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.
Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

There are risks as well as opportunities ahead for George Osborne

The Chancellor is in a tight spot, but expect his political wiles to be on full display, says Spencer Thompson.

The most significant fiscal event of this parliament will take place in late November, when the Chancellor presents the spending review setting out his plans for funding government departments over the next four years. This week, across Whitehall and up and down the country, ministers, lobbyists, advocacy groups and town halls are busily finalising their pitches ahead of Friday’s deadline for submissions to the review

It is difficult to overstate the challenge faced by the Chancellor. Under his current spending forecast and planned protections for the NHS, schools, defence and international aid spending, other areas of government will need to be cut by 16.4 per cent in real terms between 2015/16 and 2019/20. Focusing on services spending outside of protected areas, the cumulative cut will reach 26.5 per cent. Despite this, the Chancellor nonetheless has significant room for manoeuvre.

Firstly, under plans unveiled at the budget, the government intends to expand capital investment significantly in both 2018-19 and 2019-20. Over the last parliament capital spending was cut by around a quarter, but between now and 2019-20 it will grow by almost 20 per cent. How this growth in spending should be distributed across departments and between investment projects should be at the heart of the spending review.

In a paper published on Monday, we highlighted three urgent priorities for any additional capital spending: re-balancing transport investment away from London and the greater South East towards the North of England, a £2bn per year boost in public spending on housebuilding, and £1bn of extra investment per year in energy efficiency improvements for fuel-poor households.

Secondly, despite the tough fiscal environment, the Chancellor has the scope to fund a range of areas of policy in dire need of extra resources. These include social care, where rising costs at a time of falling resources are set to generate a severe funding squeeze for local government, 16-19 education, where many 6th-form and FE colleges are at risk of great financial difficulty, and funding a guaranteed paid job for young people in long-term unemployment. Our paper suggests a range of options for how to put these and other areas of policy on a sustainable funding footing.

There is a political angle to this as well. The Conservatives are keen to be seen as a party representing all working people, as shown by the "blue-collar Conservatism" agenda. In addition, the spending review offers the Conservative party the opportunity to return to ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ as a going concern.  If they are truly serious about being seen in this light, this should be reflected in a social investment agenda pursued through the spending review that promotes employment and secures a future for public services outside the NHS and schools.

This will come at a cost, however. In our paper, we show how the Chancellor could fund our package of proposed policies without increasing the pain on other areas of government, while remaining consistent with the government’s fiscal rules that require him to reach a surplus on overall government borrowing by 2019-20. We do not agree that the Government needs to reach a surplus in that year. But given this target wont be scrapped ahead of the spending review, we suggest that he should target a slightly lower surplus in 2019/20 of £7bn, with the deficit the year before being £2bn higher. In addition, we propose several revenue-raising measures in line with recent government tax policy that together would unlock an additional £5bn of resource for government departments.

Make no mistake, this will be a tough settlement for government departments and for public services. But the Chancellor does have a range of options open as he plans the upcoming spending review. Expect his reputation as a highly political Chancellor to be on full display.

Spencer Thompson is economic analyst at IPPR