Cllr Peter Golds is Leader of the Conservative Group on Tower Hamlets Council.
I am writing this exactly 100 days after the EU referendum. In December 2015 I booked a holiday and was on a ship cruising around Norway on the day itself. To be away during the most tumultuous two weeks in political life in decades was both frustrating and educational. I was able to watch the BBC coverage of Referendum night and indeed much of the day afterwards.
Prior to Referendum Day the BBC redeemed itself from the perennial concerns of pro-EU bias. It was as far back as 2005 when former Cabinet Secretary, Sir Richard (now Lord) Wilson produced a report for the BBC Board which stated:
“…there is a widespread perception that the BBC suffers from certain forms of cultural and unintentional bias” and that “the BBC’s coverage of EU news needs to be improved and to be made more demonstrably impartial”.
During the campaign the BBC certainly tried and generally succeeded in being impartial although there were some hilarious errors, not entirely of their making. Not least was the bizarre performance of Eddie Izzard on Question Time. Presumably there is a view that the 54 year old crossdresser somehow connects with “yoof.”
Sadly he simply appears as totally out of touch with anything approaching reality. However, the BBC maintained their morbid interest in his opinions and their reporter’s excitement when he was understood to have arrived at the Referendum night Remain party was palpable. Sadly for the 99.9% of the UK population that does not live in a line drawn from Canonbury to Notting Hill, Eddie Izzard is simply, Eddie Izzard; no more, no less and his opinions are no more relevant than anyone else from the gilded Guardian Triangle.
As in recent years Jeremy Vine pranced around more and more unintelligible “stage sets” which, as a referendum is a tally of votes, became confusing.
The actual total and the overall electorate of each counting area would have sufficed. It has to be said that when he was filmed inside a set of Big Ben, surrounded by three clock faces, I did get the impression of the possible effect of three simultaneous full moons on people.
What I did note and confirmed the exact chronology of what was broadcast when David Dimbleby, as the nation’s hereditary anchor of referendums and elections, intoned that “Britain has voted to leave.”
At that moment his guests were Chuka Umanna (Labour, remain) and Steve Hilton (leave). Chuka Umanna then commenced, at length, what seemed to be the Introit to a funeral service. Steve Hilton, in response was given a few seconds before David Dimbleby said “we go to Scotland” and a Scottish National SMP (remain) was given air time followed by a tweet from Nicola Sturgeon, followed by a tearful contribution from Keith Vaz (Labour, remain) then Emily Thornberry (Labour, remain) and Caroline Lucas (Green, remain). Steve Hilton was eventually able to try and comment and was interrupted by Chukka Umanna.
By this time there was a line on the screen with “Vaz,” and a warning of disaster and in the moving news flash below that, constantly shown was, “Umunna, former Labour Trade Secretary” and another warning of disaster.
Of course, as Chuka Umunna only entered Parliament in 2010 he has never been a minister, only a shadow.
So it continued until dawn and then sadly beyond.
I arrived home to just as the losers march was getting under way. Now the BBC are supposed to be impartial and yet the “vox pops” from marchers that were broadcast were simply ridiculous and the reporters and their editors must have known this.
Worse is the “analysis” of how and why people voted, based on polls. Over four hundred years ago Elizabeth the First said “I would not open windows into men’s souls.” Sadly the BBC and self- appointed pundits are doing exactly that. How anyone in the audience of “Any Questions” or even St Polly Toynbee can say what motivated 17million to vote in the way they did is ridiculous. Not least as people tend to converse with like minded people, it is likely that such an opinion is based on ignorance. The prospect of Polly Toynbee even being seen with a resident of Essex would be worth the price of a ticket alone.
In the UK in a recent political leadership election a percentage of our fellow citizens supported a candidate who did not actually exist, the name was invented by the pollster. Currently four per cent of US respondents have told a pollster that they have been “decapitated.” The Clinton/Trump contest is truly producing headless chickens…
What is dangerous is the ghastly snobbery of all of this, bearing an awful similarity to the arguments as to why the franchise should be restricted or women should not vote a century ago. White van drivers, men from Essex and anybody aged over 55 are now part of a toxic brew of misfits who can be patronised at will be their fashionable betters and 69-year-old Polly Toynbee.
The BBC have numerous reporters who mispronounce the names of certain Conservatives. Would it not be fun for Emily Thornberry to be described as Lady Nugee by the BBC, for that is who she also is!
This is a warning for the future as the BBC will have audiences full of those who know how voters got it wrong based on surveys which will be used to effect public opinion.
Because of the bitterness of the post referendum remainers, the person who perhaps got it almost right is much criticised. Step forward Jeremy Corbyn. The argument that that the EU is about 70 per cent correct but needs work might just have pulled in votes amongst a sceptical electorate. It was far more effective than the warnings of chaos, from both sides, that seemed to dominate the campaign.
After all, lifelong Labour voters in their heartlands were marched for and against Europe in a way that would have made the Grand old Duke of York look decisive. Opposed when Harold Macmillan applied in 1962, Labour changed in 1967 when Harold Wilson applied for membership, although their application was vetoed by General de Gaulle. Labour officially opposed the Heath Government joining in 1973, causing a split in their ranks. In 1975 the Wilson Government supported continued membership in the referendum of that year. By 1983 the Labour election manifesto promised unilateral withdrawal from Europe. In 1993 Labour opposed the Maastricht treaty on the grounds of the UK opt-outs. By 1997 Labour were giving the impression of long time euro enthusiasm. It is no wonder that so many traditional Labour voters voted as they did.
I wonder how many of the Labour remainers actually know of Labour’s tortured history regarding Europe?
For most non Labour voters people with a political interest the recent leadership contest was a spectacle to behold.
As a democrat who believes that good government requires a capable alternative government I was worried.
I conclude once more with the problem of impartiality and the BBC, and this concerns the Labour Party.
The BBC are firm if they interview a contributor from say the Adam Smith Institute, as describing it as right of centre. They are less impartial when it comes to members of the Socialist Workers Party, a thoroughly unpleasant organisation with an unsavoury reputation.
On the Today programme broadcast on the 10th August, a discussion took place on Trotskyite entryism into the Labour movement and a contributor was Professor Alex Callinicos of Kings College London. Professor Callinicos is the son of “the Honorable Ædgyth Bertha Milburg Mary Antonia Frances Lyon-Dalberg-Acton” and was educated at a private Catholic High School in Zimbabwe and Balliol College, Offord. So far so good. However, he is also a member of the Central Committee of the Socialist Workers Party. This latter and somewhat important point was not mentioned when he was introduced.
I duly raised it with the BBC.
The response is a classic example of the BBC marking its own homework:
Dear Mr Golds
Reference CAS-3961136- YFNSL4
Thanks for contacting us regarding BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme broadcast on 10 August.
I understand you felt we should have referred to Alex Callinicos’s involvement with the Central Committee of the Socialist Workers Party.
Alex Callinicos was invited onto the programme to discuss what a ‘Trot’ is in relation to Tom Watson’s ‘Trotsky’ comments due to him being a professor in political theory at King’s College.
Having delved a bit further into Mr Callinicos’s background, he describes himself as being a supporter of Trotsky, and has wrote a number of books about Trotskyism such as ‘Their Trotskyism and Ours’ and ‘Trotskyism’.
The reference to him being a member of the Central Committee of the Socialist Workers Party wasn’t relevant in this circumstance as he was not there to discuss his role within the organisation.
We have circulated your complaint to senior management and the ‘Today’ programme in this overnight report.
These reports are among the most widely read sources of feedback in the BBC and ensures that your complaint has been seen by the right people quickly. This helps inform their decisions about current and future programmes.
Thanks once again for taking the time to contact us.
BBC Complaints Team
Sorry Neil, it is extremely important that when discussing Trotskyite entryism into a major political party, if you interview a Trotskyite, you say so. Do not pretend he is simply an academic.
Just as bad is the BBC use of Lindsey German. She is often described as a founder of the “Stop the War Coalition.” A coalition that does not extend very far beyond the Trotskyite fringe.