Tag: Media-Bias

The Partisan Mainstream Media, and Bias-by-Omission

‘Tory rapist’ allegation: how hypocritical, virtue-signalling, point-scoring MPs and a selectively reporting, biased, partisan media combined to undermine further both the presumption of innocence and the rule of law.

Note: longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Sunday 09 August, 2020

Despite a plethora of stiff competition, ranging from Covid-19 to the post-Brexit trade talks and beyond, there really was only ever going to be one contender for the lead story on which our fearless Fourth Estate turned its forensic, objective and impartial gaze last weekend.  And that was the Conservative MP arrested in connection with an alleged sexual assault.

Although it ought to be axiomatic, I suppose that in the current atmosphere of febrile, intolerant, censorious Wokery where silence is automatically deemed to be conclusive evidence of acquiescence, I must for the avoidance of doubt declare right away an absolute abhorrence of any kind of unwanted sexual assault, or even attention.  Particularly in the workplace context of boss and subordinate, it’s often not so much an expression of sexual interest as an exercise of presumed status or power.  So, for the record, if the arrested Tory MP is eventually found guilty by due process of law, I want him both expelled from the Commons and imprisoned.

But equally, that should in no way impede the expression of legitimate reservations about how his arrest has been reported and subsequently treated.

Tory ex-minister arrested over rape‘ splashed the Sunday Times, notably omitting the word ‘alleged’ from its headline, and helpfully informing us firstly, that the man was an ex-minister and secondly, that the alleged assaults took place in Westminster, Lambeth and Hackney – both of which might be interpreted as narrowing the possibilities down somewhat.

From the Sunday Telegraph‘s headline, we learned, further, that the man was a ‘senior Conservative‘ – whatever that means these days – and was in his 50s.  It then took me only approximately 10 minutes to establish there are 89 male Tory MPs currently ‘in their 50s’, i.e., born between 3rd August 1960 and 2nd August 1970.  Without laboriously checking the parliamentary careers of each, to anyone interested in contemporary politics, it was obvious just from the list of names that not all were ‘former ministers’ by a long stretch.  One was, therefore, probably looking at a shortlist of no more than 30 possibles.  So much for anonymity.

Already, the Times, the Guardian, and the Financial Times were either demanding that the Tory MP in question be named, suspended, have the whip removed, or even sacked, or going further by additionally criticising both the party (and by extension the Government), for not having done so immediately.

This pressure intensified over the following days. ‘Row grows over failure to suspend Tory MP accused of rape‘, protested the Times.  ‘Tory MP arrested on rape charges should have whip withdrawn‘, scolded the Guardian, purporting to report the words of Labour MP Jess Phillips. ‘Tories criticised for not taking sexual misconduct claims seriously‘, chided the Financial Times. 

On Monday 3rd August’s edition of BBC Newsnight,  the ever-willing rent-a-quote Phillips let rip.  Living up to her uncomplimentary – but not entirely inaccurate – ‘Midlands Motormouth’ sobriquet, she condemned the Tories’ failure to name and suspend the accused MP, and declared Parliament was not doing everything it could to make itself a safe workplace.

Chief whip defends lack of action against Tory MP accused of rapefollowed in the Guardian on Tuesday 4th August.  As did the predictable call from ‘a coalition of women’s charities and unions‘ for the accused MP to be suspended while facing investigation, on the grounds that failing to do so represented ‘another example of minimising violence against women‘.

Then, on Wednesday 5th August, it was the turn of the Spectator‘s Isabel Hardman, with an implied criticism of the Tories’ parliamentary whips as ill-suited to deal with disciplinary issues like misconduct, particularly of a sexual nature.

Finally, on Saturday 8th August, the Times‘ Esther Webber contrived to add a bit more unsubstantiated innuendo to the pot, suggesting that the Conservative whips’ office had been aware of concerns relating to the alleged behaviour of the arrested MP dating back to 2010 – which would, of course, narrow the range of possible arrestees down even further, in excluding by definition anyone not elected before 2015.  So much for anonymity.     

However, there’s one rather large elephant in this particular room-full of indignation; one which both protesting politicians and harrumphing hacks alike overlooked, or perhaps more likely, chose to ignore.  It was hinted at early on in the imbroglio by Tory MP Michael Fabricant, but seemed to gain no traction whatsoever.

It is that, on 10th February 2016, the House of Commons itself voted to change its procedures so that any arrested MP would not be named or otherwise identified (which either suspension or removal of the whip would undoubtedly do).  Moreover, the proposition was passed with only one vote against (the then Labour MP and now recently ennobled John Mann), which implies that among those voting for the change was – yes, you’ve guessed it – Labour’s current Shadow Minister for Domestic Violence, one Jess Phillips MP.

Although the Commons’ decision to abandon naming an arrested MP appears superficially to confer on MPs rights which are not available to others, it’s easy to see the logic behind it.  Once the arrested MP was named and suspended, in such a relatively small workplace, the identity of the alleged victim would quickly emerge.  Is that what the ardent namers and shamers in Parliament and the Press want?  Or are they happy to throw the victim’s anonymity under the bus for the sake of some political point-scoring?  So much for anonymity.

Nor should it have gone largely unremarked that some of the MPs who were shouting the loudest for the accused Tory MP to be named and shamed are also usually among the first to argue for anonymity for alleged rape victims in other circumstances.  The double standards on display are nauseating.   

Yet not only did the Newsnight presenter not challenge Phillips with this inconsistency, much less suggest that, by condemning the application of the very procedure for which she had herself voted, she was guilty of both rank hypocrisy and blatant political opportunism.  From what I can see, in the reportage contained in all the supposedly ‘quality’ press articles linked to above, that 2016 decision of the Commons itself, to prohibit the naming of an arrested MP is mentioned nowhere.

To assume that every single political reporter or lobby correspondent involved in the production of all this material would have either been unaware of that 2016 change or had forgotten about it, especially on such a clearly sensitive subject, seems to be stretching credulity beyond its limit.  It’s hard, therefore, to dispel the suspicion that it was specifically and deliberately not mentioned, because that would have diluted or negated the narrative which the media wished to convey.  In other words, bias by omission.

Not that the media alone are deserving of criticism.  The ‘Conservative’ Party, which currently appears to be frightened of its own shadow, reacted by giving its now-familiar impression of a rabbit frozen in the headlights of an oncoming truck, and allowed the opportunistic ‘Liberal’-Left a virtual monopoly of comment. 

Where was any immediate statement to the media by any Tory MP that, with a police investigation under way, the matter was effectively sub judice, and that excessive both public speculation and premature assumptions of guilt could jeopardise a successful prosecution?  Were I the accused MP’s lawyer, I would have been screen-grabbing every tweet issued taking his guilt as a given and demanding his head, and compiling a portfolio of them to present as evidence prejudicing the possibility of a fair trial.

Why was four days of Trappist silence allowed to elapse before Boris Johnson managed to deliver a semi-apology for his party neither identifying nor suspending the arrested MP

Where, also, irrespective of the details of the present case, was any forceful riposte that the non-naming of any arrested MP is specifically the direct consequence that 2016 House of Commons decision for which many of the zealous self-appointed Pestfinders-General themselves voted?  Not to mention a sharp reminder that the presumption of innocence still applies until a guilty verdict by a jury?   

Which leads to another point worth making: that the importance of upholding the presumption of innocence is so readily either disregarded or dismissed is an increasingly disturbing feature of the Woke witch-hunt.

Ever since the advent of the #MeToo movement, no longer are the finger-pointers content to wait for due process to take its course; they demand instant condemnation and punishment of the presumed guilty perpetrator based on (often one single) accusation alone. Woe betide he or she who objects, especially if facing the likelihood of a viciously aggressive social-media pile-on. 

Is it too fanciful to suggest that the prevalence of the New Puritanism is conducive to the mainstream media feeling it can abandon impartial and accurate journalism for partisan activism with impunity?

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Prêt-à-Parler?

It’s hardly surprising that Parler is suddenly growing markedly in popularity as an alternative to Twitter in micro-blogging.  Here’s why. 

To anyone active on political social-media, the increasing frustration and anger in recent months at Big-Tech’s more and more overt censorship, in various forms, of conservative, classical-liberal and libertarian opinion should come as no surprise.

It’s been there in subtle ways ever since the 2016 votes for Brexit and Trump.  But it’s in the last three months or so that the acceleration of Twitter in particular into a cesspit of predominantly Remainer, Left and Woke grievance and vituperation seems to have exploded, especially with our own December 2019 election, COVID-19, the imminence of full and final Brexit, and the explosion of hard-Left Black Lives Matter/Antifa violent protest.

To give just a few of the more prominent examples, Twitter has taken upon itself to start what it disingenuously describes as ‘fact-checking’ Trump tweets which are political rhetoric or opinion rather than factual; but it doesn’t do the same to his political opponents.  It’s permanently banned, among others,  Father Ted creator Graham Linehan for tweeting ‘Men aren’t women’; but the militant trans agenda gets a free pass.

Earlier this year Twitter suspended Tory backbench MP Sir Bill Cash, who has been involved with David Keighley of News-Watch on a judicial review of the BBC’s adherence to the impartiality requirements of its Charter.  No reason was given for the suspension, imposed for allegedly ‘violating Twitter’s rules’, although the platform refused to say which rules had allegedly been violated or how. (The suspension has since been lifted.) 

For the record, I find some of Trump’s tweets counter-productively crass, and I’ve never been a particular fan of the Linehan who has a record of bullying people he disagrees with on Twitter anyway; so there was a fleeting touch of schadenfreude at him being hoist with his own petard when Twitter suspended him.

But whether one agrees or disagrees with the political opinions of all three is immaterial.  The real test of our belief in free speech is whether we uphold and defend it, not just for the people and speech we do agree with, but also for the people and speech we don’t agree with.  On that criterion, Twitter’s actions against Trump, Linehan and Cash were not only authoritarian and illiberal in their own right; they were moreover hypocritical and biased, in that it indulges and tolerates equally questionable speech from their opponents. 

Nor is the censorship confined to prominent people.  Small-C conservative, classical-liberal or libertarian tweeters report being subjected to straightforward follower attrition, the more insidious shadowbanning whereby Twitter seems to restrict the reach of accounts and make them hard to find, and artificial lowering of the number of Retweets or Likes on tweets popular with their followership.

Personally, Twitter relieved me of about 1,000 followers almost overnight in late 2018 for reasons that were, and remain, unclear.  Since then, my rate of follower acquisition has been a fraction of what it was before that reduction, and I’ve now lost count of the Direct Messages from people telling me that Twitter had arbitrarily unfollowed them from me so that my tweets just disappeared from their feeds, and that it had been very hard for them to find me again in order to re-follow.

Below are the monthly changes in my own followership over the past 15 months.  Notice the abrupt change in the last three months, just as concerns about Twitter’s flagrant left-bias seem to have really accelerated exponentially?

Twitter Follower Attrition Table

The fascinating metrics from the analytics, though, are that visits to the account’s profile are roughly 20% down (because it’s being made difficult to find?), while the number of engagements/impressions is substantially up.

Twitter also seems to be promoting left-viewpoint tweets up the order on subject or hashtag searches, too. Although I’m no fan of Boris Johnson or his ‘Conservative’ Party, this is especially noticeable on major set-pieces like Prime Minister’s Questions or a significant speech or intervention by a conservative politician.

Then, just in recent days, Twitter has taken its Woke speech-control to a whole new level, issuing the following edict on the forms of NewSpeak which in future it will promote (and no doubt soon police and enforce) on its platform.  Presumably our days of using “Whitehall” as convenient code and shorthand for all the Government ministries and departments in central London are numbered.

Twitter Engineering NewSpeak

Sometimes if feels as though Trump’s Executive Order modifying Section 230 of the US Communications Decency Act 1996 so as to designate the social media giants as publishers rather than the mere ‘platforms’ they claim to be – the effect of which would be to bring them under the scope the First Amendment’s prohibitions on the restriction of free speech – can’t come into full legal effect fast enough.     

Anyway, sharing the increasing frustration at all this, just under two weeks ago, and like many others then and since, I joined the alternative platform Parler, with its absolute commitment to non-censorship and free speech.  Reportedly, it had 300,000 new sign-ups from UK Twitter users alone over the weekend of 21st-22nd June, growing from 1 million to 1.5 million users in only a week

Although the Parler user interface is still somewhat clunky, and the platform could benefit from a few improvements, it’s nevertheless perfectly functional. A big plus the 1,000-character limit, which is much better than Twitter’s 280.  That often means only one post rather than what, on Twitter, would require a two or three tweet thread. Although I know of one or two users who have junked Twitter accounts with over 25,000 followers to move across completely, most still have both running in parallel for the moment.

In contrast to Twitter’s shadowbanning and sometimes outright censoring of conservative views, not to mention steady erosion of followers, the early Parler impression is so far living up to its free speech reputation.  Although an initial surge obviously isn’t representative, acquiring 1,000 followers in only 10 days is nevertheless a satisfying contrast to the last 18 months on Twitter.  Many familiar, reciprocal-follow faces from Twitter are there; one of the pleasures of the last two weeks’ experience has been finding a new raft of them every day, including some of social media’s best ‘climate-change’-sceptics.

The more supercilious elements of the left-‘liberal’ elite Establishment’s mainstream media, conveniently ignoring the number of centre-right and even centrist MPs and journalists using the platform, are already trying falsely to portray Parler as merely a safe-space echo-chamber for ‘far-right’ ‘hate speech’, though evidently based on a highly selective and partisan representation relying on only one or two examples.  It suggests that Parler might have them worried.

You will find there, not only me, but some of my fellow-writers at The Conservative Woman:

  • TCW itself as @TheConWom
  • Co-Editor Kathy Gyngell as @KathyConWom
  • Karen Harradine as @KarenHWriter
  • Andrew Cadman as @Andrewccadman
  • and Yours Truly as @LibertarianRebel

Come and join us there on Parler.

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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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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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Boris and Dom: playing a hostile media like a violin

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Chief of Staff Dominic Cummings are exploiting the ability of new-media to reverse the power-relationship between the Government and the traditional mainstream press 

Note: Longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman earlier on Thursday 6 February 2020

Cast your mind back to the immediate aftermath of Trump’s formal Inauguration ceremony as the 45th POTUS in Washington DC on Friday 20th January 2017, and the furore over the size of the crowd. That started when Trump took to Twitter to castigate the overwhelmingly hostile Liberal – i.e., left-wing in US political parlance – media for deliberately under-reporting both the number of spectators, which he put at 1½ million, and the size of the TV audience, which he claimed was the biggest in history.

Donald Trump Is Sworn In As 45th President Of The United States

Outrage duly ensued. For virtually the entire next two weeks, the media devoted nearly all of its resources and reporting to proving him wrong. TV stations were bombarded with requests for their respective audience viewing figures, so that they could be aggregated. Fact-checkers enjoyed a rush of business. Crowd-size scientists were swiftly engaged. The talking heads in the news studios debated endlessly how many people the eastern half of the Mall, extending from the steps of the Capitol to the Washington Monument, could theoretically hold. Camera footage from helicopters was obtained, to estimate crowd densities and apply these to the measured area of known spaces.

Helicopter area & crowd images, Washington Mall

While the Liberal media’s attention was focused almost exclusively on desperately trying for its anti-Trump Gotcha! moment, however, Trump’s attention was elsewhere. During those two weeks he initiated the process of reviewing, de-fanging and ultimately de-funding the Environmental Protection Agency, whose ideological capture by the Green movement and the ‘Climate-Change’ Industrial-Complex had helped to advance the eco-socialist agendas of both during the Obama years. Only The Guardian appeared to pick it up. By the time the mass of the US media cottoned on to it in the second half of March, and predictably clutched its pearls in a collective attack of the vapours, the process was well under way and virtually irreversible.

In short, as neat a way as you’re likely to find, outside the pages of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, of neutralising the enemy’s strength by turning it against itself.

I was reminded of this on Monday afternoon, as the row broke about No 10 Downing Street’s Director of Communications allegedly denying some accredited journalists access to Lobby briefings, the long-established system of privileged access enjoyed by the political correspondents of the major traditional newspapers and broadcasters.

For anyone who hadn’t followed the initial stages of this saga on Media Guido, the Lobby briefings were recently moved from the House of Commons to No 9 Downing Street, ostensibly on security grounds, but accompanied by some “inner Lobby” hacks being selectively invited to special briefings, with others excluded. On Monday afternoon, though, the entire Lobby walked out in protest, although the circumstances are, to put it mildly, disputed.

As Dan Johnson of The Article points out, the Lobby doth perhaps protest too much. The system is itself antiquated, is incompatible with the growth and increasing influence of New Media, functions as a restrictive-practice closed-shop run for the benefit of its members, and thus secures them competitive advantage over their rivals.

All true, but what struck me was the immediate Press reaction, and then the consequential implications for the way government communicates with the voting public, and vice versa. 

Just as with their American media counterparts three years ago, outrage and hyperbole duly ensued. Huffing and puffing (appropriately, you might think, from The Huffington Post) was the order of the day. 

Not very long elapsed before references to “Goebbels” and “fascism” were being bandied about, the principle of Reductio ad Hitlerum never being particularly far away when the Fourth Estate feels its dignity slighted. The incident represented a ‘frightening attempt by Johnson to exclude unsympathetic press’ apparently. . .

. . . although how a government that wanted to ‘exclude unsympathetic press‘ would have included BBC News, ITV News, Sky News & the Guardian in the specially-selected inner group invited to stay for the specialist briefing was not immediately obvious.

I suspect Dominic Cummings is the mastermind behind this, is taking a leaf out of the Trump media-playbook, and is doing it brilliantly.

For all their complaining, some sections of the traditional, established (and Establishment) media really have only themselves to blame if their past few years’ conduct is, as appears to be the case, leading ordinary people to accord their account of Monday afternoon’s events in Downing Street no greater credibility than the Government’s own version.

One gets an increasing impression of a general public sick and tired of significant parts of the journalistic profession eschewing proper factual and impartial reporting and analysis in favour of slanting, opining and trying to tell it what and how to think. Not to mention sneering at, demonising and insulting it whenever its opinion dares to differ from the homogeneous groupthink of those same parts of the media’s incestuous left-‘liberal’ metropolitanism.

Take the BBC’s discharge of its Charter obligations over the past few days. How did it choose to mark Brexit Day?

By using its CBBC Children’s wing to pump out a bitter, aloof, anti-Brexit and demos-phobic sneer at the entire country, hosted by alleged ‘comedian’ Nish Kumar, most noted for telling his white audience to ‘go home and kill your racist Brexit-voting parents’, and so egregious that it was condemned even by the BBC’s own premier political interviewer.

Kumar kill your racist parents

By refusing to broadcast the elected Prime Minister’s speech to the nation on the cusp of its most significant constitutional change in half a century, while covering the event in a way that left little room for doubt as to where its sympathies lie. 

BBC Studio Brexit Night

By sending a reporter to the celebrations in Parliament Square to ask participants whether the crowd wasn’t ’too white’. LBC’s Julia Hartley Brewer’s comment speaks for itself.

By reporting the crowd in Parliament Square as ‘a few hundred’. After which I decided, having been there, to try a little ‘crowd-science’ for myself. Measuring on Google Earth, the celebration area being used was roughly 6,500m2. Where my fellow-revellers and I were, the density was probably 3 people per m2, but let’s say 2.5 people per m2 on average. That equates to possibly 15,000 people,  maybe 18,000, but certainly not less than 12,000. Rather more than ‘a few hundred’, anyway.

Finally, on Monday, and with quite impeccable timing in view of the opprobrium rightly heaped on it over Brexit Weekend, the BBC announced an increase in its so-called ‘licence fee’ – or, to label it more accurately, its coercive, regressive, household TV-signal receivability tax.

The impression of an organisation knowing it has lost the trust of its audience and therefore doubling-down with impunity on its contempt for it, is hard to dispel. As is equally, though, the impression of anti-BBC opinion specifically and anti-media opinion generally, perhaps the previously restrained expression of dissatisfaction with both,  having ramped up exponentially after last weekend.

I suspect Dominic Cummings knows this, and is choosing his moment carefully, judging that the public may now be more reluctant to support the media in a spat with government than for a very long time: and also that, if the mainstream established Press thinks that this is the time to go to war with Downing Street, then it’s making a big mistake.

He has a point. 60 per cent of poll respondents support the decriminalisation of non-payment of the BBC ‘licence-fee’, and no fewer than 75 per cent want to see it scrapped altogether. The BBC’s risible denials of its institutional pro-Left, pro-Remain bias in its selection of Question Time panellists have been comprehensively demolished. As Daniel Hannan argues, the self-important broadcasters of the traditional mainstream media are yet to realise how irrelevant they now are

No 10 Downing Street cut the BBC out of its production of Boris Johnson’s Brexit Day address completely, preferring to use its own in-house videographer and then distribute it via social-media simultaneously with making it available to the mainstream TV news channels. It’s this – apart from the content of course, which must have been anathema to the BBC – which is apparently thought to be a significant factor in the BBC refusing to broadcast it.

This has been coming for years. It’s over a decade ago now that Peter Wilby, former editor of both the Independent on Sunday and the New Statesman, led the chorus of old-media criticism directed at then Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan’s demolition of then Prime Minister Gordon Brown in the European Parliament, which became such a hit on YouTube.

Wilby went on record afterwards as saying –

The online success of Daniel Hannan’s speech…………proves what we knew: the internet lacks quality control.

Prompting Hannan’s memorable reply –  

“Yup. That’s the thing about the internet: it turns the quality filters off. Until very recently, few of us could get political news direct from source. It had to be interpreted for us by a BBC man with a microphone or a newspaper’s political correspondent. Now, though, people can make their own minds up. The message has been disintermediated.

What Mr Wilby seems to mean when he complains that the internet “lacks quality control” is not that my speech was ungrammatical, or shoddily constructed, but that its content was disagreeable. The quality filters he evidently has in mind would screen out points of view that he considers unacceptable.”

Finally, the mainstream media is becoming less and less crucial to the communication process between government and governed, with social media engagement figures climbing rapidly. 

2020.02.03 Leave.EU social media engagement

Cummings, I’d surmise, is only too aware of this, hence the apparent willingness to treat the mainstream media with considerably less deference than it feels entitled to as of right, based on its assumption of its historic dominance continuing. New channels of inter-communication between electors and elected, however, risk its decline in significance accelerating.

In the same way that Trump often does, Number Ten is playing a hostile media like a violin, And it’s working.

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Just How Good Was Boris’ Conservative Party Conference Speech?

Note: This article was originally published at The Conservative Woman on Thursday 3rd October 2019

Forget the haughty disdain for it in both the broadsheets and tabloids whose politics are irreconcilably anti-Conservative, anti-Brexit and anti-Johnson anyway. Ignore the bloviating about it from the overwhelmingly Left/Remain-leaning social media. Discount even the carping, nit-picking parsing of specific language by the former chief speechwriter to Tony Blair in The Times.

None of them would have had a good word to say about any Boris Johnson speech, and certainly not his Leader’s speech to the Tory Party Conference yesterday, even had it simultaneously deployed the rhetoric of Churchill, the logic of Aristotle and the compassion of Mother Theresa.

The other end of the political spectrum was in many ways just as partisan. It brought the house down, enthused Michael Deacon in the Daily Telegraph. Weapons-grade, showing us that the magic is still there, gushed The Spectator’s Fraser Nelson. The best speech of his career, rhapsodised Janet Daley in the Daily Telegraph.

Both Daley and Nelson, in my view, succumbed to hyperbole in their assessments. Boris’ Conference Speech didn’t strike me as “easily the best speech he has ever given”. For me, his House of Commons speech on 18th July last year, just after resigning both as Foreign Secretary and from Theresa May’s Cabinet over her duplicitous Chequers Plan, was far better.

But yesterday’s was good, and certainly the best Tory party leader’s conference speech for a long time. Although, to be fair, that wasn’t a particularly high bar to clear, after three dreary, robotically-delivered paeans to soft-statism from The Maybot (don’t even mention the dancing!) and before that, several years of Cameron’s unconvincing, spivvy glibness.

Boris Conf Speech 2019

One doesn’t expect a last-day-of-conference, motivate-the-troops barnstormer to be structured with a beginning, middle and end, via an introduction, point-by-point exposition and conclusion, in the same way that a conventional 5,000 word, 40 minute address or a 1,000 word article for a newspaper would be. If it was, it wouldn’t fulfil its purpose. A different aim and a different medium require a different technique.

But even allowing for that, to me it came across as just a bit too unstructured, occasionally rambling and sometimes repetitive. Almost every policy subject or theme – whether it be police, NHS, transport, education, whatever, even  Brexit – is dealt with by short, individual references peppered throughout the entire text. To try and derive an overall impression of, say, Boris’ Government’s policy on transport, would be quite difficult.

It also struck me that there was one glaring intellectual inconsistency in it.

Boris enthused about “creating the economic platform for dynamic, free-market, capitalism”, and “a dynamic, enterprise culture”, to “release the economic potential of the whole country”. Fine – as he remarked, in a nice sideswipe at the statist Theresa May, when did you last hear a Tory leader talk about capitalism? Not under her, that’s for sure.

But in different sections he appears wholeheartedly to embrace the Green agenda, talking about “virtually unlimited zero-carbon power”, “a country that leads the world with clean green technology” and “reducing greenhouse gases that cause climate change”. Oh, dear – even at the most basic level, is Boris not aware that the UK’s CO2 emissions are estimated to represent under 2 per cent of the global total?

Is he not aware that the Green agenda, especially in its draconian “de-carbonisation” targets and timescales, is not only inimical to promoting the “dynamic, free-market capitalism” he extolled only a few minutes earlier, but is avowedly anti-capitalist? Has he not been listening sufficiently closely to the demands of both the hard Green-Left Extinction Rebellion and the cynically manipulated Climate-Puppet Great Thunberg which even some of his own senior Cabinet colleagues seem desperate to appease?

Boris’ speech was workmanlike, and encouraging, but also, and primarily, functional for its purpose in a very specific, almost technical way, and deliberately so. Apparently, the salient buzzword is “clippable” – meaning that the speech purposely contains lots of 20 to 25-second memorable, and easily-memorised, soundbites, which can be extracted and then fed on to social media over and over again, to reinforce the message and the messenger, in almost constant campaigning. It’s a different method of ensuring that, unlike most conference speeches, it won’t be forgotten.

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The Curious Case of Peston’s Paramour

Note: Revised version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Wednesday 2nd October 2019

Right from the outset, both the story, and even its layout, looked fishy.

When, late that Saturday evening, the Sunday Times splashed with the revelation by its Deputy Political Editor that its new Style Magazine columnist Charlotte Edwardes was using her very first column to accuse Boris Johnson of squeezing her thigh beneath the table at a private lunch, the doubts arose immediately.

For a start, only at the foot of the fourth paragraph was it clarified that the allegation was no fewer than 20 years old. Could that have been to make that rather important detail invisible to a non-paywall reader?

Set against the apparent 20-year delay in going public on the accusation, the timing of its eventual revelation looks intriguing. Because if the alleged assault was as discomforting as Edwardes suggests – and there is no reason to believe that, if it indeed took place, it was not discomforting – then she does seems to have missed a remarkable number of opportunities to bring it to wider attention.     

Since the time when Edwardes claims she was assaulted by Johnson in 1999, it’s possible to identify at least 11 politically-significant occasions on which she could reasonably have reported it to the general public, and thus amplify in the public domain the issue of his suitability or otherwise for office. She could, for example, have disclosed it –

  1. when Johnson successfully stood for election as MP for Henley in 2001. She didn’t.
  1. when he successfully stood for re-election as MP for Henley in 2005. She didn’t.
  1. when he successfully stood for election as Mayor of London in May 2008. She didn’t.
  1. when he successfully stood for re-election as Mayor of London in 2012. She didn’t.
  1. when he was selected as the candidate in 2014, and successfully stood for election as MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip in 2015 . She didn’t.
  1. when he successfully stood for re-election as MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip in May/June 2017. She didn’t.
  1. when Michael Fallon resigned, and Damian Green was accused, both over historic – 15 years and 3 years respectively – allegations of “inappropriate touching” of women, in November 2017, in the wake of the #MeToo scandal. She didn’t.
  1. when Johnson and his wife announced their separation and intending divorce, in September 2018. She didn’t.
  1. when he confirmed his bid for the Tory leadership, in May 2019. She didn’t.
  1. when the blazing row with his girlfriend, to which the Police were called, was front-page news for several days in June 2019. She didn’t.
  1. when he was successfully elected as Tory Party Leader, in July 2019. She didn’t.

At this point, one might well ask: if Johnson was such a danger to women as Edwardes claims to have felt, why did she apparently not feel compelled to use her privileged position in the media to alert other women who might conceivably find themselves vulnerable to a similar assault?

Instead, the revelation has appeared only now, for the first day of Johnson’s first Conservative Party Conference as Leader. And, moreover, in the approaching culmination of his struggle to extricate Britain from the European Union, in fulfilment of the largest ever popular democratic mandate in UK political history, in the teeth of intransigent opposition from a recalcitrant, Remainer-dominated and election-averse Parliament, a judicially-activist Supreme Court, and a substantially pro-EU hostile media.

If that is merely a coincidence, then it’s certainly a quite astonishing one. And potentially a very convenient one, too, for several of the various elements of the anti-Brexit Establishment who increasingly seem willing to resort to any tactics to stop Brexit.

It could, for example, be very convenient for Amber Rudd, ex-Cabinet ardent-Remainer, who has resigned the Conservative Whip, and who, only 2 days prior to Edwardes’ revelations, was reportedly positioning herself as our prospective interim, caretaker Prime Minister in the risibly mis-named all-Remainer “Government of National Unity” being proposed by the similarly all-Remainer Rebel Alliance attempting to coalesce in the Commons around a Parliamentary coup to oust Johnson as PM. ALR readers will no doubt form their own judgement.

Two general points about the current climate of multiple attacks on Johnson from various sources are perhaps worth noting.

First, what we’re seeing from the anti-Johnson-as-proxy-for-anti-Brexit camp is neither new, nor even original. Shenanigans and procedural chicanery in the legislature: synthetic outrage in the media: febrile talk of impeachment: and now, decades-old sex allegations. They’re taking their tactics from exactly the same playbook as the Democrats and wider US “Liberal”-Left, echoed by their reliably on-message media amen-corner, are deploying against Trump. It’s a measure of their bubble-insularity and remoteness that the possibility it might be counter-productive just doesn’t seem to occur to them.

Second, despite desperate efforts by the marinaded in anti-Brexit groupthink mainstream media, with BBC News and Sky News as ever to the fore, to give the original story legs and keep it going, as far as the non-mainstream media online political audience and community is concerned, it seems to have succumbed, to widespread derision, within 48 hours.

2019.09.30 Me on Boris & Peston's Paramour

Contrary to what I suspect the aim of the story was, people aren’t outraged, or even much fussed, about Johnson’s inveterate eye for the ladies, being far more interested in whether he delivers Brexit on time.

Social media may have its faults, and its corporate inclination to left-“liberal” censorship is a growing worry, but the power it can give even 280-character citizen-journalists to, in the jargon, disintermediate the media, and thereby disrupt and counter their desired narrative, is not to be denied.

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By Their Enemies Shall Ye Know Them?

The Tory Leadership Contest: With Enemies Like These, Can Boris Johnson Be All Bad?

Note: Updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Wednesday 26th June 2019

In politics, as in history, there are times when it can be more instructive to judge a person by the identity and nature of their enemies, rather than by those of their friends.

Even for me, who tends to oscillate between varying points on the continuum between agnosticism and atheism, Matthew 5: 11-12  – “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely” – increasingly seems to be the most reliable way to assess the avowedly pro-Brexit – on 31st October at the latest and on No-Deal if necessary – Boris Johnson’s campaign for the leadership of the “Conservative” Party.

Scarcely had the result of the 5th ballot in the Tory leadership Contest emerged just after 6.00.pm on Thursday 20th June, narrowly eliminating Michael Gove and pitting the transparently Continuity-May, Continuity-Remain candidate Jeremy “Theresa in Trousers” Hunt against Johnson in the final membership run-off, when the anti-Johnson attacks, from both the official and provisional wings of the Remainstream-Media Punditocracy, started.

Fewer than 200,000 people will decide whether Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt will be the UK’s next Prime Minister, averred Shebab Khan of ITV News, curiously ignoring that whether Frans Timmermans, Manfred Weber or Margrethe Vestager will be the next President of the unelected European Commission will be “decided” by fewer than 1,000 people – and those mostly MEPs in the European Union’s Potemkin Parliament with a power largely confined to rubber-stamping the selection probably made merely by the 3 or 5 most influential heads of government of EU member-states.

Next out of the traps was well-lunched political-class media-courtier Adam Boulton, decrying Johnson’s lack of comment, presumably to Sky News, on the leadership run-off, despite the result of the 5th ballot having been declared only about 45 minutes earlier.

2019.06.20 Boulton on Boris PM

Quite why this should be an implied deficiency of democracy in 2019 was not immediately apparent.

“Johnson for PM is Brexit incarnate. Nobody really thinks it’s a good idea. Everybody is embarrassed”, tweeted The Times’ Hugo Rifkind, impeccably bien-pensant epitome of its metropolitan-‘liberal’ stable of irreconcilably-Remainer hacks, before being reminded that there might conceivably be some shades of opinion, somewhere within the country, which could just possibly have eluded his omniscience.

2019.06.20 Carswell Rifkind

By the evening of Friday 21st May, the breaking news of the police being summoned to an altercation in the flat occupied by Johnson and his paramour prompted author and ardent Blairite Robert Harris to posit an ineluctable link, clearly indicative of Party-wide gross moral turpitude, between that incident, MP Mark Field’s timely ejection of a Greenpeace eco-protester who had gained unauthorised access to a private Mansion House dinner, and the Recall of a Tory MP convicted of expenses-fiddling.

2019.06.21 Harris re Boris PM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fortunately, we have some prior indications of Harris’ views on the inadvisability of consulting the contemptible masses on constitutional questions, like membership of the EU, which they are clearly ill-equipped to determine.

2018.07.15 Robert Harris disdain for democracy

Hard on his heels followed Michael White, former Political Editor of The Guardian but now to be found mainly adorning the pages of The Weekly Remoaner, aka the scabrous The New European, clearly somewhat relishing, ironically, the prospect of coverage of a domestic fracas by The Daily Mail, no less, (PS, never mind the factual details) unseating Johnson’s ascendancy to the leadership.

2019.06.20 White re Boris PM

However, White’s relish at the possibility of a lovers’ tiff serving to derail Johnson’s chances paled into insignificance alongside the sight of lugubrious and reliably Remainer-Establishment hack Robert Peston positively salivating at the prospect.

2019.06.1 Peston re Boris PM fracas

He was followed by the FT’s Jim Pickard, thoughtfully likening people who’d be prepared to take the risks inherent in a No-Deal Brexit, so as to ensure a clean exit and the upholding of democracy – and by inference, therefore, presumed supporters of Johnson – to a mass murderer, rapist & paedophile.

2019.06.21 Pickard FT re Boris PM 1

How charming – and revealing. Less of a slip of the keyboard than an indication what the Remainer-Elite really think of 17.4 million Leave-ers? 

Next up came no less august a personage than the Editor himself of The Daily Remainer, aloof purveyor of haut-journalisme for the Europhile-Establishment-Elite and otherwise known as The Financial Times, gleefully anticipating the imminent defenestration of the Evil Brexiteer Johnson from the Tory leadership slate.

2019.06.21 Barber FT re Boris PM 1

Yes, you read that right – the Editor of the FT, succumbing to a case of premature exhilaration at the hands of The Guardian’s Media Editor.

Barber was at it again early on the Saturday morning, evidently having commissioned a waspish hit-piece about prominent Tories’ days at Oxford: clearly an infallible guide to the fiendish ability of one of them, 30 years later, (but strangely not the other) to inveigle 160,000 Party members into voting for National Self-Destruction and The Collapse Of Civilisation As We Know It. 

2019.06.22 Barber FT re Boris PM 2

The 2016 Remainers were almost all PPE-ers, it will inform you, having “chosen the degree in search of the cutting-edge knowledge needed to run a modern country”, while most 2016 Brexiteers “studied backward looking subjects” (no bias there, obviously): and that there is, apparently, “a curious parallel between the 1980s Oxford Tories and the 1930s Cambridge spies”.

Which might strike you as an odd analogy, to say the least, given which of the two groups now prides itself on its allegiance to the unelected supranational Brussels technocracy, and which of them advocates the supremacy of sovereign nation-state Westminster democracy.  

The prints soon caught up with the tweets, and have continued to do so. History will wonder how we trusted Boris with Britain, agonised Sir Max Hastings in The Spectator, before vouchsafing to readers of The Guardian that Johnson is utterly unfit to be Prime Minister – which I suppose is as near to preaching to the converted as it’s possible to get. 

Now Sir Max is a very fine historian, several of whose books are to be found on my shelves, but also an implacable Establishment-Remainer. I wonder why he felt it expedient to omit, firstly the reason, if Johnson was so useless, for employing him for so long when Editor of The Daily Telegraph: and secondly, why he so enthusiastically backed Johnson’s 2008 campaign to become Mayor of London?

Lower down in the journalistic pond, among the bottom-feeders, come coarser, rather more dubious fish. This tape will always threaten Boris Johnson, insisted James Kirkup in The Spectator, signally failing to predict that the opprobrium resulting from it would instead be poured in bucket-loads over the deserving heads of the insalubrious, foul-mouthed, EU-subsidised, Lefty-Luvvie Remainers who recorded it and then, having been told by the Police that the domestic fracas in the flat below had involved no harm or offence and thus merited no further action, thoughtfully sent it to The Guardian. As you do.

Finally, and yet again in The Spectator (hardly the Boris-sycophantic lickspittle of Leftist myth, is it?) came the curmudgeonly Alex Massie – a misanthropic Caledonian whom, to paraphrase P G Wodehouse, it is seldom difficult to distinguish from a ray of sunshine – pontificating that Boris’ backers “have a lot to answer for”. I guess that might be true if you regard presiding over the retrieval of self-governing nation-state democracy as a crime warranting almost incarceration in the Tower.

All the above represents only a small selection of the myriad examples available from the anti-Johnson – and by proxy, anti-Brexit – mass pile-on which followed the disclosure of the Tory leadership race’s final two. Readers will doubtless have their own examples.

Which brings up back to Boris Johnson and Matthew 5: 11-12, about being judged by the extent to which your enemies revile you. Is this a case of “By their enemies shall ye know them”?  

With such an egregious line-up of the Great and the Good of the anti-democratic, referendum-denying, Remainer Establishment-Elite ranged against him in ire and indignation, can Boris possibly be all bad? Because the more they fulminate and plot against him, the more grows the suspicion, even in the minds of the initially sceptical, that, in spite of his evident flaws and drawbacks, you know what? – he might just be exactly the man for the job.

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Why, Brexit or No Brexit, Leave-ers Must Rally In Parliament Square Today

Note: Longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman earlier today, Friday 29th March 2019

Disregard all the confected agonising about a few decimal-points percentage less GDP growth over ten years. Ignore the un-evidenced predictions about job loss Armageddon. Ever since the mid-February 2016 announcement of the EU Referendum date, the Remain campaign has been throwing economic sand in your eyes: because it knows that, on the key Brexit question, that of sovereignty, independence and democracy, it has no case.

Some things in life really are simple, but just not easy: the words aren’t necessarily synonymous. Especially in politics, however, some simple things are deliberately over-complicated by those who need to obfuscate them in pursuit of an agenda.

Brexit is actually a very simple, almost atavistic, existential question, arguably the oldest one of all. It goes back to Plato vs Aristotle. How are we to be governed, by whom, and from where? Do you want to be governed by people whom you can elect and can throw out? Or ruled over by people whom you can neither elect nor throw out?

why people voted leave 2Huge numbers of the 17.4 million who voted Leave, despite being disparaged as uneducated, stupid and bigoted, actually understood this, instinctively and viscerally, even if they couldn’t all necessarily articulate it lucidly. They knew what was, and still is, at stake. That’s why sovereignty and democracy – the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK topped by some margin the most extensive and methodologically-sound post-Referendum polling undertaken of the specific reasons why people voted for Brexit.

As one said to me: I’m voting for Brexit so that my children, and in turn their children, can live in a society where the laws they have to obey, and the taxes they have to pay, are decided by, and only by, people whom they can elect and can throw out, and by no-one else. As a justification, I’ve yet to hear that bettered.

Remember, Brexit was the biggest vote for one single, specific policy in British political history. An estimated three million people voted who don’t normally bother or who hadn’t voted before. Why? Because they recognised this had a significance far, far beyond that of mere elections, which are actually decided in no more than no more than about 100 swing constituencies, the rest being either tribal heartlands or even the modern-day equivalent 18th Century rotten boroughs. 

Because it was a nation-wide, whole-electorate poll, where they knew that this was one of the few times, possibly the only time, in their entire lives when their individual votes actually counted, and could make a difference.

But the overwhelmingly Remainer-dominated political class, enthusiastically assisted by its amen-corner courtiers in the media, culture and Academe, has, cynically and calculatedly, betrayed them all, and with tacit support from swathes of people on the losing side. The really shocking aspect of the last thirty-three months has been the exposure of just what a precariously thin thread British democracy hangs by, not just among the Establishment-Elite, but also apparently among a sizeable proportion of the electorate, when it delivers an outcome uncongenial to them. 

The readiness of so many simultaneously to withdraw the franchise from those who disagree with them, and cavalierly dismiss them as unfit to participate in deciding their own destiny, suggests that the Brexit Vote aftermath is a mere symptom of a much deeper underlying problem in UK society, not the cause of it.

After the past week’s events, there can no longer be even a scintilla of doubt that Parliament has now consciously voted to set itself against the people. It has, quite simply, declared war on the electorate, on Brexit, on the Constitution, even on democracy itself. It has, in effect, shredded the social contract. It is trying to steal from us the very decision that it asked us to make, because it does not like it. It is behaving like a thief in the night, breaking in to a poor man’s home to steal the one thing of value he has: his vote. 

May the burglar makes off with British democracy

Look at the first part of the video clip below. Ordinary people in an ordinary Northern town, discussing, albeit in maybe not particularly erudite or sophisticated terms, the iniquities, the democratic deficit, inherent in having a remote, unelected, unaccountable layer of government officials, above and superior to those they’re actually allowed to elect, but who themselves make most of the rules yet are both insulated from the need for democratic consent and immune from democratic sanction.

The leaders of a mature democracy ought to be proud that those ordinary people in an ordinary Northern town are capable enough and engaged enough to have discussions like this. Yet what was the reaction of the Remainer-dominated political class and its media, culture and Academe echo-chambers to their vote? “They didn’t know what they were voting for”. 

Now look at the second part, from 03:30 onwards. That ordinary Burnley lady, learning the EU Referendum result that she helped to achieve.  “We did it! Everybody woke up in time! Everybody listened! We’ve done it!” Possibly, like so many, the first time in her life that her vote actually mattered, the only time, perhaps, that it made a difference. Nearly three years on, it still retains its raw, emotive power.

Back in July 2018, just after the revelations of May’s Chequers deception, I wrote that this had just got a lot bigger than Brexit: that it was now about nothing less than whether we are a functioning citizens’ democracy at all, or just unwilling, powerless subjects of an unaccountable apparatchik-elite pursuing its own agenda.

We cannot let the cadres of disdainful, contemptuous, anti-democracy charlatans in Parliament get away with betraying those people of Burnley, and millions of others like them. We have to prevail. We cannot afford to fail. The alternative is too baleful to contemplate. That’s why Leave-ers need to rally in Parliament Square today. Not just to reclaim Brexit from the MPs who have stolen it, but to reclaim our democracy too.

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