2015 General Election

Kate Hoey welcomes new BBC complaints website

Kate Hoey welcomes new BBC complaints website

A new website, BBC Complaints – www.bbccomplaints.com – has been launched by News-watch.

Its purpose is to help hold the BBC to account: to ensure that, as is required by law (expressed in its Charter and Public Purposes), it is properly impartial in its coverage of news and current affairs; to fill an important gap by creating a new, independent conduit for the thousands of complaints about BBC programmes such as Today and Question Time.

There are two primary reasons why it is needed.

First, the BBC’s own complaints procedure is not fit for purpose and stacked to an unjustifiable extent against viewers and listeners. Between April 2005 and August 2015, the BBC received 2.1 million complaints from viewers and listeners.  However, only 3,335 were considered by the Editorial Complaints Unit, and 88% of these were rejected, usually on spurious grounds.

It boils down to that the Corporation is so locked in its own bubble that it cannot see the problems that taint especially its EU coverage, and also severely distort reporting of topics such as climate change and immigration.

It has constructed a hugely complex complaints procedure that is designed largely to protect the Corporation and its journalists. In the same vein, editorial guidelines have been fashioned around the false yardstick of ‘due impartiality’, a concept that allows BBC editors and executives to in interpret balance in controversial areas entirely on the Corporation’s own terms.

Under ‘due impartiality’ for example, those who oppose climate alarmism are virtually banned from the BBC airwaves because in the BBC’s own judgment – arrived at on the basis of a so-called ‘expert’ appointed by the Trustees – the case for catastrophic global climate change is proven. The Corporation has thus adapted the role of a self-appointed censor.

Second, the area where BBC bias is moist acute is in its coverage of EU affairs. News-watch has chronicled those problems for almost 17 years and its many reports – based on the highest academic principles – can be viewed on this website.

Because of this, during the build-up to the EU Referendum, News-watch has mounted an unprecedented monitoring exercise. Using the latest technology, it covers all the main news programmes and channels, ranging from Newsbeat on Radio 1 to From Our Own Correspondent on Radio 4, and from BBC1’s Breakfast to Newsnight on BBC2.

BBC Complaints has been launched as a vital part of this effort. It’s impossible to keep track of everything that the BBC does, so this is a new conduit where listeners and viewers can register the examples that they hear and see.

Everything noted on the site will be carefully scrutinised and the flow of extra intelligence will enable the team at News-watch to both cross-reference and extend the reach of its own efforts.

Throughout the referendum campaign, News-watch – using the evidence gathered by this detailed monitoring – will be exerting as much pressure on the BBC as possible to improve the quality of its output and to ensure its Charter obligations.

Kate Hoey MP, the former Labour minister who supports exit from the EU, said:

‘In the ensuing referendum it has never been more important that the BBC is absolutely unbiased in its coverage. Unfortunately, in the past this has not always been the case with a form of institutionalised pro EU bias prevailing in the organisation. This new website will ensure all complaints will be publicly aired and should be welcomed by the BBC.”

Ryan Bourne, head of public policy at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), has recently noted that, according to News-watch research, of 4,275 Today programme guest speakers on EU themes between 2004 and 2015, only three were left-leaning supporters of EU exit.




Analysis by News-watch of the BBC’s EU-related general election coverage in selected flagship news programmes reveals massive bias by omission.

There was a failure to explain in any depth the EU-related policies of the main parties, despite the fact that the United Kingdom’s future relationship with the EU were a central part of election manifestos.

For example, questioning of David Cameron about the Conservative proposals to re-negotiate the terms of EU membership  amounted to only four minutes over the entire election campaign.

And UKIP’s policy of withdrawal from the EU was the subject of only a handful of questions. Coverage of withdrawal  itself  was swamped by consideration of the potential shortcomings of the main party supporting it.

David Keighley, managing director of News-watch, said:  “The BBC of course has a duty to report the skirmishing of election campaigns. But as the main public service broadcaster it also must ensure that audiences are properly informed of key election issues. It seems that the reverse was the case. Explanation of the EU policies was very limited indeed.”

Below in full is the executive summary of the preliminary findings of the report. You can read the full report here:


News-watch research indicates that across the four highest-profile BBC news and current affairs programmes, coverage of the EU during the 2015 General Election between March 30 and May 10 was extremely limited and did not sufficiently convey to audiences the issues involved.

Policies and attitudes towards the EU were a central point of difference between the political parties, with their respective approaches potentially having a huge impact on the UK, but this was not reflected in coverage.

Especially, the analysis shows that the issue of possible withdrawal was not explored fairly or deeply enough. The possibility of withdrawal was central in both Ukip and Conservative EU policy. Coverage was heavily distorted, for instance by the substantial business news comment on the Today programme that withdrawal would damage British trade and jobs.

The message of potential damage to the economy was supplemented by the provision of frequent platforms for Labour and Liberal Democrat figures to warn of the same dangers. The spokesmen from these parties were not properly challenged on their views.

On the other hand, the only advocates of withdrawal who made points on that subject – apart from one brief sequence involving the Socialist Labour party and a minor mention by the former leader of the BNP – were from Ukip. But the main editorial focus on the party was whether they were competent or potentially racist and this clouded the treatment of withdrawal as an issue in itself.

In response to the Wilson report , the BBC promised to ensure that coverage of the EU was treated as important, and would include detailed explanation which ensured that audiences were fully abreast of the complex issues involved. But analysis by News-watch, based on the monitoring throughout the campaign of BBC News at Ten, Radio 4’s Today, and World at One and BBC2’s Newsnight, shows that this was not the case.

A major point here is that across the four programmes, coverage of EU-related election material amounted to only to 3.1% of the available programme airtime, a cumulative total of around 4 hours out of 130 hours of total programme time.

The key findings of this preliminary survey are:

Overall, there was only minimal editorial effort to explain to the audience what the respective party policies meant. This is best illustrated by the fact that Labour leader Ed Miliband was not interviewed at all about his EU-related election policies. When Mishal Husain (Today) and Evan Davis (Newsnight) interviewed Nigel Farage, no direct question were put to him about EU withdrawal or policy. David Cameron was interviewed by John Humphrys – but there were only four brief questions about the EU, and this portion of the exchange lasted only four minutes. The only questions put to Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg were whether he agreed that holding a referendum in 2017 would be damaging to the British economy and whether he would join a coalition which supported the holding of a referendum.

The Conservative party’s core policy was renegotiation of the relationship with the EU, followed by an in/out referendum. These bare facts were conveyed to audiences, but there was little of substance beyond that. David Cameron and George Osborne were asked a few questions which included whether uncertainty about the EU would lead to a loss of trade, and whether their policies were actually an attempt to placate anti-EU backbenchers. But there was no attempt to ask them to explain their decision to a hold a referendum, or what the poll would mean for voters and the United Kingdom .

Labour policy on the EU was that there should be a more enthusiastic engagement, a referendum should be denied unless there was treaty change, and that the Conservative approach was a major risk to jobs and investment. Their basic stance to the EU was explored briefly, but there was no attempt to ask what such enthusiastic adherence to the EU actually entailed. More Labour figures than Conservatives appeared on EU themes, and a handful of adversarial questions – such as why the public should not be trusted to vote on EU membership and why Ed Miliband had not talked more about foreign policy – posed to them, but the interrogation was superficial and limited. Labour figures had frequent brief platforms from which to attack Conservative policies and were not challenged in their views.

The Liberal Democrats were asked only whether they agreed with holding a referendum in 2017, and later in the campaign, whether they would join a Conservative coalition which included a referendum promise. As with Labour, there were frequent soundbites from party spokesmen who attacked Conservative and Ukip policies towards the EU.

Most of the questioning of Ukip did not relate to the party’s core policy of withdrawal from the EU, but was about their competence or attitudes towards race and immigration. Party spokesmen had the opportunity to make a handful of key points about the EU – such as that the UK could leave the EU and subsequently have a trading relationship with it. But editorial effort was minimal, and on the day of the launch of the Ukip manifesto, more focus was on telling audiences that Mr Farage had called the 2010 manifesto ‘drivel’ than conveying what was in the 2015 version.

A further major issue was business coverage. Throughout the campaign, there was a focus on interviewing business and political figures who believed that leaving the EU would be damaging to business in the UK. For instance, the Today programme interviewed only four guests who spoke in favour of the Conservative referendum policy, or who more broadly supported EU reform, and 18 speakers who saw the proposed referendum as a threat or a worry to business. There was not a single contribution from any speaker who believed that withdrawal from the EU would benefit British business. This frequent one-sided reporting amplified the suggestion that there was strong opposition to both the referendum and withdrawal. Put bluntly, it was an extra and sustained strand of bias against the policies of both the Conservative and Ukip parties, and against withdrawal as an issue in its own right.

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BBC Reform? Don’t Hold Your Breath

BBC Reform? Don’t Hold Your Breath

Is the government planning radical reform the BBC? Don’t hold your breath.

Despite a bit of high-profile sabre-rattling, and intensifying speculation in the press based on ‘government leaks’ that this is on the cards, the answer is probably a huge resounding ‘no’.

Figures close to new culture secretary John Wittingdale have clearly been the source of the recent rumours about reform. It has now emerged that a green paper on the subject is due within the next few weeks.

Sounds good, but dig deeper and all that is on the agenda, it seems, is a bit of tinkering: minor reform of and continued pegging (not abolition) of the licence fee, together with privatisation of BBC Worldwide and of some production facilities.

Also mooted is the scrapping after only eight years of the useless BBC Trustees. Even Sir Michael Lyons, the Labour- supporting former BBC chairman, now wants shot of them.

The end result of this limited fudge? The BBC will soldier on a bit bruised – and maybe slightly slimmer and smaller – but essentially the same: an arrogant, corpulent and reactionary presence at the heart of a media landscape that is otherwise fizzing with ideas that could energise our culture and our democracy.

If this really is the scale of the Conservative vision for the reform of public service broadcasting, it’s deeply depressing.

Point One: Nothing short of complete abolition of the current fee and a change to subscription funding will alter the outlook of the Corporation and cease the flow of propaganda. They need to be subject to the disciplines of the market-place.

Point two: Abolishing the BBC Trustees and handing regulation to Ofcom – the route apparently also favoured by George Osborne, who declared his support back in March – won’t change a thing. Key figures on the Ofcom board, the chairman (Dame Patricia Hodgson, who spent thirty years at the BBC before being forced to jump ship by Greg Dyke in 2000) and the man in charge of content regulation (Tim Gardam) are both BBC veterans who spent decades at the Corporation before acquiring their current cushy posts. They will staunchly defend the lefty propaganda emanating from the BBC in exactly the same way the Trustees do because they are wilfully blind to it.

What is needed instead is genuinely independent, robust regulation that forces the BBC to be properly independent in its outlook, and to make sure that every penny of spending is properly focused on generating creativity and content that is in tune with British culture, audience tastes and interests.

Point three: Privatising BBC facilities won’t dilute the massive stultifying influence the Corporation exerts over the UK’s media scene. What is needed is genuine competition so that creativity can flourish. A lion’s share of the money that the public have for television entertainment goes directly and automatically to the BBC coffers; until this changes, innovation from independent players in the business is stifled. For its part, the BBC remains a massive feudal-style dispenser of cash and patronage.

The only conclusion to draw from this half-hearted menu is that in reality, the government does not want real reform. The renewal of the BBC’s Royal Charter due in 2017 is a once-in a-decade opportunity, but what’s apparently so far on the drawing board is only a pathetic fudge that will, in effect, maintain the status quo for yet another ten years.

Why? Well David Cameron and George Osborne desperately want a ‘yes’ vote in the forthcoming referendum. So why would they plan to hobble the best propaganda channel they have?

Research by News-watch indicates that their relentless deluge of pre-EU sentiment – and patronising denigration of anyone who puts an alternative view – continued unabated during the General Election. With Cameron’s attempts at renegotiation hitting the buffers this week, he will be praying for all the help he can get – especially from the experts, the BBC.


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Harding’s defence of  BBC election coverage ‘does not stand up to scrutiny’

Harding’s defence of BBC election coverage ‘does not stand up to scrutiny’

In characteristic take-no-hostages style, BBC News chief James Harding has defended in the Corporation’s General Election coverage.

His message – delivered in his trademark pugilistic style without a scrap of supportive evidence to BBC-loving chums at a media conference – was exactly in line with that from senior BBC figures on such occasions: ‘Move along there, nothing to see. We did brilliantly. We got complaints from everyone and that proves we were unbiased’.

Harding claims to believe that his dismissal of the criticism is not based on simple metrics, but nothing in his speech suggests that more subtle techniques of analysis were used.

You can read his full speech here on the News-watch website. The key underpinnings are flawed logic and bombast. And while claiming the Corporation welcomes ‘criticism’, he dismisses out of hand all complaints from politicians because they were based on blatant and risible self-interest.

Harding says that, though astonished by the ferocity of complaints, he looked at each on its merit. Every word of his speech suggests otherwise.

Ukip, he claims, were worried that they were being ‘shut out by the establishment’. Pardon? That’s an exercise in smoke and mirrors.

The main problem about BBC’s coverage of Ukip was not that they were ‘shut out’, but rather that almost every interview, such as this by Mishal Husain on Today, was ‘painting by numbers’. The main intent was to portray the party as basically as racist, air-headed thugs, exactly in line with what BBC interviewers have been doing for years.

Another major issue was that when Nigel Farage appeared on the BBC-staged challengers’ debate, the audience was packed with people whose main objective was hurl abuse at him. The panel itself was allowed to shout him down by force of numbers. Further, no question was asked of the candidates about the EU, the primary issue that distinguished Ukip from all the other parties represented.

A third – linked to the challengers’ debate -was gross bias by omission. Coverage of the EU as an election theme disappeared almost to vanishing point. The main parties might not want to have talked about the subject, but it was the BBC’s job to be proactive on this front and they were not.

Harding’s main argument, however, raises even more concerns. He suggests that the British people voted for a Conservative government, and therefore, any idea that any element of BBC output was skewed to the left can be dismissed.

Here, there is so much wrong with his logic and assumptions that it is almost impossible to know where to start unpicking them.

Point one: How could he possibly know what persuaded the voters who actually voted ‘Conservative’ to do so?   It seems, however, that he thinks the BBC’s coverage had some role in the party’s success. He provides no evidence for his argument, so it would be interesting to know on what this is based.

If Harding believes this, it surely also means that the BBC had some role in dissuading people to plump for other parties?

Point two: His logic does not actually stand up to scrutiny. He has set up a false Aunt Sally. The speech provides no hard evidence that the BBC was not biased against the Conservative party. So it is equally possible to argue that the biased coverage may have led to a reduction in the Conservative (and Ukip) vote. In contrast to Harding, abundant evidence has been provided on TCW and News-watch that indeed it did.

Point three: Harding makes several admissions in his speech that there were mistakes in coverage, for example a disproportionate focus on a hung result and the need for a coalition. Yet he immediately claims – again without providing a shred of evidence – that this has not affected impartiality.

The question here is, how does he know? It looks to be another default assumption that what the BBC does is right, even when it gets things wrong. The reality is that unpicking issues of bias is often a slow and painstaking operation of sifting through the transcripts of what was actually said. If he has got that evidence, he should declare it and let others decide. Instead – as usual – the Corporation is its own judge and jury.

There are other massive holes in his polemic but there is not the space here to go into all of them. Suffice it to say that the main substance of his defence evaporates as soon as it is scrutinised.

Photo by David Holt London

BBC News chief defends General Election coverage against bias claims

BBC News chief defends General Election coverage against bias claims

James Harding, the director of BBC news, gave this speech in which he sought to defend the Corporation’s General Election coverage to the spring conference of the Voice of the Listener and Viewer on June 2.

News-watch is preparing a full response to the sweeping generalisations he made about lack of bias. It will be posted imminently, and will be evidence-based. In the meantime it is noted that – as is usual for BBC defences of its output – the claims are not supported by a scrap of evidence. The speech is based on generalities that add up to only to a bombastic statement that ‘We know we got it right’.

first reaction is here on the Biased BBC website.  This is an extract:

“… the speech could be a sign that he has given up the arduous task of thinking for himself and has merely resigned himself to the groupthink inherent in working for the BBC…..living in the Bubble in total denial about what the BBC does, completely divorced from reality, detached from the real world….for instance the small quote at the head of this post is one Harding thinks worthy of highlighting on the webpage….and yet it is totally at odds with how most people see the BBC and indeed the experience of anyone who has the temerity to actually complain to the BBC and receives a swift kick to the crown jewels.”

It is noted that the panel at the event was made up of broadcasting establishment figures, most with close BBC connections.

James Harding Speech at VLV Conference 2 June 2015

In a callow moment, about three months out from the election, I told David Jordan, the weathered head of Editorial Policy at the BBC, how much I was looking forward to it: “This is going to be fun,” I said. “Fun?” he replied. “It’s going to be hell on wheels.” It turned out to be both.

And I know that I said I’d talk today about the Future of News. Perhaps we can do that, if you’d like, in the questions and answers that follow. But how about some recent history first. A few weeks on from polling day, what can we say of the BBC’s coverage of the General Election of 2015?

Let’s start, not by patting ourselves on the back, but by taking a look at our election coverage with a critical eye.

A serious critique of the coverage must address the problem with the pollsters. Happily, John Curtice and the exit poll on the BBC proved to be right on the night and, from the first bong, it was clear we were into one of the most exciting nights of television and radio I can remember. Nor was it a failure in over-reporting the polls: the BBC’s guidelines suggest we should not lead a news bulletin or programme simply with the results of an opinion poll. And, of course, the polls were central to the politicians’ campaigns, too, so it would have been impossible to ignore them. But, surely, we and all other media organisations allowed the poll numbers to infect our thinking: there was too much ‘coalitionology’ as a result. The BBC did better than others on this, but, with the benefit of hindsight, we would all have been better off with less discussion of deals and allowed the dissection of policy - that we did from defence to social care, housing to education - to speak for itself.

Also, we have to ask ourselves whether we did enough to hold in check the political machines of each party. With each election, the political operations of all parties becomes more controlled, there is ever greater effort put into news management. This time, for example, there were no morning press conferences. There were embargoed stories, dropped just before the newspapers rolled off the presses and the 10 o’clock news went on air. Sometimes, the result wasn’t news, but messaging.

The debates over the TV debates were, to put it mildly, fraught. Personally, I think that the run of four TV leaders’ events that were brokered by Channel 4, Sky, ITV and the BBC gave voters a real opportunity to see the choice before them. The deal saved the TV debates from collapse and secured their place in the British political landscape; it safeguarded the impartiality of the broadcasters; and, from the TV debates to the live interviews to the Question Time special, the electorate got to see its leading politicians under intense scrutiny, live and just days from the poll. That said, we need to listen and draw some lessons from the process with a view to setting up debates in the future. The public will want to see debates ahead of the referendum on EU membership and will expect to see them in the run-up to the 2020 election. Well before, we should promptly agree a timetable for accepting the dates and formats of future debates.

Over the course of the election campaign, I got it in the ear from politicians and their spokespeople - from all political parties.

I was, I admit, quite astonished by the ferocity and frequency of complaints from all parties. More often than not, it was some version of a politician saying either I want “more me on the BBC” or “my side of the story is the story”. And this being my first election at the BBC, I was struck by how many politicians and spokespeople paid lip service to the idea of the BBC’s editorial independence, but, nonetheless, did think it was their place to say what should be leading the news, what questions should be asked and how, how they wanted audiences to be chosen for programmes.

To be clear, I’m not one of the people who subscribes to the view that if you’re getting criticised from all sides you must be getting it broadly right. In fact, part of my job is to listen and assess the merit of each complaint, each request, each argument. And the fact is that a fiercely fought election generated a lot of strong feelings: Labour was angry about the focus on the SNP, the Tories regularly questioned our running orders and editorial decisions, the Lib Dems felt they weren’t getting sufficient airtime, the Greens complained about being treated like a protest movement not a party, UKIP railed against what they saw as an establishment shut-out, the DUP felt Northern Ireland parties were being treated as second class citizens, the SNP questioned what they saw as metropolitan London bias at the BBC. And the list goes on.

One of the things I really like about the BBC is that it’s alive to its critics. It listens. And, as importantly, we are self-critical. We want to give more voice to private enterprise in particular we’re working to get more company news on the BBC. We feel we should keep on pushing out of London, holding a more devolved UK to account, going after the issues that matter to people in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the regions of England. And we need to change the look and sound of the organisation. For example, we think we need to do more to give opportunities to disabled journalists to work at the BBC - if, occasionally, we get mocked for going out of our way to make sure the BBC is in touch with the country it serves, then so be it.

But there’s criticism of the BBC’s newsrooms that is unfair and unfounded. Take, for example, the fabled left-wing bias. I find this increasingly hard to take seriously. In the light of the Conservative victory, what’s the argument? That the BBC’s subtle, sophisticated left-wing message was so very subtle, so very sophisticated that it simply passed the British people by? For some politicians have complained about this alleged bias, but not, in any meaningful numbers, the public. Or consider the criticism that BBC people are all in the grip of some public sector groupthink: how does that square with the fact that a Conservative Prime Minister, a Tory Chancellor, a proudly pro-enterprise Business Secretary and a London mayor who is a cheerleader for the City all recruited their spokesman from the serried ranks of pinkoes at the BBC. By the way, I find equally implausible the Labour critique that the BBC is too right-wing. Let me be clear: the BBC is scrupulously impartial. Of course, we make mistakes. I’m not saying we’re perfect; but we are impartial.

I’ve been asked whether politicians made the link between the BBC’s election coverage and the future funding of the BBC? Mostly, not. But, along the way, there were people from all parties who made the connection between their dissatisfaction with the election coverage and the fact that the next government will set the licence fee and the terms of the Royal Charter. Some did so explicitly. Nigel Farage, for example, said he was unhappy at UKIP’s treatment on the BBC and proposed cutting the licence fee by two thirds. Others left it hanging in the air.

BBC Charter Renewal coming hot on the heels of a General Election was an unhappy coincidence. Nothing matters more to BBC News than its independence. For people to have confidence in this country’s most important news organisation, they must know that its journalists will ask the difficult questions without fear or favour. The BBC, I’m proud to say, resisted any pressure, but how do we ensure the public remains confident that it is independent of politicians and the government. I don’t have any simple answers, but the experience has raised some questions. Given we are now in an age of fixed-term parliaments, do we need to try to put time between General Elections and Charter Renewal? Will the public continue to have confidence that journalists will, fearlessly, question politicians who, in effect, are setting their salaries and budgets? If not, how do politicians reassure the public that they are not going to play for political advantage or take out their personal grievances on the BBC?

In the week after the election, people let off steam. Already, the mood is different. The early morning calls, the angry texts, the lengthy letters have stopped. I hope – and, in fact, expect that – with the benefit of time and reflection, both the public and politicians will see that the BBC delivered successfully on its responsibilities as a public service broadcaster. In the months ahead and the political contests to come, politicians may not always like our news judgments. But we’re not here for them, we’re here for the public. And by that measure - the one that matters most - the BBC scored in 2015. So, allow me if you will, to toot the BBC’s horn for a minute.

First, the audience reaction was really encouraging. BBC election coverage reached 9 in 10 UK adults in the last week of the campaign: 89 percent of UK adults said they came to BBC News coverage of the election in the final week of the campaign; it was 88 per cent in 2010. And it was high - 84 percent - even amongst traditionally harder-to-reach 18-34 year-olds. The online - and, more to the point, mobile - numbers were extraordinary: on the 8 May, BBC News Online was used by a record 31.2m global browsers - in the UK it was 20.7m, beating the previous high by 7 million. And, take note, that between 6 and 7am on that Friday morning, 84 percent of browsers were on mobiles. More importantly still, a very high 66 percent chose BBC as the one best source of election results coverage and 60 percent chose the BBC as the best for election news across the whole campaign. BBC was rated ahead of ITV and Sky on all quality metrics - with a particularly strong lead on having great experts, challenging politicians and providing local coverage.

Second, there were real stars offstage. There were no significant errors, no social media snafus, no technology failures nor cybersecurity failures and no disruption from industrial action. A great many people, who were neither on camera nor on set, contributed to the success of the BBC’s election coverage. And, to my mind, the heroes of the election night were the people who built the systems and the stages that we worked on. The technology operation was the foundation for all that we did. It was sophisticated, ingenious and invaluable. The set at Elstree looked stunning; Jeremy Vine’s parallel universe made sense of the world with an exquisite eye for detail and exceptional flair; and the map on the piazza and the projections on Broadcasting House were a work of art that put democracy right in the middle of the BBC. Before the first bong, it was clear there was going to be only one election show worth watching.

And, third, I think we delivered against our own editorial ambitions. Forgive me, but I think we put on the television event of the campaign - arguably, the event of the campaign - namely the Question Time in Leeds. It was one of a series of events at the BBC, which, like no other news organisation, gave voice to the voter: from the My Election films on the 6 & 10 to 5Live’s 20 outside broadcasts, from Breakfast taking its red sofa on the road to Today’s tour of 100 constituencies, the debates across Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and the English regions, from World at One in Dudley to Victoria Derbyshire’s debates, and the Generation 2015 first time voters who commented and participated all the way through, the BBC made a point of making sure we all heard from the people.

We made a point of trying to get away from the campaign to cover the choice: the 6 and 10 did a series on big issues, from airports to defence spending to social care, that weren’t getting much play in the campaign; Newsnight interrogated the future of the NHS; Andrew Neil’s series of Daily Politics debates analysed policy, department by department over two weeks; and, online, from Reality Check to constituency profiles, we scrutinised the detail. And, we broke stories, from David Cameron’s revelation in his kitchen that he would only serve two terms to Ed Miliband’s accidental revelation that he only had two kitchens.

Being involved in a general election at the BBC is one of the highlights of my professional life. I and many millions of people across the country and around the world will remember the night of May 7th 2015 for years to come. I feel grateful to have had the chance to be a part of it. And, it doesn’t stop. Already, we are looking ahead at a busy political roadmap: the Holyrood elections in 2016, the referendum on EU membership by the end of 2017. I expect it’s going to be fun., http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/speeches/2015/james-harding-speech-vlv-2-june-2015


Photo by Stuart Pinfold

Al Murray campaign in Thanet against Farage ‘backed by BBC’

Al Murray campaign in Thanet against Farage ‘backed by BBC’

Al Murray, the pub landlord, clearly wanted – to put it politely – to pour cold ale all over Nigel Farage’s South Thanet campaign when he decided back in January to stand against him.

His boast was that the country needed a leader who could wave a pint around and invent common sense solutions. Some of it was good old-fashioned humour. But there is no doubt that some of what he claimed in newspaper interviews was designed deliberately to mock Ukip immigration policies and the right-wing perspective. Why else would he choose an upside down £ sign as his party logo?

So what’s the problem? Well the company who made a television programme about his campaign that went out on election night was Avalon Entertainment.  They claimed they had made a fly-on-the-wall programme about his campaign.

Scratch the surface and problems begin to emerge. First is that on the official return for the real-life campaign that Murray waged, he is listed as ‘party leader’. But his campaign officer was Tris Cotterill, who is Avalon’s ‘head of digital’ and his ‘treasurer’ was Chris Scott – Avalon’s head of marketing.   Avalon are also Murray’s showbiz agents, so on this basis, this looks less like a real campaign and more like a programme-making stunt.

Unbelievably, perhaps, the Election Commission gave the party official recognition. Did they really know what they were doing?

It gets even murkier. The programme was actually commissioned by UKTV, which owns a clutch of television channels on Freeview.  It went out on their entertainment channel, the improbably named Dave. And guess who owns UKTV? Well the 50 per cent  shareholder – maybe you’ve guessed it – is the BBC, through its wholly-owned commercial subsidiary BBC Worldwide.

So put another way. The BBC commissioned a programme that centred on what was projected as a ‘real’ political campaign.  Except that it was not. It was arguably instead a publicity stunt dreamed up by Avalon.  And a main purpose was to undermine and heap odium on the Farage campaign in a highly-contested and deadly serious political process.

In the event, Murray attracted only 300 votes, far less than Farage’s margin of defeat. But there’s no way of telling how much damage this jolly jape inflicted on the real political process that was going on in Thanet and had central importance  in the General Election.

There is abundant evidence that Avalon worked flat out to court as much publicity as they could for their campaign wheeze in both the traditional and social network media.  Murray had enough clout (as the Avalon programme shows) to draw the full political press pack down to Thanet for at least two major photo-calls.  And company ‘reporters’ interviewed real people about their voting intentions. The point is that it was not clearly a spoof.

In reality, it blurred the lines of choice in a crucial election seat. And funding was from the bloated coffers of one of the country’s most successful independent production companies who, in turn, were financed by BBC cash.  This gave the campaign Murray considerable fire power beyond what normal candidates can afford. Some would argue this is precisely what electoral law is there to prevent.

It defies belief that any part of the the BBC (even if it was indirectly)  commissioned such a programme. Effectively, they gave Murray a PR platform to ridicule the Farage campaign. The results can be seen on the BBC website.

The main programme did not go out until after the polling booths had closed but the damage was done by the pre-programme publicity, which was clearly a major thrust of the Avalon team’s activities.

The BBC has been under fire for its anti-Ukip stance for many years. How could they sanction such a stunt? Did they make equivalent programmes about the SNP or Labour? Maybe not.

Conservative BBC reform?  Don’t hold your breath

Conservative BBC reform? Don’t hold your breath

The BBC made it abundantly clear who they wanted to win this election. The interview by Mishal Husain of Nigel Farage which was highlighted here, is a typical manifestation of their subtle-as-a-brick approach.

To protect the licence fee and their imperialist, state-protected dominance of the UK’s media, they desperately wanted in power an alliance of Labour, SNP and the Greens.

So from inside their blinkered metropolitan bubble, they worked consistently to ridicule anything they saw as opposition. Then there was bias by omission, an avoidance of discussion as much as possible of issues such as the EU and immigration control.

Another strand was that no opportunity was missed to play up Nicola Sturgeon’s brilliance.

In the same vein, almost every utterance by Ed Miliband was treated with fawning reverence. It’s no wonder he had his Moses tablet moment. The BBC was already treating his policies as the Holy Writ.

Throughout the campaign were interviews and features in these deep grooves. Amongst the most obvious examples was this, spotted by expert BBC-watcher Craig Byers on Radio 4’s the World Tonight on the eve of the election. The BBC’s version of ‘fairness’ was three strident anti-austerity voices against only one very moderate local businessman. He was actually one of the few people in the country who favoured a continuation of the Coalition.

Another example was the approach of Mark Mardell. His biting anti-Ukip tone was especially pronounced in a stream of negative invective in his commentary in this interview sequence during the 2009 European election. His main thrust was that Ukip are the British National Party in blazers. Mardell’s interview on the World This Weekend of Mark Reckless five days before the 2015 poll was every bit as negative. It was as if nothing had changed – to him, four million Ukip voters are definitely wrong.

Ex-Europe editor Mardell’s interview on the World This Weekend five days before the 2015 poll was every bit as negative. It was as if nothing had changed – to him, four million Ukip voters are definitely wrong.

As part of their election campaign, on top of this blatant bias in interviews, the Corporation used their vast resources to commission rafts of programming that crudely rubbished opponents: drama that was so left-wing that it was risible, so-called comedy that savaged anti-austerity, and endless programmes that in different ways promoted multiculturalism and green agendas.

But despite all their efforts, a result that Tony Hall and his lefty-packed Management Board dreaded has now come to pass. Middle England, thank God, despite BBC’s relentless torrent of propaganda, have different concerns.

Back in 1997, observers noted that after the Blair landslide, the corridors of Broadcasting House were strewn with empty champagne bottles. It marked 20 years of continuing gravy-train financing.

Prospects are not so rosy now, and Lord Hall and his board will no doubt be locked his week in WIA-style meetings to recalibrate their survival campaign.

The news that John Whittingdale – twice shadow culture secretary and chair of the Commons Media Committee for a decade – has become Culture secretary looks on the surface an appointment that could lead to significant change and even some kind of assault on BBC bias.

He is decent man who is on record as saying forcefully that he cannot see the licence fee lasting for more than 10 more years. He has also said he wants BBC governance altered so that the current lapdog trustees are replaced by a body that has genuine independence and will hold the Corporation properly to account.

On top of that, change cannot be stalled: Charter renewal has to be agreed in time to come into effect at the beginning of 2017.   Suddenly Lord Hall might be ruing the appointment of former Labour minister James Purnell as his policy advisor.

But it might not yet be time to anticipate definite improvements.

Elsewhere there are abundant signs that life rafts won’t actually be necessary for the BBC or any of the liberal-left concerns that Cameron has championed rather than attacked. The administration now assuming office is not rooted any more in genuine principles of conservatism, free speech or social liberalism. This article on Spiked by deputy Tim Black, sums up the current position neatly:

“In fact, the Conservative Party under David Cameron’s near-decade-long tenure has been in the process of being emptied of any distinctive political content. Traditional commitments have been thrown over, like so much unnecessary ballast. The Union, the family, let alone economic liberalism, barely register as Conservative touchstones anymore….

“… the Tory Party’s raison d’être is to define itself against itself, to affirm its modern identity by negating and trashing what it was. This process of ‘detoxification’, of so-called modernisation, this party-political cleansing, this determination to jettison the political past, has been the defining cause of the modern Conservative Party.”

The most immediate and compelling evidence of this is the appointment of Amber Rudd as climate secretary. She is a total climate alarmist – so much so that the Guardian has welcomed her appointment.

It boils down to that in many respects, the Conservatives are now part of the same metropolitan bubble as Labour, the SNP the Greens and the Liberal Democrats. Janet Daley of the Telegraph describes it adroitly here. The BBC remains the ringmaster of their interpretation of public opinion. To them all, the rest of the UK is a different country. 4m Ukip votes? They don’t give a stuff about any of them.




Photo by David Holt London

UK voting system means that anti-EU voters are denied representation

UK voting system means that anti-EU voters are denied representation

One of the early and most enthusiastic supporters of the Electoral Reform Society was the Rev Charles Dodgson, aka author Lewis Carroll.

The ERS has been arguing for proportional representation since 1884, and for all that time they have been viewed as little more than well-meaning cranks.

The Liberal Democrats, of course forced a vote on the issue during the last Parliament, but by then they had shown how nastily Machiavellian, unprincipled and two-faced they were when in power. As a result, many people voted against them rather than the issue at stake. The baby was well and truly thrown out with the bathwater.

Yet what we now seem to be entering as a result of our rigid allegiance to the first-past-the post-system is an Alice Through the Looking Glass world in which 1.5m SNP-voting Scots (out of a registered UK electorate of 46m) could well force us into another kind of nightmare: a reversion to 1930s-style Marxism.

So has as the time come to think of abandoning our current voting system? This is not going to change Thursday’s poll, of course, but the issue could assume crucial importance in the horse-trading that ensues.

One factor in the political landscape that has changed massively over the past five years and is obviously centre stage in this ballot is the huge surge in support for SNP.

This means that the 51% of Scots who now seem likely to vote for the party in the 59 Scottish Westminster seats are likely to hold massive, disproportionate clout. Because SNP support is concentrated in relatively few seats, the first-past-the-post system means they will win. Put another way, around 4% of the electorate could – and would, as Nicola Sturgeon has boasted about – hold the UK to ransom.

This will be – despite Ed Miliband’s protests to the contrary – either as a coalition partner or as a large street-fighting, self-focused, independent faction whose primary purpose is to smash asunder the United Kingdom. The meaning of the Glasgow Kiss will take on a whole new dimension.

They could paralyse a governmental process that has primarily grown round a gentlemanly two-party system and has never encountered such a set of circumstances before.

The other major change is an equivalent rise in support for UKIP. Largely because of the massive negativity towards the party by the media, and especially the BBC, their support now seems to be softening from the 15% that persisted throughout the campaign. But even if it falls back to 10%, it is likely that between 2m and 3m voters will support Farage and his rag-tag army.

The contrast with SNP here could not be sharper. Because of the first-past-the-post system, and because support for UKIP is attenuated across England, even if UKIP achieves double the vote of the Tartan Army, it will win on latest forecasts only a maximum of five or so seats.

In turn that will mean that the issues that it supports – the return of grammar schools, withdrawal from the EU, and end to the insane climate change alarmism and stricter immigration controls – will be totally ignored by the other parties. And put the other way round – three million votes will have very little influence, to the point almost of being disenfranchised.

The problems with our current voting system go much deeper. Voter apathy was so extensive in 2010 that 35% of the electorate did not vote(compared with 22% in 1992). So David Cameron attracted 36% of the votes cast but the support of only around a quarter of the total electorate.

If this pattern continues next Thursday, it could mean that Labour and Conservative combined win the support of less than half of electors.

Sooner or later, that’s a democratic deficit that will cause friction. Just how is, of course, impossible to predict. Almost certainly, however, the English in the South-east, will be increasingly resentful of the Jacuzzis of public cash that already go north of the border. At the same time, the legions of voters who are concerned about the pressures of immigration and have no means of expressing their views other than via Ukip are going to become increasingly discontent.

The unfairness of our voting system means that those that rule us are increasingly out of step with the wishes of the electorate. All the lessons of history –from the Boston Tea Party onwards – suggest that this is a recipe for serious civil unrest.

As Walter Bagehot first noted when he wrote his masterful book on the British Constitution in the 1860s, our system of government worked because it was not written down in formulaic fashion. It continually adapted to changing circumstances.

His analysis of the constitution was of course long before there was the juggernaut of the EU at its heart lucking away the power and disenfranchising voters in a different way. But the threat posed by the SNP is another massive challenge and unless the Constitution now evolves to cope with this massive imbalance, we could be entering very dangerous waters indeed.

Voting reform may seem a very left-field response, but in this Carollian2015, Looking Glass world, it may be the recipe needed. Both major parties adhere to first-past-the-post because it has given them leverage to create majority governments. Even in Tony Blair’s ‘landslide’ of 1997, he attracted only 43.2% of the vote (compared to 30% for the Conservatives). In the pre-UKIP and SNP world, this did not matter as much. It does now.

Photo by David Holt London

Craig Byers: Why Cardiff University’s claims of BBC ‘right-wing’ ‘impartiality’ are not to be believed

Craig Byers: Why Cardiff University’s claims of BBC ‘right-wing’ ‘impartiality’ are not to be believed

The work of Cardiff University’s Media department is continuing to provide comfort to BBC supporters in ‘refuting’ claims of a left-wing bias at the BBC and to be cited as ‘proof’ of a right-wing BBC bias by some left-wingers (especially on Twitter).
Cardiff’s 2012 report, ‘proving’ the BBC to be right-leaning, anti-European and anti-Islam (yes, I know!), was expertly debunked in a Civitas study by David Keighley and Andrew Jubb. David and Andrew got into the statistical nitty-gritty of the Cardiff study and found it wanting. (I provided a summary here.)
The worrying thing about that Cardiff report though – with its fatally flawed and, frankly, bizarre methodology – was that it went on to form the academic underpinning of the major BBC-funded Prebble Report into BBC impartiality, which found (by and large) that, yes, the BBC is impartial.
Statistical trashing is all very well, but the ad hominem approach seems to work better.The lead authors of the original report, part-funded by the BBC, were: Karin Wahl-Jorgensen, Richard Sambrook, and Mike Berry.
Karin Wahl-Jorgensen was director of the Prebble content analysis project, and worked previously for the European Commission on a report investigating how the media were reporting the idea of greater European integration and why the UK was sceptical about it. She’s also written for the far-left Red Pepper
Richard Sambrook was the former Head of BBC News until 2008.
Mike Berry, who acted as chief spokesman for the report, is Greg Philo’s partner-in-arms at the campaigning, far-left Glasgow Media Group. He’s not a fan of Israel – to put it mildly.
Yes, ad hom arguments are generally considered fallacious, but if these people’s methodology has been shown to be highly dubious (at best) and their findings seem to fly so insanely in the face of reality, then – given their backgrounds and beliefs – maybe there really is something to be said for the ad hom approach after all, don’t you think?
Later, the top bod at the Cardiff Media department, Justin Lewis, earned the admiration of some on the Left by using those original findings to condemn the BBC for being right-wing.Playing the man rather than the ball, I then checked ol’ Justin out and found him to be very left-wing too (the kind of professor who is openly anti-capitalism and thinks Muslims get a raw deal from the British media).Curiously, however, he exempted (not explicitly, but by not mentioning them) the BBC from that latter criticism (well, could he really pretend otherwise?) and he writes articles with titles like, A monster threatens UK broadcasting? It’s Sky, not the BBC. Hmm.
Why am I regurgitating all of this recent history again? Because the Cardiff profs are back.The Guardian has published their latest election ‘findings’ (repeatedly) and left-wingers on Twitter are linking to it gleefully, saying it disproves charges of left-wing bias at the BBC.
The first of those Guardian pieces found that David Cameron was granted “by far the most airtime of the party leaders in the first two weeks of the campaign” by the media as a whole, but praises the BBC specifically for focusing more on policy than their rivals.
The second of those Guardian pieces – a piece I’d urge you to read as a masterful example of studiously biased academic reporting – found that “BBC and Sky News’ election coverage featured Conservative sources speaking for longer than those from other parties” but that Channels 4 and 5 gave the Tories even more airtime. [Ed: Tory ‘Channel 4 News’? Jon Snow on Cardiff Uni’s Line One!] 
Even this leftist-outpouring-dressed-in-the-cloak-of-academic-‘impartiality’ was honest enough to report something that must really have stuck in their throats to have to report: They described the BBC as “an outlier”, in that the BBC gave “more time to Miliband, who made up 24.3% of time leaders were speaking on screen, compared to 21.9% of time for Cameron”.
Still, “Nigel Farage appeared in more image bites on the BBC than David Cameron”, so that’s evidence of BBC pro-UKIP bias, eh?
The Guardian pieces as a whole, however, were consistent with the spirit of the 2012 Cardiff report and Justin Lewis’s later comments. They portrayed the broadcast media (Channel 5, Channel 4, ITV, BBC) as essentially right-leaning, but – despite some criticisms – the BBC came out as the least biased of all (if still right-leaning).
And who were the Cardiff University authors of these two Guardian pieces? Former BBC head of news Richard Sambrook and his colleague Dr Stephen Cushion.
Now, Dr Cushion is new to me. Is he a Cardiff Media department with a non-BBC background – unlike Richard Sambrook?

Er, no. He was brought in by the BBC to work on two BBC Trust impartiality reviews into the reporting of post-devolution Britain and three BBC-funded reports into 24-hour news.And as for the three other Cardiff Uni people credited on those Guardian articles as helping with the latest research – Richard Thomas, Allaina Kilby and Marina Morani – well, here’s PhD student Marina (on the Cardiff Uni website).I’m going to quote the whole of this because I suspect you’ll enjoy it.I haven’t made this up. This isn’t satire. This is the real thing:

It has commonly been noted how Italy shifted in the last decades from being an emigration country to a migrants destination. The presence in the peninsula of a few million of immigrants calls for the urge of communication means that take into account the contemporary multicultural society.

In recent years a number of “intercultural media” – newspapers, magazines, radio programs, websites, online TV – have been created in order to provide alternative sources of information and new representations avoiding the use of cultural stereotypes and stigmatizations which too often affect the mainstream media language.

Among various initiatives, the study will focus on a selection of independent websites where foreign origin together with autochthonous Italians are engaged in producing and sharing information, news, video, stories, experiences, expectations.

In the first phase of the research I intend to build a comparison between the image of the immigrant population emerging in national media and the alternative social representations that these progress media aim to construct and promote.

In the second phase I will analyse the contents of the most effective online projects in their attempt to offer diverse representations on immigration issues. With regard to methodology the main methods will be critical discourse analysis and content analysis of written and audiovisual texts. An important part will be dedicated to the narrative and rhetoric multi-modal constructions.

The use of language here not only counters cultural stereotypes and generalisations but also turn them into new positive representational worlds where “the immigrant” is regarded as persona and “active subject” of the media production.

Well, I think we know where she’s coming from! (And Mike Berry, Justin Lewis & Co. would surely approve).
As for Allaina Kilby…well, here’s one for David Preiser (and it’s based on her university thesis): Jon Stewart has made us laugh at politics – and restored our sanity. (Nothing ‘incriminating’ UK-wise though so far).
And as for Richard Thomas (who writes discourses entitled From Executive Remuneration to the Living Wage: Pre and post-crisis discourses of income distribution on UK television news), well, just allow me to quote his Twitter blurb:

Richard Thomas @rich_thomas99
Writer for All Out Cricket. Doctoral researcher into income inequality, wealth and poverty in the media.

Call me a running-dog capitalist lickspittle if you like, but I’m guessing where he’s coming from too – and checking out the rest of his Twitter feed I’m sticking with that hunch.
A university media department stacked with BBC insiders and leftists produces a couple of studies of BBC bias which find that the BBC is the least biased broadcaster, even though it has a right-wing bias.

And some people still think that ad hom critiques are always wrong?

This article originally appeared on Is The BBC Biased?  Many thanks to Craig for allowing us to post this here.


Newsnight immigration feature casts worried Brits as xenophobes

Newsnight immigration feature casts worried Brits as xenophobes

The BBC’s blizzard of election-related stories that spin immigration as a topic that doesn’t matter is impossible to track. Lift almost any stone and there’s another example.

A Newsnight feature last Wednesday was billed by presenter Emily Maitlis as ‘a long hard look at the subject’.

This, it transpired, was a special piece of BBCspeak. It meant that Newsnight – led, of course, by former Guardian executive Ian Katz- was about to deploy its own form of spin to show in yet another way that those British plebs who support tougher immigration controls are deluded bigots and xenophobes.

The main section of the item was actually a very unequal discussion which Emily Maitlis pushed very hard to ensure was skewed to the pro-immigration side.  Self-styled shock jock John Gaunt, the main contributor who supported more controls on immigration, explains the way he was ambushed and appallingly treated in Podcast episode 24 here.

On display was the same Newsnight approach to balance as was deployed on the day that David Cameron announced his alleged desire to hold an in-out EU referendum. On that evening 18 pro-EU campaigners were pitched against Nigel Farage.

The main analysis in this blog is of the opening report by Duncan Weldon, hired by Katz as an economics pundit from the TUC. It was actually only 670 words, or five minutes of airtime, but it was so blatantly skewed that it stands almost alone as monumental evidence of the deep bias in this arena.

Former Labour acolyte Weldon’s initial point was that immigration in London didn’t matter because ‘it was a fact’ of life; he contended that the changing demographics, ‘were not a political issue’. Says who?

Maybe these things don’t matter to those at the BBC, who worship daily at the shrine of multiculturalism. But to put it mildly, respected think-tank Migration Watch certainly do not agree that an influx of 1.5m foreign nationals over the past decade – the biggest in the capital’s history by a very long way – can be regarded as ‘only a fact of life or is ‘not a political issue’. MW presents compelling evidence that it has created a massive housing crisis and has driven tens of thousands of native-born Londoners away.

After this glaring bias, Weldon next contended that in order to see ‘where things had changed’ as a result of immigration, you needed to go on commuter lines out of the capital, to places such as ‘Peterborough, Stevenage, Welwyn and Hatfield’. Bizarre, perhaps, that he referred only to a few towns on the London to Doncaster East Coast railway line, but most BBC staff inhabit only a narrow metropolitan bubble, so perhaps he is not aware that immigration issues are also hitting communities further afield as well. Places such as Rotherham, say. Or Oxford.

Next, Weldon turned to that old BBC device, the vox pop, a range of voices from members of the public. Many years ago, when I did my basic training as a BBC reporter in what is now the Langham Hotel, I was warned that these can never be – and should never be projected as – a balanced or objective view of public opinion. They are only ever a subjective snapshot.

Weldon apparently now works according to very different rules.

The sequence of three voices was gathered, selected and edited by him with all the subtlety of a jackhammer to show that those with views against immigration are bigoted xenophobes for no other reason that they hate foreign languages and shops selling foreign goods. On the other hand, his pro-immigration contributor made a reasoned response, making the point that immigrants are ‘different brains from different parts of the world’, who set up new businesses and had a wide range of skills.

Weldon then said that if this selection of ‘public opinion’ (which this most certainly was not) was ‘nuanced’, but the view of business was ‘fairly’ clear’. His source here was Katja Hall, the deputy director general of the CBI, who a search on Google reveals is the leading mouthpiece for a totally uncontrolled flow of foreign labour into the country. And blow me down with a feather – she is also a former BBC employee who was responsible for ‘change management’. What better credentials could a supporter of uncontrolled immigration (and, of course, according to her CV, ‘gender equality’) have? And what better an objective source for a Newsnight quote?

Finally, Weldon delivered his own verdict on the immigration debate and evidence. This was , supposedly ‘neutral’ but was actually more of the same; it was a treatise that could have been written by any member of the TUC, the Labour Party or, for that matter, the SNP.

There is only one explanation: a common mindset and a common set of rules are at work. This one-sided approach emanates directly from the Bridcut report, a Gormenghast-style recalibration of the rules of reporting that was deliberately engineered by the Trustees to allow the BBC’s own agendas to be followed on topics such as immigration and climate alarmism.

The same applies to stories about the EU. During the election campaign, when a has-been political leader whines that Brexit would be damaging, it’s automatically elevated to headline status.

Conversely, when the leader of the only party advocating withdrawal is interviewed, his views about the same subject are not even on the agenda. Instead, Evan Davis works hard to pin a new label on him as a ‘hater’ of that nice Paddington Bear’s version of multiculturalism.

You could not make it up.