The BBC’s nationalisation bias

I hear this morning the BBC have commissioned Will Hutton to explain why nationalisation can be a good idea, following hard on the heels of the BBC’s endless interviews of the Lib Dems to propose nationalisation of Northern Rock.
If this were a balanced broadcasting outfit, after such airtime for the pro case and such a foolish nationalisation, they would commission someone to make the case for privatisation, and explain why so many nationalised indiustries have lost so much money and sacked so many people down the years. They have no sense of irony – I doubt if Will Hutton will tell us how Northern Rock as a nationalised industry has immediately moved to act as Labour’s nationalised industries usually act – by announcing three years of actual and prospective losses, and a cut of one third in the workforce!

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19 Comments

  1. Man in a Shed
    Posted April 5, 2008 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    Lets privatise them !

  2. Iain
    Posted April 5, 2008 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    Whilst I would agree with you that the state can't be trusted to run a whelk stall, neither is it wise to think that global capitalism will come up with what is in our countries best interests .

    It might enrich some city traders and American owned merchant banks to churn and burn British companies into foreign hands, but I think it insane to have allowed sovereign funds to purchase our assets, I also think it wrong that the British state seems to have no strategic interests in anything, for it seems to me the British political establishment has stuck the British state up for sale in a car boot sale.

    Today I see the Conservatives have agreed to flog off British Energy to EDF, which will be the last of the electricity generators to be flogged off into foreign hands. This has surely got to be seen as a disaster, for we had the makings of half decent energy sector companies, but as soon as the Golden shares were removed the City flogged them off to French and German companies, now we've got nothing, other than subsidiaries of French and German companies, subsidiaries which will never develop or expand beyond our shores, and whose profits will head off shore. Not clever!

    I heard someone on TV state they are a capitalist, but their country came before their capitalism , in fact I think it was you being interviewed with Andrew Neil, so at what point do you say enough is enough to what is going on , and say our country comes before capitalism?

    Reply: Of course you should say "No" if state quangos/monopolies/state investment funds are trying to buy up our companies. And of course you need to set out a strong framework of law to allow and control capitalism.

  3. Tony Makara
    Posted April 5, 2008 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

    While I am not in favour of nationalisation, there is a case, as Iain argues, for a co-ordinated national economy strategy. Not along the lines of a socialist planned economy but one that works to ensure that Britain is in a position to supply itself, particularly with relation to foodstuffs. Whenever I have tried to make this argument on various forums I have been accused of wanting to impose a North Korean style autarchy which is not the case.

    I believe in free enterpise, but believe that we should supply our own market where possible. By the same token we should not be selling off vital concerns to foreigners, by so doing we become dependent on foreign investment and become a passive second-class nation.

    The way forward is to have British-owned business, with a large industrial and agricultural base, producing for the domestic market and working to corner foreign markets. However these must be privately owned and allowed to compete with the support of a government that puts British business ahead of abstract notions like globalization.

  4. Atlas shrugged
    Posted April 6, 2008 at 2:31 am | Permalink

    John I like that last post from Iain, and I also like your reply.

    What bugs me is that you have spent 11 years in opposition and said to my knowledge nothing on this subject. Although please feel free to correct me if I am wrong, with examples if possible.

    At the rate we are going the international banksters will be the owners of half the UK housing stock and many of us will be paying rent again on our own homes. I dont think that includes myself but who knows? Next to that, who owns an energy company is of relative unimportance.

    May I ask these genuine questions?

    How much confidence do you have that we can rely on a Conservative government not to allow this country and its hard working people to be thrown to the dogs of the international financial system like we where back in 77-78?

    Do you have any real idea what sort of financial position Briton UK is currently in now and going to be in the non to distant future. ( ie the potential future real value of the pound. ) Or are you and the Conservative Party just winging it and hoping for the best?

    Reply: I have set out the poor state of the UK PLC balance sheet – the government has racked up £1.4 trillion of debt and unfunded pension obligations. The next government is going to have to to spend less and borrow less to start to get it back into shape. The pound is already very weak and may weaken further as the Bank cuts interest rates. See "Freeing Britain to compete" – download on this site.

  5. Stuart Fairney
    Posted April 6, 2008 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    I am so tired of being forced to pay for this modern day Pravda, so it can spout propaganda.

    Please, not another penny.

  6. Tim Worstall
    Posted April 6, 2008 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    To Tony Makara: look, the time you put those ideas up on Conservative Home you were roundly and soundly thrashed for your economic ignorance.
    Please, please, go and read something on comparative advantage. It's been around since 1817 so it should have sunk in by now.

  7. Iain
    Posted April 6, 2008 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    I went off on a bit of a tangent there for your thread was about the BBC who deserve all kicking’s they get, so I apologise for that, but having gone off on that tangent I should point out that quangos/monopolies/state investment funds have been buying up our companies and no one has said ‘No’ in fact Gordon Brown went off to China and basically said they can buy up what ever they wanted, while the US, Germany and France have been less than enthusiastic at the prospect of any Chinese ‘investment’ in their countries.

    Then there is P&O bought out by the Dubai sovereign fund ( I believe) here the US wasn’t going to tolerate a Sovereign fund owning any of their strategic assets, their East coast ports, and forced P&O to sell them before Dubai could buy out P&O , the income from P&O is now going to Dubai not here. And there are others.

    But its not just the sovereign funds from China and the Middle East we should worry about our so called EU partners aren’t exactly playing on a level playing field with us, for BAA might be a poison chalice right now but Ferrovial I believe got some preferential finance from the Spanish state to enable them to buy BAA. Then there is the issue I raised in my earlier post regarding the utilities , where the ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude of the British state to who owns our companies is very much at odds to how France and Germany protect their industries, for you can be dammed sure no foreign concern would be allowed to buy out EON or EDF. Another instance is the financial markets, here Germany and France stalled, and stalled, and stalled, and while we opened our markets up where we were weak and they were strong, in the reverse situation the British state failed to fight its corner (I think the Foreign Office is well named ) , allowed them to stall until they had built up their markets with the result that the Liffe market which should be the leading Futures exchange in Europe, isn’t because its been bought out by France's Euronext Market, and our Stock Market very nearly headed the same way.

    And I could go on, but I note I ‘m not the lone voice on this matter for Mark Kleinman City Editor to the Sunday Telegraph also expresses concerns about the fate of British Energy, but in this couldn’t careless attitude by the British state to the future of our economy, business and industries, it has to be asked is the British state in its complacency a luxury the British people can no longer afford ?

    PS I note in the Times that Gordon Brown has hired bankers to advise on the sale of NHS property, which most probably means the sale of the large London hospitals. Now who would these hospitals be sold off to? Who has the money? The Sovereign funds. So are we going to see the NHS’s assets sold off the Middle Eastern Sovereign funds? And if the NHS assets are sold off are we going to see them ‘off shored’ as we are seeing with other PFI project cash off shored to get preferential tax treatment?

    Reply: We will have to wait and see which NHS property and to whom.

  8. Chris H
    Posted April 6, 2008 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    It should be Conservative policy to break up and privatise the BBC. I don't believe there should be any subsidies, especially now that satellite and cable allow subscription channels like HBO to thrive but any subsidies should be available to all TV companies an a competitive basis.

  9. John
    Posted April 6, 2008 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    This is just silly – what about all the times when nationalisation has NOT been mentioned in relation to any struggling industry – is that Tory bias? Do we hear the socialist alternative on every issue? No, clearly not – you lot get the share prices on the news every hour, but we never the poverty and inequality figures. And please don't suggest the BBC is pro-Labour! Do you ever listen to the radio? Believe me, it's not! Nationalisation is a pertinent issue at the minute, so it seems right to commission a program on it.

  10. Bob
    Posted April 6, 2008 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    I don't think NR will lay-off very many this side of the general election.

    Will you privatise the BBC?

    Reply: The future of the BBC is still being considered by the Official Opposition. I would certainly wish to cancel the licence fee and negotiate what grant if any was appropriate for a public broadcast channel – we would want to keep the World Service for example.

  11. niconoclast
    Posted April 6, 2008 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    Shouldn't it be Tory policy to abolish the TV licence and thus at a stroke remove the BBC funding? No one hold their breath for that.What is the Conservative Party for -do they actually beleive in anything?

  12. Tony Makara
    Posted April 6, 2008 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

    To Tim Worstall, I suspect that you know protectionism is gaining currency as a political idea, particularly in the United States. Globalization is built on cheap labour and doctored exchange rates. If you think I don't know what comparative advantage is then you must be very naive. Subscribing to the 200 year old abstract theories of Ricardo is just as outmoded as the socialists clinging to the antiquated teachings of Marx. Economics should be about pragmatism not ideology. The fact is if the west does not start producing its own wares and foodstuffs it will eventually be overrun by the emerging economies in the east. Anyone who produces competition for himself is an ass. That goes for nation states too.

  13. apl
    Posted April 7, 2008 at 12:53 am | Permalink

    # John at 2:21 pm

    "This is just silly – what about all the times when nationalisation has NOT been mentioned in relation to any struggling industry – is that Tory bias? Do we hear the socialist alternative on every issue? No, clearly not – you lot get the share prices on the news every hour, but we never the poverty and inequality figures."

    On the contrary, we never cease hearing about poverty, it is just that after ten years of New Labour, Labour politicians are too shy of drawing attention to poverty in the UK. When Tony Blair said some time in 1977 child poverty would be abolished within ten years, it didn't occur to me he was talking about child poverty in a completely different country!

    Ours is the Prime minister and this was the Chancellor that introduced tax credits for the most disadvantaged then, when they realized they had overpaid the poor because of the labyrinthine tax regulations – these are poor folk remember – demanded the money back, making the situation of the poor even worse!

    "Share price" Ha, and how many times have the BBC managed to get that simple statistic wrong?

  14. Freeborn John
    Posted April 7, 2008 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    I am in two minds regarding the BBC. In a country where some institutions (railways, etc.) seem to be perennial underperformers, the BBC remains one institution that is undoubtedly world class. On the whole I would prefer to see a focus on improving the failing, rather than taking sledgehammers to the successful.

    On the issue I care about most (the EU) I have noticed many small things about BBC coverage which taken individually could be discounted but when viewed together indicate a pro-EU pattern. Mark Mardell, BBC Europe editor, runs a blog on the BBC website on which both pro-EU and anti-EU commentators tell him he has a pro-EU bias which he does not see in himself. Rather than interpret this as a biased reporter I put it down to a BBC method which attempts to determine a neutral position by triangulating the opinions of politicians from different parties (which are all essentially pro-EU) while ignoring a public opinion that is largely EU-sceptic. Indeed I think it counter-productive to argue that the BBC is biased (even when I believe it to be) because there are plenty of arguments that can be made against the EU without getting distracted into making allegations of BBC bias.

    It seems to me that multi-channel and Internet technology are cutting the BBC’s commercial competitors down to size leaving it standing alone as a media Colossus in this country. The BBC is also increasingly successful internationally which I think is a positive thing for the British voice in the world. Its international channels are supported by advertising, but these currently leverage domestic resources funded by UK license payers. The Conservatives have announced some plans to share the license fee revenue with commercial channels, but I fear these proposals are likely to be interpreted as attempts by the party to cut an organisation down to size because of its perceived bias. Even while sharing that perception I feel that a better strategy might be to grow the BBC internationally until the license fee becomes a small part of its revenue and then begin to withdraw it leaving the BBC a global commercial player.

  15. Michael Taylor
    Posted April 7, 2008 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    Privatize the BBC, preferably by issuing a voucher with each new (and final) TV licence. Not only will you, at a stroke, be cutting each family's tax bill (yes, the licence fee is a tax), but you'll also be giving the wealth back to the people who assuredly have paid for it (ie, the licence fee payer). Two popular and right policies in a single sentence!

  16. Tony Makara
    Posted April 7, 2008 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

    I agree with Michael Taylor that the BBC should be privatized. The TV licence certainly is a tax. Anyone on a weekly easy-payment scheme is paying around a fiver a week, every week, because these schemes run on into the next licence once the original one is paid for. So they lead to continual payment, all to fund Jonothan Ross and his 18 million pound contract. Not to mention others on the gravy-train. Its not as if the BBC provides anything by way of culture, BBC4, which is meant to be an arts channel is usually full of trashy retro pop nostalgia. Where is the higher culture like Opera and Ballet? If the BBC wants to look into our past why do we never see biographies of some of our fine dramatic actors like Robert Donat or Leo Glenn? All we get is a reminder of what was in the hit parade forty years ago. No culture just pap.

  17. Atlas shrugged
    Posted April 7, 2008 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

    John

    Thank you very much for the answer.

    OK fair enough.

    Just one more question on this matter.

    Do you have an opinion as to whether the financial position of UK plc will be by 2010,

    very much better, much better, better, about the same, worse, much worse, or very much worse, relative to 78-79?

    Please note I am only asking for your own honest personal opinion on this matter. I fully understand there is no possible way of truly knowing.

    Thanking you in advance.

    Mr A Shrugged

    Reply: THE UK WILL BE A MUCH RICHER COUNTRY THAN IN 1978-9 AND MUCH MORE HEAVILY IN DEBT THANKS TO GOVERNMENT AND CONSUMER BORROWING. THE CORPORATE SECTOR WILL BE STRONGER PARTLY THANKS TO SUCCCESSFUL PRIVATISATION OF KEY INDUSTRIES.

  18. Acorn
    Posted April 9, 2008 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    Remember that great socialist plan after WWII? Labour unions and socialist government management united. After the dust had settled what did the unions do? They went back to the "us and them" mode. Only "them" were now puppet managers having to follow a ham strung political – rather than a business – agenda.

    You will remember the "two men in the cab for safety" railway dispute. Only later we found out that one was in the cab and the other was home in bed and getting paid for it.

    That is nationalisation in reality. The unions destroyed the coal industry and the car industry. The same process is still happening today in the NHS and Education and probably Heathrow T5.

  19. Iain
    Posted April 13, 2008 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    "Reply: Of course you should say “No” if state quangos/monopolies/state investment funds are trying to buy up our companies. And of course you need to set out a strong framework of law to allow and control capitalism."

    I now see the Swedish state owned power company is joining in the race for British energy. This would seem to be the purest form of another country nationalising our assets, and if the Conservatives believed privatising state companies was a good thing so that they would give a better service and better function in the private sector , they must surely be opposed to this, even if they are silent about sovereign funds buying up our assets?

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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