border. Macmillan said he did but not think the Scots, per se, were less Eurosceptic. Scotland had to be viewed as both part off the UK and at the same time very local.  The problem had been that Euroscepticism had been seen as part of ‘the Tory disease’. He asserted that Scotland was not Tory.

Naughtie responded:

Well, the Conservatives are now the second party at Holyrood of course, and one of the interesting things about that, and just to get you both in on this, is that Ruth Davidson, the leader, who had a very good campaign in the Holyrood parliament, erm, although she says she’s got all sorts of arguments against Brussels, she is leading her party . . . not united, of course, there are a lot of Conservatives who want to leave, but it’s more united than the party south of the border is. What’s your explanation for that?

Dudley Edwards said Davidson was a very practised campaigner, people warmed to her strongly, she had played the gay liberation card well in terms of her lesbian relationship, and  ‘seemed so unlike traditional Toryism’.  Naughtie wondered what Alec Douglas Home would have made of that.  Dudley Edwards observed that Davidson campaigned without mentioning David Cameron if she could ‘possible avoid it’.

Naughtie then returned to Macmillan and asked if the debate in Scotland was tied up with the national debate that can’t be untangled.  Macmillan replied:

I think that people have felt that, you know, they’re told by Labour, they’re told by SNP in particular that Europe is a good thing, and they’ve, you know, if you look to the fishing community, you look to the agricultural community, they’ve actually had to deal with Europe first hand, you know they, they are thinking, you know, a Scottish farmer poll is saying 69% want to come out. You know, the fishing people you know they’re very strong . . . it’s people, we have, up here, normal ordinary people have not had the experience of immigration from the EU which our southern cousins have had to the same extent, and I think . . .

Naughtie interrupted before he had finished and observed he thought ‘that influences it’.  He added:

A last question for Owen Dudley Edwards, it’s often said that if there were a vote to leave across the UK, particularly if, in Scotland the majority of votes had said ‘Remain’ that Nicola Sturgeon would be unable to resist pressure in her party for a second referendum, do you believe that?

ODE:      Yes, very much so, I mean, it has always been (fragment of word, unclear) implicit, because the whole thing was the referendum was carried against independence on the assumption, without anybody (word or words unclear) too much, that matters would remain as they were.  For the whole ballgame to be changed by the UK getting out of the European Union, against Scotland’s wishes, would make it overwhelming demands I think for independence, it would be very difficult for anybody to resist it.

Overall, in the third sequence, Naughtie’s main focus was to give Owen Dudley Edwards a platform to explain why he, a Scots nationalist, thought the EU was now perceived to be so beneficial to Scotland. He explained, in essence – without interruption and with help from Naughtie over why the SNP also came to be pro-EU – that Winnifred Ewing had won EU grants and that had turned opinion around, and also because the EU was a channel through which to attack and limit the influence of England.  Naughtie also gave him the opportunity, as the last word, to say that a vote to leave would be strongly against Scotland’s wishes and would lead to strong demands for another independence referendum.

Macmillan had two primary contributions. In the first – reacting to Naughtie’s point that Scotland was more pro-EU – he argued that the Scots wanted to be part of the UK, but were parochial in output and through what they read, saw Euroscepticism as a Tory disease.  In the second answering whether the argument that the question was tied up with the national question in a way that could not be untangled, he argued that despite what the SNP said, farmers and fishermen especially disagreed with what they had been told and wanted out.

Naughtie also introduced that the Conservative party in Scotland, led by Riuth Davidson, was more strongly pro-EU than in England. This allowed Dudley Edwards to observe that people had warmed to her because it did not seem like traditional Toryism, and that Davidson had made very shrewd use of ‘gay liberation’ in Scotland.

Was this ‘balanced’? The whole discussion was conducted on Naughtie’s framework editorial premise that the Scots were more pro-EU than the English. This this gave Dudley Edwards a strong platform to advance reasons why it was. He introduced a number of factors, including Anglophobia, the importance of EU grants, and the effectiveness of the SNP, the fact that Ruth Davidson was not a traditional Tory, and that she has effectively used the ‘gay liberation’ card.  Macmillan was on the back foot throughout because of the editorial thrust. He had to explain why the Scots were less Eurosceptic, and his answer was that the issue had been associated with Toryism. The second question was also complex, and he only had the opportunity to point out that fishermen and farmers in Scotland actually wanted out, despite what the SNP said. In summary Naughtie gave Dudley Edwards the opportunity to put forward a historically-based case; Macmillan was not afforded the same space.

Overall, the three sequences were strongly favourable towards the remain case. He also was at pains to establish stressed that a ‘leave’ vote would lead to fresh pressure for a second independence referendum.

 

Full Transcripts:

6.42am Young Voters in Glasgow

MISHAL HUSAIN:             Just over three weeks to go to the EU referendum, and in the latest of our series from different parts of the country, we’re in Glasgow this morning where Jim is gauging opinion, good morning Jim.

JAMES NAUGHTIE:          Good morning to you, Mishal, from Glasgow, under a China blue sky here, and we’ll be giving you some thoughts through the programme on the referendum north of the border, because there is, of course, an extra dimension to the argument here where the other referendum after all wasn’t very long ago.  It is of course, the national question.  Now, I’m with two young voters here in the centre of the city who take a different view, Eloise Reinhardt, who’s 18, and Ewan Blockley who’s also 18, they’re involved, incidentally, in the BBC Generation Young Voter groups.  Now, Eloise, you’re an SNP voter and you’re voting to Remain, why?

ELOISE REINHARDT:       Erm, I just feel the that if we were to come out of the EU that we would lose our seat at the table, especially within trade, we’re still going to need to pay into Europe, into the trade agreement, and I think that we would lose our seat at the table and that would just be . . . it’s too much of a risk right now.

JN:         Right, Ewan, you’re 18, same as Eloise, you’re saying ‘Leave’ – why?

EWAN BLOCKLEY:           I believe in sovereignty, I believe in democratic will and I also believe in economic prudence, and I believe that if we give £350 million away a week, I think that . . .

JN:         (speaking under, word unclear, ‘Well’?)

EB:         (fragment of word, unclear) You can call it a bogus figure, we’ll say £11 billion . . .

JN:         (interrupting) It’s not me that’s calling it a bogus figure, it’s the Treasury Select Committee, cross party, including some Leave campaigners who say it’s a bogus figure . . .

EB:         Who also in 2003 said the euro was a good idea, so I’m not going to be taking any lectures from them, but . . . of course, and erm . . . I believe that two hundred and fif— 230 million then, I think was the net figure, and I want that money to be spent here in Scotland and in the UK.

JN:         Right.  I mentioned therein introducing the two of you the national question, which of course is live here, the referendum, the decisive vote to remain in the UK nearly 2 years ago, but it’s nonetheless a live question.  How does it play, in your mind Eloise, for example, if Britain, if the UK as a whole voted to leave, would you want a second referendum?

ER:         Absolutely.  I think it’s really important to Scotland, I think we were lied to a lot during the referendum in Scotland, erm, and EU was brought up as such a big issue, it was, ‘You’re not going to be in the EU, you’re not going to . . .’ and all of a sudden (fragments of words, or words unclear due to speaking over)

JN:         (speaking over) In other words, the argument was (clears throat) if you want to remain in the EU – which a majority of Scots, apparently, according to all the polls do – er, you’ve got to vote ‘no’ against independence, that was said to years ago?

ER:         Yeah, absolutely, that was . . . that was such a major argument for many people that I know were undecided up until the very last minute.

JN:         So you would want a second referendum and you would vote for independence knowing that it would mean taking on the euro, because it would, if we were staying in Europe?

ER:         Yeah, absolutely. I’m, I’m a strong believer in . . . in Europe, I think it’s . . . it is, it’s an institution that’s been there for many years, and it’s supported a lot of smaller countries.

JN:         Right, Ewan, why do you, how do you think the, the argument over independence and Scotland’s position in the UK feeds into the European debate?

EB:         Erm, I actually don’t think it does, I think that we voted to remain part of a United Kingdom, I think we voted overwhelmingly, 55% voted in favour of the Union and we’re voting to come out of the European Union or stay in, hopefully, out on my stance, erm, as a United Kingdom.

JN:         One of the interesting things is that the Conservatives, now the second party in Holyrood of course, under Ruth Davidson are arguing.  Now of course, it’s not a unanimous view in the Conservative Party, or amongst Conservative voters, but nonetheless, the party as a whole is, I think it’s fair to say, more convinced about the arguments Remain than the party as a whole in the UK, the split is . . . is, is less – you would agree with that, wouldn’t you?

EB:         Erm, I would disagree, I’m a Conservative party member actually, in Scotland, and I believe that there is a lot more hushed-up talk, people are a lot . . .

JN:         Hushed-up?

EB:         Yeah, so I would say that there are a lot, there are, erm, MSPs who are supporting Brexit and will go and vote it, but aren’t willing to go against Ruth and the team.

JN:         Well, what do you, what do you think, Eloise, the general feeling is here, among people of your generation, and of course, it’s worth minding people outside Scotland that you had vote in the referendum, although you went yet 18, because 16 to 18-year-olds . . . you know had the vote in that referendum.

ER:         Erm, I think, especially among my generation, I think that erm . . . it was really important, it’s really important to stay within the EU.  A lot of people are concerned with jobs, especially at my age we’re all leaving school are looking for jobs, and there was a statistic the other day, something like one in ten jobs are directly linked to our membership of the EU.

JN:         Do you believe . . . Ewan was talking about, we were arguing about the bogus figure, the 350 million, do you believe all the scare stuff, because of course, in the erm . . . Scottish referendum itself, your side argued that that was Project Fear, when George Osborne said all these things.  You’re saying you now believe that in this referendum, you believe these . . . what the other side say are scare stories about the economy? (silence) So, Project Fear, that you complained about in the Scottish referendum, the Leave side say we’re seeing Project Fear again, but you actually believe what’s being said in Project Fear this time, don’t you?

ER:         Yeah, I think . . . I think that there’s been so many mixed messages from erm, sort of the UK and (fragment of word, or word unclear) government, I think it was really, it’s really difficult to decipher and understand that, especially (word or words unclear due to speaking over)

JN:         (speaking over) You’re a Conservative voter, why don’t you believe George Osborne?

EB:         (laughter in voice) Erm, I don’t believe George Osborne as much as I don’t believe Tony Blair with the euro in 2003.

JN:         Did you believe George Osborne in the Scottish referendum?

EB:         I, I did believe him, but the reason why I (laughter in voice) believed him . . .

JN:         (speaking over) Well, she didn’t, and she now believes him . . . you did and you don’t.

ER:         (laughs under)

JN:         You see the problem?

EB:         There, there is a definitely, erm, differing views, but I think (fragments of words, unclear) George Osborne is getting his statistics this time from the CBI and from erm . . . from institutions that are actually funded by Brussels.

JN:         Well, let me ask you something, is this an argument for you about faith in Europe and a belief in Europe, or is it an argument based on looking at figures?  Which is it?

ER:         Faith. Essentially, I think, especially from my generation, I have looked into the facts and figures and I’m, I’m really interested . . . I think that’s slightly unusual for an 18-year-old just leaving school, so I think a lot of our generation (words unclear due to speaking over)

JN:         (speaking over) Not in Glasgow, I would say, anyway . . .

EB:         (laughs) I’m the same, I didn’t look at the facts and figures, it’s very much that I believe my own . . .

JN:         (interrupting) It’s, it’s in your gut?

EB:         Absolutely, I’m British, I believe in Britain and I believe that we should govern ourselves.

JN:         Erm, just one last thing, you’ve got a lot of friends, maybe some common, I don’t know, you’re both in Glasgow, who do you think is going to carry the day, in Scotland, let’s just talk about Scotland for a minute.  Who’s going to win . . . here?

ER:         Erm, it’s definitely going to be Remain.  A hundred percent.

JN:         You’ve got no doubt about that?

ER:         No doubt about that.

JN:         Can you pull it back Ewan?

EB:         Erm, as, as an optimist, I would say that Leave has a chance, being on a street stall yesterday, I believe that once people listen to the arguments that Leave are presenting, that they will be more likely to vote Leave rather than the status quo.

JN:         Ewan Blockly and Eloise Reinhardt, here in the centre of Glasgow, will be back with you in an hour, but for the moment, thank you both very much.

 

7.42am The Referendum, Glasgow and Shipbuilding

JUSTIN WEBB:   Let’s get a further taste of the EU debate from north of the border this morning, Jim is joining us again from Glasgow, morning Jim.

JAMES NAUGHTIE:          Indeed, I’m in Glasgow, Justin, thanks very much, where the older generation look at the River Clyde and realise that it isn’t really the river they once knew, from the city centre here, if you look along the water, you would once have seen cranes and gantries filling the sky, all the way westwards to the sea.  Now, these shipyards from the late 19th Century onwards were the engine of Empire, they built navies and liners, and this was one great river factory.  No more.  The work has dwindled, a new industrial revolution has taken most of it away, and the whole iron landscape has gone.  I’ll be talking to some of the men who still build ships here in a moment about where their story sits in the arguments over Europe.  But first, to the Glasgow University archive, and Tony Pollard, archaeologist and historian at the University, to savour some of the history that made the Clyde.  We looked together at the beautiful plans for the doomed liner Lusitania.

TONY POLLARD:                             She was almost 800 feet long in reality, and what you’ve got here is a cutaway which shows all of the interior, so you’ve got the . . . the lovely salons, the luxurious passenger cabins, the engine rooms, it was liners like Lusitania that had really made the reputation of Clyde shipbuilding.

JN:         Looking back from today, it’s interesting to realise that it was always a precarious business, even the days of its great success, because there was competition everywhere?

TP:         Very much so, and the fact that these companies had to change their products and their technologies took massive investment, and at times that would be misjudged or it would be too late.  So this is nothing new.

JN:         When the Clyde was at its height, from the centre of Glasgow, as far as the eye could see down the river, it must’ve been just a hive of activity?

TP:         It was, and both sides were just chock-a-block with not just shipbuilding but all of the ancillary industries designed to support it.

JN:         And here, beside the Lusitania is a book called Scotland’s Industrial Souvenir filled with wonderful photographs and accounts of what’s been going on here, and a beautifully engraved pager, coloured page, advertising various firms who were doing great things, and prominent among them, the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company Ltd, over at Govan, across the river from the archive here.  And I’m going over there now.

NEWSREEL:        A few hours earlier, at Fairfield Shipyard, Govan, the Queen launched the Canadian-Pacific liner Empress of Britain, here is the beauty that can only come from fine craftsmanship, handed down from father to son through the good years on the grim.

JN:         The glory days.  It’s so different now.  At Fairfield’s where so many great hawks were built, BAE Systems are building a few offshore patrol vessels, there are 800 men divided between here and Rosyth in Fife, who are clinging onto jobs.  When I sat down with some of the yard workers, I was reminded, however, that this isn’t new.

IAIN TURNBALL:              It’s often been very difficult, you could never plan for a future, because you never knew if you had a future.

JN:         That came about, Iain, because of . . . cheap work elsewhere in the world . . .

I:            Yeah, yeah.

JN:         I mean it was, like, Korea in the 50s, and then China?

I:            Yeah, you’re right there, (fragment of word, or word unclear) I remember being in Govan in the mid-70s, and they started selling the designs to the Japanese, to the Chinese and to other . . . countries.

JOHN BROWN:  You see, we don’t have an industrial strategy in this country.  We have a finance industry.  You cannot compete with the country like China on the basis of selling each other insurance policies.

JN:         The question is, do you need a national industrial strategy?  The director of the Lancashire Institute for economic and business research, Phil Whyman thinks a break with the European Union would help.

PHIL WHYMAN: The EU doesn’t want one section of its single market to be treated more favourably than others, so we can’t help our firms.  Brexit allows the possibility of doing things a different way, it allows the possibility of having a more active industrial policy.

JN:         But to David Bailey, Professor of Industrial Strategy at Aston Business School at Birmingham University, that’s plain wrong.

DAVID BAILEY:  There are good reasons for having rules on state aid, so that we get fair competition across the single market.  But, this argument that that prevents us from having an effective industrial policy is complete hogwash.  I mean, look for example, what happened in the steel industry recently, it was the British government that opposed higher tariffs at a European level against Chinese imports.  And if you look at other countries in Europe, being part of the EU has not stopped them intervening to support their steel.

JN:         Back to the Clyde, and John Brown and Iain Turnbull, workers here for more than 30 years, one thinks Europe helps, the other doesn’t.

IT:          If we come out of Europe, then are we going to get work from elsewhere?

JN:         You think there’s a chance?

IT:          I . . . don’t think there’s a chance, I think it’ll be stopped, we won’t get any other contracts.

JN:         You were shaking your head there?

JB:         In the 80s and 90s into the early 2000’s we were going to Germany and Holland to work, it’s . . . sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. You go to Italy, Germany and Spain, and you see their big shipyards, when a government is determined to save its industry, then forces, money, finance and technology can be brought to save that industry.

JN:         And do you think that is irrelevant to as being in the EU?

JB:         What we need as an industrial policy.

JN:         But there’s an extra ingredient here.  John Brown can see the argument for a one-nation industrial strategy, but he’s never going to be a cultural Brexiteer.

JB:         We like being Europeans, we like being able to go to Spain, go to Seville, go to Rome, we like all that. My grandad’s name was Daniel McConnell, he was an immigrant, I’m married to a Bengali Scottish girl, my son is going with a Kurdish refugee lassie, so I don’t interested (sic) in (word or words unclear) and (word unclear ‘Poles’?) it’s the future for your kids and yourself, and I think a bigger (word or words unclear) that Europe provides us with a safer future, than a tiny wee island.

JN:         So, on the Clyde where the great industries have (word unclear, sounds like ‘winnered’?) away in the last generation, there’s a feeling that wherever you stand on the question being put next month, that perhaps is not the most important question – it’s what government, any government can do to help these industries match the challenges of the time.  And maybe that’s a question that’s even more complicated than Remain or Leave.

 

8.41am Scotland and the Referendum

JUSTIN WEBB:   Let us go back to Scotland now, we’ve been hearing regularly throughout this morning’s programme from Jim who was there, the latest of our series of reports on the EU referendum debate as it is being seen in various parts of the country, and Jim’s in Glasgow again this morning, hello again Jim.

JAMES NAUGHTIE:          Yes, morning again, Justin, now the tenor of the European debate in Scotland is influence inevitably by referendum memories from 18 months or so ago, we’ve been here before.  And that helps to sharpen the sense that the campaign here is shaped by self-awareness in Scotland, sometimes maybe self-obsession to0.  Well, how’s that related to the persistent message from opinion surveys that Scotland is, in general, keener to remain in the rest of the UK?  Is it culture, is it economic self-interest, or what?  I’m joined by businessman Alastair MacMillan who’s part of the Leave group, Business for Britain, Scotland, and also by Dr Owen Dudley Edwards, a nationalist by inclination, an Irishman of course, who’s taught and written in Scotland for most of his life.  And Owen Dudley Edwards, what’s your explanation for, relatively speaking, an enthusiasm for the EU in Scotland that appears to be, at least at this juncture, greater than it is elsewhere in the UK?

DR OWEN DUDLEY EDWARDS:   Well, one thing we could take from the experience of Ireland, Ireland went into the EU and loved it, partly because it had spent so much time (word unclear, ‘on’ or ‘in’?)  Anglophobia.  Now, I don’t think the Scots dislike the English as much as the Irish did earlier in the 20th century, though they certainly don’t do now, but I do think that the Scots in certain ways find the English . . . rule, or rule from Westminster, something getting in the way of Scottish self-realisation.  And from this point of view, the EU intervenes in all sorts of ways which may be, the Scots may feel it’s to their advantage.  I mean, particularly this worked out when Winifred Ewing was elected early in 1979, after the SNP had lost . . .

JN:         (speaking over) As a member of the European Parliament.

ODE:     As a member of the European Parliament, so that from the beginning, in a sense, when Winifred Ewing went to the European Parliament it began to mean an awful lot more to the Scots.  For one thing, she was tremendously successful as MEP for the . . . Minister for the Highlands, er . . . MEP for the Highlands and Islands in getting a lot of grants and useful support for that part.

JN:         And it was at that moment that the SNP turned on its axis and . . . and instead of having been a . . . an anti-European party, winning seats in the early 70s on the basis that the Heath terms of accession were bad, it became a euro-enthusiast party and still is, European-enthusiast?

ODE:     Very much so indeed, and Winifred Ewing, of course, did a splendid job in publicity, one might be unkind to say, for herself, but she was carrying Europe with her.  She liked to be called Madame L’Ecosse – what was really important that she was Madame Europe.  When people thought about the European Parliament, they thought of Winifred Ewing.  And after her, and MEP as good as Professor Neil McCormick, the great, and unfortunately now recently dead, law professor at Edinburgh.

JN:         Well, indeed.  Alastair MacMillan, let me bring you in at this point.  From a business perspective you want to leave, you think it will be better, as a businessman who exports from Scotland around the world.  Do you accept that in Scotland, the tone of the debate is . . . is more tilted to Remain perhaps than it is south of the border?

ALASTAIR MACMILLAN: I do accept that there are . . . is probably at the moment a majority to Remain, but I don’t think that the Scots are, per se, less Eurosceptic.  I think you have to look at Scotland as part . . . as very much, although part of the United Kingdom, it has, you know, a very parochial type of approach to newspapers and things like that are very much lo— far more local, and are far more (fragment of word, unclear) the media  up here, an enormous number of local newspapers, which, for a lot of people, is their main source of news . . .

JN:         (speaking over) Yeah.

AM:       . . . still, which is extraordinary, compared to the rest of the UK. And I think, and, and the media’s very much more deferential.  And added to which the . . . you know, Euroscepticism has been seen as a sort of Tory . . . disease . . .

JN:         (speaking over) Yes.

AM:       . . . and, you know, in Scotland we’re not Tory (laughter in voice) you know . . .

JN:         (speaking over) Well, the Conservatives are now the second party at Holyrood of course, and one of the interesting things about that, and just to get you both in on this, is that Ruth Davidson, the leader, who had a very good campaign in the Holyrood parliament, erm, although she says she’s got all sorts of arguments against Brussels, she is leading her party . . . not united, of course, there are a lot of Conservatives who want to leave, but it’s more united than the party south of the border is.  What’s your explanation for that?

ODE:     Well, for one thing, Ruth Davidson (word or words unclear) herself a very, very practised campaigner, and really made very shrewd use of a general sense of gay liberation in Scotland, and has announced she’s getting married to her lesbian partner.  But I think people warm to her very strongly there, it seemed so unlike traditional Toryism . . .

JN:         (speaking over) Well, I often wonder what Sir Alec Douglas-Home would make of that.

ODE:     But it’s also, I think, very important to realise that Ruth Davidson campaigned virtually without ever mentioning David Cameron and the other people, if she could possibly avoid it.

JN:         Do you feel that this argument here, Alastair MacMillan, is tied up with the national question in a way that can’t be disentangled.

AM:       I think that people have felt that, you know, they’re told by Labour, they’re told by SNP in particular that Europe is a good thing, and they’ve, you know, if you look to the fishing community, you look to the agricultural community, they’ve actually had to deal with Europe first hand, you know they, they are thinking, you know, a Scottish farmer poll is saying 69% want to come out.  You know, the fishing people you know they’re very strong . . . it’s people, we have, up here, normal ordinary people have not had the experience of immigration from the EU which our southern cousins have had to the same extent, and I think . . .

JN:         (speaking over) That, that is, yeah, that’s true, and you think that influences it. A last question few Owen Dudley Edwards, it’s often said that if there were a vote to leave across the UK, particularly if, in Scotland the majority of votes had said ‘Remain’ that Nicola Sturgeon would be unable to resist pressure in her party for a second referendum, do you believe that?

ODE:     Yes, very much so, I mean, it has always been (fragment of word, unclear) implicit, because the whole thing was the referendum was carried against independence on the assumption, without anybody (word or words unclear) too much, that matters would remain as they were.  For the whole ballgame to be changed by the UK getting out of the European Union, against Scotland’s wishes, would make it overwhelming demands I think for independence, it would be very difficult for anybody to resist it.

JN:         We, we shall see what happens after the 23rd, Alastair MacMillan, Owen Dudley Edwards, thank you both very much.

 

Photo by alasdairmckenzie

Referendum Blog: May 23

Referendum Blog: May 23

FAIR’S FAIR?: With bias, the devil is often in the detail. A sharp-eared listener noticed on his rather congested drive back from London to his home in County Durham that on Radio 4’s PM  BBC correspondents were doing some alleged ‘fact-checking’ in response to queries from listeners about aspects of EU operations. One wanted to know about the European Arrest Warrant. Now that’s a subject that has not figured much so far in the EU referendum debate, if at all – the last references to it on the BBC website via its own search engine are mainly from 2014, when David Cameron – in line with his usual posturing over Brussels – first suggested that the UK might withdraw from EAW arrangements and then a few months later, accepted without a murmur or a fight, all its  provisions. Since then, zip. So how did PM handle this?  Correspondent Norman Smith declared:

Well, the European Arrest Warrant is basically a scheme to enable villains to be picked up wherever they are in the EU, if they do a runner from one country to another, so if you have a villain in Paris who goes and mug someone and goes and steals their jewellery and then does a runner to London, the French gendarmerie can ring up the Old Bill and say, ‘Would you mind picking him up, putting him on a train back to Paris, and we’ll bung him in jug here.’ The problem with it, or perceived problem with it is the view that we’re very good and very diligent and very honest about kicking out foreign villains and everyone else isn’t so good at it. Actually, when you look at the figures, it seems to me to be fair’s fair, because, just looking at the figures here, between 2009 and 2016, we kicked out around 7,500 foreign villains and got back around 800 British villains, which is about 10% in comparison, which is roughly about what the UK is population is as a proportion of the whole EU. So, it seems to be, by and large, the European Arrest Warrant seems to be operating on a fairly fair basis.

So according to the BBC and Smith, fair’s fair, and that’s it.  No reference to concerns such as those expressed, for example, in this Daily Telegraph editorial, that Britons are being unfairly imprisoned abroad without due process by legal systems such as those in Bulgaria and Romania which are primitive and unfair. Instead, a simple focus on numbers which, according to Smith, showed that the UK has kicked out 7,500 EU-based villains since 2009 and in return have got 800 back – in line, according to Smith,  with what would be expected because the UK’s population is around one tenth of that of the EU.

Closer inspection suggests a very different interpretation is possible. Smith got his statistics from the National Crime Agency, and while he gave the basic figures for actual extraditions, he made no reference at all to another rather important statistic –  that in the fiscal year 2015/16 (presumably ending in April 2016, so bang up to date) there were a total of 14,279  requests for the extradition of Britons  from the other 27 EU countries, whereas the UK made only 241 requests. The UK population is around one twelfth (8%) of the total of 508m in EU countries, and yet the total number of EAW requests made by the UK was only one sixtieth of the EAW total.

Now of course, requests are not the same as actual extraditions, and the number of ‘surrenders’ (1,271 to the rest of the EU, 112 to the UK) was more closely in line with the EU/UK population ratio. But offset against that is that all of the 14,279 EAW requests coming to the UK have to be investigated and dealt with. The individuals involved are spoken to, investigated, and often put in great fear of ending up in foreign jails. The Daily Telegraph editorial indicated that at least £27m each year is being spent by the Home Office in processing applications. That’s likely to be the tip of the iceberg and is a hefty price to pay,

Another dimension here is that the NCA figures cover only UK/EU interactions under the EAW.  As with so many aspects of EU operations – which are shrouded in bureaucratic  obfuscation – research by News-watch has drawn a blank in finding up-to-date figures for EU-wide statistics. The newest figures available relate to 2009.  Then,  across the EU as a whole, 15,827 EAW extradition requests were made, and 4,431 were executed;  of that total, the UK made 220 requests and 80 were executed. The NCA figures for the same year are that EU countries made 3,826 requests for extradition from the UK, and 673 (c.20%)  of these were actually executed.  So put another way, almost a quarter of all extradition requests under the EAW were made to the UK. The UK, for its part made only 1.5% of EAW applications, around a third of which were successful.

All this is by necessity rather a complex analysis but it shows that Smith’s ‘fair’s fair’ claim is to put it mildly, open to debate. Britain spends millions enforcing the EAW.  Each extradition costs, if the Daily Telegraph figures are accurate, in the order of a minimum of quarter of a million pounds. The UK is bombarded by requests from other EU countries for EAW extraditions at a far higher level that can be accounted for by differences in population.  The UK does not accept the majority of these, but proportionately, far more UK citizens are extradited to the EU from the UK than are extradited from the EU to the UK.

What does this show? That in ‘fact checking’ mode, the BBC cannot be trusted, nor in its analysis of EU affairs, is it impartial.  Yet again, it erred on the anti-Brexit side. Norman Smith’s fault here may have been that he too hastily looked at the basic NCA statistics without properly examining the framework , controversies  and complexities of the EAW. But whatever the cause, he made sweeping conclusions that were highly simplistic and deeply misleading.

 

Transcript of Radio 4, ‘PM’ ‘News at Ten’ 17th May 2016, Listeners’ Questions, 5.52pm

EDDIE MAIR:      For a third week, we’re setting aside time in the programme to talk about the EU.  Not what pundits want to talk about, not what politicians want to talk about, but what PM listeners want to talk about.  You are still welcome to send us your question, and our assistant political editor, Norman Smith and our Europe correspondent Chris Morris will do their best.  Will start tonight with Alan Beamish, who asks about the European Arrest Warrant.  How many UK citizens have been arrested and extradited to other EU’s states, compared with citizens of other EU states extradited to the UK?  Norman Smith has the answer.

NORMAN SMITH:             Well, the European Arrest Warrant is basically a scheme to enable villains to be picked up wherever they are in the EU, if they do a runner from one country to another, so if you have a villain in Paris who goes and mug someone and goes and steals their jewellery and then does a runner to London, the French gendarmerie can ring up the Old Bill and say, ‘Would you mind picking him up, putting him on a train back to Paris, and we’ll bung him in jug here.’ The problem with it, or perceived problem with it is the view that we’re very good and very diligent and very honest about kicking out foreign villains and everyone else isn’t so good at it.  Actually, when you look at the figures, it seems to me to be fair’s fair, because, just looking at the figures here, between 2009 and 2016, we kicked out around 7,500 foreign villains and got back around 800 British villains, which is about 10% in comparison, which is roughly about what the UK is population is as a proportion of the whole EU.  So, it seems to be, by and large, the European Arrest Warrant seems to be operating on a fairly fair basis.

EM:        Liz Matthews says, can you please explain the difference between European Union, the European Commission and the European Council.  Chris Morris can help you.

CHRIS MORRIS: Basically, Liz, the European Union is the name given to the grouping or partnership of the 28 member states.  28 European countries including the UK that all belong to the EU.  The Commission and the Council are institutions that form part of the European Union and help to run it.  The Commission is like a civil service or an executive body, it proposes new legislation, it draws up the EU’s annual budget, and it manages and supervises EU funding.  At the top of the tree in the Commission are 28 national commissioners, one from each member state.  The Commission’s president is officially nominated by national leaders and then elected for a five-year period by the European Parliament.  Right now, the man in charge is Jean-Claude Juncker from Luxembourg.  The European Council is different.  It has its headquarters just across the street from the Commission, and the Council sets the overall direction and priorities of the EU.  It’s formed by the individual heads of government of the 28 member states, so when David Cameron goes to Brussels for what we tend to call an EU summit, in official language, that’s a meeting of the European Council.  Its president is elected for a 2½ year term by all those national leaders, and part of the role of the president of the Council is to represent the EU as a whole oversees.  The current president is the former Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk.  So, just to make it clear, if we vote to leave the EU, we’ll be leaving the European Commission and the European Council as well.  But not, sadly some might say, the Eurovision Song contest.

EM:        Titus Alexander says, ‘in the EU referendum debate, much is made of the cost of our EU membership, it would be interesting to put this in context with our membership of other global organisations, how many international bodies does the UK belong to, and what’s the cost in us participating in them?’  Norman Smith can help.

NS:         Well, the answer to this is we belong to an awful lot of international bodies, an awful, awful lot. And some of them cost a lot and some of them don’t cost very much at all.  So, if you look at something like the OECD, well, that costs us around £40 million a year, similarly, the World Health Organisation around £16 million a year. The UN – well, we contribute about £90 million to the UN’s regular budget each year, and a voluntary contribution of £2 billion goes towards the UN’s development and humanitarian operations.  How does that compare with our contribution to the EU? Well roughly we contribute about £18 billion a year, but as we know, we get an awful lot back in terms of our rebate and money that goes to various deprived parts of the UK, which means, in total, we probably contribute about £8 billion-£9 billion.  But I guess the difficulty with all this is your kind of comparing apples and pears, with the EU, clearly, we hope to get a lot out of our contribution to the EU in terms of access to the single market and that sort of thing, with contributions to the World Health Organisation and the UN, we’ll, we’re not really anticipating and getting much back, we’re trying to promote overseas aid and global development, so, the difficulty really is you’re comparing very, very different organisations.

 

Photo by Luke McKernan

Referendum Blog: May 22

Referendum Blog: May 22

BORDER TROUBLES?: On the BBC Weekend News this evening, the main item was hinged on that Vote Leave was wrong to suggest that the UK could not veto Turkey’s application to join the EU. At the end of the bulletin, reporter Chris Buckler presented a package which examined  whether border controls would be introduce between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Eire in the event of a UK exit from the EU.

In some respects senses there was ‘balance’ in that there were a mixture of concerns about what might happen. But Buckler was oddly unfocused and unclear in elements of what he told the audience and his main goal appeared to whip up the idea of trouble in store.

First, there was a major omission that affected the veracity of his entire package.  What he did not say was that  the current border arrangements between the UK (including Northern Ireland ) and Eire are nothing to do with the EU, and never have been .  They are based on a bilateral agreement between the Irish and British governments formulated under the title the CTA (Common Travel Area). The CTA stipulates that there is free movement between all parts of the UK and Eire. The arrangements have evolved considerably over time, but, in effect, have been in existence since Eire’s independent in 1923.

It is hard to understand why Buckler did not explain or mention this. Instead, he focused on that   there had been checkpoints on the Eire/NI border during the Irish troubles (presumably referring to the political and civil unrest that began in the 1960s and continued until 1998, though he did not say so) and added that ‘some are asking whether checkpoints would return if the UK was to vote to leave the EU’. The question here is why this would happen, and who was suggesting it would; Buckler’s narrative gave no clue. Such checkpoints on the border he was describing only existed because of security reasons linked to the political and civil unrest, the CTA free movement principles were not suspended.

Buckler then jumped to trade. He observed  that ‘some had suggested’ that the £1bn trade each week between Ireland and the UK would be affected adversely by Brexit. Was he claiming that problems would arise because of the new border checkpoints that he had imagined might be introduced?  He did not say, nor did he explain that most of the trade between Eire and the UK is not via border roads in Ireland.

His next point was another non sequitur: that towns along the Eire/Northern Ireland border had benefitted from ‘European peace money’. His example was a new sports centre where boxed Barry McGuigan trained. His statement was both disingenuous and misleading.  Yes, Northern Ireland and Eire have received from the EU (not ‘Europe’) millions from a specially established peace fund. Relevant here, however, is that the cash ultimately comes from the UK’s overall contribution to the EU and that the peace fund further relies on the UK government because elements of its contributions are dependent on match funding from national and local government, and from private enterprise.

Buckler concluded by acknowledging (again without mentioning the CTA) that concerns about immigration if Britain was outside the EU ‘some had suggested’  border controls and passports could be needed in future.  There was a vox pop from one woman who wanted such restrictions on ferries to stop terrorism, then from another female who thought the reintroduction of controls would be ‘completely insane.

He concluded:

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.

The implication – from all that had gone before – was clearly that Brexit would lead to significant changes in the border arrangements, and the impact could be severely inconvenient and financially negative.  The spectre he had invoked was a return to the arrangements of the troubles, border checkpoints, restricted trade. The bias here can only be fully identified  through very careful fact-checking and examining alternative perspectives. Again the devil is in the detail.  Why did he not start from the premise that the long existence of the CTA suggested that free movement would continue?

 

Transcript of BBC1, Weekend News, EU Refrendum and Northern Ireland, 10.49pm

MISHAL HUSAIN:       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.

Photo by Christopher Elison

Referendum Blog: May 18

Referendum Blog: May 18

BBC HEZZA BIAS:  It has already been shown conclusively that the BBC1 bulletin headlines over the past month have strongly favoured the ‘remain’ side in the EU debate. Last night, this bias continued with a vengeance. The eight-minute sequence after the headlines amounted to a sustained, deliberate attack on the ‘out’ case. Newsreader Huw Edwards introduced the item:

The deepening divisions in Conservative ranks on Britain’s future in the EU were exposed when Lord Heseltine accused Boris Johnson of losing his judgment, with “preposterous, obscene remarks”. Mr Johnson had compared the EU with Hitler’s desire to dominate Europe.

The report that followed was in three parts. In the first, political editor Laura Kuenssberg emphasised how deep the Conservative divisions over the EU are becoming; in part 2, about Nigel Farage, deputy political editor John Pienaar included a vox pop claiming that Farage was a ‘Nazi’, suggested that he had perfected the technique of faking sincerity, and concluded by saying that ‘he split opinion like no-one else’; in the third, business editor Simon Jack, noting that many employers were writing to their staff to urge a ‘remain’ vote stressed that ‘the weight of opinion’ of employers was with ‘remain’.

The first sequence was focused most on what Lord Heseltine had said about Boris Johnson. He was quoted as saying

….I think the strain of the campaign is beginning to tell on him. I think his judgment is going. This is the most serious decision Britain has faced in a generation and it’s descending into an extraordinarily nasty situation…He is behaving now irresponsibly and recklessly and I fear that his judgment is going…. Every time he makes one of these extraordinary utterances, people in the Conservative Party will question whether he now has the judgment for that position.

Laura Kuenssberg then noted that Boris Johnson had said that people wanted facts about the EU, not arguments about personalities and suggested supporters of \remain’ were colluding with big business. She included a direct quote to the effect that immigration was hitting wage packets and big business wanted it that way.  There was then a quote from Labour deputy leader John McDonnell, prefaced with an observation that he had claimed that ‘Tory in-fighting is dragging the whole campaign down’; and finally, there was a quote from David Cameron in which he claimed that the Islamic State, the regime in Baghdad and President Putin would be happy if the UK left the EU. Kuenssber concluded:

Boris Johnson had already been accused of choosing Out because of his own ambition. If it all goes wrong, perhaps that decision could be burn his future chances.

Huw Edwards then said that Nigel Farage had warned that anger over current levels of immigration could lead to blood on the streets, and claimed that the only solution was an ‘exit’ vote. John Pienaar included comment from Farage to that effect, and also that the rancour within the Conservative party was now so great that if there was a narrow ‘remain’ vote, it could lead to a second referendum. Pienaar then observed that ‘in a campaign that is getting more bitter by the day’, he (Farage) ‘splits opinion like no-one else’. There was then a vox pop from someone who said ‘he’s a Nazi, he’s too far-right’. Someone else said Farage ‘told the truth’, and the third vox pop said he was ‘not the guy who stands with working people’. Pienaar then repeated that Farage was a ‘divisive figure’ who was either loathed or liked him, which was why the Vote Leave campaign was ‘keeping a safe distance’.

Simon Jack opened by saying that Microsoft and Aviva, with 17,000 UK employees were among the private companies pointing out that it was their view that the UK should remain in the EU and that exit would mean a reverse of economic recovery.  He then noted that it was not all ’one-way traffic’ and that the chairman of Weatherspoon’s had claimed that ‘remain’ would mean giving power away to an unelected elite in Brussels.   Jack noted that ‘the weight of opinion is with remain’ and then said that the Confederation of British Industry had declared that it was ‘quite right and proper’ that employers should lay out the facts as they saw them. He pointed out that Brexit groups had claimed that what employers said was not necessarily right and also that some of these pro-EU groups had in the past supported joining the euro. Jack concluded that it was hard to ignore in-box messages.

Overall, detailed analysis of the transcript reveals a number of bias issues.  In the Jack sequence, the main thrust of his argument was that most employers wanted to ‘remain’ and bolstered the scale involved by specially noting that Aviva had 17,000 employees in the UK. By contrast he decided not to mention that that Weatherspoon’s has 35,000 staff, or give any evidence why he was so sure that the ‘remain’ numbers were so high.  Pienaar seemed , as has already been noted, to be most determined to say that Nigel Farage was ‘divisive, and he bolstered his argument by choosing to include a vox pop which contained the observation that5 he was a ‘Nazi’.    Was this fair?  How did Pienaar justify bracketing the support of 4m voters at the last general election with such a verdict?   The Kuenssberg sequence placed heavy emphasis on Lord Hesletine’s views and they seemed to confirm that there was indeed civil war in the Conservative party. The inclusion of the comments from David Cameron and John McDonnell heightened that projection, and also bracketed the ‘leave’ case with extremist regimes.

The issue here is rather large.  Since 1999, when the News-watch first began monitoring the BBC’s EU’s content, Heseltine has been very regularly used by BBC to highlight such problems about ‘Europe’. Kathy Gyngell explained the history of this issue during last year’s General Election, when yet again, he was wheeled out to warn  about the dangers of  not supporting the EU; that there would be no co-operation from the EU over immigration unless, in effect, the Conservative party became more enthusiastic about the EU.

The fact is that Heseltine stopped being an active politician in 2001, but the BBC has regularly used him over the years to draw attention to, ‘Tory splits’. This BBC1 News at Ten sequence continued that tradition. The programme editors elevated the importance of his remarks to a major level, and then buttressed that ‘row’ with two items which drew deliberate attention to the weakness of the ‘leave’ case by emphasising how deeply divisive Nigel Farage was and then by ramming home how much big business was supporting ‘remain’.

Here is the transcript in full:

Transcript of BBC1 ‘News at Ten’ 17th May 2016, Boris Johnson and Lord Heseltine, 10.07pm

HUW EDWARDS:             Well, it’s policies that matter, not personal attacks – that’s the response from Boris Johnson’s team following highly-critical remarks made by the former Conservative minister, Lord Heseltine. The deepening divisions in Conservative ranks on Britain’s future in the EU were exposed when Lord Heseltine accused Boris Johnson of losing his judgment, with “preposterous, obscene remarks”. Mr Johnson had compared the EU with Hitler’s desire to dominate Europe. Our political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, has the story.

BORIS JOHNSON Conservative, Vote Leave:         Take back control of this country. Can you hear me at the back? (cheering)

LAURA KUENSSBERG:     Whose side are you on? Outers and Inners were both desperate to get him on theirs. But with recent claims about President Obama, invoking Hitler in the EU debate, and today, claiming, wrongly, that EU interferes in bunches of bananas, someone who knows a thing or two about the Tory leadership said Boris Johnson has gone too far.

LORD HESELTINE Former Deputy Prime Minister, Remain:             I think the strain of the campaign is beginning to tell on him. I think his judgment is going. This is the most serious decision Britain has faced in a generation and it’s descending into an extraordinarily nasty situation.

LK:         Campaigns often get very dirty. People say things they don’t necessarily mean because they’re trying to win?

LH:         He is behaving now irresponsibly and recklessly and I fear that his judgment is going.

LK:         Do you think he still could potentially be the leader of the Conservative Party?

LH:         (fragment of word, or word unclear) Every time he makes one of these extraordinary utterances, people in the Conservative Party will question whether he now has the judgment for that position.

LK:         But look at this. Boris has political pulling power.

BJ:         Are we going to turn out on June 23rd everybody? (crowd shouts ‘yes’) Yes, they are.

LK:         His team say tonight people want the arguments about the EU, not personalities. He made his strongest attack so far on his Tory opponents in the Remain camp, claiming they’re colluding with big business.

BJ:         Some of the people on the FTSE 100, they don’t care about uncontrolled immigration, of course they don’t. But what happens is that their pay packets go ever higher and higher whereas the wages of most people in this country have not increased and in some cases have actually been going down. My friends, it is a stitch-up.

LK:         The decision for all of us is much bigger than the career of any one Conservative politician. But this is a significant slap-down for Boris Johnson and the bitterness inside the Tory Party is hard to ignore. But both sides have to make this feel like it really matters and they’ve both been accused of hype. But Labour says the Tory in-fighting is dragging the whole campaign down.

JOHN MCDONNELL Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, Remain:             I think the debate has degenerated into the worst form of negativity and brought out the worst in Westminster politics. And the negativity has been overwhelming at times. It’s time to turn this debate around, drive out the politics of despair and offer a vision for Britain in Europe.

LK:         But in the glitter of the City, the Prime Minister claimed today the leader of so-called Islamic State would be pleased if we vote to leave.

DAVID CAMERON:          It is worth asking the question, who would be happy if we left? Putin might be happy. I suspect al-Baghdadi might be happy. When we’ve got a difficult decision to make, you should ask what it means for your country’s prosperity, what it means for the families, what it means for jobs and you should ask your friends what they think.

LK:         Boris Johnson had already been accused of choosing Out because of his own ambition. If it all goes wrong, perhaps that decision could be burn his future chances. Laura Kuenssberg, BBC News, Westminster.

HE:        Well, the Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, has warned that anger over levels of migration could lead to violence on the streets – and he insists that the only answer is for Britain to vote to Leave the European Union. He’s been talking to our deputy political editor, John Pienaar.

JOHN PIENAAR: Nigel Farage, 37 days to go, are you sure you’re going to win?

NIGEL FARAGE UKIP Leader, Leave:         Well, I’m confident. The other side won’t talk to me, that must be good.

JP:          Perfect sincerity. When you can fake that, you have cracked it. Not that his desire to see Britain quit the EU isn’t real, it’s his life. But he’s such a performer that for many Nigel Farage is the UK Independence Party and, for him, win or lose, this is no farewell tour. The message couldn’t be clearer.

NF:        When Isis say they will use this migrant crisis to flood the Continent with their jihadi fighters, I suggest we take them seriously.

JP:          Get the message? Well, over a curry lunch, there is more. Anger over EU migration might, just might, lead to blood on the streets.

NF:        I think it’s legitimate to say that if people feel they have lost control completely, and we have lost control of our borders completely, as members of the European Union, and if people feel that voting doesn’t change anything, then violence is the next step. Now, I’m not . . .

JP:          Even in this country, in peaceful Britain?

NF:        I find it difficult to contemplate it happening here, but nothing is impossible. I’m meeting people (fades out)

JP:          And what if Britain voted to remain, pressure for a second referendum?

NF:        The rancour between the two sides of the Conservative Party is now so great that if the Prime Minister was to pull off a narrow victory, I have a feeling that a lot of them simply wouldn’t be reconciled to it.

JP:          Today’s debate audience showed the Farage effect. In a campaign that is getting more bitter by the day, he splits opinion like no-one else.

VOX POP MALE:              To me, I’m afraid it’s (sic, means he’s) a Nazi, he’s too far-right.

JP:          A Nazi, that’s a bit strong?

VPM:     I know it’s a bit strong.

VOX POP FEMALE:          I personally, I think he’s been brandished (sic) a racist because he’s talking common-sense about numbers.

VOX POP MALE 2:           He is the only person that is telling us the truth, whether we want to hear it or not.

VOX POP FEMALE 2:       He’s not really the kind of guy who stands with working people. I think he does a good job of making it look like he is though.

JP:          It was arguably fear of Nigel Farage and Eurosceptic feeling that drove David Cameron to promise this referendum in the first place. He is a divisive figure. People either tend to like him or loathe him and that is one big reason why the official Vote Leave campaign is keeping a safe distance. (at an ice cream van) Nigel, what are you going to have?

NF:        A 99, please.

JP:          For this political outsider, nothing would taste sweeter than a vote to leave.

NF:        There are 37 days to go, we are in battle, we are charging and I’ll keep doing it!

JP:          Yes, Nigel Farage preaches best to the converted.

NF:        (to voter) Hello, you alright? But so much depends on getting your supporters to turn out and vote. Who’s to say he won’t have the last laugh.

NF:        Are we voting out?

UNNAMED VOTER:         Yes.

NF:        Good.

JP:          John Pienaar, BBC News.

HE:        And some of Britain’s biggest private companies have entered the referendum debate by sending letters directly to staff outlining the impact a British exit would have on their businesses. Let’s talk to Simon Jack, our business editor, what are they saying Simon?

SIMON JACK:     Well you know, even if you wanted to avoid this debate, this is going to be hard because these are messages dropping into the in-boxes of tens of thousands of employees, a real flurry of them.  Let me give you a quick flavour, we’ll start with Microsoft, who say, the boss says in a blog, ‘our view is that the UK should remain in the EU.’ Aviva, 17,000 UK employees, they warn the economic recovery could go into reverse. Now, it’s not all one-way traffic, the boss, the chairman of Wetherspoon’s says that a vote to remain would give power away to an unelected elite in Brussels. So, it isn’t one-way traffic, but I would say the weight of opinion, of employers, is with Remain. Is it OK for employers to, you know, get involved in this way? The CBI, the employers groups says yes, it’s quite right and proper that they should lay out the facts as they see them. The Vote Leave campaign describe this as a Government and big business stitch-up. So, you know, a difference of opinion there. One other Brexiteer says, look,  the CBI can say what it likes, what your employer says does not mean that it’s right, harking back to the fact that some of these groups were ones which supported joining the euro all those years ago.  But as I say, very hard to ignore some of these messages, so even if you didn’t want to be involved in the campaign, when it’s in your inbox it’s very hard to ignore indeed.

HE:        Okay, Simon, again, thanks very much, Simon Jack there for us, our business editor.

Photo by Chatham House, London

Referendum Blog: May 17

Referendum Blog: May 17

NON-BIAS BIAS? With the BBC, the devil is often in the detail. And even when figures from the Corporation set out to be ‘unbiased’, they fail dismally.  On Saturday, the Radio 4 Today programme lined up four of its most senior editors to analyse claims being made by the main two sides in the referendum debate.  Broadly, this is what they did and said:

Economics editor Kamal Ahmad analysed the claims of Vote Leave that EU membership costs the UK £350 million a week. His conclusion was the figure is much less; Vote Leave was not taking into account the UK’s rebate or the amount that the EU spends on the UK.

Home editor Mark Easton investigated similarly sweeping claims from Chancellor George Osborne that households would be £4,300 a week worse off by 2030 if the UK exited the EU. Easton decided the Chancellor was wrong because he was basing the forecast on an over-simplistic division of GDP, rather than actual incomes.  He also pointed out that the Treasury forecasts also assumed that most Britons would actually be significantly richer by 2030.

‘Europe’ editor Katya Adler examined whether Michael Gove’s warning that EU expansion would lead to an extra 88m people who are much poorer than those in the UK being able to settle here. Adler said that this was extremely unlikely to happen, not least because it was not certain that Turkey – with 75 million – would be able to join

Business editor Simon Jack checked David Cameron’s claim that 3m UK jobs were ‘linked to the European union’. Jack said that not all jobs would be at risk if the UK left the EU because they were dependent on trade with EU countries rather than EU membership.

Two claims each by the Leave and remain sides were thus debunked. That looks balanced. But closer inspection of the transcripts yields other problems.  First Katya Adler. The claim by Michael Gove, contained in article he wrote for the Daily Mail, was that the EU was considering applications to join from Albania, Turkey, Macedonia. Montenegro and Serbia, countries with a combined population of 88m, most of whom had significantly lower living standards and incomes than those in the UK. He said if the applications were approved, which seemed increasingly likely, these people would have the right to use UK facilities, including the NHS. His argument about the dangers to the UK from these countries was also framed in parallel with observations that the influx from countries which had recently joined the EU had been significantly higher than predicted. Overall, his warning was that the EU was on a course which could add substantially to the UK’s existing infrastructure and security problems, and if the UK remained a member of the EU, it could little or nothing to stop this. The bias point here is that Adler, in framing her response, chose to put the emphasis completely elsewhere. She said first of all that the barriers to entry to the EU by the five countries were unlikely to be resolved until at least 2020 and even then, agreement to their accession had to be unanimous among the 28 existing members. She also asserted that for Michael Gove to be right every man, woman and child – all 88 million of them –  would ‘have to move to the UK’.  Gove’s arguments in the Daily Mail feature, however, were not hinged on either point.  He was rather arguing that joining was on the cards (it is) and that potentially significant numbers of their citizens were likely to come, as had happened when other poorer countries had joined the EU.  Overall, of course, no one knows when or if or on what terms Turkey and the other countries will join the EU. But the purpose of Gove’s feature was to point out that this issue is live, that other similar accessions had already taken place, and that potentially, a further 88m would have access because of EU rules to the UK. Nothing of what Adler said disproved that, and especially her bald assertion that:

so, for Michael Gove to be right this would mean that all the citizens of these countries, every man woman and child would have to move to the UK.

Simon Jack’s ‘debunking’ of David Cameron’s claims about 3m jobs being dependent on the EU was also not what it seemed. The problem was that he looked at trade only through a very narrow prism. Brexit campaigners argue that EU membership forces the UK to rely too much on trade with EU countries; if there was an exit, trading possibilities and patterns would change and would result new business opportunities with countries throughout the world. The whole point of exit is thus to end reliance on the shrinking (in global terms) economies of EU members. Jack, however, did not even consider that, he looked only at what would happen within the current EU trading framework.  Yes, he pointed out that these jobs are dependent on trade with the EU, rather than membership of the EU, but the narrow prism he used meant that exiting the EU could have a negative impact, and pointed out that countries outside the EU but within Europe suffered from not being members.

Overall, Adler and Jack – far from definitively affirming or debunking anything – showed only that senior BBC reporters consider EU-related issues through skewed lenses of their own choosing.

Here is the transcript:

 

Transcript of BBC Radio 4, ‘Today’, 14th May 2016, EU Referendum, Four Correspondents, 8.37am

JOHN HUMPHRYS: The referendum campaign’s about as close as these things get – if there’s one thing we can say with certainty it is that there is a huge amount of uncertainty, and if there’s one refrain you here over and over again from the voters, it is this: why aren’t we being told the facts? Which raises the obvious questions: whose facts?  You’ll hear an ‘in’ campaigner asserting one thing, and an ‘out’ campaigner asserting quite the opposite.  Here’s a flavour.

GEORGE OSBORNE:          Britain would be permanently poorer if we left the European Union, to the tune of £4300 for every household.

UNKNOWN: We would be better off out, we would be richer and more successful.

DAVID CAMERON: Indeed, three million people’s jobs in our country are already linked . . .

MICHAEL GOVE:    What is a fact is that give more than £350 million to the European Union . . .

ANDREW MARR (?) Well, hang on.

JOHN MAJOR:          The fact that we are the access point to 500 million people market produces a great deal of investment in this country.

MG:     . . . you don’t have tariffs then both sides can accept but there’s no need to erect them . . .

GO:     And that would be catastrophic people’s jobs and their incomes and their livelihoods.

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:       All forecasts (word or words unclear) are wrong, you should take them all with a pinch of salt whether they come from the Governor of the Bank of England, the IMF or any other organisation.

JH:       So, how are the poor old voters expected to make up their minds if the campaign leaders can’t agree on even the most basic facts? Well, that’s where we come in.  We’ve rounded up four of our own editors to put you straight, well, to try to put you straight on for of the most contentious areas.  They, the editors that is, Kamal Ahmed, Mark Easton, Katya Adler and Simon Jack, and the facts, Kamal – Kamal Ahmed that is, our economics editor, your fact: ‘We send the EU £350 million a week’ that is what the Leave campaign says?  Is that true?

KAMAL AHMED:    Right, well I do love the whiff of a statistical chart in the morning, so I have been digging through figures behind this to save our dear listeners from having to do such a painful thing.  Table 9.9 of the Office of National Statistics Pink Book, 2015 . . .

JH:       (speaking over) Know it well.

KA:     That is going to be my start point for this.  The big point to make, I think, the beginning is the UK pays more . . . sorry, the UK pays more into the EU than it receives, that is the big first point.  Is it £350 million a week?  Let’s see.  So, £350 million a week is our gross contribution to the European Union, that’s just over £19 billion, but we get a rebate from the EU (words unclear due to speaking over)

JH:       (speaking over) The (word unclear, ‘famous’?) Thatcher rebate?

KA:     Yes, rebate is a bit of . . . a bit of a misnomer here, actually, because we never pay the money in and get the rebate, we actually get the rebate first, and then pay the money in.  That rebate is worth £4.4 billion a year, so that makes our actual contribution to the European Union £14.7 billion, which is actually £285 million a week. But hang on . . .

JH:       (speaking over) It’s still a lot of money.

KA:     . . . this is Europe, this is Europe John, got to be complicated, got to keep those Brussels officials in work obviously.  We also get erm . . . money from the EU to support the UK economy, farming, we get regional funds, there’s some money for science research, that amounts to about £4.8 billion a year, so that makes a net contribution that the UK gives to the European Union of £9.9 billion, or about £190 million a week. That is from the ONS statistics.

JH:       Right, so when they say on the side of their battlebus and in every other interview that you do with them, ‘We pay in 350 million quid a week’ that is not true.

KA:     That is the gross contribution, which does not take into account the rebate we receive from the EU and the money we receive from the EU by way of grants and support for research and science.

JH:       Right. Thank you for that Kamal.  Er, let’s turn to Mark Easton, our home editor, and your question, well it isn’t a question, your statement if you like, Mark, families would be £4,300 worse off by 2030 – that is George Osborne who made that claim, the Remain camp, of course.  True or false?

MARK EASTON:      Right (laughs) Okay. Erm, I haven’t got any charts for you this morning John, but I can tell you the Treasury claim is based on GDP per household.  What they’ve done is they forecast what they think GDP would be in 2030 . . .

JH:       (speaking over) Gross Domestic Product.

ME:     Gross domestic . . . all the stuff that we produce, what GDP would be in 2030, so they’re throwing quite a long way ahead, and they’ve done it for both staying in the EU, and leaving the EU and then calculated the difference. But GDP per household, it’s not the same thing as household income (laughter in voice) as most people would tell you – if you simply divide current GDP by the number of British households, you get a figure of around £68,000 per household, well, we know average household income, what we would regard as, you know, what money we’re getting in, as about £44-45,000 so the, the idea of a cost to UK families of £4300, it’s not cost in the way that most people would think of it.

JH:       So, we won’t actually be worse off by £4300? I mean, that’s the bald fact?

ME:     No, exactly, the, the Treasury model doesn’t suggest UK families are going to be poorer than they are now, in fact, the modelling suggests families will be richer in 2030 if we leave the EU, what they’re saying is their models suggest we wouldn’t be quite as rich as if we stay in the EU, and that’s a difference of £4300 per household.  The last point I think, to be made is that financial modelling, as we heard in the introduction there, is obviously only as good as the information and the forecasts that you put into it . . .

JH:       Right.

ME:     . . . and often they have been proved quite wrong.  One aspect of the modelling that’s raised eyebrows is that it uses the number of households now, today, to divide estimated GDP for 2030, taking no account of population growth or the effects of . . .

JH:       (interrupting) Ah.

ME:     . . . changes to net immigration for instance . . .

JH:       (speaking over) And, and you lead us nicely into our next thought then, er . . . contentious area, if you like, and that is up to 88 million people from nations much poorer than our own will have the right to live and work here, that’s what Michael Gove said in the Daily Mail just the other day, the Leave campaign of course, Katya Adler is our Europe editor – right or wrong Katya?

KATYA ADLER:      Well, Kamal likes to start the morning on a Saturday with statistical charts, I’m . . . quite fond of crystal ball gazing on a Saturday morning myself, so if we look into our crystal ball, Michael Gove is right, there are five countries that have started talks with the EU about becoming a member one day, that’s Turkey, Albania, Montenegro, Macedonia and Serbia. The population of all those countries roughly adds up to 88 million, so, for Michael Gove to be right this would mean that all the citizens of these countries, every man woman and child would have to move to the UK, and it would also mean that (sic) the countries actually getting into the EU, which is not impossible, but it’s difficult.  The European Commission . . .

JH:       (speaking over) Especially with Turkey.

KA:     Especially with Turkey, but . . . for any of them, er, the European Commission has said there’ll be no new members in the EU until at least 2020, even then, erm, their membership would have to be approved by every single EU leader, by the European Parliament and by national parliaments. Every mem— every new member has to apply all EU current rules before they can join, that’s in 35 different policy areas, and you mentioned there Turkey, of course Turkey is the most controversial of the five, and the biggest, out of the 88 million, it’s 75 million.  And Turkey started its talks to join the EU ten years ago, in those 10 years it’s only managed to adopt EU rules on one area, that’s science and research.  Difficulty . . . well, we can look at human rights, we can look at limits on freedom of expression, the state of public administration and very key for the EU, Turkey has to recognise fellow EU member Cyprus, which it doesn’t. And then . . .

JH:       (speaking over) Alright . . .

KA:     . . . if we look at the politics of the EU these days, John, as well, we’ve got populist parties doing very well in many countries across the EU, fears of migration dominating politics, so no one really is trumpeting the case for Turkey’s membership at the moment.

JH:       Right, Katya, thank you for that. And our final question: 3 million jobs are linked to the European Union – this is according to David Cameron.  Simon Jack, our business editor, is that right?

SIMON JACK:           Yes.  But does that mean that 3 million jobs would go if we were to leave the European Union, er, absolutely not.  There are two pieces of work done on this, one was by the South Bank Institute, back in 2003, which said just over 3 million, there’s a new piece of work out last year by the Centre for Economic and Business Research, which puts it at over 4 million.  Now, obviously, those jobs are linked with the trade, no one assumes that the trade would disappear and go up in smoke the day we left, which then puts us into this rather vexed position of looking at what our trade would look like, and you may have heard of the Swiss model, the Norway model, the WTO, even the Albanian model.  But, the rule of thumb basically, is that the more independent the UK gets, the less access you get to some of the things that you actually want, that is the trade-off, so in the Swiss model, for example, banks are allowed to sell, you know, Swiss Banks stationed here can sell throughout the rest of Europe, they can’t sell from Switzerland, it’s a system called passporting. So we would see, potentially, some jobs go in The City. In a chat with the boss of Barclays the other day, he said, ‘Would this threaten London’s place as the pre-eminent financial centre – no.  Would it make life a bit more difficult – yes.’ So basically, 3 to 4 million jobs are associated with trade, not with our membership of the European Union, how m— . . . how many jobs would go depends on how much access you get and what model you think, er, which model would erode some of that trade, and that, of course a judgment where there aren’t any settled facts, and even the Albanian model that Michael Gove wanted, the Albanian Prime Minister thought, he thought it was a bit weird that the UK wanted that, so erm . . . I’m afraid the er . . . that was his very words, so I’m afraid the chat about the different models will continue when it comes to how many jobs are at risk.

JH:       And so will this debate, Simon, Katya, Mark and Kamal, thank you all very much, I think we can conclude that none, not one of those four claims have been stood up by our editors.  Kamal’s nodding at that so I’ll take that as approval.  Thank you all very much indeed, we may very well return to this over the weeks to come.

 

 

Photo by James Cridland

Referendum Blog: May 16

Referendum Blog: May 16

BBC BORIS BIAS:  Was Boris Johnson wrong to refer to Hitler in a point about the history of attempts to unite Europe? Was what he said as controversial as was projected? Senior Labour figures Hilary Benn and Yvette Cooper certainly thought his mention was below the belt, and so did several figures in the Conservative ‘remain’ camp such as Lord Soames.

The tone of the BBC’s coverage also suggested that there were problems in his approach.  He had sent ‘sparks flying’. This is what newsreader Clive Myrie said in the BBC1 News at Ten bulletin;

The prominent Vote Leave campaigner in June’s EU referendum, Boris Johnson, has compared what he claims is the ambition of some in Europe to create a single Superstate to the aims of Adolf Hitler.  In an article for a Sunday newspaper, he said both the Nazi leader and the EU, shared similar goals but today’s politicians were simply using different methods. The shadow foreign secretary, Hilary Benn who backs the Remain campaign said his comments were offensive and desperate.  Here’s our political correspondent Ben Wright.

BEN WRIGHT: It’s a time for hard hats. Boris Johnson rarely does subtle but his latest intervention in the referendum campaign has sent sparks flying. A leading Leave campaigner, Mr Johnson said the last 2,000 years of European history had seen doomed attempts to recreate the Roman Empire by trying to unify it – Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this out and it ends tragically. The EU is an attempt to do this by different methods, he said.

Wright also included opinion from Hilary Benn:

I think to try and compare what Hitler and the Nazis did, the millions of people who died, Holocaust, to the free democracies of Europe coming together to trade and cooperate, and in the process to help secure peace on the continent of Europe is frankly deeply offensive.

BW: Europe’s history and Britain’s place in it has become a battleground in this referendum. Glowering over Parliament is Churchill, whose own views on Europe are being pressed into service by both sides. And the past is being invoked to stir our emotions, our gut feelings, and that’s why Boris Johnson mentioned Churchill’s wartime enemy. But of course, this referendum is really about the future, the political and economic repercussions of staying in or leaving the EU. And today the governor of the Bank of England, who does not do interviews often, decided to repeat a warning he made last week.

MARK CARNEY Bank of England Governor: What our judgement is, as a risk, is that growth will be materially slower and inflation notably higher in event of a ‘Leave’.

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH MP Conservative Vote Leave: The Governor has strayed now into the expression of what is a simple, personal prediction. I don’t actually think that it is possible to say with any absolute accuracy that that will happen.

BW: Boris Johnson’s comments have whipped up a controversy this weekend. The Leave campaign knows that many big economic voices are sceptical of their case, but this referendum is about hearts as much as heads. Ben Wright, BBC News.

Wright thus two important claims based on his opinion as a BBC correspondent. First that Johnson was trying to stir up emotions and gut feelings ’and that is why he mentioned Churchill’s wartime enemy’; and second, that the leave campaign was trying to appeal to people’s hearts rather than their heads because they knew that ‘many economic voices are skeptical of their case’.

So what did Boris Johnson actually say that was so emotive and so calculated, according to Wright, to appeal also to people’s emotions?  In his interview with the Sunday Telegraph, Johnson actually said:

The whole thing began with the Roman Empire. I wrote a book on this subject, and I think it’s probably right. The truth is that the history of the last couple of thousand years has been broadly repeated attempts by various people or institutions – in a Freudian way – to rediscover the lost childhood of Europe, this golden age of peace and prosperity under the Romans, by trying to unify it. Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this out, and it ends tragically.

The EU is an attempt to do this by different methods. But fundamentally what it is lacking is the eternal problem, which is that there is no underlying loyalty to the idea of Europe. There is no single authority that anybody respects or understands. That is causing this massive democratic void.

Points about this are:

  • Johnson’s remarks were based on his considered judgment as a historian who has studied and written about in depth European history.
  • Attempts to unify Europe by Napoleon and Hitler had ended in tragic failure,
  • The EU was also an attempt – by clearly different methods – to unify Europe, but it was also likely to ultimately fail because there was no underlying loyalty to the idea of Europe, and there was no single authority that anyone respect6ed or understood.

What he did not say directly was that the EU and its operations are  ‘like Hitler’ or ‘like Napoleon’; his central assertion was rather that all attempts to achieve ‘European unity’ are ultimately doomed because there is no underlying allegiance to ’Europe’. Newsreader Myrie was this wrong and over-polarising in drawing the conclusion that Johnson had asserted that Hitler and the EU ‘had similar goals’. The Johnson claim was rather that the goal of ‘European unity’ was unattainable, whoever tried to achieve it, and it was based on false illusions about ancient Rome.  Ben Wright missed completely from his analysis the key point that ‘there is no underlying loyalty to the idea of Europe’ and thus misled viewers.

The BBC did include in the sequence comments from Jacob Rees Mogg:

Boris was making a carefully calibrated comparison. And all these figures, Philip II of Spain, Louis XIV of France, Napoleon and Hitler were all trying to create a United States of Europe, though admittedly they wanted to do it by force whilst the EU is doing it by stealth.

The issue here is that the ‘remain’ side pounced on the Johnson remarks to suggest the Leave side was desperately trying to evoke comparisons to Hitler in order to discredit the EU. The BBC seemed to be too eager in its flagship bulletin to jump on the same bandwagon and constructed a report which seemed to be deliberately calculated to exaggerate the evocation of Hitler’s name.

Interestingly, earlier in the day, Andrew Marr appeared on his BBC1 show to strike a very different approach. In the newspaper review, Julia Hartley-Brewer said:

‘This is being overplayed. He’s saying the European Union are looking towards a federal superstate, and various people have tried this: Napoleon, Hitler…of course Hitler is the mention everyone gets, but what he is saying is true.’

Marr responded:

‘It’s much more nuanced than the headline suggests. I’m not normally one to say ‘Boris is very, very nuanced’ but he’s very careful. He specifically says ‘I’m not saying the EU people are like Hitler.’ He’s saying, ‘Again and again and again we’ve tried to have a united Europe and every single time it’s ended in tears’.

Actually, Marr also got what Johnson actually said wrong. He missed the key point about a lack of underlying loyalty. But the overall observation that his statement was ‘more nuanced’ than the headlines suggested was spot on.

 

Photo by BackBoris2012

Referendum Blog: May 15

Referendum Blog: May 15

On Thursday, BBC1’s main bulletins put heavy weight on the warning by Bank of England Governor Mark Carney that Brexit could lead to an economic downturn.  On Friday night, similar importance and prominence was afforded to equally strong ‘remain’ advocacy by former Prime Minister John Major and Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund.   BBC economics editor Kamal Ahmad, as in his report the previous day, left no doubt how important these warnings were.  He stated:

‘Another day in this referendum campaign and another major international organisation warns Britain about the economic risks of leaving the European Union. Of course, here in the Treasury, they are pretty pleased that the IMF has broadly backed George Osborne’s assessment and it’s not the last we are going to hear from the IMF. Just a few days before the referendum, they are going to produce a report which will talk about employment, house prices and the Brexit risk. It is thought it will be equally gloomy.’

It is of course, true that such organisations and their leaders seem to be lining up to attack the ‘out’ case, and there is no avoiding that in news terms. But there are also huge question marks why this should be. Have their efforts been encouraged and coordinated by the government? There is widesapread suspicion that it is. And is it because – as the Guido website unearthed – they are all actually in the pay of the EU? These are legitimate questions to ask, but these possibilities and such exploration does not feature in the BBC reporting. On Friday night, Ahmad simply reported the Lagarde claims; his curiosity did not extend any further, and his main intent was to stress how importantly negative against the ‘out’  case the claims were.

The overall report contained counter opinion against John Major’s intervention from the Conservative minister Dominic Raab, and in reaction to the Lagarde claims from Priti Patel, also a government minister. But their responses were no more than about 50 words each. Raab said it was irresponsible not to talk about immigration in the light of new statistics, and Patel that the IMF figures could not be taken at face value e vital to talk. By contrast, newsreader Fiona Bruce said this about Sir John Major’s claims:

Sir John Major has launched a stinging attack on senior Conservatives heading the campaign to leave the EU. The former Tory Prime Minister said the Justice Secretary Michael Gove should be embarrassed and ashamed of his anti-EU rhetoric. And he called on Boris Johnson and former Cabinet minister Iain Duncan-Smith to apologise for peddling false figures

Reporter Eleanor Garnier added that this was:

‘… a big name making a big intervention. And making his own case for staying in the EU, he attacked claims made by Tory colleagues, Boris Johnson, the former Cabinet minister Iain Duncan-Smith, and the Justice Secretary Michael Gove, that leaving the EU could save millions of pounds a week.

JM: Those who make such demonstrably false claims, knowingly do so, need to apologise that they have got their figures so badly wrong and stop peddling a clear-cut untruth.

EG: And he warned colleagues who he says are raising fear and prejudice with their arguments over immigration, that it’s a treacherous road to go down. JM: Some of the Brexit leaders morph into Ukip and turn to their default position, immigration. This is their trump card. I urge them to take care. This is dangerous territory that if handled carelessly, can open up long-term divisions in our country.

EG: This is a significant intervention from the former Prime Minister. He’s naming people with ambitions to one day lead the Conservative party as reckless, and as this referendum campaign goes on the Tory-on-Tory attacks are getting more personal. The question – how united can and will the party be when all this is over?’

After Raab’s contribution (which was included without any other explanation), she concluded:

He rarely makes interventions, but this decision he says is final, and he’ll be hoping people are listening.

Fiona Bruce said about the Lagarde/IMF contribution:

‘Another powerful voice arguing today for the UK to remain in the EU was the head of the International Monetary Fund. Christine Lagarde warned it could be at least “pretty bad”, and at worst, “very, very bad” if the UK pulls out. She said it would hit British growth, investment and house prices.’

Kamal Ahmad then went on to say:

‘Step-by-step, the government believes the economic case is being made. Today, another expert and another grim warning.

GEORGE OSBORNE: A particular welcome to Christine Lagarde and her team. KA: The IMF argued house prices could fall, borrowing costs increase, and the government may have to raise taxes and cut public services further.

CHRISTINE LAGARDE International Monetary Fund: Thank you very much, Chancellor.

KA: I asked Christine Lagarde for the outlook if Britain left the EU.

CL: The consequences would be negative, if the UK was to leave the European Union. It would impact people’s life. So that means, higher prices. Less growth means less jobs, so higher unemployment.

KA: Does the Treasury influence you? Are you pushed by George Osborne to be as bleak as you can be about the effects of Britain leaving the European Union?

CL: The IMF does not get pushed around. What we do is we study their numbers. We assess the validity. We talk to many other people.’

Ahmad then included the comment about the importance of Lagarde’s intervention already noted at the beginning of the blog above, and then had a soundbite from a ComRes pollster, who said:

Any individual voice or report or organisation is unlikely to have a major impact that we will see in the polls tomorrow. It is more a cumulative effect, that they add up, the narrative grows and it makes voters stop and think just before they go and vote on referendum day.

This carefully chosen and edited comment added to the importance of what Lagarde and the IMF had said.

Overall, therefore, the BBC’s flagship television bulletin put heavy emphasis on the warnings from Sir John Major and Christine Lagarde, and both the newsreader narrative and the respective correspondent reports amplified strongly their ‘remain’ messages.  There were clear mentions in both sequences about Vote Leave opposition, but this was afforded much less weight than the ‘remain’ contributions. Of course, there is no requirement for every edition of a daily programme to be balanced – that can be achieved cumulatively according to the news agenda. But over two consecutive nights the main BBC bulletin put very strong weight on ‘remain’ warnings. On both occasions, there was only minimal effort to explore counter and no attempt to explore counter arguments. Equally, there was no inclusion of material that aired whether the Lagarde/Major/Carney warnings were being orchestrated or influenced by the EU itself. These items do not demonstrate conclusively in themselves that the BBC is biased in favour of the ‘remain’ case, but taken with other evidence on this site, suggest strongly that there is serious cause for concern about the way the ‘out’ case is being under-reported or downplayed, and about how the ‘remain’ case is being deliberately and systematically amplified.

This is the full transcript of the sequence:

 

 Transcript of BBC1 ‘News at Ten’ 13th May 2016, EU Referendum, 10.06pm

Introduction

FIONA BRUCE:   Also tonight: The gloves are off: Sir John Major tells senior Tories they should be ashamed and embarrassed by their fearmongering over the EU.

Main Story

FB:         Sir John Major has launched a stinging attack on senior Conservatives heading the campaign to leave the EU. The former Tory Prime Minister said the Justice Secretary Michael Gove should be embarrassed and ashamed of his anti-EU rhetoric. And he called on Boris Johnson and former Cabinet minister Iain Duncan-Smith to apologise for peddling false figures. The Leave campaign responded ‘the public will decide whether to stay in the EU, not politicians.’ Eleanor Garnier reports.

ELEANOR GARNIER:        He’s a big name making a big intervention. With less than six weeks until the vote, the former Prime Minister’s gots a warning for the Conservatives on the EU.

SIR JOHN MAJOR Former Prime Minister:             A quarter of a century ago, it bitterly divided my party.

EG:        And making his own case for staying in the EU, he attacked claims made by Tory colleagues, Boris Johnson, the former Cabinet minister Iain Duncan-Smith, and the Justice Secretary Michael Gove, that leaving the EU could save millions of pounds a week.

JM:        Those who make such demonstrably false claims, knowingly do so, need to apologise that they have got their figures so badly wrong and stop peddling a clear-cut untruth.

EG:        And he warned colleagues who he says are raising fear and prejudice with their arguments over immigration, that it’s a treacherous road to go down.

JM:        Some of the Brexit leaders morph into Ukip and turn to their default position, immigration. This is their trump card. I urge them to take care. This is dangerous territory that if handled carelessly, can open up long-term divisions in our country.

EG:        This is a significant intervention from the former Prime Minister. He’s naming people with ambitions to one day lead the Conservative party as reckless, and as this referendum campaign goes on the Tory-on-Tory attacks are getting more personal. The question – how united can and will the party be when all this is over?

DOMINIC RAAB Conservative, Vote Leave:           We have this week had the official statistics showing a massive underestimate in the amount of immigration from the EU into the UK. I think it would be irresponsible not to be talking about that, because there are issues people care about. The pressure on jobs and wages, the impact on the NHS and housing.

EG:        He rarely makes interventions, but this decision he says is final, and he’ll be hoping people are listening. Eleanor Garnier, BBC News, Westminster.

FB:         Another powerful voice arguing today for the UK to remain in the EU was the head of the International Monetary Fund. Christine Lagarde warned it could be at least “pretty bad”, and at worst, “very, very bad” if the UK pulls out. She said it would hit British growth, investment and house prices. Vote Leave campaigners say the IMF has been wrong before about the British economy and is wrong again. Our Economics Editor Kamal Ahmed reports.

KAMAL AHMED:              Step-by-step, the government believes the economic case is being made. Today, another expert and another grim warning.

GEORGE OSBORNE:        A particular welcome to Christine Lagarde and her team.

KA:        The IMF argued house prices could fall, borrowing costs increase, and the government may have to raise taxes and cut public services further.

CHRISTINE LAGARDE International Monetary Fund:          Thank you very much, Chancellor.

KA:        I asked Christine Lagarde for the outlook if Britain left the EU.

CL:         The consequences would be negative, if the UK was to leave the European Union. It would impact people’s life. So that means, higher prices. Less growth means less jobs, so higher unemployment.

KA:        Does the Treasury influence you? Are you pushed by George Osborne to be as bleak as you can be about the effects of Britain leaving the European Union?

CL:         The IMF does not get pushed around. What we do is we study their numbers. We assess the validity. We talk to many other people.

KA:        Another day in this referendum campaign and another major international organisation warns Britain about the economic risks of leaving the European Union. Of course, here in the Treasury, they are pretty pleased that the IMF has broadly backed George Osborne’s assessment and it’s not the last we are going to hear from the IMF. Just a few days before the referendum, they are going to produce a report which will talk about employment, house prices and the Brexit risk. It is thought it will be equally gloomy. Looking for votes, the Leave campaign on the road today with a message that the IMF had been wrong before and was wrong now.

PRITI PATEL MP Conservative, Vote Leave:           I don’t think we can take their forecasts at face value because of their background and also, on the basis that our economy is successful right now. I believe that if we vote to leave the European Union, Britain has a brighter, more secure and more prosperous future outside of the EU.

KA:        Shoreham on the south coast, here to ask the question, is anyone listening as everyone from the Bank of England to the IMF warns against leaving the EU?

VOX POP FEMALE:          Yeah, I would listen to that information and take it on board. It would help me make a decision.

VOX POP MALE:              Constantly, you are getting different information from one side to another. As a personal thing, no, I would not take any notice of it.

KA:        The governor of the Bank of England, the head of the IMF. There is evidence the economy is high up in the minds of undecided voters.

TOM MLUDZINSKI Director of Political Polling, ComRes:   Any individual voice or report or organisation is unlikely to have a major impact that we will see in the polls tomorrow. It is more a cumulative effect, that they add up, the narrative grows and it makes voters stop and think just before they go and vote on referendum day.

KA:        There is more to the UK economy than the referendum. The IMF said there were other long-term risks, high levels of household debt and low productivity. They will still be problems, however Britain votes on June 23. Kamal Ahmed, BBC News.

FB:         The BBC’s Reality Check team has been examining Christine Lagarde’s comments, and getting to the facts behind the claims on both sides of the referendum debate. You can find their work at bbc.co.uk/realitycheck.

FB:         There are signs tonight that the European Union’s efforts to stem the migrant crisis are beginning to have a significant impact. Numbers arriving from Turkey onto the Greek islands are down around 90% in April compared with the previous month, according to the EU border agency Frontex. It follows a deal struck between the EU and Turkey. But as our chief correspondent Gavin Hewitt now reports from Izmir, the deal is coming under pressure.

GAVIN HEWITT:              These are the Turkish beaches from where tens of thousands of refugees left for their perilous journey to Europe. Today, all that remains are discarded clothes. Almost no refugees are making the crossing to Greece. But the deal between Turkey and the EU to solve the migrant crisis is in danger of collapsing. Go into the fields near the Turkish coast close to Greece and you find Syrian refugees like Murat, who once dreamt of going to Europe but has given up. The Turkish-EU deal signed in March has all but blocked the migrant trail.

MURAD Syrian Refugee (translated) The sea border with Greece is now closed. If someone wants to go to Europe, they cannot. I did want to go, but now I can’t.

GH:        The Turkish coast guard patrols are much more rigorous. Just two months ago, 8,000 refugees crossed here in one month. So far in May, the numbers are around 300. And for those who make it to Greece, the route north through the Balkans is lined with fences and riot police.

PIHRIL ERCHOBAN Director, Association for Solidarity with Refugees:       There is no possibility to move further from Greece, and in Greece, the movement from the islands to the mainland became impossible now.

GH:        So, in Turkey, the tables where the smugglers did their deals are almost empty and the shops can’t sell their life jackets. The Turkish government says it’s honoured its part of the deal.

MUSTAPHA TOPRAK Governor of Izmir (translated) If the refugees go outside the cities where they’re registered, they’re told to go back. If they try to reach the coast and escape, the police will catch them.

GH:        The easing of the refugee crisis depends on a controversial deal between Turkey and the EU. Turkey clamping down on the migrants, in exchange for visa-free travel to much of Europe. But the European Parliament is insisting that first, Turkey must carry out further reforms. Turkey says it has done enough and the whole deal is looking fragile. So there is a risk of the migrant crisis returning. The developments are being followed closely in Germany, where most of the previous refugees went, and by the referendum campaigns in Britain. Gavin Hewitt, BBC News, Izmir.

 

 

 

 

Photo by Chatham House, London

Craig Byers:  Here is the news. BBC bias revealed hour by hour

Craig Byers: Here is the news. BBC bias revealed hour by hour

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).

Impartial? Hardly.

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.

Impartial? Hardly.

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?

Impartial? Hardly.

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.

 

This article first appeared on The Conservative Woman

Photo by Ben Sutherland