Does the BBC really have a left-wing bias?

If most of the corporation’s staff don’t vote Tory, that’s only a reflection of the country at large

In an interview with today's Observer, the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, accuses the BBC of having a left-wing bias. "I think," he says, "if you were to discover how people vote at the BBC there are probably more who vote Labour or Liberal Democrat than vote for the Conservatives."

I don't presume to know how BBC staff vote. However, if a majority of them did vote for either Labour or Lib Dem at the last general election, this would not be evidence of "bias": it would be a fairly accurate reflection of how the country at large voted. A quick reminder, these were the votes cast for the three main parties in May 2010:

Conservatives – 10, 692,131 (36.1 per cent)

Labour – 8,595,341 (29 per cent)

Lib Dems – 6,822,741 (23 per cent)

(Which is always a good set of statistics to bear in mind any time you hear someone going on about the Tories being the "natural party of government", or having a mandate for anything much, really.)

Hunt expanded on his comments, saying: "I think the BBC does recognise that on certain very totemic issues of the last decade it was out of step with where the public are, whether it was on Europe, on immigration or our approach to Northern Ireland."

Here I will defer to my colleague Mehdi Hasan, who cogently argued last year against the popular misconception of BBC bias:

The BBC's bias is thus an Establishment bias, a bias towards power and privilege, tradition and orthodoxy. The accusation that the BBC is left-wing and liberal is a calculated and cynical move by the right to cow the corporation into submission. "The right in America has waged a long and successful battle to brand the news as liberal, and the same is happening here [in relation to the BBC] with the aid of a predominantly right-wing press," says Barnett. "I fear they may have similar success in redefining the centre ground of politics to suit their own political agenda." With a Tory government on the verge of power, it is time for liberals and the left to fight back and force the BBC to acknowledge its real bias.

Daniel Trilling is the Editor of New Humanist magazine. He was formerly an Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

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Beware Tory Brexiteers trying to wreck EU negotiations

It is not in the interests of either moderate Tories or the opposition to let them. 

Our government has promised the United Kingdom the exact same benefits when it leaves the European Union that we have enjoyed while in. 

In the words of David Davis, Brexit secretary, the government’s plan is “a comprehensive free-trade agreement and a comprehensive customs agreement that will deliver the exact same benefits as we have".

The negotiations that lie ahead are unprecedented and will be difficult and complex. It’s unlikely a deal will be reached in two years that can guarantee what Davis has promised - and what Labour holds the government to account on, as outlined this week by my colleague Sir Keir Stamer. But reaching a deal we must. It would be economic and political idiocy not to.

We know that those on the EU’s side of negotiations are not willing to negotiate on trade or customs without first making a deal on the Irish border, treatment of EU nationals in the UK and UK nationals in the EU, and money owed. If these are not agreed to, we will have no deal at all.

In precise terms, a leaked letter from the European Parliament said the UK should pay all its liabilities “arising from outstanding commitments as well as make provision for off-balance sheet items, contingent liabilities and other financial costs that arise directly as a result of its withdrawal”.

It added that without a withdrawal agreement on citizens’ rights, the financial settlement and the border in Ireland, the UK “would exit automatically the union on 30 March 2019 and this in a disorderly manner”.

Brussels estimates the bill to be around €60bn. Aside from the fact we will need to pay (or be open to negotiating some of the bill) as a prerequisite for future negotiations, it is the right approach to take. These are liabilities stemming from obligations that our country has made. It would not be right to renege on them simply because we do not want to pay. And, if we want a co-operative relationship in the future, we must be reasonable and willing to negotiate now.

Yet there is a small cohort of Conservative MPs that are saying just that.

Tory MP Bernard Jenkin's response on the potential of failing to reach a trade deal? “If they want us to pay too much for that, we say no, that’s okay, we’ll pay the tariffs." He laster added that we “won’t have to pay a penny if we don’t want to”. Earlier this month, when asked about the prospect of paying our bills, Foreign secretary Boris Johnson responded: “I think we have illustrious precedent in this matter: I think you can recall the 1984 Fontainebleau summit in which Mrs Thatcher said she wanted her money back and I think that is exactly what we will get.”

This is not a party political matter. Former Tory frontbencher Nicky Morgan  has said there are some members of her party who seem to want to pick a fight with the EU and not strike a very positive tone.

This negative tone is the least of our worries. There are legitimate fears in many corners of Westminster that a small group of Conservative MPs are trying to highjack the EU negotiations, get a number of newspapers on side, and refuse to pay a penny with the specified goal of crashing of the negotiations and bouncing Britain onto World Trade Organisation rules.

We know this would be devastating for our economy, for jobs, and for investment. Failing to reach a deal would be bad for everyone, but particularly for the UK.

True enough, Davis has acknowledged that the UK should pay something, but that the amount is open to negotiation.

The Prime Minister must stand up strongly to a small group of her own party’s backbenchers, who are actively trying to disrupt her efforts to negotiate with the EU.

Catherine West is the Labour MP for Hornsey and Wood Green.