The Cameronista BBC

Let me explain to foaming blog responders

What is it about people who comment on blogs? I have long wondered why the "blogosphere" is dominated by the libertarian right. As in America, the online right's many outlets here are completely co-ordinated and on-message about anything that threatens to damage their beloved Conservative Party. They are able to parrot the same attacks and counterattacks (most recently, say, on the anti-Semite Michal Kaminski) apparently without consulting one another, while the left turns on itself and flounders.

Now I look on in awe as commenters flock to blogs like ours to defend the Tories at all costs. Who are these poeple? Do they work at Conservative Central Office? If they don't, is that even more worrying? If I knew how, it would doubtless be fruitful to check the locations of their computers.

Recently, these people have got very angry about a debate between Mehdi Hasan and Peter Hitchens over whether the BBC is left-wing or right-wing. Abuse has been hurled at Mehdi for daring to suggest the BBC is, contrary to myth, a power-seeking, Establishment-pleasing broadcaster that -- if anything -- is right-wing. Now, while I think Mehdi is right to point to research showing that, for example, the BBC gave more airtime to supporters of the 2003 Iraq invasion rather than its opponents, and in that sense easy myths like "the BBC is anti-war" can be dismissed as nonsense, I would actually disagree with my colleague about the corporation being biased in any direction in a co-ordinated way. This is because it is too shambolic and huge.

Conversely, I agree with Hitchens that the BBC is very pro David Cameron. Hitchens is one of the few writers exposing the many examples of this. I completely disagree, however, with his outlandish reasoning: he says that the alliance shows that Cameron is left-wing and argues, absurdly, that the BBC has somehow converted the Tory party to its (liberal left) side.

In fact, the BBC is devoted to giving Cameron disproportionate airtime, as it memorably did when he talked tough against some of his expense-abusing backbenchers without actually withdrawing the whip as he promised he would. It does that because, outstanding institution though it is, its news culture journalistically is not very sharp. In short, it goes with the flow. This is not about its reporters, some of whom -- including Nick Robinson, James Landale and Iain Watson (the numbers one, two and three on its political reporting team) -- are among the best and most well-informed in the business. (Compared to some other outlets Robinson gave Cameron an impeccably hard time last night.) It is about a sluggish caution and group-mentality among faceless executives and producers.

The media, whose centre of gravity is anyway to the right in this country despite all the howls of fury from blog posters, have decided collectively, with a few exceptions, that the Tory party has changed, has "modernised" and is going to win the next election, probably by a landslide.

The BBC's movement towards Cameron, which results in incessant lead stories about Tory proposals and initiatives, is merely a reflection of this. So, the corporation is not so much biased (though for several years it has been on a recruitment drive to find people who have worked inside or understand Cameron's Tory party) as lazy.

Now, if you can't understand that, and still maintain that the BBC is "left-wing" or a vessel for Labour propaganda, you are going to have to do better than merely post clever-stupid one-liners below. Give me some real examples, please, and put your money where your loud mouths are.

James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Jeremy Corbyn's Labour conference speech shows how he's grown

The leader's confident address will have impressed even his fiercest foes. 

It is not just Jeremy Corbyn’s mandate that has been improved by his re-election. The Labour leader’s conference speech was, by some distance, the best he has delivered. He spoke with far greater confidence, clarity and energy than previously. From its self-deprecating opening onwards ("Virgin Trains assure me there are 800 empty seats") we saw a leader improved in almost every respect. 

Even Corbyn’s firecest foes will have found less to take issue with than they may have anticipated. He avoided picking a fight on Trident (unlike last year), delivered his most forceful condemnation of anti-Semitism (“an evil”) and, with the exception of the Iraq war, avoided attacks on New Labour’s record. The video which preceded his arrival, and highlighted achievements from the Blair-Brown years, was another olive branch. But deselection, which Corbyn again refused to denounce, will remain a running sore (MPs alleged that Hillsborough campaigner Sheila Coleman, who introduced Corbyn, is seeking to deselect Louise Ellman and backed the rival TUSC last May).

Corbyn is frequently charged with lacking policies. But his lengthy address contained several new ones: the removal of the cap on council borrowing (allowing an extra 60,000 houses to be built), a ban on arms sales to abusive regimes and an arts pupil premium in every primary school.

On policy, Corbyn frequently resembles Ed Miliband in his more radical moments, unrestrained by Ed Balls and other shadow cabinet members. He promised £500bn of infrastructure investment (spread over a decade with £150bn from the private sector), “a real living wage”, the renationalisation of the railways, rent controls and a ban on zero-hours contracts.

Labour’s greatest divisions are not over policy but rules, strategy and culture. Corbyn’s opponents will charge him with doing far too little to appeal to the unconverted - Conservative voters most of all. But he spoke with greater conviction than before of preparing for a general election (acknowledging that Labour faced an arithmetical “mountain”) and successfully delivered the attack lines he has often shunned.

“Even Theresa May gets it, that people want change,” he said. “That’s why she stood on the steps of Downing Street and talked about the inequalities and burning injustices in today’s Britain. She promised a country: ‘that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us’. But even if she manages to talk the talk, she can’t walk the walk. This isn’t a new government, it’s David Cameron’s government repackaged with progressive slogans but with a new harsh right-wing edge, taking the country backwards and dithering before the historic challenges of Brexit.”

After a second landslide victory, Corbyn is, for now, unassailable. Many MPs, having voted no confidence in him, will never serve on the frontbench. But an increasing number, recognising Corbyn’s immovability, speak once again of seeking to “make it work”. For all the ructions of this summer, Corbyn’s speech will have helped to persuade them that they can.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.