Does Thompson now regret his BBC bias comments?

BBC director general’s interview with the NS triggers a new row over impartiality.

Today must be one of those days when Mark Thompson feels as if he can please no one. The BBC director general is under fire after he was photographed entering Downing Strreet, where he received a dressing-down from Steve Hilton, David Cameron's director of strategy, over the corporation's coverage of the government's spending cuts.

The offending item was a briefing note (inadvertently revealed by Thompson) from Helen Boaden, BBC News director, revealing the subject of the meeting and that she recently had lunch with Andy Coulson, who expressed concern "that we give context to our Spending Review Season".

BBC staff and Labour MPs have rightly questioned whether such behaviour is consistent with the corporation's political independence. A senior BBC staffer said: "What the fuck's he doing going in to see Hilton anyway? Management and editorial should be completely separate."

The latest row over BBC impartiality began after Thompson declared, in an exclusive interview with the NS, that there had been a "massive bias to the left" in the past. The director general's words have handed the BBC's critics new ammunition with which to assault the corporation.

Today's Daily Mail gleefully asks: "Is the 'biased' BBC now trying to cosy up to the coalition?" The fact that Thompson was referring to the BBC of 1979 has already been lost and his comments now appear rather naive.

Meanwhile, he is accused of being too close to a government that is likely to cut the licence fee and which welcomes the continuing expansion of Rupert Murdoch's media empire.

When the BBC can please neither its friends nor its enemies, something has gone badly wrong.

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.