Tag: UK-Conservatives

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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Who Best to Spy on the Spies?

The background to the Lewis-Grayling Commons Intelligence & Security Committee chairmanship imbroglio, and some possible reasons for what really lies behind it.

Note: this article was originally published at The Conservative Woman on Friday 17 July 2020

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

It’s one of the oldest questions in the world, relevant in dictatorships and democracies alike.  Literally meaning “Who will guard the guards themselves?“, it voices the perennial dilemma; who can best be trusted to watch over those whom we in turn trust to watch over us so as to keep us safe?

Now, you might think that someone who successfully ran an undercover operation to get elected as Chair of the House of Commons Intelligence and Security scrutiny committee – thus defeating in the process the reliably compliant stooge whom the Government had hoped to shoehorn into the post – without anyone from the Government knowing or its parliamentary whips finding out, thereby demonstrating both a fine understanding of intrigue and the ability to keep a secret, would possess the ideal qualifications for the job.

Boris Johnson’s Government, however, disagrees.  Because its reaction to New Forest East Conservative MP Julian Lewis’s securing the chairmanship of this important and influential scrutiny committee, by secretly nominating himself and then caucusing with Opposition who subsequently voted for him, was petulantly to accuse of him of duplicity and even withdraw the Tory whip, thus effectively sacking him from the party.

What could have prompted such a fit of childish pique?  Resentment at having been outmanoeuvred, coupled with a sense of entitlement that such a key chairmanship ought axiomatically to be in government hands? Perhaps. Exposure to public view of what was clearly a massive failure of parliamentary management?  Maybe.

Or was it frustration because the unsuccessful government nominee, Chris Grayling, widely known as “Failing Grayling” for being unusually accident-prone and for an unimpressive record both as Transport Secretary and Justice Secretary, but who was also Boris Johnson’s campaign manager in his party leadership bid, had been impliedly promised the chairmanship as a reward?

It can’t be a matter of much dispute that Lewis is eminently more qualified for the role than Grayling, who has been criticised for his lack of experience of Intelligence and Security matters by even his fellow Tory MPs.  In contrast, Lewis, in the manner of Right-leaning long-standing backbenchers whom the Conservative Party’s ‘liberal’ hierarchy finds embarrassing and routinely keeps hidden on the back benches, has tended to make Defence, Intelligence and Security his specialist subject.

Lewis is also a confirmed Eurosceptic and Brexiteer, which may also be a clue as to why his chairmanship seems to be so discomforting to the Party hierarchy, as will be explored further below.

Julian Lewis

In the immediate aftermath, the ‘Conservative’ Party’s anger shows no sign of abating. The much-diminished Jacob Rees-Mogg has accused Lewis of ‘playing ducks and drakes’ with Labour MPs – a curious charge if Number Ten still denies any intention to shoehorn Grayling into the Committee chairmanship – and yesterday refused to rule out the Government blocking Lewis ascension to the role.

Johnson has been warned by senior Tory backbench MPs not to try and remove Lewis from the chairmanship of the Intelligence and Security Committee, or even from membership of it. Clearly, their rebellion earlier this week against the Government for not going either far enough or fast enough on the removal of Huawei from our telecommunications infrastructure has emboldened them.

In the meantime, Lewis has provided his own version of events, stressing that-

  1. the chairmanship of the Committee is a parliamentary appointment and not within the gift of the PM:
  1. he did not give any undertaking to support Grayling: and
  1. contrary to Number Ten’s denial of any interference, it evidently preferred to have Grayling as Chair of the Committee, as Lewis himself received a text asking if he would vote for him.

And as he wryly observes, if it wasn’t the Government’s intention to parachute Grayling as its preferred candidate into the chairmanship, then its decision to deprive himself of the Tory whip for not voting for Grayling looks like a massive over-reaction.

2020.07.16 Julian Lewis statement

So what’s going on?

Well, Eurosceptic and Brexiteer Lewis, I suspect, would be far more likely as Chair to probe and interrogate the Government on the security and intelligence implications of any continuing below-the-radar co-operation and tie-in to with the EU.  And that, of course, might lead to similar probing on any continuing below-the-radar tie-up with the EU’s developing Defence Union and the PESCO mechanism.  Perhaps Grayling, having been rewarded for running Johnson’s successful leadership campaign, could have been trusted to ensure the Committee did not enquire too closely into such matters?

Grayling had also been thought to be much less likely to pressure the Government for an early public release of the 2018 report on alleged Russian interference in British democracy, (although personally, I’ve always suspected this allegation to be yet another desperate attempt by the anti-Brexit, Continuity-Remainer faction of Britain’s political and media establishment to delegitimise both the vote for Brexit and those of subsequent general elections confirming it).

However, the fall-out in that direction from his failure to secure the chairmanship has already started.  In what’s possibly a pre-emptive move, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab yesterday accused the Russian State of hacking UK vaccine research and attempting to influence last December’s general election.

Theoretically, the ‘Conservative’ Party might possibly try to thwart the Lewis chairmanship of the Intelligence and Security Committee, on the spurious grounds that for such a pivotal appointment to be held by an Independent MP not affiliated to any party, much less the governing party, is inappropriate.  In doing so, however, it would risk making itself look even more petulant and dictatorial, as well as making others wonder just what it might be trying to hide.

Its best course would be for the Government to accept a self-inflicted defeat, for MPs to press for the restoration to Lewis of the whip, and for the party console itself that a key Commons committee was in the hands of the MP best suited to the job.

Homo scit exterriti custodes spectemus – only a man who knows guards can watch the guards.

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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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Brexit Watch: Thursday 30 April 2020

Note: this article was originally published at The Conservative Woman on Wednesday 29 April 2020

Choosing four recent key Brexit-relevant story headlines 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

 

Facing New Crises, Macron Repackages Old, Bad IdeasNational Review

Never slow to perceive, in the comfort-blanket of pan-European integration where his assumption of French joint-‘leadership’ is more wishful thinking than reality, a distraction from France’s economic sclerosis and ongoing political crisis, Macron sees in COVID-19 yet another opportunity to deepen the former, via financial aid funded by mutualised debt.

Not for the first time, however, he overlooks the same fundamental flaw which plagues the euro: that a currency union not backed by a fiscal union contains, not only an inherent structural design flaw, but even the seeds of its own potential failure.  Predictably, Macron’s idea is being resisted by the same quartet of Germany, Austria, Finland and The Netherlands who fear being saddled with the lion’s share of contributions.

After weeks of ineffectual dithering, the EU is finally moving towards some kind of aid package.  Delaying Brexit for an extension to Transition could see Britain on the hook for a substantial contribution, so should be avoided.

 

The future will be won by nimble, innovative nation-statesGlobal Vision

As several earlier TCW articles in our Brexit-Watch series have noted, in the early stages of the COVID19 pandemic, the EU was paralysed by a combination of institutional atrophy and indecision.  That led to individual member-states’ democratically elected governments, even within the Franco-German alliance, moving swiftly to take whatever decisions, including abandoning Schengen and closing borders, they deemed to be in their best national interests, by-passing and not even bothering to consult Brussels in the process.

Not only is this a genie which won’t easily be put back in its bottle; it will have consequential effects on member-states’ post-COVID19 recovery strategies.  A reversion to centralised, Brussels-dictated, one-size-fits-all regulation of everything from business practices to product specifications would deprive the weaker EU economies of the flexibility they are going to need, particularly after their differing exposure to the economic and fiscal costs of coping with coronavirus.

From Britain’s perspective, that must strengthen our case for rejecting the EU’s demands for equivalence or any ‘level playing field’ in our post-Brexit trade relationship with the bloc.

 

The Brexit Fight goes onGet Britain Out

One under-reported feature of the Brexit trade talks resuming by video-conferencing is that, with the Department of International Trade seemingly having curtailed its activities considerably with the COVID19 pandemic, the UK-USA trade talks which were previously running in parallel with the UK-EU trade negotiations apparently remained suspended.

Given the obvious advantages of not only keeping trade talks with the USA going but also of publicly demonstrating that continuance to the Brussels negotiators, it’s regrettable that they did not resume at the same time, and they should be benefiting from equal emphasis.

 

EU leaders ‘must intervene to break Brexit trade talks impasse’ – Telegraph (£)

In contrast to Barnier’s recent typically petulant and disingenuous outburst of frustration towards Britain for insisting that it will neither request an extension to the Brexit Transition period nor accede to the EU’s demands for close regulatory alignment and continued access to UK fishing waters, this latest intervention from the Prime Minister of Latvia is intriguing.

What Mr Karins appears to be doing is suggesting that EU member-state heads of government in effect take over the direction of negotiations from Barnier and reach a deal with the UK that is satisfactory to both parties, in contrast to Barnier’s intemperate supranationalist intransigence.  He seems to be recognising, in a way which apparently eludes the more ideological Barnier, that in responding to COVID19 the EU has a bigger problem on its plate than Brexit.

The UK spokesman’s reported remark about EU negotiators being simply not used to this dynamic of the UK standing up for itself‘ certainly rings true.  If the reading of the Latvian PM’s intervention is correct, then our UK negotiators should have no hesitation in fomenting and exploiting a potential division between Brussels and EU member-states to further Britain’s interests.

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Brexit-Watch: Saturday 07 March 2020

Note: Longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman earlier today, Saturday 07 March 2020

A weekend update on some recent key Brexit-relevant story headlines, choosing four 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.)

 

Brexit row erupts after Barnier accuses UK of planning to ditch human rights commitmentPolitics Home

In a typically disingenuous combination of red herring and attempt to assert EU extra-territorial jurisdiction over the post-Brexit UK, Barnier has accused the UK of ‘refusing to continue to apply’ the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) after full-Brexit. This is arrant nonsense.

The ECHR is the creation of the immediate post-WW2 Council of Europe, is enforced by the Council’s European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg, and is separate and distinct from the EU.  The latter is not even a signatory to the Convention, merely requiring new member-states to be signatories, and the EU has no jurisdiction over it.

It’s conceivable however that, once freed of the obligation to be a signatory to the ECHR by virtue of its EU membership, the UK could decide after Brexit to enact its own Bill of Rights (possibly linked to a written Constitution) and, as part of that, withdraw from either the ECHR in full or merely from the jurisdiction of its ECtHR.

As Lawyers for Britain‘s Martin Howe QC explains, there’s a compelling case for such a move.  The Strasbourg human rights court has come to mirror some unsatisfactory features found also in the EU’s own European Court of Justice, principally a tendency to judicial activism rather than interpretation, introduction into European human rights law of concepts not present in the original text, and the predominance of the Continental Codified, rather than English Common Law, legal tradition.

Barnier in effect wants the EU to have the power to direct the democratically elected government of an independent sovereign nation-state on which international treaties and conventions it should or should not sign up to. That is an outrageous demand that deserves to be dismissed out of hand.

 

Paris versus London: the clash of the financial centresJohn Keiger, Briefings for Britain

Having failed, in the immediate aftermath of the 2016 EU Referendum, to persuade many, if any, City-based European banks to move their London operations to Frankfurt or Paris, the French are now coming back, but cloaked in the EU flag, for another attempt.  The possibility that this is sabre-rattling as part of French domestic politics’ general background noise to the upcoming French municipal elections this month, where Macron looks likely to be embarrassed at least, can’t be ruled out.

Despite the European Banking Authority having made the move, London’s sheer size, global reach, expertise, power and capacity for innovation as an international financial centre compared to Paris suggests this will be a futile quest.  Even if this were not a factor, the far more onerous and restrictive, and significantly slower-deciding and less flexible, regulatory regimes covering both financial services and labour markets would surely be a disincentive.

The threat to withhold passporting rights from UK banks doing business in France looks similarly unlikely to succeed.  The French may have introduced this whole issue into the negotiating mix as a giveaway to be traded off in return for getting something else.

 

Negotiating deals with both the EU and the US will be tricky for Britain: but it does have a trump card Shanker Singham, Telegraph (£)

The overriding difference between the two sets of negotiations is this: that while both parties in the UK-US negotiation will focus on economics and trade, both parties in the UK-EU negotiation will not.  For the EU, this deal isn’t about economics and trade, but about politics, in particular, Brussels’ semi-existential political need to try and limit the competitiveness of an ex-member on its north-western doorstep, even at the price of harming its own member-states’ economies. That is bound to maintain, if not incrase, its tendency to intransigence.

Britain taking up its seat at the WTO this week, for the first time as an independent member in nearly 50 years, has sent what ought to be a powerful signal to Brussels that, if it continues to try to insist on setting both our regulatory environment and legal order after Brexit, then we are quite prepared to walk away and go WTO.

 

We must not allow the EU to bind our hands in trade negotiations with other partners Stephen Booth, Conservative Home

In what’s been appropriately described as a ‘multi-dimensional game of chess’, and despite the demands likely to be made on our trade negotiating resources and expertise, for Britain to conclude, or at least substantially conclude, as many overseas trade deals as possible during 2020, in parallel to the trade-talks with the EU, must be an imperative.

In macro terms,  one vital fact should not be overlooked. Time is not on the EU’s side. The Eurozone economy is suffering its slowest growth in 7 years. Internally, its rate of GDP growth continues to decline, while externally, it accounts for an ever-diminishing share of global GDP growth.

EU quarterly real gdp growth 2016-19

EU declining share global GDP growth

Seeing the UK reach trade deals with the parts of the world which are growing, not stagnating, is essential towards disincentivising the EU from continuing to insist on its absolutist level-playing-field on, e.g.,  state aid, environmental and labour standards, an approach which is intended, not so much as to facilitate trade, as to protect its own heavily regulated economies from competition.

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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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Brexit-Watch: Saturday 29 February 2020

Note: Longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman earlier today, Saturday 29 February 2020

A weekend update on some recent key Brexit-relevant story headlines, choosing four which, while not necessarily meriting a full-length article, nevertheless warrant a paragraph or two of comment, rather than merely a couple of lines.  (NB: (£) denotes article behind paywall.)

 

Dealing with the French: Frost versus Barnier, Bacon versus DescartesRobert Tombs at Briefings for Britain

Few are better qualified than Professor Tombs to expound on the historically different approaches to philosophy and law which govern the respective attitudes of the French and English towards the negotiating of treaties.  The former view the opening text as sacred, to be departed from only minimally, if at all: for the latter, it is merely a starting point from which give-and-take bartering can proceed towards, eventually, a mutually acceptable outcome.

Personally, I find it a curious paradox how, when it comes to the nuts and bolts of trade negotiations, it’s the British who are pragmatic and transactional, while the Brussels Eurocrats are institutional and inflexible: but that, when it comes to the philosophical question of EU membership per se, it’s the Eurocrats who are transactional, emphasising alleged economic advantage, while the British are constitutional, prioritising the principles of sovereignty, democracy and self-government over the risk of temporary economic disruption.

Anyway, to the schism identified by Professor Tombs must be added current domestic politics among the main EU protagonists. In Germany, Merkel’s originally anointed successor as CDU party leader and Chancellor having withdrawn, the contest has now degenerated into an unedifying struggle between two fairly unimpressive male apparatchiks.  In France, an already unpopular Macron faces municipal elections in late March from which he is likely to emerge weakened.

The two diametrically different approaches, coupled with more volatile both French and German domestic politics, could well turn the Brexit trade-talks into a dialogue of the deaf.  In which case, the likelihood of Britain deciding that further negotiation is pointless, and walking away to WTO terms, will become even greater.

 

EU’s uneven playing field revealed – Germans, Belgians, Italians, French are the worst offendersFacts4EU

This is about the EU’s restrictions on the power of member-states’ national legislatures on state-aid and competition. Yet despite the insistence by Barnier on ‘red lines’ for a ‘level playing field’ regarding his demand for continuing UK-EU ‘regulatory alignment’ after Brexit, the EU is, as ever, the greatest breaker of the rules it purports to impose on others.

Germany, France, Belgium and Italy all receive favourable state-aid dispensations at between three and four times the rate Britain does. Some ‘level playing field’. . . .  Moreover, identifying where responsibility lies for administering the rules is typically shrouded in bureaucratic obfuscation. It would be futile focusing on this area to the detriment of others in negotiation.

Once again, it’s possible to envisage this issue causing Labour some trouble domestically, especially if the party, though nominally united, has ongoing tensions between the soft-Left faction of presumed winner Starmer and the defeated hard-Left camp grouped around Long-Bailey.  Remember, Corbyn repeatedly appeared torn between his desire as a Remainer to stay within the EU’s ambit and his desire as a socialist to use taxpayers’ money to prop up failing businesses.

 

UK-EU: a question of trustFinancial Times (£)

Briefly, for those unable to breach the paywall, the article references the spat between Britain and the EU on the former’s accusation that the EU resiled from its offer of a Canada-style Free Trade Agreement, and the latter’s accusation that Britain is resiling from a previous agreement not to re-open aspects of Theresa May’s Political declaration. It goes on to regret the end result of the document supposed to guide the negotiations being at the centre of a feud.

It’s hard not to see a combination of naïveté and anti-Brexit EU-philia at work here.  These negotiations were always going to be conducted in an atmosphere of bad faith on the EU’s side.  The reason isn’t hard to discern.  Going back to Professor Tombs’ article, for Britain, these negotiations are transactional: for the EU, on the other hand, they are near-existential.

As the Bruges Group remarked this week. . .   

Indeed.  But that’s also slightly to miss the point.  The EU is conceptually incapable of treating us like any other country.  Alone among other countries who joined it, we have chosen to repudiate and quit their to them noble but to us neo-imperial Project.  For that, in their world-view, we are heretics who must not only be punished for our apostasy but be seen to be punished for it.  If that sounds quasi-religious, it’s because it is.  These negotiations were pre-destined to be acrimonious.

 

The UK and EU Negotiating Mandates ComparedGlobal Vision

It’s clear from this comprehensive, up-to-date summary, including all the developments of the past week, that behind the spin disseminated via the headline/soundbite-wanting media lie some potentially insoluble points of contention.

Fishing is the obvious and arguably also the most difficult one since, despite its relative insignificance economically, it is hugely important politically and even almost symbolically, given its public profile: one can easily see it being the bellwether by which the whole deal is judged.  The UK has rejected both keeping current levels of access for other EU member-states, and sequencing.  It could be the difference between an agreement and WTO.

The so-called level playing field and rules of origin issue, and I think we can expect EU obduracy on financial services, torn as it is between mercantilist envy of the City’s dominance and knowledge of EU firms’ dependence on it. Generally, if the EU refuses to budge on demanding its own legal order be supervening, the UK has made it clear there will be no agreement.  Don’t delete your online WTO guide just yet.

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Brexit-Watch: 22nd February 2020

Note: Longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman earlier today, Saturday 22 February 2020

A weekend update on some recent key Brexit-relevant story headlines, choosing four which, while not necessarily meriting a full-length article, nevertheless warrant a paragraph or two of comment, rather than merely a couple of lines.  (NB: (£) denotes article behind paywall.)

 

The EU’s absurd and ever-changing position reminds us why Britain voted to leaveTelegraph (£)

Global Vision’s Shanker Singham on how, having originally offered Britain a Canada-style free trade deal with add-ons, the EU has backtracked to the extent of demanding a provision which it doesn’t insist on even in its FTAs with China and the USA: namely a guarantee that whenever the EU changed its laws, the UK would follow suit, in perpetuity.  This would in effect subordinate our own trade’s legal architecture to EU state aid rules and ECJ oversight.

Brussels also demands what it calls ‘dynamic regulatory alignment’; meaning in effect that, to secure a FTA, the UK would need to become a rule-taker from Brussels with no say in how those rules were set.  Both moves are perfect examples of the intransigence which caused us to vote to leave in the first place.  But Johnson will need to be watched to ensure there is no backsliding or dilution of our refusal to capitulate to this.

 

The EU isn’t interested in free trade with the UK, just political domination –  Briefings for Britain (formerly Brexit)

An argument whose first premise has been amply borne out this week by Brussels’ attempt to move the goalposts, firstly, by trying to hedge a Canada-style deal about with onerous conditions, in what looks like a naked attempt to hobble Britain’s ability to compete against an over-regulated, sclerotic EU.

Secondly, by Barnier’s ill-tempered refusal of a Canada-style trade deal on transparently spurious grounds of geographical proximity.  And thirdly, by even demanding the return of the Elgin Marbles to Greece as part of any trade deal. 

With the growing presence of nation-state populists in both member-state and European parliaments, making Brussels desperate to make life outside the bloc as difficult as possible for Britain, the argument’s second premise is no less valid.

 

Post-Brexit funding row breaks out in BrusselsTimes (£)

Very much at the forefront of Eurocrats’ minds, in the sense of trying to show the remaining 27 member-states, by its treatment of Britain, just how difficult it will make life outside the bloc for any other country which decided to emulate Britain and leave, taking its contributions with it.  Brexit leaves a €75 billion-sized hole in the next 7-year budget.

The implications for member-states’ internal politics are significant.  Germany’s extra payments are 6 times France’s, and Merkel’s CDU is under electoral pressure from the Eurosceptic AfD.  France’s low-level Gilets Jaunes insurrection each weekend shows no sign of abating, and the Marion Maréchal (Le Pen) led Rassemblement Nationale expects to make big gains in this year’s French municipal elections.  Just to make life more difficult for Macron, the Dutch, with an economy only one-third the size of France’s, are objecting to paying EU contributions 70 per cent higher than France’s.

 

What Keir Starmer would mean for BritainFT (£)

To which headline must of course first be added the caveat: if he becomes Labour leader.  Admittedly, it looks unlikely that he won’t, but Rebecca Long-Bailey has the endorsement of Len McClusky’s Unite Union and, as far as I can establish, no candidate has ever won the Labour leadership without it.

In the short term, Starmer as leader will impact more on Labour’s internal politics than on the course of Britain’s exit.  Johnson has a compliant Parliamentary party with an unassailable majority, so Starmer won’t be forcing any change of policy.  He will however be far more soft-Brexity and even Rejoin-inclined than Corbyn, so could arouse some disquiet among Labour MPs in Brexit-voting seats who narrowly survived December’s massacre and could be the next bricks in Labour’s Red Wall to tumble.

What he will bring to the table, however, is a lawyer’s far greater ability than Corbyn possessed to absorb the fine detail of any agreements, and then subject Johnson to forensic questioning on them.  Boris is a big-picture blusterer, not a details man, so he could well under-perform when put under this kind of pressure.  Coupled with growing resentment at his eco-policies, this could well cause his popularity and approval ratings to dip.  So Starmer could impact internal Tory politics as well.

 

What these four articles taken together show is that the EU is visibly in big trouble on several fronts.  Not mentioned in any of the four above is the mountain of bank debt on the books of the ECB, which potentially limits it from engaging in any further quantitative easing to try and boost currently slowing growth in the sclerotic Eurozone. 

If only our own negotiators would recognise it, and leverage it to drive a harder and more advantageous deal for Britain.  Though if the evident intransigence of the EU is a guide, it surely increases the chance of our eventual exit on WTO terms.

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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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