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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Autumn Statement 2015: a test of competence as well as compassion

George Osborne's chickens may be coming home to roost.

The debate will be political and polarized, as you’d expect, when the Chancellor sets out the results of the Spending Review tomorrow and how his £20bn of savings will be realised. However my suspicion is that while many followers of the Westminster's circus are debating what it all means for compassionate or compassionless conservatism, the public will be more interested in a more straightforward question: one of competence. 

Strip away the hyperbole and the election in May was won on an assessment of which party was the more competent to govern. A huge part of the public’s judgment in this regard was to trust the track record of the Conservatives in balancing the books and that the £20bn in departmental savings earmarked was a reasonable and responsible ambition. 

This is the question in point because what the public did not endorse explicitly was significant change in the size and role of the state. The argument was made and won for a budget surplus, not necessarily for its consequences. As Paul Johnson of the IFS has been at pains to say after every recent budget.

We should acknowledge that one of the reasons the Chancellor does have the public’s confidence is that the cuts to public services so far have not been as damaging as many opponents predicted. The NHS is under-strain, but has not broken. Hard pushed local government leaders have managed to shield social care from the worst of the changes, and the majority of police officers lost were in the back-office not on the beat. So when pollsters ask the public whether they have noticed the effects of austerity, most say they haven't. 

Understanding what the implications are of further large reductions in areas in the firing line such as police forces or local government is hard to do. So the government has told the public "trust us". Now we are going to find out how well that trust was placed. The point is this though - if the public haven't yet felt the full affects of a smaller state they may not be so tolerant it if they do. That brings us to the Chancellor’s real test. The easy cuts have surely been made, after the long years of spending increases prior to 2010 you would expect the system to be able to tighten its belt. But with five years of austerity under that belt there is a risk that the additional cuts could push services too far. 

The public were told that £20bn of saving could be achieved without the kind of pain that will be felt if social care for the elderly really starts to fall over, if police officers become significantly more scarce, or if the NHS does need much more than the promised £8bn (as many believe it will). On this point they have trusted the Chancellor to understand the implications of what he is promising. So if the policy choices in the Spending Review turn out to show that he did not, it will be the Government's competence as much as its compassion that will concern the public.


Steve O'Neill was deputy head of policy for the Liberal Democrats until the election.