How very predictable. The BBC have never treated Nigel Farage or his core message seriously. During the European elections of 1999, when he was spokesman for the fledgling UKIP, they virtually ignored the party’s plans for withdrawal and gave far more airtime to the pro-Euro Conservative party. In all the years in between, they ignored as much as they could of the Brexit perspective and bracketed it firmly with bigotry, xenophobia and extremism. For example, News-watch surveys show that of 4,275 guests talking about the EU on Radio 4’s Today programme in survey periods between 2005 and 2015, only 132 (3.2 per cent) were supporters of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
And so on Sunday night, as the European parliamentary results rolled in, what was the BBC’s focus? Undoubtedly, virtually from the off, it was to discredit pro-Brexit developments in any way possible. The programme rapidly became the Emily Thornberry/Alastair Campbell show, complete with unchallenged allegations from the latter that the Brexit Party was funded by roubles, and from Lady Nugee that those who had voted for Brexit first time would see the error of their ways at a second poll. Both worked flat out to discredit Nigel Farage and rubbish the strength of the pro-Brexit vote.
It quickly became apparent, too, that part of the strategy was that BBC presenters and reporters crudely lumped together the votes for Greens, Liberal Democrats and the nationalist parties, and claimed they were all Remain.
This was poppycock, and at odds with what election results can indicate. For example, pollster Katherine Peacock said on the Today programme on May 3 when discussing the rise in the Liberal Democrat vote in the local elections, which Vince Cable had claimed was a vote for Remain:
‘You know, Vince Cable said that a vote for them is a vote for Remain. But I think it’s much, much more complex than that. And Lib Dems have a tradition of being that protest vote and of running councils and of making gains in local elections and I think that’s what you’ve seen a return to. Whether this actually can be transferred across to the European Elections is quite challenging. I think the issue of identity with political parties is very interesting. You’ve got only 8 per cent of the public who say they very strongly support a political party. Forty per cent say that they very strongly hold their position on Brexit, either Leave or Remain.’
There is no doubt that many of those who voted Liberal Democrat last Thursday were voting for Remain. But political allegiances are not currently as simple or binary as that, and to lump all the votes for one party together in the way the BBC did was highly questionable.
Yesterday morning Nigel Farage appeared on the Today programme. His interviewer was Justin Webb, and it was obvious from the outset that his mission was, as per usual, to attack and seek to discredit the Brexit Party’s success in every way he could, to the point of belligerence. There is a full transcript of the interview at the end of this article.
Mr Webb’s very predictable first point, continuing the overnight BBC theme, was that with ‘a total of 40 per cent of the vote’ Remain had won. Nigel Farage countered that parties who had entered the election supporting Brexit had won 52 per cent of the votes. Undaunted, Mr Webb resumed the attack. He said: ‘What they don’t accept is a no deal Brexit, which they say would be immensely damaging and what a huge number of the British people fear is a no deal Brexit that would damage their jobs. And that is the point that they’re making.’
And there we had it. News-watch research shows that this is what the BBC has been saying in various ways since the referendum took place. Of course, Corporation journalists have a duty to be adversarial when appropriate. But the overall treatment of the Brexit Party went well beyond that, and the negativity was only one way. On the results programme, by contrast, when a Plaid Cymru spokesman claimed at length that the Welsh vote was without doubt a victory for Remain and reversed the referendum vote, no one challenged him.
To be fair, Mr Farage managed to make some telling points of his own, such as that the two-party system served nothing but itself. But the relentless dogs-of-war onslaught continued, with Mr Webb openly laughing and incredulous at the idea of the Brexit Party standing in the next general election with a full manifesto, and then claiming Nigel Farage’s past policies included ‘a liking for President Putin’ – and no doubt in BBC terms the biggest heresy of all – ‘you don’t want the health service’.
In this one interview, all the BBC’s editorial doubts about Brexit, which have been the focus of their EU coverage for the 20 years that News-watch has been monitoring it, came into play. The difference now is that the BBC is seemingly transforming into what looks increasingly like a campaigning organisation with an agenda of its own – and that, as became crystal clear overnight, is to work all-out to discredit the idea of a ‘no deal’ Brexit, no matter how much the people of Britain might want it.
Here is the full interview:
JUSTIN WEBB: Let us turn to Nigel Farage who’s here in the studio, morning to you.
NIGEL FARAGE: Good morning to you.
JW: Nobody won, did they?
NF: Well, I don’t think we did too badly. I mean, the party didn’t even exist six weeks ago. We set it up and, of course, we had no ground campaign, no branches and yet, with a big simple message which is ‘We’ve been badly let down by two parties who’ve broken their promises’, we’ve topped the poll in a fairly dramatic start.
JW: And with a big simple message on the other side, ‘We want to remain’. They actually did better than you, got 40 per cent of the vote you, you and UKIP got 35 between you.
NF: (speaking over) No, no, no, no . . .
JW: So actually, they . . .
NF: (speaking over) No, no, no, no . . .
JW: Let me just put it to you . . .
NF: Hang on a second . . .
JW: They can legitimately, on the other . . .
NF: (speaking over) No.
JW: . . . side of the argument, claim victory this morning.
NF: (speaking over) Of course they can’t, because the Conservative Party position is they support Brexit and us leaving, add the Conservative vote are up. If you go around the country . . . do you know what it is? It’s about 52/48. We’re pretty much where we were three years ago. Things haven’t changed, people haven’t changed their minds. Now, actually, you know, that referendum was won by a clear majority of 1.3million. In a democracy, it’s the majority that wins. The problem we’ve got is that for a democracy to really function properly, you need the loser’s consent. And it’s pretty clear, listening to those clips, that the Remain parties still don’t accept Brexit. So these battles will go on.
JW: What they don’t accept is a ‘no deal’ Brexit, which they say would be immensely damaging and what a huge number of the British people fear is a ‘no deal’ Brexit that would damage their jobs. And that is the point that they’re making.
NF: Yeah well, the point is . . .
JW: (speaking over) And that is the point that these European elections have made to you and your supporters.
NF: Well, we couldn’t have been clearer. You know, the next date is 31 October. That will become as big a day in people’s minds as March 29. And all I can say is this: if we don’t leave on March 31 [sic] then you could can expect to see the Brexit Party’s success last night continue into the next general election.
JW: If a Conservative leader, new Conservative leader, new prime minister, comes to power and says, ‘Okay, we are going to leave on October 31 without a deal.’ And some Conservatives, as seems very likely, say, ‘We can’t support that,’ so there is an election. Will you do a deal with that leader to make sure that that side wins the election?
NF: Well, the first thing I want to say is this: that we’ve got a two-month period now during which there’s going to be this Conservative contest. That’s two of the five months we’ve got left until the leaving date. And I absolutely insist that we do have a mandate to now be part of that team. I want the Brexit Party . . . we’ve got some businessmen and women of considerable experience, quite happy to help the government get ready for 31 October by becoming part of that team . . .
JW: (interrupting) You haven’t got any MPs?
NF: Well, we will actually be in Brussels. You know, that’s where, that’s where . . .
JW: (speaking over) Yeah, but you don’t have any standing in this country to be part of the negotiations, any more than the Lib Dems do.
NF: Well, I don’t know, we’ve just won a national election. I would have thought we do have quite considerable standing. And we’ve also got the right people and the right expertise. So that’s the first thing I would say. The second thing I would say is whatever any Conservative leader says, well why would I believe them? Because we’ve heard it all before, Theresa May telling us 108 times we were leaving on March 29 and we didn’t, so . . .
JW: (speaking over) So hang on a second, even if there’s a manifesto then, say for the sake of argument, Boris Johnson is in charge, there’s a manifesto, he’s, he’s brought down by his own party effectively . . .
NF: (words unclear, speaking under)
JW: . . . there is a general election . . . well no, all these things are . . .
NF: (speaking over) We’re a long way from . . .
JW: . . . entirely possibly.
NF: We’re a long way from that.
JW: And they came to you and said, ‘Let’s do a deal, let’s say “no deal” Brexit, but let’s get it across by doing a deal your party’ are you . . . you’re not ruling it out, are you?
NF: I do not believe that the Conservative Party is even capable of producing a leader through this contest with that kind of clear message. I just don’t think it’s going to happen.
JW: But if they do, if they do, and a lot of Conservatives not only think that it’s possible, but think that is likely, and want it to happen, a lot of Conservative members . . . members. What they want to know from you is what then is the electoral setup going into that . . .
NF: (interrupting) If I see a Conservative manifesto at the end of this year, with an autumn election that says absolutely, unequivocally and clearly, ‘We are leaving the European Union with or without a deal and we mean it’, I’d be delighted to see it, but, but again, would they (words unclear due to speaking over)
JW: (speaking over) And, and . . .
NF: But they, but they . . .
JW: (speaking over) No, but you, hang on a second . . .
NF: (words unclear)
JW: (speaking over) No, excuse me, because you were (words unclear due to speaking over)
NF: (speaking over) In 2017 . . .
JW: . . . almost getting there . . .
NF: (speaking over) In 2017 . . .
JW: . . . but then you didn’t tell us what you were going to (word unclear due to speaking over)
NF: (speaking over) In 2017, the Conservatives told us we would be leaving on March 29 with or without a deal, I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t . . .
JW: (speaking over) And if they tell you now, at the end of October, what do you do?
NF: I wouldn’t believe them.
JW: What, you’d simply, you’d simply blank them and stand against them?
NF: Firstly, it isn’t going to happen. I don’t think you . . . I mean, we’re not going to get a Conservative leader with that degree of clarity. And secondly, I wouldn’t believe them. How could I, with the track record of the last couple of years?
JW: But, but what you’re doing then is (laughs) suggesting to the country that you are going to stand as a political party . . .
JW: . . . with a whole gamut of policies . . .
JW: . . . and recently, on The Andrew Marr Show, when you were reminded of what those previous policies were, that you’ve held, you didn’t much like it. You are going to have to turn yourself into a full-scale political party?
NF: It’s a heck of a job. You know we’ve done amazing things in six weeks. I’m not pretending that to set up the infrastructure to fight 650 seats, perhaps for an October election is easy, but that, that work . . .
JW: (speaking over) But you’re intending to do it?
NF: . . . that work starts (words unclear due to speaking over ‘this afternoon’?)
JW: (speaking over) With a full manifesto?
NF: Absolutely. (words unclear due to speaking over)
JW: (speaking over) And we’ll be reminded of your previous liking for President Putin . . .
NF: (words unclear, speaking under)
JW: . . . and you don’t want the health service and all the rest of it . . .
NF: (speaking over) Hang on, they were never policies. I mean, I know the job of media is to close down debate, but those things that were talked about on the Andrew Marr programme . . .
JW: (speaking over) No, I’m opening it up, they’re your policies.
NF: (speaking over) were never, ever policies. But we will, of course, talk about policies, to have a policy platform . . .
JW: (speaking over) Right . . .
NF: . . . no question about that.
JW: (speaking over) Right, you are, you are going to stand in the next election with a full set of . . .
NF: (speaking over) But I’ll tell you what’s also, I’ll tell you what’s also very interesting, all the focus this morning is on the impact we’ve had on the Conservative Party. Just look at what happened to the Labour vote in the north-east of England and in Wales, where for the first time in over 100 years the Labour Party have not won an election in Wales. We’re also taking huge numbers of votes from the Labour Party too.
JW: You are going to challenge those two parties, right across the board . . .
NF: (speaking over) Yes.
JW: . . . and you think you can supplant them or live with them . . .
NF: (speaking over) Well . . .
JW: . . . in, in an election?
NF: I think that the two-party system now serves nothing but itself. I think they’re an obstruction to the modernisation of politics in our country, an obstruction to us moving forwards and yes, we’re going to take them on and I accept it’s a hugely ambitious thing to do, but that is what we’re going to try.
JW: So you’re going to stay in politics, because you had said you’d gone. In fact, you had gone.
NF: Well, I was quite happy to have gone . . .
JW: (speaking over) But you’re not any more.
NF: . . . and had we left the European Union . . .
JW: You are sticking with this for the long term?
NF: Yes, absolutely.
JW: Final thought about Donald Trump who’s coming here soon, are you going to see him?
NF: Well it’s difficult because, you know, whilst I’m a friend of his and I saw him quite recently in America, you know, this is an official state visit. And we know that Number 10 are saying, ‘Please don’t meet that person’, so if I do, it’ll be in private.