The Sun's absurd claim of anti-Tory "BBC bias"

Tabloid claims that Question Time and the Basil Brush Show reveal anti-Tory bias.

Since defecting to the Conservatives last September, the Sun has become the party's most full-throated supporter on Fleet Street. Today the tabloid publishes an absurd "investigation" which, it claims, unearths evidence of an "alarming" BBC bias against the Tories.

Here's the charge sheet in full:

BBC News gave disproportionate coverage to the row over Tory donor Lord Ashcroft's tax status.

Labour panellists were given more time to speak on flagship political show Question Time.

A poll on The One Show ignored issues with Gordon Brown to ask only, "Is David Cameron too much of a toff to be PM?"

The Tory leader was stitched up when footage of him adjusting his hair was sneakily fed to all broadcasters.

And (this one is the clincher):

The Basil Brush Show featured a school election with a cheat called Dave wearing a blue rosette.

Taking these from the top, the BBC's coverage of the Ashcroft scandal was in no way disproportionate. The Sun protests that "controversy over the similar status of up to eight Labour donors got just a fraction of the coverage."

But none of the relevant Labour donors (such as Lord Paul) enjoy anything like the influence of Ashcroft, nor had they ever previously promised to end their non-dom tax status.

On Question Time, it's absurd for the paper to cite the fact that "Caroline Flint got SIX minutes more than Tory Justine Greening" as evidence of favouritism towards Labour. Could it not be that Greening's answers were simply more succinct? That certainly seems more likely than the idea that David Dimbleby, one of the corporation's most genuinely impartial broadacasters, is a Labour stooge.

It's hardly surprising that The One Show produced a five-minute piece on the background of the man who wants to be prime minister. Until recently, Cameron received only a fraction of the scrutiny that Gordon Brown, as head of the government, attracts.

As for that amusing video of Cameron fixing his hair, didn't it actually originate from the News Corp-owned Sky? Yes, it did.

I think I'll let the claim that the BBC is using The Basil Brush Show to pump out anti-Tory propaganda speak for itself.

The Sun's jihad against the BBC, like its decision to endorse the Conservatives, is based on little more than crude commerical considerations. The paper's editors fear that the corporation's vast online presence will destroy any hope that Murdoch can charge successfully for digital content.

When the Sun came out for him last year, Cameron said he was delighted to have the support of a "really important national newspaper". But even he must wince at its degeneration into little more than a Tory Pravda.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Theresa May's "clean Brexit" is hard Brexit with better PR

The Prime Minister's objectives point to the hardest of exits from the European Union. 

Theresa May will outline her approach to Britain’s Brexit deal in a much-hyped speech later today, with a 12-point plan for Brexit.

The headlines: her vow that Britain will not be “half in, half out” and border control will come before our membership of the single market.

And the PM will unveil a new flavour of Brexit: not hard, not soft, but “clean” aka hard but with better PR.

“Britain's clean break from EU” is the i’s splash, “My 12-point plan for Brexit” is the Telegraph’s, “We Will Get Clean Break From EU” cheers the Express, “Theresa’s New Free Britain” roars the Mail, “May: We’ll Go It Alone With CLEAN Brexit” is the Metro’s take. The Guardian goes for the somewhat more subdued “May rules out UK staying in single market” as their splash while the Sun opts for “Great Brexpectations”.

You might, at this point, be grappling with a sense of déjà vu. May’s new approach to the Brexit talks is pretty much what you’d expect from what she’s said since getting the keys to Downing Street, as I wrote back in October. Neither of her stated red lines, on border control or freeing British law from the European Court of Justice, can be met without taking Britain out of the single market aka a hard Brexit in old money.

What is new is the language on the customs union, the only area where May has actually been sparing on detail. The speech will make it clear that after Brexit, Britain will want to strike its own trade deals, which means that either an unlikely exemption will be carved out, or, more likely, that the United Kingdom will be out of the European Union, the single market and the customs union.

(As an aside, another good steer about the customs union can be found in today’s row between Boris Johnson and the other foreign ministers of the EU27. He is under fire for vetoing an EU statement in support of a two-state solution, reputedly to curry favour with Donald Trump. It would be strange if Downing Street was shredding decades of British policy on the Middle East to appease the President-Elect if we weren’t going to leave the customs union in order at the end of it.)

But what really matters isn’t what May says today but what happens around Europe over the next few months. Donald Trump’s attacks on the EU and Nato yesterday will increase the incentive on the part of the EU27 to put securing the political project front-and-centre in the Brexit talks, making a good deal for Britain significantly less likely.

Add that to the unforced errors on the part of the British government, like Amber Rudd’s wheeze to compile lists of foreign workers, and the diplomatic situation is not what you would wish to secure the best Brexit deal, to put it mildly.

Clean Brexit? Nah. It’s going to get messy. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.