Michael Gove attacks the BBC

Education Secretary uses interview on Today programme to imply that the BBC’s coverage is biased.

They say attack is the best form of defence. It's obviously a mantra that was at the forefront of Michael Gove's mind on this morning's Today programme. In an interview with Sarah Montague, focused mainly on the speed with which the academies programme is being swept through, the Education Secretary took more than a few sideswipes at the BBC.

He started off slowly:

It's understandable also that the Today programme and the Labour Party and others should be obsessed with "processology" . . .

What is striking is that in the course of today [speaking over Sarah Montague] the BBC have not looked at the benefits that academies have brought the very poorest children.

He builds to attacking the interviewer:

MG: It's very revealing of your mindset, Sarah, that you believe that local authorities are the only way to improve schools.
SM [speaking over]: That is not my mindset.

He gets more explicit as his (repeated) errors on the Building Schools for the Future project are flagged up:

One of the striking things about the Building Schools for the Future project -- again, I don't think reported properly by the BBC -- is the way in which it, for example, when a school was being rebuilt, specified in absurd detail the size of cycle rack or the types of plants.

Once he's found a theme, he runs with it:

I thought it was important that we had some facts in the interview, and I thought it was important that we pointed out -- as the BBC has failed to do -- that in a normal construction project . . . [initial costs are lower].

And -- building to a final crescendo:

I believe in value for money. It is maybe a concept that was alien to the last government and it may not be a concept that the BBC would like to see applied to public expenditure, but I believe that it is important that the taxpayer gets protection for the money that it spent on his or her behalf.

He spent so long going on the offensive that he neglected to mount much defence of the academies policy itself (except to say that "It was in our manifesto, so there's no need for proper scrutiny now"). But it is entirely possible that that was the plan.

Gove's line fits neatly with the Conservative narrative that the BBC is biased in favour of the left (an idea that my colleague Mehdi Hasan has argued against). The conflation of "the Today programme" and "the Labour Party" is an example of this victim mentality.

It is quite a clever technique to portray anything that challenges your view as evidence of bias (even if it is just that: a question). But Gove's churlish manner will not have done him any favours. That final -- rather spiteful -- remark is just the latest hint that the BBC is next in line for some painful cuts.

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Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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