Tag: Liberal-Elite

The Tory Party’s Phoney War on Woke

Boris Johnson’s ‘Conservative’ Government has no intention of actually fighting against the Woke agenda; merely the intention of looking like it’s fighting against the Woke agenda which its substantive actions, belying its words, suggest it either supports or at least does not much oppose

Note: Extended and updated version of the article published at The Conservative Woman on Monday 15 February 2021.

If you went only by the headlines, you might be tempted to believe that the ‘Conservative’ Party – following the justified criticism of its leadership’s reluctance even to criticise, never mind condemn, the explosion of intolerance, censoriousness and malign identitarianism which, after festering below the surface for several years, finally exploded into the open amid culturally and racially oikophobic street violence last summer – had finally resolved to tackle the Woke virus.

It now planned, we were recently told, to prevent anti-statue iconoclasm by strengthening the protection of statues from the depredations of Town Hall militants and Woke-Warriors. We won’t allow people to censor our past, asserted Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick on 16th January – although whether his proposal to make them obtain planning permission and consult the local community before doing so will deter the heritage-destruction fanatics is a moot point.

Not to be outdone in signalling Tory purported anti-Woke credentials, next up was Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, endorsing a ‘Conservative’ backbench MPs’ initiative to spike the Town Hall militant Woke-ists’ guns by re-naming, with the names this time of Victoria Cross recipients, the already and only recently re-named Diversity Grove and Equality Road in Perry Barr, Birmingham.

Then, in what the Government clearly wants to be perceived as a major escalation of its ‘War on Woke’, the Sunday Telegraph of 14th February reported Dowden as summoning the leading heritage bodies and charities to a summit at which he intended to entreat them ‘to defend our culture and history from the noisy minority of activists constantly trying to do Britain down’. Reinforcing that was to be a promise from Education Secretary Gavin Williamson of a ‘Free Speech Champion’, with powers to defend free speech and academic freedom on campuses, accompanied by the warning: ‘Colleges or student bodies that try to cancel, dismiss or demote people over their views will be sanctioned’.

Given the extent to which Britain’s historic and cultural institutions have been captured by the Left, some ineffectual bleating from a hand-wringing Dowden is hardly likely to persuade the heads of leading heritage bodies and charities summoned to his exalted presence to change their ways. As the Daily Telegraph‘s Simon Heffer points out, their Achilles heel is their dependence, to a greater or lesser extent, on State funding, and threatening to curb it would concentrate minds, but the Government looks nowhere near ready even to contemplate such a drastic step, let alone carry it out.

Nor are the sanctions on universities apparently to be wielded by Williamson likely to achieve much. Compensating speakers who have been de-platformed or disinvited due to Woke intolerance by either the student body or the faculty does not immediately come across as a particularly effective deterrent. Once again, there appears no desire to hit the universities in the wallet, where it would hurt most. As Conservative Home Deputy Editor Charlotte Gill rightly says, legislation will help, but ministers themselves need to speak out more.  

Now, the re-naming of some Parry Barr thoroughfares after Victoria Cross recipients rather than ‘Diversity’ shibboleths isn’t at all a bad idea per se; but are these kinds of, frankly, peripheral and comparatively trivial placebos and palliatives from those political wet lettuces Jenrick, Dowden and Williamson really all we can realistically expect from the Tories’ so-called ‘War on Woke’?

Sadly, it might well be.  Because, below the radar, and on several fronts, the ‘Conservative’ Party hierarchy appears to be not merely not opposing, but either passively accepting or even advancing, the ‘Liberal’-Left’s pernicious, divisive Woke agenda. Consider a few examples.

Take the issue of the sustained Woke assault on free speech, specifically that manifested via the de-platforming and/or cancel-culture now widespread among both academic and student bodies on university campuses. Any readers still doubting its extent and severity should either listen to the New Culture Forum‘s recent panel discussion podcast on it, or watch it on YouTube.

Last month, Tory backbencher David Davis introduced a Private Members’ Bill to place a legal duty on universities to uphold and promote free speech on campus, but which is unlikely to become law, owing to ‘lack of Parliamentary time’. Davis is right to address this issue; but why did it have to fall to a private member to introduce legislation to protect and uphold something as fundamental as free speech?

Where was the allegedly ‘Conservative’ Government which included in its last Election Manifesto a commitment to strengthen academic freedom and free speech in universities? Was it fearful of incurring the wrath of the Woke Mafia? It’s a poor reflection on the Johnson Government’s now apparently only lukewarm commitment to free speech that legislation to uphold and promote it in universities, of all places, has to be via a Private Members’ Bill, and not a Government initiative.

Furthermore, the Woke assault on free speech is neither confined solely to the higher education sector, nor is it a fringe issue of concern only to civil liberties fundamentalists or free speech absolutists. A recent Savanta-ComRes opinion poll found that as many as 50 per cent of Britons feel freedom of speech in the United Kingdom to be under threat, and that only 12 per cent of the population believes that people have greater freedom to speak freely now than they enjoyed five years ago.

Moving on to the minefield of gender and trans rights, the ‘Conservative’ Party now appears to be bent on cancelling Women as a species. As victim of the militant trans lobby Maya Forstater explains, the Government’s own Parliamentary Bill covering maternity leave for Ministers now refers to ‘pregnant persons’.

Presumably, alternatives to the now clearly discriminatory and non-‘inclusive’ expression ‘women’, were rejected on Woke grounds. ‘Persons who menstruate’ must have been ruled out as obviously transphobic in deference to the vicious Woke onslaught on J K Rowling for satirising its use as a substitute.

Using persons with wombs’ would have self-evidently excluded, and thereby demeaned, women of child-bearing age who’d had to undergo a hysterectomy, and women past the menopause and therefore unable to conceive; and that’s before even starting to consider how to tiptoe round the bear-trap of describing any cis-women now identifying as non-binary on a spectrum of genders running into three figures.

Ironically in view of all of this, the Equality Act 2010, which remains in force, refers to both pregnancy itself and pregnancy discrimination as something which happens to, erm, ‘women’.

Among the most sinister and damaging manifestations of the burgeoning Woke self-righteous intolerance is the expansion of censorship by the partisan hyper-‘Liberals’ of Silicon Valley Big-Tech. Even as its platforms leant more and more towards covert, then overt, shadow-banning and even outright banning, much of the Elite-Establishment with an interest, whether genuine or feigned, in promoting the Woke Cult and silencing or demonising opposition to it has been content to outsource censorship to the private sector, but has thereby created a tyranny.

So it’s curious that, despite the worthy ostensible aim of preventing online harm, the Johnson Government is apparently content to partner with Big-Tech to regulate online speech even more. Did it occur to Media, Digital and Culture Secretary Dowden that, given its recent track record, Big-Tech is likely to exploit the freedom given it by filtering out not only child-pornographic, terrorist and genuinely racist material but also by censoring legitimate conservative opinion and classical-liberal challenge to the Woke-Left agenda? Or is he relaxed about it? 

The Tory leadership has also capitulated to the BBC, abandoning not just abolition of the iniquitous ‘licence-fee’, but even the idea of decriminalising non-payment of it, while at the same time allowing it to be increased. It’s only just over a year ago, remember, that Johnson’s ministers were banned from appearing on the Today programme because of its unremitting bias.

As if sustaining the mainstream media’s foremost propagandist of Über-Woke in its regressive, coercive funding model wasn’t bad enough, the Government has additionally favoured the ‘fantastic BBC‘ (© B Johnson) with responsibility for providing online lessons to children during lockdown. The result was predictable; it took a concerted backlash from parents to get its there are over 100 genders‘ teaching module withdrawn. Not much evidence of a Tory Government ‘War on Woke’ there.

Finally, and arguably most egregiously of all, Johnson’s Government appears to be going out of its way to virtue-signal its enthusiastic alignment with two of the most widespread and potentially calamitous Woke shibboleths of our time – Green-Left ‘climate-change’ and its new first cousin, the World Economic Forum’s Great Reset programme to exploit the Covid-19 pandemic so as to bring about the comprehensive re-vamping of all aspects of our societies and economies under a globalist, supranationalist, technocratic totalitarianism.

This is well illustrated by three pairs of linked tweets by Johnson and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, starting with the ritual obsession, which all senior British politicians have, of being seen publicly to be among the first to have telephone conversations with their counterparts in a new US administration.

There’s little intrinsically wrong in this rather tedious, perhaps even puerile, willy-waving aspect of the diplomatic game. Notable on this occasion, however, is how Johnson and Raab each take the opportunity afforded by it to shoehorn what, contextually, are almost forced and contrived references into it, linking pandemic recovery with the advancement of the Green eco-agenda – including those now almost obligatory buzzword-phrases ‘green and sustainable recovery‘ (Johnson), and both ‘tackling climate change‘ and the now almost universal ‘build back better‘ (Raab).

Next, their unnecessarily effusive, even cloying, welcomes for Biden’s rush, within almost hours of his inauguration, to sign the USA up to the twin Green mantras of the costly but ineffective Paris Climate Agreement, and the impractical and ruinously expensive drive to achieve the chimera of ‘carbon’ neutrality by 2050.

For a government supposedly committed to a ‘levelling-up’ agenda, allegedly intended to benefit people in the relatively economically disadvantaged Midlands and North, burdening them with much higher heating and power bills to pay for unreliable and subsidy-dependent Green energy seems a strange way of going about it. But here, once again, are the buzzwords beloved of the Great Reset’s adherents. ‘Net Zero by 2050‘ and ‘work together for our planet‘ from Johnson; ‘Paris Agreement‘ and ‘tackle climate change‘ (again) from Raab.

Lastly, their congratulatory tweets on New Zealand’s National Day to its Prime Minister, that darling of the globalist ‘progressive’ ‘Liberal’-Left, Jacinda Ardern.

This isn’t a controversial message in itself – New Zealand is, after all, a member both of the Commonwealth and the Anglosphere’s Five Eyes security alliance – but once more, we see the chance taken to insert some key WEF/Davos Great Reset platitudes. From Johnson, we get’ make the world a greener….place‘; from Raab (yet again) ‘to combat climate change‘; and, intriguingly, from both, the now near-ubiquitous and sinister ‘build back better‘.

It’s not as if the use of this phraseology is unique to either politics, or to Britain; the same mantras, the same’ build back better‘ platitudes, keep coming from as far afield and diverse sources as Trudeau in Canada, from Macron and Merkel at a virtual leaders’ summit, from Biden in the USA, from corporate CEOs meeting at environmental foundation gatherings, and even from Kensington Palace. Coincidence? I think not.

One wonders to what extent all this has now morphed from being mere empty virtue-signalling into a form of subtle code; a method for national political leaders to signify to each other and to the elite of the supranationalist crony-corporatist globalist oligarchy that, despite having, for domestic political reasons, to offer reassuring but obfuscatory bromides to their electorates, they are in fact entirely on board with the Great Reset agenda, and can be trusted to further it in their own countries.  

Only just over a year ago, Johnson had banned his ministers from attending the annual Davos schmooze-fest of the great and the (not so) good of the globalist oligarchy. Now he appears to be taking, not merely instructions, but even dictation from them.

Pinpointing the reason for the Tories’ apparent reluctance to counter the Woke agenda in any way other than cosmetically is harder than citing examples of it. Over at UnHerd, Ed West quotes former Tory MP Ed Vaizey, part of the Cameroon/Notting Hill metro-‘liberal’ tendency which still holds sway within the Party, in enthusiastic support for the Woke agenda. West persuasively suggests that driving this is a naïve gullibility, which fixates on its superficial but bogus claim to be motivated solely by altruism and equity, but is blind to the illiberalism, intolerance and authoritarianism with which it tries to enforce its orthodoxy.

A week ago, I insinuated that Johnson’s ‘Conservatives’ were only pretending to fight the Woke agenda at the domestic, socio-cultural level. The way in which their proposed post-Covid greater state-interventionism and Green eco-socialism manifest the accelerating conflation of the Green ‘climate-change’ agenda with the Covid-19 recovery agenda under the overarching aegis of the WEF/Davos Great Reset suggests that, when it comes to the Woke agenda at the internationalist, economic level, they aren’t even pretending to.

In the New Culture Forum‘s panel discussion podcast and video discussion referenced earlier, Professor Jeremy Black of Exeter University posits that there is an argument currently prevailing within Johnson’s Government against engaging in any kind of what they call ‘culture war’, the idea being that that’s what characterised Trump, that it was a mistake, and that they, therefore, must not be seen to be emulating either it, or him.

The fact that we’re already in a culture war that’s being prosecuted aggressively by the ‘Liberal’-Left and hard-Left Culture-Warriors seems to have escaped their notice. As the Henry Jackson Society’s Dr Rakib Ehsan states, Britain cannot be blind to the threat to social cohesion presented by extremist far-Left revolutionaries via faux-‘progressive’ movements like Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion.

Particularly striking over the past year has been the sheer number of Britain’s civic organisations who, it now appears, already had personnel in place in their key positions, primed and ready to adopt the Cult of Woke in a big way – the culmination, presumably, of The Long March Through The Institutions, the phrase coined by the 1960s Communist student revolutionary Rudi Dutschke, but which has its origins in the writings of the Italian Communist political theorist Antonio Gramsci.

Though malign of intention, the people in these vocal, intolerant, Woke ‘minorities’ aren’t stupid. They spotted early on how craven, popularity-obsessed but blame-averse, politicians and governments of every stripe were increasingly outsourcing decision-making to authorities beyond the reach of the democratic process – and thereby conveniently beyond their own arc of responsibility – both upwards to supranational organisations, and sideways to autonomous agencies and quangos.

They realised how such near-State and/or quasi-State institutions would, in the developing post-democratic era, become the new centres of political authority and influence, whose capture by a relatively small cultural-marxist elite would enable them to wield power out of all proportion to the numbers who share their views. They have become powerful due to years spent infiltrating, then taking over, the near-State, quango and ‘charity’ sectors, and waiting for the signal or excuse to launch the culture war in earnest.

The George Floyd / Black Lives Matter / Antifa riots of last summer provided both. This is why the cultural and historical attack on England appears to have acquired such momentum, depth and width so quickly. But, irrespective of the precise cause, its consequence is that, sadly, there seems to be no real political desire to push back against what looks like nothing more than an updated, more malignant mutation of the stock Marxist critique of Western civilisation.

If the ‘Conservative’ Party hierarchy were indeed as serious about tackling the Woke virus as the Daily Telegraph‘s Allister Heath – uncharacteristically wrongly and over-optimistically in my view – suggests, then they’d be upholding free speech, countering pernicious, divisive Critical Race Theory, Gender Theory and Trans Theory as part of a wider repudiation of identitarian politics generally, and clipping the wings of the BBC, much more robustly than they are, instead of merely changing a few street names, making it slightly harder to pull down ‘problematic’ statues, and compensating de-platformed speakers at universities.

But they’re not; and neither do they want to. The Tories’ ‘War on Woke’ is strictly a Phoney War.

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Its unthreatening new Chairman is not about to rock the BBC’s boat

Boris Johnson’s backsliding on his 2019 election pledges about BBC reform means it has a new Chairman who is unlikely to threaten it even with any significant reform, never mind the radical revolution which its illiberal funding model and institutional bias both demand

Note: Longer and updated version of the article published at The Conservative Woman on Friday 15 January 2021.

In many fields, for the new Chairman of a major public corporation to be generally welcomed by the commentariat as a safe pair of hands should be reassuring for its stakeholders and customers. It would indicate the appointment of someone who could be trusted to do an important job well without making any serious mistakes, and who would not embark on a major upheaval.

The BBC in its current state, however, is not an organisation suited to such an appointment. It’s in serious trouble; arguably, even in crisis.

Strategically, as the Adam Smith Institute’s Madsen Pirie explains, it long ago deliberately abandoned its remit as an impartial public service broadcaster, both when it opted to pursue high ratings figures to try and justify its receipt of public money, and when it decided to enter the political arena as a player rather than a reporter, but with an internal culture of left-leaning metropolitan hyper-liberalism, projected by personnel who think their own views are the only “reasonable” ones to hold.  

Practically, nearly two-thirds of its captive paying customers are dissatisfied, not only with the coercive way it funds itself, but also with how it subsequently spends the money which it thereby extracts from them. No fewer than half of them say that it now neither represents their values, nor shows the impartiality required by its Charter which bestows such privileged status on it.

For all his manifest qualities, its newly appointed Chairman Designate, Richard Sharp, judging by the overall tone of press comment on the news of his appointment, appears unlikely to favour the radical, even revolutionary, approach to reforming the Corporation that its deep-rooted structural malaise demands.

That ‘senior BBC figures expressed relief‘ at the appointment, interpreting it as evidence of Government intent to pursue a policy of reform rather than revolution‘, speaks volumes. That Sharp is reportedly seen essentially as ‘bipartisan rather than a culture warrior‘, and is described by his ‘allies‘ (may we be permitted to know who they are?) as likely to be ‘a tough friend‘ of the BBC, gives little confidence that the behemoth is seriously threatened by the kind of institutional shake-up which its captive funders clearly believe it needs at the top.

That the BBC’s senior executives apparently feared the appointment of an arch critic such as Lord (Charles) Moore, and Sharp’s own reported opinion that ‘the BBC is at the heart of British cultural life, do not exactly presage a complacency-upending zeal. The comment attributed to Sharp’s ‘friends’ (once again, are we allowed to know their identity?), that he was ‘unlikely to push for a radical overhaul of the broadcaster‘, do not suggest an imminent change of focus away from the preservation of producer interest and towards more customer satisfaction.

The early signs from Sharp himself aren’t encouraging. At his pre-appointment hearing on 14 January before the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee, he described as ‘the least worst option‘ and as ‘terrific value‘ the iniquitous ‘licence-fee’, and declared himself ‘not in favour of decriminalisation‘ of its non-payment – thereby pre-judging, even before taking office, the outcome of the review of BBC funding which as Chairman he’s supposed to lead.

On the BBC’s unconcealed political bias, especially among its prominent current affairs presenters, and despite the new BBC Chief Executive Tim Davie’s instruction to them to curb it, it’s already apparent from, for example, Emily Maitlis’ continued blatant editorialising, that Davie’s executive writ barely runs as far as his own office door.

Sadly, the BBC’s new Chairman looks unlikely to change that. Quizzed by the select committee on the Corporation’s notoriously pro-Remain, anti-Brexit bias in the run-up to the 2016 EU referendum, he condescended to admit that ‘Question Time seemed to have more Remainers than Brexiteers‘. In fact, there’s no ‘seemed‘ about it: the News-Watch survey on this specific issue established that it was skewed by a factor of 2:1 or more in favour of Remain as part of a “massive, consistent and overt bias over decades. Yet, the BBC’s overall coverage on Brexit, asserted Sharp, had been ‘incredibly balanced‘.

The Daily Telegraph‘s Madeleine Grant, reporting perceptively on the select committee’s not so much grilling as gentle thawing of Sharp, and summarising, correctly, that the BBC will be in what it would regard safe hands with this doughty defender of the status quo,  noted wryly how he “fluently deployed trendy corporate jargon and phrases like ‘matrix of diversity‘”, which doesn’t exactly indicate a challenge to the BBC’s obsession with Woke culture any time soon.                    

If all these indications are right, then the blame for what looks likely to become a total failure to call the partisan, bloated, smug, contemptuous of its financially captive audience BBC to account will lie, not with Sharp himself, but with those who took the decision to appoint him BBC Chairman. In other words, the risk-averse, pusillanimous, allegedly ‘Conservative’ government led by the politically invertebrate, pledge-reversing, all-bluff-and-bluster Boris Johnson.

It was only just over a year ago that Johnson rode into No 10 Downing Street, mainly on the back of his promise finally to deliver the Brexit which the British people had voted for a full 3½ years before – and how quickly the wheels are already starting to come off that particular wagon – but partly on the back of his hints about abolishing the illiberal BBC ‘licence-fee’, or at the very least decriminalising non-payment of it. For a time, on his instruction, ministers even boycotted the BBC’s political coverage because of its consistent left-‘liberal’ bias.

How distant that now seems. The signals indicating the government’s abandonment of its pledge and its eventual capitulation have been discernible for the last six months or so, not least in Johnson’s and his ineffectual Media and ‘Culture’ Minister Oliver Dowden’s hesitancy and equivocation in condemning the BBC’s increasing doubling-down on the contempt it clearly feels for its audiences.

Confirmation duly arrived just before Christmas when, conveniently amid the furore over whether we would be allowed to celebrate it at all, Johnson was revealed to be ditching plans even to decriminalise non-payment of the ‘licence-fee’, never mind consider its outright abolition.

That was followed by a volte-face – one remarkable even by the standards we have come to expect from Johnson – when, deploying his usual compulsive hyperbole, he entrusted to the “fantastic” BBC responsibility for providing online lessons during his latest Covid-19 lockdown to children who are currently being denied their education mainly because of his own reluctance to take on the militant teaching unions obstructing the re-opening of schools and resumption of classroom teaching.

In little more than a year, therefore, he has gone from ordering a ministerial boycott of the BBC because of its political bias, to handing it a virtual monopoly on online teaching, despite half of Britons thinking it reflects their views and their values either fairly badly or very badly.

The government’s comments on Sharp’s appointment strengthen the impression of a backdown and its acceptance of modest change only. “Exactly the chair the BBC needs right now“, purred Dowden, going on to intone the now customary mantra of a BBC “central to British national life in the decades ahead, while anticipating only reforms to the BBC” which hardly appear to be a threat.

Tellingly, nowhere in any of the political announcements or mainstream media coverage of Sharp’s appointment is there any recognition of the fundamental iniquity of a funding model reliant on an illiberal regressive tax, payable via coercion, even by people who don’t wish to consume the product which it funds. So much for the ‘libertarian’ Boris Johnson which we keep being assured, with fast-diminishing credibility, really does exist.

In contrast to its overwhelmingly favourable, even fawning, reception, the most apposite comment on Sharp’s appointment perhaps comes from former BBC journalist and author of “The Noble Lie: How and Why the BBC Distorts the News to Promote a Liberal Agenda“, Robin Aitken. The salient point of his trenchant critique of the appointment is worth quoting in full:

In choosing Mr Sharp, a walking caricature of the Establishment, the Johnson government is signalling that it’s opting for a quiet life rather than conflict with the BBC.   

It is no criticism of Sharp’s qualifications and suitability for the role to say that he appears to be first-class choice – but for the next-but-one Chairman of the BBC. He would be an ideal candidate to steady the ship and settle it on its new course, after the difficult passage through the rough, rock-strewn seas that it absolutely must complete if it’s ever to emerge eventually into the calmer waters of firstly, a new funding model acceptable to its customers, and secondly, the trust by a majority of the public, in both its reflection of their values and its scrupulous adherence to impartiality, substantially restored.

But to command and navigate the lumbering BBC vessel successfully though that tricky passage requires something other than a gradualist or consensualist with insider connections to the government machine. It needs a radical, sceptical outsider, a disrupter, an unbeliever in the BBC’s specious claim to a ‘unique and special position in our national life’, unafraid to challenge and overcome the innate resistance to change among its self-referential senior executives and presenters.

The BBC behemoth needs a Chairman committed to demolishing its institutional groupthink; one willing to make life thoroughly uncomfortable for its senior cadres, to force on both it and them the changes necessary to transform it into a provider of product satisfaction and value-for-money to voluntary customers, not a pillar of the Left-‘Liberal’ Elite-Establishment exploiting its privileged position and guaranteed revenue to promote assiduously an ideological agenda unwelcome to most of its captive funders.

It isn’t going to get one. Thanks solely to the shameful timidity and duplicity of Johnson and his flaccid government, the BBC’s boat is not about to be rocked.

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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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Honour The Military Covenant!

MPs debating the exclusion of Northern Ireland from the Bill extending the protection of former Armed Services personnel from malicious historical prosecutions should honour the Military Covenant, not find grounds to wriggle out of it

I suspect few people will have heard of a gentleman called Dennis Hutchings. Those who haven’t should rectify this gap in their knowledge because, whether they’re aware of it or not, they’re indebted to him and to thousands like him; but the Government and MPs which they, and we, have entrusted with the responsibility of discharging that debt on our behalf are resiling from their obligations and shirking both their duty and their own and their predecessors’ implied promise to him.

Mr Hutchings is one of those referenced in the quotation whose both origin and precise words are disputed, but is attributed variously to Kipling, Orwell or Churchill:

We sleep easy in our beds because hard men stand ready to risk their lives on our behalf, to inflict violence on those who would do us harm.

In Mr Hutchings’ case, “those who would do us harm‘ were the IRA, at the height of their murderous campaign of terrorism in Northern Ireland, to try and achieve violently via the bomb and the bullet what they were unable to achieve peacefully and democratically via the ballot-box.

In 1974, while a serving soldier in the Life Guards, he had to make a split-second decision, under stress, whether to allow what was thought at the time to be an IRA suspect to run away from a patrol in County Tyrone, or follow standing orders and open fire. He insists, as he has done for the last 46 years, that he fired only a warning shot in the air. Another soldier, now deceased, also fired. The suspect was killed, but Mr Hutchings, now 78 years old and progressively dying from kidney and heart failure, is before the Northern Ireland courts charged with attempted murder and attempted grievous bodily harm.

This is happening even as the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill is wending its way through Parliament. Its purpose, in the wake of British military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, is to better protect former members of the Armed Forces from politically motivated lawfare conducted by mainly leftist human rights lawyers, in the form of (frequently found to be un-evidenced, or entirely without foundation) specious claims of unlawful detention and maltreatment.

In this respect, many readers will recall the notorious and now thankfully struck-off Phil Shiner, doyen of ambulance-chasing Yuman Rites parasites, but senior Labour Party politicians have by no means been blameless. Many readers will also recall Emily Thornberry going so far as accepting Christmas hospitality and a donation from Leigh Day, the legal firm accused of pursuing false torture claims against British soldiers, even while serving as Shadow Defence Minister.

Crucially, though, the current Bill as drafted would apply only to overseas operations, so would thus exclude Northern Ireland, despite The Troubles having accounted for 722 British military deaths resulting from hostile paramilitary activity, compared with 454 in Afghanistan and 226 in Iraq during both Gulf Wars.

Axiomatically iniquitous as this should be, almost no objection to the Government’s exclusion of military service in Ulster from the scope of its immunity from historic prosecutions Bill appears to have been raised during its so-called ‘scrutiny’ by ‘Conservative’ MPs. Why not? Was being shot at or bombed by the IRA or Loyalist paramilitaries somehow less risky than being shot at or bombed by Muqtada Al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army or the Taliban?

Where in particular was any protest from that formerly self-appointed champion of our military veterans and now a Junior Defence Minister with the same responsibilities, Johnny Mercer MP, from whom, having served in Afghanistan himself, one might perhaps have expected more?

Especially as in May 2019, he had pledged not to support the Government’s legislative agenda until it ended historic prosecutions, including any relating to Northern Ireland? And as his brief from newly-appointed PM Boris Johnson on his promotion to junior ministerial office, a mere two months later, specifically tasked him with ending the legal pursuit of former service personnel, especially those who had served in the Province?

If only Mercer were now displaying in that cause the same zeal with which he leapt aboard the Woke-Left bandwagon to condemn England’s foremost philosopher of conservatism, Sir Roger Scruton, without bothering to check the veracity of the accusations against him, when Scruton was viciously traduced in a blatant partisan hatchet-job by the New Statesman‘s left-wing hack George Eaton deploying deliberate misinterpretation and highly selective quoting.

The exclusion of Northern Ireland from the Bill’s scope becomes even more egregious, given the shameful exoneration and immunities handed out to former IRA paramilitary terrorists by Anthony Blair, despite the fugitive recipients of his notorious ‘letters of comfort’ being linked to some 300 killings. 

Mr Hutchings is therefore in the invidious position of being dragged through the Criminal Courts after 46 years, in probably the last few months of life, while his erstwhile IRA adversaries enjoy the protection of the same immunity of which he is somehow deemed unworthy. No wonder he feels aggrieved: he has more than adequate reason to do so, and we should feel similarly indignant on his behalf.

Incredibly, it gets even worse. Some MPs, Mercer not unsurprisingly to the fore, now appear to be objecting to the very principle of such a Bill at all, claiming, despite it always having been intended that immunity from prosecution should never extend to torture, murder or genocide, that the Bill will create a presumption against prosecution for lesser alleged crimes, would hinder repeat investigations, and would enable ex-soldiers to ‘escape justice’.

Britain’s soldiers, it seems, can never be hung out to dry enough to satisfy the demands of, not only the politicians who commit them to action in the first place, but even their own senior commanders and political heads, for whom ‘diversity’ now ranks higher as a priority than equitable treatment or military effectiveness.

Until two decades or so ago, the Military Covenant did not figure much in the public consciousness, nor was it much discussed, despite its 400-year history. Neither enshrined in law, nor conferring contractual obligations, nor even enforceable, it was nevertheless understood to be an informal but morally binding agreement on their relationship between the State and those who voluntarily sign up to put their lives on the line to defend their country and its people.

Visible change commenced under Cameron when his Coalition government, rowing back from his previous commitment to enshrine the Covenant in law, proposed merely to publish an annual statement of how it was honouring the Covenant – or rather, as is so often the case in such public-relations driven exercises in self-congratulation – ostentatiously pretending to honour it while starting to chip away at its unstated commitments.

The Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill is being debated in third reading in the House of Commons today. Rather than searching for weasel-word sophistry to justify hanging ex-soldiers like Mr Hutchings out to dry, it is high time the political class reverted to honouring the Covenant in full.

A full 130 years have now passed since Rudyard Kipling wrote the poem in which it appears, but apparently, very little has changed that would either undermine or in any way invalidate the message contained in its couplet:

It’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, and ‘Kick ‘im out, the brute!’ But it’s ‘Saviour of ‘is country’ when the guns begin to shoot.

Honour the Military Covenant, Fake-‘Conservatives’, or forever hang your heads in eternal shame. And as a proud military parent, never again would I waste my precious vote on you.

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The Tory Red Wall is Losing Bricks Fast

Complacent Tories are already behind the curve in recognising increasing disaffection among their new Red Wall voters in the North

Note: longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Tuesday 06 October 2020

As ever more draconian, but in practice substantially unenforceable, restrictions were last week imposed by the Johnson Junta on our liberties via Lockdown 2.0, the mooted opposition to them from within the ranks of the supine, compliant, party-before-country, time-serving, careerist lobby-fodder which makes up the majority of the ‘Conservative’ Parliamentary Party collapsed.

The incipient ‘revolt’ on Wednesday 30 September by no fewer than a threatened eighty melted away to a mere seven, on nothing more than a vague promise to consult them in the future.

Although Hancock was reported across most of the media as having promised a Parliamentary debate on the next occasion, this isn’t borne out by his words spoken from the Government front bench as recorded by Hansard:

Today, I can confirm to the House that for significant national measures with effect in the whole of England or UK-wide, we will consult Parliament; wherever possible, we will hold votes before such regulations come into force. But of course, responding to the virus means that the Government must act with speed when required, and we cannot hold up urgent regulations that are ​needed to control the virus and save lives.

This is no concession at all, much less a promise. First, it would apply only in the case of a proposed country-wide lockdown. Second, Hancock pledged the Government only to ‘consult’ Parliament, not initiate a full debate – in contrast to the paltry 90 minutes allocated last Wednesday – ending in a vote which might deliver a Government defeat. Mere ‘consultation’ in no way obliges the Government to any notice whatsoever of the expressed opinion of the House.

Third, Hancock added the rider ‘wherever possible’; it isn’t hard to imagine how the Government would claim it was impossible. Fourth, Hancock reserved to the Government the right to act unilaterally anyway. Yet to this blatant procedural chicanery, barely a squeak of protest was raised, apart from during speeches made by the seven eventual rebels.

Not for the first time, Tory MPs sojourning comfortably in their gilded bubble, banking on the four years before the next election dulling the electorate’s memories, are behind the curve at recognising the disillusion and contempt growing among their erstwhile most loyal supporters at their failure to challenge the Johnson Junta’s headlong embrace of economically and societally damaging illiberal authoritarianism, based on increasingly highly questionable scientific advice.

But outside the MPs’ cocoon, the patience of even their formerly most long-serving members appears to be waning fast. As I found out in microcosm a few weeks ago, from my BFF’s mother, down from the Red Wall North for a few weeks visiting her daughter on the South Coast.

Although Violet (not her real name) is in her mid-80s, she’s impressively – almost frighteningly,  truth be told – switched on politically, with a mind like a razor.  To give you a flavour, last Christmas Day, after I’d been asked by her daughter, my lunch hostess, to keep off politics for the day as her Mum had that year been widowed, she greeted me with –

Mike!  Happy Christmas!  Now tell me: were you still oop on Election Night when that dozy Swinson lost her seat? Wasn’t that great?

She and her late husband were loyal stalwarts, even officers, of the local ‘Conservative’ association in their part of the North until, as she puts it, even they could stomach Cameron and his Notting Hill metropolitan-‘liberal’ dilettante chums no longer and resigned. She even attended the infamous Tory Party Conference of 2002, being in the audience when the then Party Chairman, one Theresa May, scowled at the assembled delegates as only the surly daughter of an Anglican vicar can, and scolded them that they were, in reality, the Nasty Party.

Violet’s opinion of the MayBot is, shall we say, not high. She met May when the latter as Party Chairman visited that particular Constituency Party Association, and she claims never to have encountered anyone so taciturn, uncommunicative, and non-committal, especially when supposed to be boosting morale among the party in the country and rallying the local troops to greater efforts. On the evening May was appointed Home Secretary by Cameron after the 2010 General Election and its subsequent days’ horse-trading with the LibDems, Violet telephoned me with this gem:

Theresa May? Home Secretary? Theresa Bloody May? She’ll be a disaster!

By ‘eck, she weren’t half right, were she?

The Northern constituency Violet lives in is one of those Red Wall seats which went Tory for the first time in decades last December. However, the local council in the biggest town, on the outskirts of which she lives but still just within its local authority area, is solidly Labour, and very concerned not to offend, and even to appease, a large and growing “Asian” population, on which specific demographic it increasingly depends for votes.

That “Asian” community is disproportionately concentrated in one locality and is characterised by large extended families, a high occupancy rate per home, a high degree of social interaction, and a reluctance to abide by local laws and regulations where they conflict with or impede the community’s religio-cultural practices.

Particularly during Ramadan, which this year ran from 23 April to 23 May, much socialising was allegedly prevalent in the local parks and open spaces for the post-sunset Iftar fast-breaking evening meal during the comparatively light and warm evenings, with not only scant regard for social-distancing guidelines but an indulgent, hands-off, non-interference policy from the local constabulary, in contrast to the heavy-handed authoritarianism with which separation was policed in other parts of the country.

So it’s perhaps not surprising that that specific locality emerged as the area’s coronavirus hotspot during the late-March to early-July lockdown. The problem arose and disaffection set in, Violet averred, when it became apparent that, while the remainder of the area was nowhere near as affected by Covid-19 as the hotspot, the entire wider community nevertheless had to suffer the economic and societal consequences.

Interestingly, this is starting to be recognised by some Tory MPs who are arguing instead for finely targeted local lockdowns where, and only for so long as, necessary, in contrast to the Government’s omnipotent-State, blanket-ban approach. But no-one in No 10 is listening.   

To say that the Tory support, which rallied to the ballot-box only ten months ago, is disillusioned with the Johnson government’s response to the pandemic would be an understatement. According to Violet, the blame is being heaped more or less equally on Johnson and his Cabinet for slavishly following ‘the science’ which has turned out to be questionable if not flawed, and on the local council for not making a case for exempting the non-hotspot part of the area from the full panoply of lockdown.

In short, the locals who, for the first time in decades voted for the Tories last December, think the Tories have made a mess of it, and furthermore, have little understanding of, let alone sympathy for, the plight of people in the medium-sized Northern towns. December’s ‘Conservative’ vote was probably a high-water mark never again to be achieved.

Now, it might be tempting to write this off as purely anecdotal; but increasingly it appears to be backed up by empirical evidence.

Regular pollster (Lord) Michael Ashcroft’s recent survey of voter opinion, “A New Political Landscape, has found that, although all isn’t necessarily lost for the Tories, voters have definitely turned.

In the Daily Telegraph, Big Brother Watch’s Silkie Carlo states that last week’s Parliamentary’ revolt’, although it degenerated into a damp squib, ought to be taken by the Tories as a warning that its public is growing restive.

In The Times, the experienced pollster Deborah Mattinson has described succinctly the reservations which newly Tory-voting Northern Red Wall constituents are already having about the direction and style of Johnson’s government, and cautioned that the Party needed to use the opportunity presented by its online party conference to reassert some grip.

At UnHerd, Ed West, author ofSmall Men on the Wrong Side of Historyexplaining the ‘Conservative’ Party’s looming electoral decline from both demography and (ironically) its own Leftward drift, warns that the Tories are running out of both time and voters.

Again in The Times, Rachel Sylvester cautions that the way in which managerial incompetence and economic credibility have both been thrown out of the window by the Tories in their authoritarian approach to the Covid19 crisis will not go unnoticed by their newest supporters who are those likely to be the hardest hit by it.

But the Party hierarchy, in contrast, remains complacently behind the curve. Only days ago, Party Chairman Amanda Milling MP announced with a fanfare that, to show their commitment to, and cement, what they now presume to call their ‘Blue Wall’ seats, the ‘Conservatives’ would be opening a second Party HQ, in Leeds, in 2021. Milling also confirmed that Tory MPs in those seats were to be offered a funding ‘war-chest’ to help them hold on to them.

But if the Tories fail to deliver on Brexit, as they have so far failed – and are still currently failing – to deliver on coronavirus, controlling illegal immigration and defending our history, culture and heritage from the cultural-marxist Woke-Left’s assault on them, it will all be too little, too late, and a waste of time, money and effort. Because the Tories’ Red Wall votes will have gone.

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Brexit-Watch: Friday 17 July 2020

Beware the resistance of the Whitehall Continuity-Remainer Blob  

Note: this article was originally published at The Conservative Woman on Thursday 16 July 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

 

It’s time to agree to withdraw from the Withdrawal Agreement Centre for Brexit Policy

The relief and praise in equal measure which greeted Boris Johnson’s ‘renegotiation’ of the seemingly renegotiation-immune EU Withdrawal Agreement were justified – but only partly.  Despite the modification he achieved, its numerous flaws which his predecessor Theresa May signed up to out of either dullard ignorance or Remainer perversity persist.

Notwithstanding the current negotiations being conducted on our future trading relationship with the EU, provisions in the Withdrawal Agreement relating to, inter alia, the continued applicability of EU law, customs/border procedures, and Defence/Intelligence/Security issues, will, unless changed, effectively ensure the EU will continue pulling strings in Britain for years to come.

The Centre for Brexit Policy’s comprehensive report, on how various areas will continue to be adversely affected by Brussels’ malign influence, support its conclusion that the Withdrawal Agreement as currently structured cannot be allowed to stand, and must be replaced.

Interestingly, this proposal is being supported by one or two of the former Brexit Party MEPs who defected back to the ‘Conservative’ Party before the last election because they disagreed with the former’s position that the Withdrawal Agreement was fundamentally deficient and needed wholesale renegotiation, not modification. Depressingly, though, it’s difficult if not impossible to imagine Johnson’s inept and struggling government conjuring up the political courage even to address this, let alone do anything about it.

 

Michel Barnier tells Mark Francois that Brexit is pointlessDaily Telegraph (£) 

‘Resistance is futile’ seems to be the subtext of Barnier’s message.  Now, to be fair, Tory Brexiteer MP Francois is a bit of a buffoon – although one who attracts far more odium from his detractors than does the equally buffoon-ish Euro-fanatic Guy Verhofstadt – but I suspect he’s achieved the essentially mischief-making purpose of his original missive to Barnier, by provoking precisely the kind of haughty, ponderous, humourless response that so typifies the Eurocrat grandee.

Barnier has once again unwittingly revealed firstly, his total inability to understand how any country could possibly not want to remain part of the institutionally anti-democratic pan-European supranational project for which he evinces a near-sacerdotal reverence, and secondly, the EU’s continuing negotiating intransigence that sees him still insisting, even at this stage, that the UK must abide by the cherished ‘level playing field’ on EU (over)-regulation. It’s a bit rich of him to be accusing the UK of a ‘lack of respect’.

He shows why continuing negotiation is in effect a dialogue of the deaf, and why we would be better off cutting our losses, announcing that no further purpose is served by persisting in the charade, and devoting all our resources to preparing for the end of Transition without an agreement in place.

 

UK faces extra €2 billion EU pensions bill – Euractiv

To which demand the first response should surely be the question: why?

When the UK agreed to pay roughly €39 billion in a combination of severance and contribution to future liabilities under the original Withdrawal Agreement, included in that amount was approximately €9.75 billion for future EU staff pension liabilities. However, the EU’s estimate of those specific liabilities has suddenly jumped by about 22 per cent in one year, as a result of which we are being asked to stump up an extra €2 billion.  If that can happen to one element of our severance settlement, it raises the question of whether it could also happen to others, and whether a one-off payment somehow has the potential to morph into a never-ending commitment.

Given that the Withdrawal Agreement, for all its faults, was signed, why are we liable at all, when we have already legally left? And why was the amount not capped in the negotiations at the original €9.75 billion, to prevent us from being gouged for further increases? We should have no hesitation in either refusing, or securing a valuable concession elsewhere as the price of agreeing.

 

Brexiteers be alert – Whitehall is still trying to scupper a real Brexit – Briefings for Britain

Accustomed as we should be by now to the machinations of the irredeemably Europhile Westminster and Whitehall Remainer Blob which, four years on from the 2016 EU Referendum, continues to try and thwart or at least dilute its outcome, the Blob’s capacity to open a new front in its ongoing war against democracy should never be underestimated.

If you can’t stop it, review it” comes straight out Sir Humphrey’s (or perhaps Sir Mark’s before his welcome but overdue departure) playbook.  With the Department of Trade and Industry fully engaged in actually negotiating new, non-EU, trade-deals, the timing of the announcement of a review into the DTI’s modelling of trade deals looks anything but coincidence.  The suspicion of bureaucratic sleight-of-hand is heightened by the appointment, as chairman of the review, of an economist described as ‘close to very vocal Remainers‘.

The membership of the new agricultural commission to advise on food standards and trade policy looks similarly compromised, being stuffed full of the same people who, pre-Referendum, were prominent in scaremongering about produce standards and food imports in the event of leaving the EU.

Additionally, talk has emerged of the DTI joining the Department for International Development (aka Overseas Aid) in being merged into the Foreign Office, long regarded, and with reason, as the epicentre of Whitehall’s Remainer Resistance,  and with a dismal record of achievement when it was responsible for trade prior to the formation of the DTI.  How Sir Humphrey would approve!

Johnson, or at least Cummings, should be all over this like a rash, killing it stone dead. That the former isn’t, given the profound disappointment he is turning out to be as PM, isn’t surprising.  That the latter isn’t is worrying.  Is another Chequers-type BRINO in the making?

 

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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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Professor Lockdown: Wholly Hubris or Partly Honey-Trap?

The circumstances of the extra-marital romantic assignations for which the architect of lockdown broke his own recommended social distancing rules are enough to prompt suspicion that initiation of the relationship might have been neither entirely his, nor entirely for purely personal reasons

Note: updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Monday 18 May 2020

Definition of honeytrap

When the scandal of Imperial College’s Professor Neil Ferguson’s breach of the COVID-19 lockdown social-distancing rules for his amorous dalliances with his married mistress Antonia Staats broke, it was not only understandable but also totally justified that the main focus of public attention by far was on his own gross professional and personal hypocrisy.

After all, here was arguably the principal architect of the SAGE advisory group’s ‘expert’ ‘scientific’ advice, which prompted the Government to –

  1. restrict personal freedoms to an extent unprecedented in peacetime;
  1. in effect shut down the economy; and
  1. put half the nation’s entire workforce on the public payroll,

flagrantly doing precisely the opposite of his own recommendations.

The disastrous effects of the Government’s panicked U-turn from mitigation to suppression, so as to follow the SAGE/Ferguson recommendations slavishly, are all too familiar.  The excessively heavy-handed authoritarianism of the Police in enforcing lockdown rules.  The deliberate inducement of the worst recession for 300 years.  A level of budget deficits which will take years to recover from.  They need no more than a brief mention here.

Neither is this the place to debate either the merits or demerits of Lockdown per se, which have been impressively covered elsewhere, or Ferguson’s private morals, which are of no intrinsic concern to us.

However, given the sheer hypocrisy of his personal conduct compared to his professional scientific advice, and the baleful consequences of the Government’s following the latter, it’s not unreasonable to wonder whether there are any underlying political factors which influenced Ferguson’s specific choice of paramour?  Or, possibly, which influenced his paramour’s particular selection of him as the object of her attention and beneficiary of her favours?

Primarily on Ferguson’s ‘expert advice’, a formerly-‘Conservative’ Party government has created a weaker, static, travel-shunning society cowed into acquiescent submission by lurid pandemic scaremongering, and a weaker economy dependent on massive State intervention. It’s pursuing policies which wouldn’t be at all out of place in an election manifesto produced jointly by Momentum and Extinction Rebellion.  No wonder the State-Socialists and the Green anti-capitalism eco-totalitarians are crowing that Lockdown has become the new normal.  So what part, if any, might his inamorata have played in influencing that advice?

It didn’t take very long for the Guido Fawkes website to uncover ‘left-wing campaigner’ Ms Staats’ political affiliations, which turned out, with a wearisome predictability, to be eco-socialist, anti-Brexit, and anti-capitalist.  As to Ms Staats’ other links, including to the US-based online globalist-activism Avaaz, these were set out very succinctly by Janice Davis in the penultimate paragraph of her own The Conservative Woman article of Wednesday 13th May; it needs no repetition or elaboration from me, except perhaps to note the allegations of funding connections with the Moveon.org organization funded by George Soros

Antonia Staats 1, 5, & 6

To those of us disinclined to believe in fairies and unicorns, this all started to ring warning bells, and still does.  A hard Green-Left anti-Brexit, globalist, eco-activist, who just happens to have been bedding the very man on whose ‘expert advice’ coincidentally the Government has been inveigled into trying to re-make the economy and society in ways very similar to what the anti-Brexiteers, the far-Left, and extreme-Greens demand?  Can we totally exclude the possibility that Ferguson and Ms Staats connected by some process other than pure chance?

How long has the relationship been going?  Does the apparent willingness to breach the lockdown rules for the amorous assignations – in Ferguson’s case hypocritically so – suggest that it might still be in its first flush of ardour and therefore of comparatively recent origin?  The pair are reported to have hooked up via the match website OkCupid, but which of the two actually initiated it?  Is Ferguson subject to the Official Secrets Act in relation to divulging via post-coital pillow-talk any confidential information to which he might be privy by virtue of his official role?

Now, it must be said that, from Ferguson’s track record, it’s entirely possible to conclude that his recommendations to the Government via SAGE were formed without any external influences.

Professionally, his history of wrong predictions with disastrous consequences has been mercilessly dissected.  The coding on which his modelling is based has been shredded.  With only small adjustments to inputs on his model, very different outputs emerge

In his personal capacity, he has not been notably reticent about his political views, either.  In 2016, he co-authored a paper on the allegedly terrible consequences of leaving the EU.  Immediately after the 2017 General Election, he greeted effusively the capture of the Oxford West and Abingdon constituency by the spectacularly misnamed ‘Liberal’ ‘Democrats’ who, ever since the 2016 EU Referendum, have consistently campaigned on a pledge just to ignore its result and unilaterally overturn it.

Ferguson - Moran

It’s worth reading in detail this article on Ferguson for The Critic by journalist and founder of Lockdown Sceptics, Toby Young.  It’s worth, too, listening to this James Delingpole/Toby Young ‘London Calling’ podcast of 6th May for the Young’s excellent monologue summary (from 06:36) of how Ferguson so egregiously epitomises the dangerous serial failings of the ‘liberal’-left, authoritarian-statist, fiscally incontinent, groupthink-conformist quangocracy.  His apparent assumption that lockdown rules on social distancing were for the little people to follow, but not necessarily himself, could well stem from an elitist hubris that’s entirely self-generated.

So it’s entirely feasible that little, if any, external influence was actually necessary for him to make up his mind in the direction he did.  After all, his recommendations were hardly inconsistent with his previous positions; it was not as if he’d reversed policy direction by 180 degrees.

But perhaps any influence, if influence there was, was of the more subtle kind, in the form of flattery, or validation, which might just have prompted him to strengthen them in a particular direction?  Would it have been akin to gently pushing on an already open door?

Both in reality and fiction, the honey-trap has a long and chequered history.  Betty Pack, as MI6 agent ‘Cynthia’, used her feminine allure to help Britain covertly abstract from the Poles the key to the German Enigma codes.  In Frederick Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal, a young female OAS agent deliberately becomes the mistress of de Gaulle’s much older security adviser, to inform the would-be assassin of the action being taken in the hunt for him.  Former LibDem MP Mike Hancock employed as his parliamentary researcher, with access to sensitive Defence papers, the Russian spy Katia Zatuliveter, 40 years his junior, with whom he was also having an affair.

We have no reason to assume the practice doesn’t continue.  And in a world populated by many more non-state actors, there is equally no reason to suppose that sexual entrapment, not undertaken for criminal blackmail purposes but with the aim of either obtaining intelligence or exerting influence in a particular policy direction, doesn’t occur outside government agencies, and is never used by either supranational bodies or well-funded NGOs.  Or, indeed, online activist organisations?

It was intriguing how much the initial reaction to the Daily Telegraph‘s exposure of Ferguson’s liaison almost bordered on the incredulous; based on the first, and most glamorous, photograph of Ms Staats which it published to illustrate it, comment along the lines of ‘What on earth did she see in him? She’s a bit out of his league, isn’t she?‘ was frequent.  At the risk of being un-gallant, subsequent pictures may now have, ahem, modified this impression somewhat; but was he possibly, because of his position & influence, selected as a target for some kind of subtle honey-trap operation?

Antonia Staats 2, 3, & 4 comp

One of the few certainties about the whole COVID-19 imbroglio is that there will eventually have to be a mammoth public enquiry.  Are there not sufficient grounds for a full security enquiry to be held within its ambit?  To investigate whether there exist, not merely ‘questions to be asked’ or even ‘reasonable grounds for suspicion’, but actually something more than either of those?  Were Ferguson’s lockdown recommendations and his own subsequent flouting of them based entirely on scientific certitude and elitist personal hubris?  Or something more?

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The BBC Empire strikes back: will PM Boris Johnson back down?

A combination of Johnson’s vacillation, resistance, and ministerial appointments reflecting both, together with a probable reluctance to counter and overcome the BBC’s self-serving resistance campaign, make it highly likely that he will abandon pledges to reform its anachronistic and illiberal funding model 

Note: Based on, but both expanded and updated from, the articles originally published at The Conservative Woman on Tuesday 11th February 2020 and Tuesday 3rd March 2020, respectively 

Is Boris about to wimp out on the BBC licence fee?‘, I asked here on 17th February.  In the mere two and a half weeks since, the answer has hardened from ‘Hmm, maybe.’ to ‘Almost certainly.’

At that time, the original proposal, to decriminalise non-payment of the fee and possibly scrap the licence altogether, had already been downgraded to merely modifying (but, er, not before 2027) the licence fee model, and only a ‘consultation’ on decriminalisation. 

In that earlier 17th February blogpost, however, I recounted how only four months previously, the Institute of Economic Affairs had published its own ‘consultation’ in the form of its policy paper New Vision: Liberating the BBC from the licence fee, its main recommendations for transforming the corporation into a subscriber-owned mutual being summarised here.

I went on to describe the alternative explanation – for Johnson’s apparent reluctance, that is, to follow up on his initial resolve, despite evidence of substantial public support – which was suggested by academic David Sedgwick in his book The Fake News Factory: Tales from BBC-Land, and I speculated that the Cabinet and Government appointments emerging from  Johnson’s reshuffle seemed to bear this out. 

So what has happened since then?    

Well, neither popular dissatisfaction with the BBC, nor support for the drastic reform of its funding model, have subsided.  On 23rd February a new ComRes poll found 50 per cent of people saying the BBC is poor value for money, and support for abolishing the licence fee at 61 per cent.  In early December 2019, YouGov had found that 48 per cent of Britons trusted the BBC to tell the truth either not much or not at all, while only 44 percent trusted it to tell the truth a fair amount or a great deal.  In the year to November 2019, 200,000 people cancelled their TV licence, and the licence fee evasion rate continues to grow.

Trust in the BBC YouGov 01-Dec-2019

BBC 'licence-evasion' rate 2010-2018

Meanwhile, the BBC has started mobilising its forces for the fightback against what, given the evidence above, would for it undoubtedly be an existential threat.

Firstly, its main staff union, BECTU, is organising a ‘save the BBC’ petition.  

Note how merely considering decriminalisation of non-payment of the licence-fee is presented as ‘continuously attacking the BBC’.  If this isn’t with the BBC’s at least full support, if not even co-operation, I’d be astonished.  Secondly, there’s also a pro-BBC petition by the left-wing campaign group 38 DegreesAgain, I doubt if the BBC finds it unwelcome.

Secondly, BBC grandees are being wheeled out to promote the corporation’s own version of Project Fear.  Chairman Sir David Clementi led the predictable shroud-waving, conjuring up an apocalyptic vision of a Britain plunged into civilisation-threatening darkness should a distraught populace be deprived of Strictly Come Dancing, before wailing that scrapping the licence fee would ‘weaken the nation‘. 

How the nation would be weakened merely by some of its people no longer being coerced to pay for something they do not want was not immediately obvious.  Or, as Continental Telegraph‘s Tim Worstall succinctly put it, disingenuous tripe: in effect ‘Without the licence fee we’d stop making Strictly Come Dancing ‘coz we’d have no money, so we’d have to make Strictly Come Dancing in order to make money’.  

Clementi went to list examples of programmes and national sporting events which would, allegedly, not be accessible under a subscription model – a risible argument which in effect acknowledges that the BBC couldn’t make programmes of sufficient quality or appeal to persuade customers to part with their money voluntarily.  In which case, it should be asked, why should they be forced to fund it coercively?

The ‘endangering coverage of national sporting events’ claim has even less merit. Clementi completely failed to explain why, apparently, a subscription-funded BBC couldn’t bid against its rivals for the right to broadcast major national or sporting events.

Thirdly, the corporation’s reliably on-message MPs among dripping-Wet ‘One-Nation’ Tories are distraught.

The BBC is so much a broadcaster that people love, gushed political pipsqueak Huw Merriman, overlooking consistent opinion-polling reporting the exact opposite, and whose own article ironically ended with a poll in which fully 92 per cent of respondents wanted the licence fee scrapped.

Merriman poll TGraph licence fee scrapped

Merriman, incidentally, is the erstwhile sycophantic PPS bag-carrier to former Chancellor of the Exchequer and arch-Remainer Philip Hammond, content to act as his anti-Brexit plotting master’s mouthpiece, and thought to have been the anonymous PPS who forecasted that Parliament not approving Theresa May’s (non)-‘Withdrawal’ BRINO Agreement would ‘put Corbyn into No 10’.  Yet despite being a relative nonentity, he has managed to become Chair of the Commons All-Party Parliamentary Group on the BBC.  It’s likely stance on the licence fee question isn’t hard to guess.

Destroying the BBC would be ‘cultural vandalism’, hyperbolised loyal May-confidant Damian Green, studiously ignoring the fact that hardly anyone demands its specific ‘destruction’, merely the reform of its funding model to make it non-coercive.

Even ministers are backtracking furiously, running scared.  The next BBC boss will need to be a reformer, squawked former DCMS Secretary Nicky Morgan in one of those proverbial statements of the bleedin’ obvious, but curiously forgetting that it’s the Government that’s promising to require reform.

There are no ‘pre-ordained’ decisions, yapped Transport Secretary Grant ‘aka Michael Green’ Shapps, going on to label the BBC a ‘much loved national treasure’, but conveniently omitting to mention its 92 per cent ‘Bad’ rating on Trustpilot.

BBC rated Bad on Trustpilot

I suspect the strong probability is that, regardless of public opinion, a significant part of the Tory Parliamentary Party is already compromised.  And that’s before MPs start coming under pressure from astroturfing letter-writing campaigns to their local papers and similar phone-ins to their BBC local radio stations. 

In the meantime, the BBC remains able to treat its captive funders with undisguised contempt.

The Courts have refused an appeal against the decision not to grant a Judicial Review of its impartiality vis-à-vis the requirements of its Charter.  It backed its reporter who described the crowds celebrating in Parliament Square on Brexit Night as ‘too white’. Its Newsnight ‘expert on the deleterious effects of ‘austerity’’ was a far-Left activist. If its audiences hate its obsessively woke distortion of historical classics in the name of ‘diversity’, they can lump it.   

All these developments hardly suggest Johnson’s robust-sounding earlier pledges on the BBC’s iniquitous ‘licence-fee’ will be carried through swiftly and eagerly.  Or at all.  As early as 5th February, News-Watch’s David Keighley warned at The Conservative Woman that the licence fee ‘overhaul’ would be a damp squib.  Only last Saturday, the Taxpayers’ Alliance’s Sam Packer showed, also at The Conservative Woman, how the sock-puppet ‘consultation’ on decriminalisation will be manipulated to guarantee the result desired by both the BBC and its supporters within the Whitehall Blob.

So, to answer that question posed two and a half weeks ago: Yes, almost now a racing certainty.  Johnson will indeed wimp out.

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Is Boris about to wimp out on the BBC ‘licence-fee’?

With Johnson’s dramatic announcements of his intent, both to decriminalise non-payment of the BBC licence-fee and even to consider its outright abolition, already starting to be hastily softened and diluted, it’s justifiable to ask whether both won’t eventually be abandoned under pressure                

Note: Longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman earlier on Tuesday 11 February 2020

It all began so well.  On 14 December, under 48 hours after his stunning election victory, Prime Minister Boris Johnson initiated moves to decriminalise non-payment of the coercive, regressive, household TV-signal receivability poll-tax inaccurately known as the BBC ‘licence-fee’. 

It was hardly unexpected.  During the final week of the election campaign, Johnson had already condemned the iniquity of people being forced to fund the BBC despite having no wish to consume its output, and had raised the prospect at least of its outright abolition.  

He correctly branded it a tax – as had the House of Lords as long ago as 2006 when it determined that it was indeed a tax and not the ‘service-fee’ which the BBC disingenuously claimed and continues to claim – and his chief strategist Dominic Cummings was reported to be working on proposals for alternative ways for the Corporation to fund itself.  

As relevant as these considerations are, they’re in some ways almost secondary: because abolition of the licence-fee, or at the very minimum, decriminalisation of its non-payment, should, on principle alone, be so uncontroversial as to incontestable, given that a BBC TV licence is mandatory on pain of fine or even imprisonment, even if the householder wishes to consume only non-BBC output.

It’s a statist, authoritarian funding model, more suited to a dreary 1960s socialist semi-dictatorship than a modern liberal democracy with competitive free markets.  In a multi-platform, multi-provider broadcast environment, where we access hundreds of TV and radio channels, on computers, tablets or smartphones, inside or outside, at home or travelling, at any time, the BBC’s household TV-signal receivability poll-tax is anachronistic and outmoded to the point of obsolescence. It’s increasingly unenforceable, and ultimately doomed.

As an analogy, imagine being forced to pay Waitrose an annual £157 ‘trolley-tax’, just for the ability to choose always to shop elsewhere.  Imagine being forced to pay British Airways an annual £157 ‘flight-tax’, just for the ability to choose always to fly FlyBe or Easyjet.  Well, that’s the BBC ‘licence-fee’.

In the days following Johnson’s 14 December announcement, with ministers already instructed to boycott the BBC’s flagship Today Programme over credible allegations of its consistent anti-Brexit and anti-Conservative biases, it received widespread praise and approval from voters and commentariat alike, by no means all of them slavish Tory-supporters or Boris-worshippers.

A Savanta-ComRes poll found that BBC News was less trusted than ITV News on perceptions of impartiality and accuracy: that two-thirds of respondents believed the licence-fee should be either scrapped or substantially reformed: and that half of all under-55s would prefer to receive news free from commercial broadcasters funded by advertising, rather than pay for it via the BBC licence-fee.

The BBC is trapped in a Remainer-London bubble of its own making, wrote LBC broadcaster Iain Dale in The Daily Telegraph.  The licence-fee days of a BBC that drips with anti-Brexit bias are numbered, declared Ross Clark in The Sun.  The ‘diversity’-obsessed BBC is now mortifyingly out of touch with modern Britain, chided Sherelle Jacobs, again in The Daily Telegraph.  The paying public think the BBC’s ‘values’ stink, rasped former Labour and now SDP-voter Rod Liddle in The Sunday Times.

This notable unanimity between public and punditocracy continued into the New Year, the apparently imminent decriminalisation of the licence-fee given impetus, it seemed, by the announcement of the departure of the BBC’s Director-General.

Exit stage left, Lord Hall of the British Bias Corporation, observed BBC NewsWatch’s David Keighley at The Conservative WomanIn the age of Netflix, the licence-fee can’t be justified, averred Stephen Canning at the free-market championing 1828.com.  In the 21st century, we should be able to imagine life without the BBC licence-fee, insisted the Daily Telegraph’s Charles Moore.  The BBC is panicking at the public’s rejection of its left-‘liberal’ world-view, said Janet Daley, also in the Daily Telegraph.

Then came the Brexit Weekend of 31st January – 1st February, when the BBC, far from demonstrating any acknowledgement of, much less contrition for, the precipitous decline in its audiences’ toleration of its coercive funding model and of its inherent institutional bias, simply doubled down on its contempt for its captive customers, as I described in detail here a week or so ago.  And then promptly compounded it by announcing, on Monday 3rd February, an increase in its so-called ‘licence-fee’.

Only a month before, a Public First poll found 75 per cent of respondents supporting abolition of the licence-fee outright, and 60 per cent favouring the decriminalisation of non-payment, indicating both greater dissatisfaction with the BBC and greater willingness to see its funding reformed than reflected in the Saventa-ComRes poll mentioned earlier.

Rarely can a set of political circumstances have been so propitious for a recently elected government to implement a pre-election pledge for an easy win, to widespread approval.  So we waited for what seemed the inevitable announcement.

And then something changed.

In the week after Brexit Weekend, a rather more hesitant, cautious, non-committal tone has started to emerge from certain Conservative Party figures and Government sources. It was very noticeable during an extended interview on Talk Radio between host Mike Graham and John Whittingdale MP, the former Tory Culture Secretary. 

By way of background, it’s worth recalling that Whittingdale was Culture Secretary at the time of the last BBC Charter Review in 2016; but also that, having previously voiced some disobliging opinions about the BBC in general –

  1. anticipating its demise as ‘a tempting prospect’;
  2. criticising it for abusing its privileged position and protected funding by merely chasing ratings rather than producing new content; and
  3. describing the licence-fee as ‘worse than the poll tax’,

he was sacked by Theresa May in her first Cabinet reshuffle after becoming PM after it had mysteriously – or perhaps fortuitously – emerged earlier in that Charter Review year of 2016 that he had had a previous relationship with a sex worker, his sacking prompting an outpouring of Twitter-joy by prominent BBC lefty-luvvies who might well have had good reason to fear a different BBC funding model reliant on persuading customers voluntarily to part company with their hard-earned cash.

Pro-BBC lefties 2016 Whittingdale

His discussion with Mike Graham on Wednesday 5th February is very much more emollient and less critical than his previous opinions. Instead, he comes out with stuff like this:

“there are serious issues to address for the BBC, in that the broadcasting world is changing very rapidly, there is now a huge choice available which simply didn’t exist before”

“the BBC clearly needs to reconsider at this point what its place is and what it change it needs to make”

“in terms of the licence, I mean all that’s being announced today is a consultation about whether or not to decriminalise, which is something that we looked at before, but which we said should be kept under review, but I think that in the longer term there is a case for asking whether or not the licence is still an appropriate means of financing the BBC”

By all means listen to the interview and study the transcript for yourself: but to me it suggests a party and government starting to row back from its implied promises, and almost leaving it to the BBC itself to decide its future funding method.

On the same day, current Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan – she who declined to stand again as MP for Loughborough because of the time pressures of politics on her private family life, but nevertheless accepted a Peerage from Johnson so as to remain Culture Secretary for a mere few weeks but then adorn the Lords’ red benches for life –  agreed that the BBC licence-fee could indeed disappear.

But, er, not before 2027.

In other words, for the remaining 7 years of the current 10-year Charter period, the funding model based on the coercive, regressive, household TV-signal receivability tax would be sacrosanct.  Bizarrely, Morgan suggested that this showed the government was ‘taking heed of public opinion’.  She then went on to echo Whittingdale by confirming that what was being launched was merely a ‘consultation’ on whether non-payment of the licence-fee should be decriminalised.  Cue sound of ball landing in long grass. 

Three days later, Morgan was back, this time with the revelation that the licence fee might not in fact be scrapped outright, but replaced by ‘tiered levels of access’ in which viewers could choose the level of services they required. Significantly absent was any mention of no payment being required from those who don’t wish to consume BBC output at all; presumably, therefore, under this ‘tiered levels of access’ model, there would still be a minimum level payable anyway, so it would still be both coercive and amount to a regressive tax, as now.

It’s reasonable to wonder why the Government needs its own ‘consultation’ at all.  The work has already been done. Only 4 months ago, the Institute of Economic Affairs published its policy-paper ‘New Vision: Liberating the BBC from the licence-fee“, whose main recommendations, transforming the Corporation into a subscriber-owned Mutual, summarised here, were –        

  1. The nature of the broadcast market has changed to such a degree that public service broadcasting, the current definition of which used by Ofcom is no longer coherent, should no longer be delivered largely by one institution.
  2. Niche providers are often better than the BBC at ensuring the broadcasting of good quality content to meet minority tastes.
  3. The fact that the market for broadcasting is now an international industry means that many artistic, educational and cultural programmes, which might not have been economic in the past, may now be economic and not need subsidy.
  4. Changes in technology mean that the current approach to financing, owning and regulating the BBC is no longer tenable.
  5. The BBC should be financed by subscription and owned by its subscribers, enabling it to determine different subscription models for different markets
  6. The BBC should lose its legal privileges and be treated in the same way as al other news and media organisations for competition and other purposes

Johnson professes himself a fan of ‘oven-ready’ solutions.  This is one he could prepare and serve right away, restricted only by the time it takes to pass legislation revoking the current BBC Charter and allow the BBC a reasonable, but not excessive, duration in which to transition to its new funding model.    

Since Johnson won the election, there have been several disturbing hints that he might be resiling from some of the positions he previously appeared to espouse robustly. Immigration reduction, HS2 and Huawei all come to mind, and that’s before the tentative ‘squeeze the rich’ Budget proposals. trailed and rightly excoriated as disincentivising and un-conservative over the weekend of 8-9 February.

Now it starts to look as if the Biased BBC and its iniquitous ‘licence-fee’ might be going the same way.  Superficially, it’s difficult to see why, given the public support the proposal enjoyed and continues to enjoy.  In footballing terms, Johnson has the ball at his feet with an open goal gaping in front of him, and the crowd roaring him on.  Has he –      

  1. panicked at the first contact with the enemy; or
  2. gone native after institutional capture by a BBC-Whitehall pincer movement; or 
  3. never ever had any genuine intention of decriminalisation or abolition anyway?

Or is there something more profound, even darker and more cynical, at work?

In his new book “The Fake News Factory – Tales from BBC-Land”, a searing excoriation of the BBC, its bias, and its abuse of the power derived from its uniquely privileged position and jealously-guarded protected funding, author David Sedgwick suggests a possible answer.

It is that Boris’ Johnson’s recent sabre-rattling about the BBC has much more to do with his personal annoyance at how it has intruded on his private life, most notably during the recent election campaign, than it has to do with any principles-originating conviction that its current coercive funding model is illiberal, authoritarian, and a wrong that must be righted. 

Brexit apart, suggests Sedgwick, as a metropolitan ‘liberal’-‘progressive’ Conservative, Johnson is, politically, largely in tune with the left-of-centre, state-interventionist, Green, socio-culturally Woke institutional groupthink of the BBC, on whose propaganda the political class relies heavily to get its message across.  And that, with this worldview predominant in the Conservative Party in its current iteration, not much can be expected of it in taking the behemoth of the BBC on.

More recent developments certainly seem to bear this out.  In Johnson’s recent Cabinet and Government reshuffle, the post of Culture and Media Secretary, carrying responsibility for the BBC, went as predicted to ‘rising star’ Oliver DowdenRemainer, Cameroon, ex-SpAd & party-insider.  With at least one careerist eye no doubt fixed on future promotion, the prospect of him rocking the BBC boat looks remote. 

Appointed as a Minister of State alonside him was none other than former Culture and Media Secretary John Whittingdale, whose hedging and non-committal remarks about the BBC ‘licence-fee’ to Talk Radio‘s Mike Graham were described earlier.

To complete the hat-trick, elected as Chairman of the Commons Select Committee to scrutinse the DCMS was Tory MP Julian Knight, whose first contribution to the ‘licence-fee’ debate was to suggest that imprisonment for non-payment should be replaced by stiffer fines.  Given that most ‘licence-fee dodgers’, as he put it, who get convicted don’t pay because of financial hardship – not surprising with the ‘licence-fee’ being a regressive tax – all that bigger fines would do is increase the number of people given a criminal record.  Brilliant.  The idea of abolishing the regressive tax instead had clearly not occurred to him.

These three appointments, and the developments preceding them, hardly suggest that Johnson’s robust-sounding pledges on the BBC’s iniquitous ‘licence-fee’ will be carried through swiftly and eagerly.  Or at all.  To answer the question posed in the title: Yes, almost certainly – Johnson will indeed wimp out. 

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