The Tories and the BBC

Ludicrous accusations of "liberal" bias continue

Does Jeremy Hunt watch BBC1? The shadow culture secretary believes the corporation should recruit more Tories to its news division in order to counter an "innate liberal bias". He says:

I wish they would go and actively look for some Conservatives to be part of their news-gathering team, because they have acknowledged that one of their problems is that people who want to work at the BBC tend to be from the centre left. That's why they have this issue with what Andrew Marr called an innate liberal bias.

Should a man who expects to be the minister in charge of the BBC in mere months be meddling in its recruitment policies? And should the BBC, especially the news (!) division, be hiring producers, reporters and presenters on the basis of their political views or membership of particular political parties? Will the application form for a job at the Beeb's political unit in Millbank now carry the question: "Are you, or have you ever been, a member of what John Stuart Mill once called 'the stupid party'?"

My views on the BBC, and its right-wing (not left-wing or liberal) bias are clear and can be read here and here. I don't mind if you disagree with me -- as, for example, Peter Hitchens has -- but at least those who don't agree with me should acknowledge that I have provided some evidence for my argument. For example, if BBC News hates the Tories so much, why is that former chair of the Young Conservatives, Nick Robinson, its political editor? As the Mirror's Kevin Maguire observes in his New Statesman column this week:

Brown's never forgotten -- or forgiven -- Robbo for chairing the Young Conservatives in the Thatcherite 1980s. Yet it's the appointment of affable James Landale as Robbo's deputy that's turned up the volume. Landale was a contemporary at Eton of David Cameron and Boris Johnson. The charge in No 10 is that a Biased Broadcasting Corporation is preparing for the Conservatives eight months before an election.

So, does Hunt actually watch any BBC output? The Tories have a habit of using contemporary cultural examples without doing their homework -- the shadow home secretary, Chris Grayling, recently suggested that parts of Britain resemble scenes from The Wire -- but then admitted that he had hardly watched the HBO series himself. Did his shadow cabinet colleague Hunt, for example, watch BBC1's Question Time last night, I wonder?

I am a big fan of QT and I agree with its editor, Ed Havard, that it is a unique and vibrant institution. But if Hunt had tuned in last night, as I did, he would have noted that its five-member panel consisted of the former CBI boss (admittedly a one-time "Labour" trade minister), Digby Jones; the new editor of the Spectator, Fraser Nelson; the Tory grandee Michael Heseltine; the Lib Dem education spokesman and outrider for the party's Orange Book free-marketeers, David Laws MP; and the Leader of the Commons, Harriet Harman MP. That makes four right-wingers versus one lefty (Harman). Now, before we get into an interminable row about how one defines left and right, blah, blah, blah, let's do it by issue. On the QT panel last night, we had four people (Jones, Nelson, Heseltine and Laws) ideologically committed to the neoliberal, free-market consensus that failed so spectacularly last September and one person (Harman) who isn't. We had three people (Harman, Jones, Nelson) who supported the invasion of Iraq and only two (Heseltine and Laws) who didn't. We had all five panellists in support of Britain's military presence in Afghanistan -- even though a majority of the British public is opposed to the war.

So where were the lefties? Where were the critics of neoliberal, deregulated, free-market capitalism? Where were the opponents of the invasion of Iraq or the war in Afghanistan? Where were the defenders of the government, Harman aside? Why were three of the five panellists potential Tory voters (Nelson, Jones, Heseltine)?

As I noted in my piece on BBC bias in the magazine back in August, "the accusation that the BBC is left-wing and liberal is a calculated and cynical move by the right to cow the corporation into submission". Hunt's comments are simply the latest, fact-free manifestation of this calculated strategy.

 

 

 

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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