Andy Burnham slips up on the BBC

Labour leadership candidate puts his foot in it as he condemns the BBC for being too “London-centric

Andy Burnham has long been a staunch supporter of Top of the Pops, so when he was asked at a Labour leadership campaign event in Nottingham this week whether he still planned to lobby for the programme to be returned to the BBC, his answer was a foregone conclusion, according to today's diary in the Independent.

But as well as praising the show, he went on to complain that the BBC was too "London-centric", perhaps referring to the ongoing controversy over the reluctance of certain BBC bosses to relocate to new premises in Salford. According to Burnham, the Beeb has also lost touch with "ordinary people" -- and he went on to rachet up the rhetoric, saying that "they'd never hire someone like John Peel now".

Unfortunately for Burnham, the BBC hired someone very like John Peel just a few months ago -- his son Tom Ravenscroft, in fact. Tom has a weekly show championing new music on the recently resurgent BBC 6 Music.

However, as a colleague of mine here at the NS has just pointed out to me, the son of John Peel isn't exactly an "ordinary person", as the Independent seems to imply -- in fact, he's a quasi-celebrity who surely had a rather extraordinary upbringing. But the slip-up is something of a blow to a candidate who has campaigned relentlessly on his "ordinary" credentials, going out of his way to demonstrate the "elitist" qualities of his opponents and seizing every opportunity to present himself as the choice for "ordinary people".

"Ordinary" or otherwise, looking out of touch on an issue that he's campaigned on for several years isn't going to provide the last-minute boost his campaign so sorely needs.

Read the recent NS interview with Andy Burnham here.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.