Do we really care more about Prince Philip than Barack Obama?

A strange decision by the "establishment" BBC.

Regular readers of this blog know that I'm not the biggest of Barack Obama fans. But I do recognise that he is the world's biggest, most important and perhaps most interesting political figure.

Evidently, the bosses at the Beeb disagree. From the Metro:

The BBC has downgraded Prince Harry, Barack Obama and Gordon Brown, meaning their deaths are no longer important enough to interrupt normal programmes.

Princess Anne, Princes Andrew and Edward and the Countess of Wessex have also been removed from the "death list" although their departures will still be treated as major breaking news events.

They are now in a category known as "other notables" that includes Muhammad Ali, Bob Dylan, Mikhail Gorbachev, the Pope, the Dalai Lama, Margaret Thatcher, Nelson Mandela, Tony Blair and Nick Clegg.

The new protocol has been drawn up by a group of senior BBC executives, including deputy director general Mark Byford. The details, seen by the Mail on Sunday, have been sent to all senior BBC news staff, editors, producers and reporters.

Category 1 consists of the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles and Prince William and remains unchanged. If they die there will be the immediate interruption of BBC1, BBC2 and the BBC News Channel, with an official announcement normally via a Buckingham Palace statement.

I get the downgrading of Anne, Andrew and Edward -- would even the Queen notice if they dropped dead? But Obama? Brown? Would people really care more about the (inevitable) death of the boorish and ancient Philip than they would about the sudden and shocking death of the leader of the free world?

Is Obama equal in importance only to Nick Clegg?? And does the hypothetical death of Wills affect our lives more than the hypothetical death of the British Prime Minister?

Madness. Sheer madness. And another arrow in the quiver (to borrow a phrase from the man sitting behind me) for those of us who argue that the BBC has a conservative, establishment bias.

 

 

 

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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George Osborne's mistakes are coming back to haunt him

George Osborne's next budget may be a zombie one, warns Chris Leslie.

Spending Reviews are supposed to set a strategic, stable course for at least a three year period. But just three months since the Chancellor claimed he no longer needed to cut as far or as fast this Parliament, his over-optimistic reliance on bullish forecasts looks misplaced.

There is a real risk that the Budget on March 16 will be a ‘zombie’ Budget, with the spectre of cuts everyone thought had been avoided rearing their ugly head again, unwelcome for both the public and for the Chancellor’s own ambitions.

In November George Osborne relied heavily on a surprise £27billion windfall from statistical reclassifications and forecasting optimism to bury expected police cuts and politically disastrous cuts to tax credits. We were assured these issues had been laid to rest.

But the Chancellor’s swagger may have been premature. Those higher income tax receipts he was banking on? It turns out wage growth may not be so buoyant, according to last week’s Bank of England Inflation Report. The Institute for Fiscal Studies suggest the outlook for earnings growth will be revised down taking £5billion from revenues.

Improved capital gains tax receipts? Falling equity markets and sluggish housing sales may depress CGT and stamp duties. And the oil price shock could hit revenues from North Sea production.

Back in November, the OBR revised up revenues by an astonishing £50billion+ over this Parliament. This now looks a little over-optimistic.

But never let it be said that George Osborne misses an opportunity to scramble out of political danger. He immediately cashed in those higher projected receipts, but in doing so he’s landed himself with very little wriggle room for the forthcoming Budget.

Borrowing is just not falling as fast as forecast. The £78billion deficit should have been cut by £20billion by now but it’s down by just £11billion. So what? Well this is a Chancellor who has given a cast iron guarantee to deliver a surplus by 2019-20. So he cannot afford to turn a blind eye.

All this points towards a Chancellor forced to revisit cuts he thought he wouldn’t need to make. A zombie Budget where unpopular reductions to public services are still very much alive, even though they were supposed to be history. More aggressive cuts, stealthy tax rises, pension changes designed to benefit the Treasury more than the public – all of these are on the cards. 

Is this the Chancellor’s misfortune or was he chancing his luck? As the IFS pointed out at the time, there was only really a 50/50 chance these revenue windfalls were built on solid ground. With growth and productivity still lagging, gloomier market expectations, exports sluggish and both construction and manufacturing barely contributing to additional expansion, it looks as though the Chancellor was just too optimistic, or perhaps too desperate for a short-term political solution. It wouldn’t be the first time that George Osborne has prioritised his own political interests.

There’s no short cut here. Productivity-enhancing public services and infrastructure could and should have been front and centre in that Spending Review. Rebalancing the economy should also have been a feature of new policy in that Autumn Statement, but instead the Chancellor banked on forecast revisions and growth too reliant on the service sector alone. Infrastructure decisions are delayed for short-term politicking. Uncertainty about our EU membership holds back business investment. And while we ought to have a consensus about eradicating the deficit, the excessive rigidity of the Chancellor’s fiscal charter bears down on much-needed capital investment.

So for those who thought that extreme cuts to services, a harsh approach to in-work benefits or punitive tax rises might be a thing of the past, beware the Chancellor whose hubris may force him to revive them after all. 

Chris Leslie is chair of Labour's backbench Treasury committee.