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.

Follow the New Statesman team on Twitter.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Shadow Scottish secretary Lesley Laird: “Another week would have won us more seats”

The Labour MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath on the shadow cabinet – and campaigning with Gordon Brown in his old constituency.

On the night of 8 June 2017, Lesley Laird, a councillor from Fife and the Labour candidate for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, received a series of texts from another activist about the count. Then he told her: “You’d better get here quick.”

It was wise advice. Not only did Laird oust the Scottish National Party incumbent, but six days later she was in the shadow cabinet, as shadow Scottish secretary. 

“It is not just about what I’d like to do,” Laird says of her newfound clout when I meet her in Portcullis House, Westminster. “We have got a team of great people down here and it is really important we make use of all the talent.

“Clearly my role will be facing David Mundell across the dispatch box but it is also to be an alternative voice for Scotland.”

At the start of the general election campaign, the chatter was whether Ian Murray, Labour’s sole surviving MP from 2015, would keep his seat. In the end, though, Labour shocked its own activists by winning seven seats in Scotland (Murray kept his seat but did not return to the shadow cabinet, which he quit in June 2016.)

A self-described optimist, Laird is calm, and speaks with a slight smile.

She was born in Greenock, a town on the west coast, in November 1958. Her father was a full-time trade union official, and her childhood was infused with political activity.

“I used to go to May Day parades,” she remembers. “I graduated to leafleting and door knocking, and helping out in the local Labour party office.”

At around the age of seven, she went on a trip to London, and was photographed outside No 10 Downing Street “in the days when you could get your picture outside the front door”.

Then life took over. Laird married and moved away. Her husband was made redundant. She found work in the personnel departments of start-ups that were springing up in Scotland during the 1980s, collectively termed “Silicon Glen”. The work was unstable, with frequent redundancies and new jobs opening, as one business went bust and another one began. 

Laird herself was made redundant three times. With her union background, she realised workers were getting a bad deal, and on one occasion led a campaign for a cash settlement. “We basically played hardball,” she says.

Today, she believes a jobs market which includes zero-hours contracts is “fundamentally flawed”. She bemoans the disappearance of the manufacturing sector: “My son is 21 and I can see how limited it is for young people.”

After semiconductors, Laird’s next industry was financial services, where she rose to become the senior manager for talent for RBS. It was then that Labour came knocking again. “I got fed up moaning about politics and I decided to do something about it,” she says.

She applied for Labour’s national talent programme, and in 2012 stood and won a seat on Fife Council. By 2014, she was deputy leader. In 2016, she made a bid to be an MSP – in a leaked email at the time she urged Labour to prioritise “rebuilding our credibility”. 

This time round, because of the local elections, Laird had already been campaigning since January – and her selection as a candidate meant an extended slog. Help was at hand, however, in the shape of Gordon Brown, who stood down as the MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath in 2015.

“If you ever go out with Gordon, the doors open and people take him into their living room,” says Laird. Despite the former prime minister’s dour stereotype, he is a figure of affection in his old constituency. “People are just in awe. They take his picture in the house.”

She believes the mood changed during the campaign: “I do genuinely believe if the election had run another week we would have had more seats."

So what worked for Labour this time? Laird believes former Labour supporters who voted SNP in 2015 have come back “because they felt the policies articulated in the manifesto resonated with Labour’s core values”. What about the Corbyn youth surge? “It comes back to the positivity of the message.”

And what about her own values? Laird’s father died just before Christmas, aged 91, but she believes he would have been proud to see her as a Labour MP. “He and I are probably very similar politically,” she says.

“My dad was also a great pragmatist, although he was definitely on the left. He was a pragmatist first and foremost.” The same could be said of his daughter, the former RBS manager now sitting in Jeremy Corbyn's shadow cabinet.

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

0800 7318496