Category: Public-Health

Johnson poll-axed by the Tory Red Wall

If the Tories are pinning their hopes of re-election in 2024 on retaining the Red Wall seats they wrested from Labour in 2019, at least one opinion poll suggests their efforts are already doomed to failure

Note: Longer and updated version of the article published at The Conservative Woman on Wednesday 06 January 2021.

In folklore and mythology, the Grim Reaper appears wearing a dark, hooded cloak and carrying a scythe, to warn that nothing lasts forever, not least life itself. In political reality, however, his contemporary equivalent arguably comes clad in an Armani suit or skinny jeans, and bearing a laptop with unfavourable opinion survey results.

Or so the ‘Conservative’ Party might reasonably fear, after the Focaldata poll published over the weekend of 2nd/3rd January.

Reported and analysed in The Sunday Times, the poll’s findings were startling. They showed that, were a general election to be held now, the Tories would lose entirely the 80-seat majority which they secured only just over a year ago, putting us in hung Parliament territory and therefore almost certainly presaging a Labour/SNP coalition government.

The findings obviously need to be treated with caution. After all, it’s only one poll, the fieldwork for which was done during December and mostly before the conclusion of Johnson’s EU negotiations and his pre-Christmas announcement of his Brexit trade deal; and yes, nearly four years have to elapse before the next general election.  All the same, for Johnson, in a mere 12½ months, to go from an 80-seat majority to an indicated hung Parliament is some collapse, as the eight percentage point vote loss shows.

Significantly, however, that projected 81-seat loss would include no fewer than 35 of the 43 Midlands and Northern Red Wall seats which in December 2019 voted Conservative either for the first time in decades or in some cases for the first time ever.

Perhaps, though, one should not be too surprised.

Three months ago, I argued that the bricks were already falling out of the Tories’ Red Wall, citing both evidence that voter opinion in those seats was already turning against them, and a growing body of opinion that those constituencies’ Tory MPs should recognise the extent to which their newly acquired support was already becoming restive.

If, as the  Focaldata poll suggests, the Tories’ star is already waning electorally and the prospects of them retaining that raft of crucial Midlands and Northern seats are commensurately reducing, then Johnson has only himself to blame.

It’s those Red Wall voters who are disproportionately bearing the brunt of his SAGE-deferential, economy-damaging, authoritarian response to Covid. An Office for National Statistics analysis found that 17 of those 43 newly-Tory seats were in the top fifth of areas whose labour markets were most reliant on the sectors at prime risk from the impact of the government’s lockdown response. High-Street retailing in those areas has been badly hit, creating not only an unemployment effect but a broader adverse economic impact on local area prosperity.

Moreover, with a higher ratio of people in working-class and lower-middle-class employment not conducive to home-working than in the relatively affluent South-East, Red Wall voters are arguably more exposed to the virus itself. They’re suffering the exacerbation of the class divide which is a direct consequence of the Johnson government’s approach.

Not for many of them the pleasurable convenience of using a laptop in the kitchen and communicating with colleagues via Zoom in one of the middle-class cognitive-focused professions, while occasionally ordering food and other necessities online. If not already furloughed on a fraction of their regular pay, those newly-Tory Red Wall voters are relatively more likely to be found in the warehouses despatching the orders or the vans delivering them, or in any number of increasingly precarious workplaces that require physical attendance and face-to-face communication. You can’t work from home via Zoom if you’re a garage forecourt attendant or a self-employed carpenter.

At the same time, their children are more likely to be among those harmed by the growing educational inequality caused by the continuing school closures so insisted upon by the teaching unions, most of whose full-time members have continued to receive full pay, or even an inflation-busting pay rise, in return for not teaching.

In contrast to the children of the affluent middle classes who can afford private education, for whom online substitute education has reportedly been rigorous and fairly successful, 20 per cent of all State school pupils have been doing less than one hour of schoolwork a day, and 93 per cent of them have had four or fewer online lessons a day. They’re also less likely to come from households with the requisite technology or devices to benefit from what online teaching there is for them.

A half-generation of children is having its education blighted, with dire consequences for its future employment prospects or social mobility.

No wonder those Red Wall voters who lent their support to the Tories are now, according to their opinion-polling responses to Focaldata, withdrawing it in droves. Their jobs are at risk of disappearing, their small businesses are at risk of failing, their towns and neighbourhoods are at risk of declining, and their children are being denied their education.

And as if all that wasn’t bad enough, what do they see the same PM to whom they lent their vote in a leap of faith doing when – apparently mesmerised by the lockdown enthusiasts who ruefully but mistakenly thought they’d never get away with imposing in Europe the authoritarianism of a communist one-party state – he’s not levying on the economy and society draconian restrictions unprecedented in peacetime?

They see a Boris Johnson seemingly in thrall to the eco-fanatic Green lobby and the World Economic Forum’s globalist-elite, anti-democratic, technocratic-totalitarian Great Reset – and make no mistake, his use of the movement’s standard and sinister ‘Build Back Better‘ slogan is a dead giveaway – and looking forward eagerly to the crony-corporatism benefiting boondoggles designed to promote and accelerate its malign agenda.

No doubt some of them also recall a Boris Johnson who seemed, if not to go AWOL, then at least to be somewhat reticent in 2020 when it came to standing up against the anti-capitalist cultural marxism and anti-white racialist identitarianism of the extreme and even so-called ‘Liberal’ Left.

As well as being unimpressed with his Covid measures, maybe those Midlands and Northern voters also aren’t keen on Johnson’s apparent reluctance to challenge and reject the Woke-Left identity-politics intent on trashing their culture and national history, or on his slavish embrace of the Green agenda likely only to make their energy scarcer and more expensive, and they see little chance of his making their 2021 any better.

As long ago as last mid-October, I remarked of Johnson that seldom in modern political history can so much newly acquired electoral advantage, and with it a rare opportunity to re-align UK politics, have been so recklessly and needlessly squandered in so short a time. This now seems to be the verdict also of the Conservative-leaning think-tank Onward, whose recent research concludes that unless the Tories fulfil their ‘levelling up’ promises to their new electoral demographic, they risk forfeiting their 80-seat majority.

If the Focaldata poll over the weekend of 2nd/3rd January turns out to be accurate, it looks like Red Wall voters have already pre-empted them. And who can blame them? Johnson’s obsessive adherence to the SAGE-authoritarian and Green eco-globalist agendas respectively is repelling his new Red Wall voters, and he doesn’t seem to care.

On past form, the Tories’ most probable reaction will be an arrogance-driven either dismissal, complacency or condescension, but they should resist the temptation to indulge in either. A hint of the latter has already been seen in the patronising assumption that those votes can in effect be bought back merely by throwing taxpayers’ money at the areas concerned, but the reasons for voter dissatisfaction discussed above appear too deep-rooted to be amenable to that convenient solution.

Relying on upcoming boundary changes to deliver extra seats to compensate them for any loss looks unlikely to be enough, with only ten additional seats in prospect. Moreover, the vote boost gained from former Labour voters in those Red Wall seats being repulsed by the leadership of hard-Left Jeremy Corbyn should be regarded as a one-off phenomenon. For all his flaws and inadequacies, its new leader Sir Keir Starmer is considerably more electable.

It’s even possible that the revolt will expand and intensify, once greater awareness of Johnson’s failure to curb illegal cross-Channel immigration spreads, and the flaws which lie in his Barebones-Brexit deal, despite his hyperbolic spinning of it, finally become more and more apparent.

Polls are, of course, inconsistent and unreliable. The first full test of electoral opinion in those Red Wall seats should be coming at May’s 2021 local elections, including the local elections postponed from 2020 because of the first Covid-19 lockdown; “should”, because both now look likely to be delayed. Johnson’s ‘Conservatives’ seem to be keen to put off an encounter with the electorate for as long as possible. Perhaps their private polling is closer to that Focaldata poll result than they care to admit.

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Britain’s ‘independent’ and ‘impartial’ media: still hiding their contributors’ political biases

Britain’s mainstream broadcast media seems determined to ignore the lessons it should have learnt from the public outcry at its deliberate concealment of the political biases of its chosen ‘experts’

Note: Longer and updated version of the article published at The Conservative Woman on Monday 07 December 2020.

Many readers will, I suspect, recall the furores earlier this year, admittedly over several broadcasters, but over the BBC in particular habitually concealing from its audiences – or, at the very least, not disclosing to them in advance – the partisan and in some cases extremist political affiliations of the supposedly ‘impartial’ experts which it invites on to its current affairs programmes as contributors.

On the 27th April edition of Panorama, for instance, one of the main interviewees was ‘former President of the Faculty of Public Health’, Professor John Ashton. His political leanings were not mentioned; it took Guido Fawkes to reveal them. But only two weeks earlier Ashton had reacted angrily even to Sky Newsrelatively innocuous disclosure of his Labour Party membership. The BBC could hardly claim to have been ignorant of them; should viewers not have been informed of them, so that they could judge whether they had informed his expressed opinions or not?

Only a month later, the BBC’s Today failed to disclose, before her contribution, the extreme-left political affiliations of the Marxist Professor Susan Michie before anodynely introducing her merely (albeit correctly – but of which more later) as a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) on which the Johnson government relies exclusively for its Covid policy and by which Johnson himself seems mesmerised. This time, the glaring omission got as far as being raised in Parliament.

In contrast, the BBC (and, to be fair, other media outlets too) rarely omit, not only to mention the political leanings of contributors from the conservative/libertarian quadrants of the political compass, but also to go out of their way to mis-label them disparagingly; thus, socially conservative or economically free-market contributors are regularly tagged as ‘right-wing’. Even in its bias, the mainstream media is biased.

You might think that with public awareness of its blatant partiality thus increasing, the media would be making at least a token effort to clean up its act. Not a bit of it. Its output on just one recent day showed two egregious, but not untypical, examples.

On Sunday 29th November, LBC  retailed without challenge or further comment the unequivocal assertion by SAGE’s Professor Susan Michie – yes, yes, her again – that you should spend no time in ‘non-essential’ shops.

The first thing I would have queried was the apparent contradiction between her insistence that we are all universally and equally susceptible to coronavirus and her later statement that we all have different genetic make-ups; but let’s park that one, and concentrate on the politics. Going into (non-essential) shops, continued Michie, is like playing Russian Roulette.

Erm, not exactly. Even if contracted at all, in the UK Covid has a case-fatality rate of only 3.6 per cent, and an average fatality age of 82, while after the April spike which was over by early June, all-cause respiratory deaths are within or close to seasonal norms. Playing Russian Roulette on the other hand starts off with 16 per cent probability of death, which rises with each pull of the trigger. Play it long enough, and the fatality rate is 100 per cent. And you don’t have to be in your 80s or over 65 with pre-existing co-morbidities, either. Fortunately, most people survive going into shops, ‘non-essential’ or otherwise.

As you might expect from someone coming to the extreme Left with an impeccably bourgeois and privileged pedigree, Comrade Michie is quite an operator.  Apart from her long-term political affiliation, and even familial ties, with hard-Left Corbynism…

… she’s also managed to be, not only on the official SAGE, but even on the parallel ‘independent’ SAGE which is loaded up to the gunwales with left-wing activists most noted for their ardent advocacy of the most fashionable Green-Left-‘Liberal’ causes of our time, running from the ‘our precious NHS is being set up for privatisation‘ meme (if only!), through anti-Brexit Continuity Remainer-dom, to ‘Catastrophic Man-Made Climate Change’.

With this background, it doesn’t seem remotely surprising that a 40-years adherent to Communism – or at the very least State-Socialism – would want to discourage us from helping to keep independent private-sector businesses going. Or to presume to dictate to us what is or isn’t ‘non-essential’ shopping.

But why did LBC not inform its audience of its guest’s hard-Left authoritarian-Corbynite political leanings before asking her views? Was it afraid its audience might start to wonder whether her ‘advice’ stemmed solely from her unquestioned medical expertise or whether it was influenced, even driven, by her politics? 

It isn’t an entirely unreasonable question to ask why someone of this ilk is involved in advising the government. Even less is it an unreasonable question to ask why an allegedly ‘Conservative’ government is not only listening to, but even largely following, that advice. That it is somehow ignorant of the SAGE members’ political affiliations, which are hardly secret, is risible. 

That we have a ‘Conservative’ prime minister who not only takes advice from a hardline Communist but also acts on it, should cause us all a measure of doubt as to exactly what is going on in Downing Street at the moment. Although, on the other hand, it might just possibly remove some of the doubt as to exactly what is going on in Downing Street at the moment. 

Meanwhile, on that same Sunday 29th November, another media organisation was trumpeting ‘expert’ advice, complete with warnings that were lurid to the point of callousness of the consequences of not following it, and again without notifying its readers of the underlying Leftist politics of its chosen ‘expert’.

Professor Gabriel Scally, notwithstanding his medical and epidemiological eminence, also has considerable previous form in not bothering to conceal his left-wing politics. As well as being a regular Labour donor (and in rather more than pocket-money amounts), policy adviser and member of its policy forum, his status has also arguably benefited from his politics being concealed from his audiences while delivering them of his expert opinions.

Among his habitual positions are that the NHS is ‘underfunded’ to the extent that it is rendered ‘lean and emaciated’, despite UK public spending on health being at an all-time high in absolute terms and nearly so as a percentage of GDP……

…….and that its somewhat less than ‘envy of the world’ performance on coronavirus is due, not only to ‘cuts’, but to ‘privatisation’, even though over 90 per cent of all its procedures are still performed directly by the State, and delivered via practitioners and clinicians employed directly by the State.

Did the Daily Mirror also conceal from its report Scally’s hardly unknown political affiliations out of fear that awareness of them would have made its readers less trusting and more sceptical of his advice?   

Both Michie & Scally are on the Leftist-activist unofficial/parallel “Independent”-SAGE pushing for even harder lockdowns and mask authoritarianism. Given their politics, it isn’t hard to see how both might welcome the demise of private sector businesses, the weakening over Christmas of ties within the institution of the family, and a much greater role for the State in controlling people’s lives.

The media seem determined to ignore the lessons they should have learnt from 2020’s earlier outcries over their bias by omission or concealment. Absent an improvement, our only recourse will be to expand and intensify what increasing numbers of us appear to be doing already, and discount them entirely as an even remotely credible source.

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Theresa May’s Unconvincing Epiphany

Despite the near-universal praise it attracted, the former PM’s intervention in the latest Commons lockdown debate arguably owed more to low politics than high principle

Note: (Slightly) longer and updated version of the article published at The Conservative Woman on Tuesday 10 November 2020.

Credit where credit’s due. In contrast to her usual Maybot-style wooden, robotic, delivery of leaden, uninspiring content, former PM Theresa May’s speech, delivering a scathing criticism of aspects of the Johnson Junta’s second Covid lockdown, in the House of Commons’ debate on the afternoon of Wednesday 04 November, was, for once, uncharacteristically good.

Moreover, its impact was enhanced by PM Boris Johnson’s somewhat boorish reaction to it. By ostentatiously walking out of the Commons Chamber, to the audible disapproval of his MPs, just as May began to speak, Johnson not only demonstrated a puerile petulance but also demeaned both himself and his office.

He later apologised, apparently, pleading the need to attend a meeting. Well, maybe; and should not May, out of office now for only 15 or 16 months, also not have realised from her own experience that a PM necessarily has a very busy schedule? All the same, and though I’m no fan of May, she is after all a former PM, albeit an especially dire one, so was surely entitled to be listened to for four minutes by the present incumbent, if only out of courtesy.

Anyway, near-universal acclaim, some of it verging on the hyperbole, greeted May’s speech. According to the Daily Telegraph’s chief political correspondent, it was a case of “May leads the charge” against Johnson’s second coronavirus lockdown. This was intriguing, to say the least, to those, like me, who have long felt that leadership, on the one hand, and the notoriously uncommunicative and taciturn Theresa May, on the other, are such mutually incompatible concepts as to constitute an oxymoron.

She had become the unlikely “Joan of Arc of lockdown scepticism“, in the eyes even of former Brexit Party MEP Alexandra Phillips, who was at least discreet enough not to mention that Jeanne d’Arc ended up taken prisoner by her own side before being burned at the stake by the English.

Prominent and respected political tweeters were effusive in their praise.

But, watching and listening to May’s speech live, I had some niggling doubts, and then especially later when reading it on Hansard, I found myself starting to wonder: just where had this apparently quasi-libertarian Theresa May, suddenly concerned about the loss of Britons’ economic and societal liberties as a result of Lockdown 2.0, sprung from?

The Government today making it illegal to conduct an act of public worship….sets a precedent that could be misused by a Government in future with the worst of intentions.

Very true. But was this the same Theresa May who, as a reluctant-Brexiteer PM, unnecessarily pledged to keep the UK within the scope of the illiberal, authoritarian European Arrest Warrant, despite its jurisdiction expiring on Brexit? Was it the same Theresa May who, as a closet-Remainer Home Secretary for most of the relevant period, had presided over the UK executing more EAWs than any other EU country?

For many people ​it looks as though the figures are being chosen to support the policy, rather than the policy being based on the figures. There is one set of data that has not been available throughout.

Again, very true. But was this valid criticism about the lack of both published data and transparency really coming from the same Theresa May who, again as that reluctant-Brexiter PM, presided over the covert No. 10 operation to collude with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in her infamous Chequers Plan for an ultra-lite BRINO, keeping it secret from her Cabinet, the Brexit Department, her MPs, her Party and the British public, and bounce it on to her Cabinet on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis with barely an hour’s prior notice?

Were we really seeing a new, changed Theresa May?  No, alas we weren’t. Because at 10.30.am last Wednesday, a mere 3 hours 8 minutes before she rose to speak in the Commons at 1.38.pm, May had tweeted thus:

This, I suggest, was, and is, the authentic voice of Theresa May and the one with which we’re more familiar. Her instinctive reverence for unaccountable supranationalist bureaucracy self-insulated from the need to secure democratic consent. Her disregard for the astronomical cost to Western economies, energy users, and taxpayers of a predicted reduction in temperatures of a mere 0.05°C, and then only by 2100.

Her arrogant presumption that truth on ‘climate change’ is something to be negotiated via political consensus rather than discovered by strict adherence to Popper’s scientific method. Her delusion that challenges like a global pandemic and economic downturn, burgeoning government deficits and debt, and Islamist-Jihadist terrorism somehow pale into relative insignificance alongside a gentle 200-300 year recovery in temperatures from the nadir of the Little Ice Age.

So why the quite remarkable contrast between the allegiance to anti-democratic globalism confirmed by May’s 10.30.am tweet and her professed deep concern for personal liberty and government transparency expressed in her 1.38.pm Commons speech?  Let me suggest a two-word solution: Boris Johnson.

I suspect May’s Commons criticisms, entirely valid though they conveniently were in context, originated not so much from principle or genuine ideological conviction as from a long-simmering personal pique at her 2019 forced removal from office, which she still appears to think was an unconscionable injustice and thus still has some scores to settle.

After such a focussed, if richly hypocritical, attack on the Johnson-led Cabinet, one might have expected May to join the rebels who voted against the Government’s second lockdown. Curiously, in the event she didn’t, but merely abstained.

Was she anxious to spare the Government from the political embarrassment of a former PM joining a backbench rebellion? Unlikely, surely, after roundly criticising it from the green benches. Was it too much for her inherent authoritarian-statist instincts to side with the lockdown sceptics in favour of freedom? Or was it just a case of wanting to wound, but afraid to strike?

Whichever, Hell, it would seem, still hath no fury like a former PM scorned.

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Brexit-Watch: Friday 12 June 2020

The EU has reason to fear the implications of Britain’s historic Hong Kong connections in negotiations over future UK-EU trade relations   

Note: this article was originally published at The Conservative Woman on Friday 05 June 2020

Choosing four recent Brexit-relevant media articles which, while not necessarily meriting a full-length article, nevertheless warrant two or three paragraphs of comment, rather than merely a couple of lines.

NB: (£) denotes article behind paywall

 

EU: Trade with China Trumps Freedom for Hong KongGatestone Institute

It should by now be clear that, having either deliberately released the COVID19 virus or negligently allowed to it escape (the jury is still out on that one, so take your pick), China intends to take advantage of the rest of the world being both distracted by it and intimidated by its dependency on China for PPE, to advance the Chinese Communist Party’s own agenda.

So far, the UK has reacted honourably to the Chinese threat to Hong Kong’s freedoms by suggesting the grant of a 12-month UK visa, as a ‘pathway to citizenship’, for the roughly 3 million Hong Kong residents who qualify for British National (Overseas) status.  The EU, on the other hand, shows no inclination to do anything which might jeopardise its trade links with China.

The UK must resist any moves by the EU in Brexit negotiations to capitalise on a potential future reduction in UK-China trade by being even more intransigent on future UK-EU trade relations.  The EU has more to lose.  Not only would the arrival in Britain of up to 3 million from one of the most dynamic and entrepreneurial economies on Earth be a welcome boost to Britain’s post-COVID19 recovery; the prospect of Hong Kong-style low tax, free market, small-state attitudes growing and thriving only 22 miles off the declining, sclerotic EU mainland would put the fear of God into it. 

 

History will judge Brexit on how the fisheries issue is settledGlobal Vision

This Brexit-Watch series has mentioned on several previous occasions how British commercial fishing has a symbolic, almost talismanic, political status as a proxy for Britain’s surrender of economic and territorial sovereignty since joining the then EEC in 1973, even if that status is out of proportion to the industry’s economic significance.

So the article author Hjörtur Guðmundsson is right to warn that the UK must maintain its stance of refusing to lump fishing in with all other aspects of a UK-EU trade deal – assuming one can be reached at all, which looks increasingly doubtful, though not necessarily harmful – and instead continue to insist that it be treated separately.  UK chief negotiator David Frost has so far also been adamant that EU intransigence on access to UK fishing waters will heighten the risk of the UK walking away from a trade deal, and this pressure too should be maintained.  Playing hardball may be paying off.

The greatest danger here, paradoxically, may arise from Johnson’s reported intention to involve himself more closely in the minutiae of negotiation.  Never a details man at the best of times, the risk that, amid some typically Boris bluff’n’bluster, a disadvantageous trade-off or concession might be made purely to achieve a deal for political purposes but whose baleful effects could reverberate, couldn’t be discounted.  In that case, Brexit would indeed be judged on how the fisheries issue was settled, and Johnson would be in the dock. 

 

No-deal Brexit holds fewer fears for a Covid-ravaged economy – Financial Times (£)

Even the irreconcilably Continuity-Remainer FT tacitly, albeit reluctantly, acknowledges what many have been saying ever since COVID19 first appeared on the horizon.  Set against the costs to the UK economy of the pandemic, or more accurately, the costs of the Government –

  1. putting the economy into the deep freeze;
  2. placing millions on the State payroll;
  3. borrowing upwards of £300 billion; and
  4. restricting civil liberties to an extent unprecedented even in wartime,

all of which it was panicked into taking in response, the costs in comparison of a No-Deal Brexit pale into insignificance.

Not only would the likely scale of the inevitable-in-any-event decline in economic output ameliorate any adverse economic consequences of reverting to WTO terms on a No-Deal final exit, but COVID19-induced unemployment might even be lessened by the recruitment of personnel needed to operate new border controls.

The FT of course quotes the usual anti-Brexit Jeremiahs in abundance, but for it to admit it may not be all doom and gloom is quite something. It’s an ill wind. . . .

 

Free trade with America will see our farmers prosper Centre for Brexit Policy

Considering how the iniquities of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, and the importance of the UK re-acquiring the ability as an independent sovereign nation to conclude trade deals, were among the significant issues aired during the 2016 EU Referendum campaign, it’s sometimes surprising how they appear to have receded in the public mind since then.

Yet, as this article by former Environment Secretary Owen Paterson makes clear, the calls to maintain EU-amenable levels of trade protectionism, particularly as regards agricultural products, have not gone away, merely re-surfaced under ‘animal hygiene’ or ‘animal welfare’ labels.

To end being told by countries, into whose legislatures we have no democratic input, what regulations we must apply domestically is one of the reasons we voted to leave the EU.  Paterson is undoubtedly correct to say that free trade, policed by reputable global organisations overseeing regulatory equivalence rather than imposing regulatory harmonisation, offers us a better chance of benefiting from our decision while improving animal welfare than does the alternative of continued trade-protectionism.

 

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If Not Now, Then When?

How many more instances of the out-of-control BBC’s blatant bias does the Johnson Government need to make it finally resolve to tackle it?

Note: longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Tuesday 02 June 2020   

In an excellent article on 21 May at The Conservative Woman, News-Watch’s David Keighley forensically demolished, point by point, the bias-driven inaccuracies and assumptions in the BBC’s now-infamous 27 April edition of Panorama.  He correctly located the programme firmly within the Coronavirus iteration of Project Fear which the Corporation had been running, and still was – or even still is. 

Anyone who watched it will remember how every failure by the NHS, and even by its semi-autonomous linked agencies, in dealing with the COVID19 pandemic was invariably deemed to be exclusively the fault of the Government – even where it had no direct control or even involvement – in what was in effect a Party Political Broadcast on behalf of the Labour Party

Which makes the Government’s over-timid response, understandably touched on only briefly in David Keighley’s article, all the more deserving of criticism.  It could manage little, if anything, more than a half-hearted squeak of protest delivered by Culture and Media Secretary Oliver Dowden, whom I’ve previously criticised as an ineffectual, paleo-Cameroon careerist, and who increasingly comes across as a twerp to rival even his (politically) late and unlamented namesake Oliver Letwin.

MoS headline Sun 03-May-2020 Dowden-BBC

In the light of subsequent events, it’s worth re-visiting and analysing Dowden’s weak, anodyne and platitudinous admonition to the BBC’s Director-General Tony Hall in more detail.

First, there’s the excessive “Dear Tony” familiarity; at the risk of being stuffy, I’d suggest this is singularly inappropriate in the current circumstances, and does nothing to dispel the impression of what ought to be a formal arm’s-length relationship in the public interest being conducted more like a friendly exchange between fellow-members of the same like-minded elite.

Dowden urges Hall to ‘uphold the highest standards in relation to integrity and impartiality‘.  At the risk, this time, of being pedantic, the use of ‘uphold‘’ here implies that those ‘highest standards of integrity and impartiality‘ are in fact the norm from which the Panorama programme was merely an isolated, uncharacteristic, aberration.  That might come as a surprise to the 69 per cent of respondents to the late December 2019 Savanta-ComRes poll who said they trusted the BBC less even than ITV News on impartiality and accuracy.

Dowden concludes by referring to the need to maintain ‘public confidence‘ in ‘the BBC’s long-standing reputation for fair and balanced reporting‘.  That, in turn, might come as a surprise to the 75 per cent of respondents to the (also late-December) Public First poll supporting abolition of the ‘licence fee’ outright, and the 60 per cent favouring the decriminalisation of non-payment.

As for the Mail‘s headline, Dowden’s pleadings represented, not so much a ‘blast’ as a half-hearted pretence at a gentle rap over the knuckles.  They virtually invited a contemptuous response from the BBC.  It has not been long in coming.

The Corporation remains unapologetic about its practice, especially noticeable in that edition of Panorama but by no means restricted to it, of habitually presenting as ‘impartial’ ‘experts’ people who turn out on closer investigation to be fiercely partisan, hard-Left, committed anti-conservatism activists with a distinct political agenda. Even Sky News has been shamed into improving itself a little on this score; but not the BBC. 

It participated enthusiastically in, almost to the extent of heading up, the media lynch-mob in its witch-hunt against Dominic Cummings.  Acres have already been written on this, to which I don’t propose to add; except to point TCW readers to former BBC staffer Robin Aitken’s excellent Daily Telegraph article. summarising the underlying background.  Two statements, in particular, stand out, and they explain a great deal:

he is the BBC’s single most dangerous opponent, because he is one of the very few people on the Right who clearly understands that the BBC presents an obstacle to everything that conservatives believe in

and

the BBC hold Cummings and the Prime Minister responsible for Brexit, which for an organisation that led the battle to prevent the referendum result ever taking effect (and very nearly succeeded), is a very bitter charge indeed.’

Which brings us to L’Affaire Maitlis. This has also not lacked for apposite comment.  Like David Sedgwick’s at Comment Central, Charles Moore’s analysis at the Daily Telegraph could leave even the most sceptical reader in no doubt that Maitlis’ partisan monologue at the start of Tuesday 26 May’s Newsnight was a gross breach of BBC impartiality, (and so presumably must also have been a gross breach of her contract of employment?)

As Moore suggested, there was a dual purpose to Maitlis’ diatribe, which incidentally can’t be explained away as spontaneous: it was read from a teleprompter, so must have been pre-scripted, which therefore also means it must have been subject to BBC editorial control.  The first aim was simply to hector the audience, but the second, ancillary aim was to virtue-signal to Maitlis’ like-minded professional and social milieux, to reassure them that she too holds the ‘correct’ metropolitan left-‘liberal’ opinions prevalent in their circle.  

Less remarked on, though, was the hint of deception, or at least complicity in deception, by Maitlis’ colleagues and therefore, by inference, the BBC itself.  Remember, Maitlis had signed off from the Tuesday edition with the promise See you tomorrow‘; but, as speculation over the reason for her non-appearance on the following (Wednesday) evening’s edition grew, her Newsnight friend, colleague and Editor Katie Razzall tweeted thus:

But by 9.32.pm on that Wednesday evening, Razzall as Editor must surely have known what we the audience then didn’t, because it emerged publicly only on the Thursday morning: that the BBC, far from ‘suspending’ Maitlis, had in effect surrendered to her imperious demand to be given a night (in the end, two) off, because she was ‘furious’ at it for having the cheek actually to reprimand her, however gently (and inadequately), for her blatant breach of its impartiality requirement as her employer.  Razzall, therefore, looks to have taken the opportunity to appear supportive and principled, but in reality, was arguably just being disingenuous, if not two-faced.

As might have been predicted (and was probably inevitable), the ineffectiveness of the BBC’s excessively kid-gloves response was shown starkly only a few days later when Maitlis, far from being chastised, doubled-down and offered a repeat performance.       

Taking everything into account, the tweet below is hard to find fault with.

When Number Ten is reportedly ‘incandescent’ over Maitlis’ diatribes,  and 40,000 people went to the trouble of lodging a formal complaint about it with the BBC in a mere two days, it’s hard to imagine just how much more provocation Johnson’s Government actually needs before finally resolving to address the BBC question.  Yet, judging by Dowden’s limp reaction earlier in May, the answer seems to be: ‘quite a lot’.

At least on the timing of any action, a decision to keep the powder dry for the moment, looks sound.  It makes sense to keep the file labelled ‘BBC’ in the pending tray, albeit at the top, until COVID19 and Brexit are safely out of the way.  But then. . . .

Tactics, though, are all-important.  It was both misguided and inept of Dowden to restrict his remarks to the issue of lack of impartiality; the ‘bias’ allegation is by definition inherently subjective, and the Corporation has a range of strategies for deflecting and then smothering it, including enticing its critics into an endless ‘he said, but we said’ squabble, which ultimately gets nowhere.  For the Government to try and upbraid the BBC for its political bias is the non-military equivalent of fighting a battle on ground of the enemy’s choosing.

Had the hapless Dowden been more astute, and even remotely serious, he would have threatened ‘Dear Tony‘ with immediate decriminalisation of non-payment of the ‘licence-fee’, or even an urgent, unscheduled mid-period Charter Review to abolish it.  Instead, his entreaties were all smokescreen and displacement activity.

There is a much better route, and much stronger case, available based on the BBC’s iniquitous compulsory ‘licence-fee’.  It’s true that much of  the UK’s mainstream media, whether broadcast or print, is biased.  But the BBC is uniquely egregious on that score because we are forced on pain of fine or imprisonment to pay for it regardless of whether we want to consume its output or not: unlike, say, Sky News or The Times, where we can simply choose not to purchase their product, or cease subscribing to it.             

The Daily Telegraph‘s Madeleine Grant hit the nail on the head in linking the two, correctly saying that, unless the BBC rapidly both repudiates and eliminates the shamelessly partisan personal editorialising of the type epitomised by Maitlis on Newsnight, it cannot continue receiving any kind of coercive funding.  

Time, though, is running out.  On Monday 25 May, The Times reported the BBC’s proposal that the wealthy may in future be charged more for their TV licence.  This is outrageous, in the sense that no-one should be coercively charged anything for a product they don’t wish to consume, especially the deceitfully mis-labelled ‘TV-licence’ which is, in fact, a regressive poll-tax; but making ‘the wealthy’ pay more for it both reduces its regressivity and plays to class-envy, thus taking some of the sting out of the criticism of it as a concept.

The Maitlis episode as culmination of ever more flagrant BBC bias has given Johnson ample justification for pushing ahead with decriminalising non-payment of the BBC’s iniquitous ‘licence fee’, on the wholly legitimate grounds that people of whatever means should not be forced to pay for this. With trust in the media being significantly lower, rarely can the circumstances have been so propitious.

But so they were, almost as much, over the period of the General Election and then formal exit from the EU in December and January.  Despite all the anti-BBC Boris-bluster then, nothing has actually been done, the ball has been dropped, and it needs to be picked up again. Don’t hold your breath, though. The danger has to be that, once again, the faux-‘Conservatives’ will back down.

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Waitrose or Wuhan?

Note: Longer and updated version of article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Wednesday 25 March 2020

As mainstream and social media reports of selfishly excessive panic buying and empty shelves in anticipation of government restrictions to control the spread of Coronavirus exploded into a major issue in itself last week, the public relations departments of major UK supermarkets were eager to reassure the public about continuity of supply and ease of access for elderly or otherwise vulnerable customers.

However, as stories proliferated of hoarders failing to respect so-called ‘elderly hours’, or clearing the shelves in advance of them unimpeded by supermarket staff, it was hard to avoid the impression that some supermarket chains were making ‘caring’ announcements for publicity purposes, but then doing little either to enforce them or even notify their staff of them.  That certainly appeared to be the case with one alleged ‘elderly and vulnerable only’ queue in Leamington Spa.

'Elderly & vulnerable' queue Leamington Spa

Less obvious was any great detail about the extra precautions they intended to take to prevent the spread of infection on their premises, although Aldi promised to instal clear screens at checkouts to protect employees and customers, and Tesco pledged to introduce distancing methods at checkouts to reduce customers’ infection risk.

Not before time, either: as one writer of a Letter to the Editor of a national newspaper put it, ‘Precisely how can we keep our distance while needing to shop for food?‘  

Costco Thurrock, queues distancing

In addition to that, reports had already been circulating on social media from disgruntled employees about businesses being cavalier, to say the least, about protecting even their own staff.  The example below is graphic, but by no means untypical. Read the entire thread.

So it was not without slight trepidation that, early last Saturday morning, I found myself contemplating a potentially hazardous expedition into dangerous territory, aka the local branch of Waitrose.

Now, as soon as the seriousness of the COVID-19 epidemic first became apparent, a local wine merchants not far from my home had been quick to react.  They emailed their entire customer base to say that, with immediate effect, they would provide mandatory-use hand-sanitiser and hand-washing facilities at the entrance to the store, have all trolley handles disinfected after each use, move temporarily to exclusively non-cash transactions, and hygienically wipe credit card machines after every sale.

Surely, I thought, I could expect similar precautions to be in place at a busy branch of a national, and generally regarded as up-market, supermarket chain?

Nope.  Despite my arriving within 15 minutes of opening time, the Waitrose Head Office-announcedThe first hour of business is now dedicated to elderly and vulnerable shoppers‘ policy was nowhere to be seen.  Neither were any hand-sanitising facilities, nor even requests for customers to use the adjacent washrooms for that purpose, in evidence.  As for trolley handles being sanitiser-cleaned before re-use, forget it.

Notwithstanding all the reassuring corporate PR from Head Office, anti-coronavirus precautions within the store looked almost non-existent – although, in fairness, apart from pasta and rice, the shelves were reasonably well-stocked, and anti-excess-buying measures were visibly being enforced.

But not much else.  At one stage, standing no further than one to one-and-a-half metres away from me and half-blocking the aisle, was a young woman staring vacantly at her phone (and not at a shopping list on it either, because she had a written one) while treating everyone in her immediate vicinity, including her two- or three-year-old daughter perched on her shopping-trolley child-seat, to the sound of her rasping dry cough.

At that point I began to feel seriously relieved at my decision to wear nitrile surgical gloves because of the potential for infection from trolley handles, tins, credit-card machines and the like. Apparently, the virus can linger for up to 72 hours on a hard surface.  OTT, maybe, but why take the risk when it’s there but easily avoided?  Some other customers were wearing surgical gloves too, but we must have been in a minority of 5 per cent at the most.

Which minority, remarkably, evidently did not include the servers at the in-store bakery, delicatessen, butcher and fishmonger.  The server on the cheese counter went to cut me a wedge of whatever cheese it was, unwrapping it with his bare hands, and not wearing gloves at all.  I told him to keep it.

Neither did I see any of the checkout operators using gloves, although the Saturday-job youth on the one which I used looked a touch guiltily at my own, then sheepishly produced a pair of latex surgical gloves from beneath his till and put them on.  Had they, I wondered, been issued to till operators, but no-one was verifying that they were actually being worn?  No problem either, with any cash-and-change transactions there if you wanted, and not a hint of credit-card terminals being hygiene-wiped afterwards.

On reaching home, my outer clothes made it straight into the washing machine.  I made it straight into the shower, despite having already showered before leaving.  The nitrile gloves didn’t even make it as far as home.  On the way from the trolley-deposit bay back towards my car in the car park, they went straight into a (closed) rubbish-bin.  And some answers to questions about how the virus had managed to wreak so much devastation so quickly as it spread outwards from Wuhan, China, were much clearer.

UPDATE: This article was written on the afternoon of Monday 23rd March. On Tuesday (24th), a friend visited a different Waitrose branch in my locality.  In the period from Saturday (21st), they had obviously started to get more organised. There was a one-in, one-out policy in operation to limit the numbers shopping at any one time, free disposable gloves were available, and 2-metre distance-markers had been placed at checkouts, and enforced.  Better late than never, perhaps. 

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