Archive for the 'Media' Category


Dramatic front pages as life for many is put on hold

Tuesday, March 17th, 2020


Free speech, one each. The myth of the oppressed rightwinger and what it tells us about politics today

Sunday, March 1st, 2020

Life has hardly been tough for Toby Young. Admitted to Oxford University with BBC at A level after his father (the leading academic, Baron Young) phoned up on his behalf, he has glided through lofty positions without visible means of propulsion like a flying squirrel, mainly using the high elevation from which he started off to maintain his position.  

In 2018, he suffered a rare setback. Despite having no obvious qualification for the role, he had been groomed to be a non-executive member of the Office for Students by Jo Johnson, the universities minister at the time, brother of his good friend Boris Johnson. Other candidates’ social media utterances had been pored over in detail, and one candidate was rejected as a result.  

Toby Young’s past did not receive the same attention: which, it turns out, was unfortunate. Maybe it was his advocating progressive eugenics, maybe it was his railing against inclusivity, maybe it was his frequent tweets about breasts he saw on television. Maybe it was the cumulative drip-drip effect of his many public utterances showing him to be a snobbish boor with no empathy for many of those for whom the Office for Students had been established.  In the end, he had to resign from the role.

This evidently still rankles. While he kicks his heels waiting for his old friend the new Prime Minister to find him a sinecure, he is rolling the pitch for his own rehabilitation by launching a campaign supposedly in defence of freedom of speech. This has been taken up enthusiastically on the snowflake right. In the same vein, the Telegraph published an article by Kate Mulvey complaining that her Remainer friends were bullying her about her pro-Brexit views. 

The whole thrust of this campaign is completely misconceived. No one is stopping Toby Young from publicly critiquing the breasts of anyone who comes within his field of vision. He can broadcast his support for eugenics to the entire world. What he cannot stop people doing is judging him for his views and acting accordingly.

Likewise, Ms Mulvey is entitled to her pro-Brexit views. She is not entitled to insist that others respect them. If she doesn’t like how her “friends” think about her, she should find new and more congenial friends. 

In truth, this is not complicated stuff.  You can say what you like. And others can say what they like about what you have just said.  In turn, you can say what you like about their perspective. Just as Ms Mulvey has done, in the columns of a national newspaper.

It is odd that some of the Brexiteers who see themselves as the most iconoclastic want both to be able to trumpet their opinions and then not be judged for them (though I’m sure they would be happy to be judged approvingly).  It betrays an intellectual cringe on their part, a subconscious recognition that people whose opinions they esteem disdain their views. They should ask themselves why they esteem the opinions of those people and if they still want their esteem, why those people disdain their views.

Free speech is not consequence-free speech.  It is important that received wisdoms are challenged, to test out their weaknesses.  That does not, however, give the challenger any form of sovereign immunity.  

If you want to argue that child pornography should be legalised, that is your right.  If you want to do so, you should not be surprised if others decide that view makes you an unsuitable foster parent.  If you want to argue that animal welfare legislation is too stringent, go right ahead. You’re unlikely to get a job as an RSPCA officer afterwards. Those who want to take up controversial stances are going to need to face the consequences of expressing those views.

This applies especially in public life.  If you are taking up a public position, you need to be able to command the confidence of a broad spectrum of the public that you are going to be representing.  If you are going to spout views that are not consensus, you are going to need to accept that if many find those views offensive and they are even tangentially relevant to the public role you will be performing, they may well prove disqualifying.

If there is a problem, it is not that free speech in Britain is under threat.  It is that there isn’t enough free listening. The public domain is becoming a series of heavily defended rival fortresses.  Each scarcely engages with most of the others, spending all their energies bombarding their nearest rivals to crowd out conflicting approaches.  Inconvenient facts and logic are simply ignored. Arguments are not fought by dashing cavalry but in testudo formation.

This has become possible in large part because of the way that we organise ourselves online.  Political tribes form on Twitter, on newspaper comments sections, on Facebook. We don’t need to hear anything that we don’t want to hear anymore.

Sometimes things that we don’t want are good for us.  Paleo-Conservatives would do well to think at length about the real problems those in poverty suffer, and come up with meaningful solutions.  Fully automated luxury communists should consider how they propose to encourage and secure the wealth creation they need to rebuild society. You’re not going to be able to raid your opponents’ best ideas if you’re not listening to them at all.

To do that properly, you need to understand not just what they have to say on specific subjects but how they think.  That requires humility, empathy and caution. At the end of the process, you may find that they have uncovered something to which you have been oblivious.  That may require you to revise your view of the world. Are you prepared to do that?  

Alastair Meeks


How GE2019 is being treated on the front pages

Wednesday, October 30th, 2019

Here are some of today’s front pages and I don’t think there is anything as memorable as the Daily Mail at the same time in the process in 2017.  There is much less Tory triumphalism.  Its front page today is perhaps the most overtly political and highlights the twin worries for the Tories from the  Lib Dems and the Brexit party which both threaten Johnson’s party in different ways.

To the Sun and the  Daily Express this is all about finalising Brexit and no doubt that will be the theme of the coverage in the time 7 weeks. Their role will be in helping to be cheerleaders getting the vote out.

In many ways the weakest front page this morning is from the Daily Mirror which has the picture of Johnson as a turkey with the headline saying it’s time to stuff the turkey. There is no mention of Corbyn. This is anti the Tories and the PM and as yet not pro the current main opposition party.

The national newspapers, of course,  are nothing like as important as they were given the fact that their circulations are a fraction of what they were even at the 2010 General Election which brought the Tories into government for the first time since 1997.

But having said that they are influential in helping set the news agenda overall tone of the campaign for the broadcasters.

In the betting overnight a CON majority peaked at 54% chance and is now back at evens.

THe only poll we’ve seen is this constituency one for Cambridge.

Mike Smithson


The revolution will not be televised

Sunday, June 16th, 2019

The sleeper topic that will corrode the government’s ratings


Allow me to tell you the most middle class joke in existence.  Q: What do gay men do in bed? A: Eat biscuits and listen to Radio 4, same as everybody else.

OK, it’s all in the delivery.  Radio 4, and the rest of the BBC, have long term concerns about the delivery of their services too: where is the money going to come from to fund them?  This is a central problem for a broadcaster that does not take paid advertisements and that is dependent on public funding.

The BBC’s funding in large part comes from the revenues for the television licence fee.  In 1999, the government made licence fees for the over 75s free. It did so by the government meeting the cost and paying that sum over to the BBC.

In an era of burgeoning deficits, George Osborne could not afford such largesse.  When the BBC’s charter came to be renewed, it secured the BBC’s agreement in 2015 that the government would phase out this subsidy by 2020, leaving it to the BBC to consider whether it would continue to offer free licence fees for the over 75s.

The BBC duly consulted and earlier this month announced that it would be discontinuing free licences for all over 75s as from June 2020.  It would continue to provide free licences for those over 75s who were in a household where one person received the pension credit benefit.  However, this excludes most of the pensioners who previously enjoyed this benefit.

The news broke, the howls of disappointment were heard and the news cycle moved on.  It is far from clear, however, that the general public is as philosophical about the matter.  A Parliamentary petition to reverse this decision has already reached more than 160,000 signatures with little publicity, putting it comfortably in the top 10 for live petitions (four of those above it relate to Brexit).  Complaints about this decision are whistling around Facebook feeds – you might well have seen posts like the one at the top of the thread.

There is a certain irony about resistance to changes to television licence fees being organised online.  For the internet is one of the essential challenges to television’s future as a medium. It is, however, now much easier than ever before to see what really motivates voters (or at least what they are talking about).

It’s not necessarily that the BBC’s decision is a bad one as a general principle.  Pensioners are on average wealthier than the average and they are much more likely to be watching television in the first place – the average age of viewers of both BBC1 and BBC2 is over 60.  It isn’t immediately clear why wealthy old people should have their entertainment subsidised by younger poorer people. You can imagine their collective choking into the ovaltine if it were proposed that Netflix subscriptions for millennials were to be paid for free from the exchequer.

This is not a cheap subsidy.  The cost of providing free licences to the over 75s accounts for roughly a fifth of the BBC’s budget.  Contrary to the message in the tweet above, the cost is roughly £750 million a year.

However, the public rightly has a special tenderness for the needs of the elderly and a sizeable proportion of the public is hostile to the idea of exposing them specifically to any aspect of austerity, whether or not those being asked to pay could in fact afford it.  And the central point of British politics should not be forgotten: old people vote.

This decision is likely to be blamed on the government and there is a real prospect that it will help lose the Conservatives votes.  No wonder some of the Conservative leadership candidates, including that fluffy dewy-eyed liberal Esther McVey, were looking to reverse it.

In the longer term, the problem of funding the BBC remains.  One of the live petitions that has the most signatories advocates scrapping the licence fee completely.  That raises the question how the BBC should in fact be funded. Fewer and fewer people are watching TV (television viewing hours are dropping steeply at present) and young people are not in the habit in the same way as earlier generations.  The BBC remains relevant to all – for example, 81% of the public get news from it in one way or another. But if the licence fee itself is becoming an anachronism, how is the BBC to continue to thrive in an increasingly multi-media world?

And what of those gay men I mentioned at the outset?  Just 1% of 16-24 year olds get news from Radio 4 (52% of them get news from Facebook).  Unless the public’s habits evolve further, those gay men are soon going to have to start doing something else in bed instead after all.


Alastair Meeks


On the eve of the first ballot some of this morning’s front pages

Wednesday, June 12th, 2019

Will the rain dampen Boris’s chances?

Mike Smithson



Coming up at 2100 GMT on Channel 4 – Brexit the movie

Monday, January 7th, 2019

PBers in the UK, no doubt, will be glued to their TVs

Join the discussion while it happens here. I’ve little doubt it will cause controversy and maybe shape perceptions of what happened. It, of course, comes at the most critical time for the Government as it desperately tries to secure the agreement of the Commons on the Brexit deal.

The writer, James Graham, made a big name for himself a few years back with his National Theatre play “This House” about the 1974-79 LAB government which extraordinarily managed to last for nearly five years. It covered a period in my career when I was working at Westminster and I thought it brilliantly caught the drama and madness of that period.

I’ll be watching and the following thread looks set to be interesting.

Mike Smithson


After 30 years the curtains close on regular Guardian/ICM polls

Tuesday, October 30th, 2018

The longest lasting poll series in British politics comes to an end.

This is something of a sad moment in British politics. The longest lasting polling series, ICM for the Guardian, has come to an end after a total of 30 years. Polls have been running from the firm in the paper at least monthly since January 1989 when ICM replaced Marplan as the paper’s voting intention provider.

The first one, as seen in the chart above, was in January 1989 when Mrs Thatcher was still heading the Conservative Party and showing a 4% lead.

Andrew Sparrow of the Guardian political team tells me:“We couldn’t justify the cost given that scepticism about the reliability of polling makes them less newsworthy than they used to be in the past.But we haven’t cut our links with ICM and will still be commissioning polling from them on a more ad hoc basis”

During the three decades of running polls for the paper ICM established a formidable reputation. It was the first to take action after the GE1992 polling disaster when none of the firms got it right. Under its then boss, Nick Sparrow, it pioneered past vote weighting to deal with what was then a systemic bias towards LAB in voting polling caused partly by what was described of the spiral of silence amongst CON voters.

For a long period Guardian/ICM polls were regarded as the “gold standard” a reputation that did not survive GE2017 when its final had the Tories with a double digit lead.

A notable correct prediction in more recent times was the ICM/Guardian poll for AV referendum which was correct to 1 within decimal point.

ICM also did remarkably well with the Brexit referendum with it last polls published online and phone surveys more than a week ahead showing Leave 4-5% ahead.

The pollster that’s still around  doing voting intention surveys the longest is MORI, now Ipsos-MORI, which began in the run-up to Mrs. Tharcher’s victory at GE1979.

Mike Smithson


The Daily Mail’s change of tone Brexit should help Mrs May sell her Brexit deal

Friday, September 14th, 2018

Welcome to this Bizarro world where in the eyes of the Daily Mail traitors are the hard Brexiteers.

The tweets atop this thread show some excerpts from various editions of the Daily Mail this week we can see the impact of Geordie Greig taking over the editor’s chair last week, it appears the Mail’s tone on Brexit has changed.

The Guardian observes

The initial editions of the Mail under Greig appear to suggest a more nuanced editorial line, where a soft Brexit is a price worth paying to keep Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, out of No 10. The shift is in line with what Daily Mail insiders told the Guardian last week.

So if one of the staunchest supporters of Brexit is softening their support that should help Theresa May sell to the country a Brexit deal that isn’t quite as Brexity as the ERG would wish. I suspect out the Sun and Telegraph only the Telegraph wouldn’t support a pragmatic Brexit. I’m not sure how the Daily Express now see themselves now they are aligned with the Mirror Group.

What a world we live in that the Daily Mail might be the best hope of a soft Brexit/BINO.