The BBC Today programme stumbles again over devolution

This morning brought a classic case of BBC failure to interview well, thanks to the absence of a BBC England. The Today programme had as its main political guest Liz Truss, acting in her capacity as England’s rural affairs and rural economy Minister. After wasting the first couple of questions on a definition of productivity as the interviewer clearly thought his audience not up to that (why not just briefly describe it if worried), he asked her a couple of questions on broadband in Aberdeen. I guess he thought that would provide “regional” balance. The trouble is Aberdeen is neither rural nor English so it was nothing to do with Liz Truss who understandably seemed at a bit of a loss to know where to begin to explain the constitution to the Today programme.

If the Today programme wishes to explore their allegation of poor broadband installation in Aberdeen then they could invite on a Scottish Minister responsible for Scottish development and the urban economy, or could explore with the Culture and media Secretary whether devolution is getting in the way of spreading broadband in parts of Scotland, where responsibilities are different. Instead, once again England was short changed by not getting a proper interview of the English Minister on England’s rural economy.

Once even more powers are devolved to Scotland the Today programme and other BBC UK programmes need to make a decision. Either they have to set up an English programme where all matters can be discussed that relate to England as they have for Scotland with BBC Scotland, or they have to allocate slots in UK programmes to English only issues and be prepared to explore properly as if there were a BBC England. Today’s interview was just one of many which fails to give England the scrutiny and treatment it deserves, and misunderstands how we are governed in a devolved country.

Perhaps the Today programme should begin with an item exploring Englishness and England’s issues, to explain to its producers how devolution works.

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38 Comments

  1. alan jutson
    Posted December 27, 2014 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    The BBC unfortunately believes in its own publicity and ego, thus change will be very slow, if it ever happens at all.

    Guess many of us despair at the lack of good interviewers.
    Problem is the majority in the country just take for granted what they say is correct.

  2. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted December 27, 2014 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    What do you expect from James Naughtie? The pity is that Liz Truss didn’t have the wit to put him right.

    • JoolsB
      Posted December 27, 2014 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

      Not so much the wit as the inclination. After all, it’s ingrained in all UK politicians’ brains to ‘don’t say the word England whatever you do’. Does anyone really think Liz Truss wanted to put the interviewer right by reminding him that most of any UK Government’s remit nowadays only applies to England? Of course not, for to do that would remind the English public that there is such a thing as Englishness which is quite distinct from Britishness, and for our self serving politicians, that can never happen.

  3. Bert Young
    Posted December 27, 2014 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    The BBC is a left-wing mess . The bias is witnessed throughout all its programmes including CBBC . Individuals and services have , in the past , been brought in to invoke change ; it has never happened . The organisational set-up is self protecting and has always overcome outside advice . Over a period of 5 plus years one of its Chairman lunched with me and exposed the difficulties he faced ; in the end he said he admitted he could not penetrate the defences .

    • oldtimer
      Posted December 27, 2014 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

      The BBC is, in effect, a self perpetuating oligarchy. Change is next to impossible simply by appointing a new Chairman. The established bureaucracy is too numerous and too deeply embedded and the financial model too secure and comfortable for that. One change that is needed is a reversion to a subscription model – they way it was originally set up before Lord Reith persuaded the government to adopt the licence fee model. That would serve to concentrate minds and lead to a winnowing of the unproductive, politically motivated bureaucracy.

      • Lifelogic
        Posted December 28, 2014 at 8:36 am | Permalink

        Change is next to impossible simply by appointing a new Chairman.

        Well is you appoint people like Lord Patten as Cameron did you clearly just get yet more of the same.

        Green crap, pro EU, left wing, big government, tax borrow and waste and generally anti real science and engineering. Lord Hall is little better yet another Oxford PPE person.

        Perhaps the most blatant bias is their anti UKIP position (UKIP are racists being the underlying message) this particularly on their Radio 4 “comedy” which is incessant and not even remotely funny.

        Why do almost all actors, pop musicians, BBC presenters and TV celebs all have half baked left wing, green crap, pro EU views on nearly every issue?

        • Wireworm
          Posted December 28, 2014 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

          I thought it was telling that Helena Bonham-Carter recently described her ‘friend’ David Cameron as ‘not at all right-wing’. To appear so would be social death for him and, by association, his charming wife. Unfortunately the Tory party needs a leader who is prepared to be considered right-wing when it’s called for.

          • Lifelogic
            Posted December 28, 2014 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

            Indeed and prepared to explain and make the case as to why less government and lower taxes are a good thing for everyone.

            299+ tax increases so far from this ratting, low tax at heart, “Tory” leader.

    • APL
      Posted December 27, 2014 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

      Bert Young: “in the end he said he admitted he could not penetrate the defences .”

      The solution is simple. Make the BBC licence fee voluntary.

      The fact is though, it’s the Tory party that has moved, under the influence of the BBC, leftward. To the extent, that Cameron, Clarke et al, wouldn’t recognise bias if it bit them.

      • Lifelogic
        Posted December 28, 2014 at 9:05 am | Permalink

        Indeed Cameron and Clarke are “BBC think” (and so wrong on every issue) to their very cores. So much of academia in the UK is also polluted by this right on BBC think, second rate, arts graduate, fake equality & magic money tree drivel.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted December 27, 2014 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

      Indeed a haven a second rate, slightly dim & lefty art graduates. Who all believe in the magic money tree, ever more government, ever more EU, the enforced equality of outcome (for all but BBC employees), endless payment to the feckless, a vehement hatred of UKIP and a belief the global warming exaggeration religion.

      Nearly all hugely overpaid too perhaps ten times what an MP gets and MPs are fairly well paid already.

      They are just like the Libdums wrong on every important issue.

  4. agricola
    Posted December 27, 2014 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    It is long overdue that the BBC received a reality check, but who in our present government is capable of doing it or even sees the need. The problem being that they all derive from the same left leaning mind set. England deserves a better service from them than their oral Guardian led drivel. Just to remind your readers, England is 85% of the UK population.

    The only way to bring them under control is through the pocket. Much of what the BBC does is very good and is perhaps worthy of public funding via a tax /License Fee.. Why not explore the possibility of hiving off the news and current affaires element of the business and making it a stand alone service dependant on either subscription or commercial advertising. Pushing it into the real World would give it the very necessary check it needs.

  5. Margaret Brandreth-J
    Posted December 27, 2014 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    You certainly have got the bit between your teeth. Others probably do not even recognise the disparity. The English are so used to putting others before themselves.

  6. lojolondon
    Posted December 27, 2014 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    John, I agree wholeheartedly with you – perhaps Liz Truss should have defended herself by saying as much?
    I feel that every Conservative interview on the BBC is a hostile interview – hence viewers do not get value from most – at the same time, most Conservatives try to placate and build a relationship with the interviewer, thus looking apologetic and less confident / capable.
    Contrast that to a BBC – Labour interview : “Mr Miliband, why did you not mention the deficit in your speech?” “Well, I had no notes so I forgot.” “OK”.

  7. Tad Davison
    Posted December 27, 2014 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    I still watch the BBC, but nowhere near as much as I did, and for a wholly different reason. For me, the BBC long ago ceased to give value for money where current and political affairs are concerned, and I look or listen in to that part of the broadcaster’s remit to see how badly they are performing or what distortions they have come up with this time. They come across as serious and authoritative, but the number and depth of the topics falls well short of other broadcasters.

    I am not in the least surprised the Today programme doesn’t cut it, but I am surprised anyone still affords the BBC any credibility at all. To get to the real heart of the matter in an unbiased way, I go elsewhere and to many different sources. The BIG problem however, is that some people still DO rely solely on the BBC’s output, which unfortunately and most worryingly seems to include some members of the British parliament.

    An organisation that gets its money regardless, and doesn’t have to compete on an equal footing, becomes flabby and arrogant. Yet with its enviable position, the BBC should be the one broadcaster to provide totally unbiased news and current affairs. It has an in-built advantage over other news media that is controlled by big corporate interests with a neo-con agenda, so we must ask why the BBC performs so badly.

    I would also like to know how and why the BBC gets away with being so aloof and unaccountable to the people. My local MP, Julian Huppert, is still waiting for the BBC to answer the allegation they took an obviously stage-managed chemical attack purportedly committed by the Syrian government, and put it out as genuine. (etc ed)
    Perhaps more people should be made aware of the way the BBC is run if we are ever to get what we pay for, a broadcaster with the highest impartial journalistic integrity, rather than one with some lop-sided neo-liberal interventionist agenda. What we presently have is not just bad, it is positively dangerous.

    Tad Davison

    Cambridge

  8. The PrangWizard
    Posted December 27, 2014 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    I would say the issue is not that the BBC is confused, although there may well be some in it who are struggling with what to do, and they may be people of goodwill, and they should be supported. It is, as an organisation, and among many the leadership deeply opposed to the concept of English national unity and historic cultural identity. It is not impartial or benign and misinformed, as a body.

    We can see from recent BBC retirees that there is no way that the BBC can be changed from within alone, it must be pressured for change. We can see how it responds to requests – it does its utmost to stall any and every one. It is losing friends and supporters all around, but there is no response, it becomes ever more entrenched and determined to push ahead with its agenda, who is behind this? It is a bureaucracy with much power, over individuals and beyond its borders.

    We should not stop short of demanding a BBC England and total reform, indicating that we will settle for less. It does not do justice to the problem, giving no guarantee that it will advance the arrival of the main objective, which may of course be the hope.

  9. Sue Doughty
    Posted December 27, 2014 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    Broadband and granite are not compatible. I slept through most of the programme but he trouble with Aberdeen is that there is only one fish and chip shop. But as you point out, it matters nought to me here in Berkshire

    • Lifelogic
      Posted December 27, 2014 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

      It is wireless WIFI and granite that can be a problem with transmission range. Broadband by cable or through mains senders is fine.

  10. Lifelogic
    Posted December 27, 2014 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    Well Liz Truss seemed to be rather poor at explaining productivity too, when she was asked. She also seemed to confuse productivity levels with changes in productivity levels. But then she is yet another Oxford Politics, Philosophy and Economics person – so one would perhaps not expect her to have much of a grasp of economics or basic calculus. But I agree the BBC was its usual hopeless self. People like Andrew Marr get paid over half a million pounds plus large pension I assume & yet rarely even have so much as a passable grip on the topics being discussed. Andrew Neil seems to be the only sensible interviewer the BBC have.

    The biggest problems with rural areas is excessive taxation of fuel and cars by governments. (Lots more speeding fines too I read today in yet another tax). That open door immigration keeping wages down and the one size fits all minimum wage laws.

    She sounded rather out of her depth but then most of Cameron’s token woman usually do.
    I have heard her do far worse interviews, she is hopeless on the “environment” has no real understanding of science at all.

    Yet Cameron (it seems) can afford to dispense with Owen Patterson who does have at least some grasp on reality, science and engineering.

  11. A.Sedgwick
    Posted December 27, 2014 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    The BBC is an anachronism, pure and simple. This with a Government that cannot recognise that the Charter needs to be replaced with voluntary subscription for services that are required not a ludicrously out dated concept of paying a licence fee to own a TV and risking a criminal record for non payment. What ever happened to decriminalising non payment?

    A savvy political leader would manifesto bringing the BBC into this century.

  12. Lifelogic
    Posted December 27, 2014 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    Still I suppose Liz Truss is better choice than was Chris Patten, M Howard, M Heseltine and the dreadful John (now Lord) Gummer.

    It is not very hard to see why we get such damaging and totally misguided environmental and energy laws passed.

  13. Francis Lankester Ph
    Posted December 27, 2014 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    It’s in the name-the BRITISH Broadcasting Corporation, and the last time I looked, Aberdeen is in Britain. If we are to prosper as a British nation we should be concerned about all our fellow British citizens getting a high standard of broadband. Although of course English separatists are not concerned by this.

    Reply That is not the issue. The issue is who is responsible for broadband in Scotland.

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted December 27, 2014 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

      But I find on the list of reserved matters in Schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998:

      http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1998/46/schedule/5

      “C10. Telecommunications and wireless telegraphy.

      Section C10.

      Telecommunications and wireless telegraphy.
      Internet services.
      Electronic encryption.
      The subject-matter of Part II of the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1949 (electromagnetic disturbance).

      Exception

      The subject-matter of Part III of the Police Act 1997 (authorisation to interfere with property etc.).”

      Reply Yes, but economic development which can include accelerating and subsidising broadband is a Scottish Parliament matter, which is why if you wish to get to the bottom of it you need to interview the UK Culture Sec and the Scottish economic development people. The English rural economy Minister is clearly not the right person for Aberdeen.

    • libertarian
      Posted December 27, 2014 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

      Francis Lankester

      Try reading the article, then make a go of understanding a very simple message. You’re just making yourself look stupid. Do you work for the BBC?

    • Mark B
      Posted December 27, 2014 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

      The world is changing, Francis. Do try to keep up.

      If you read the article, you will have noticed that I kind host pointed out that this is a power devolved to the Scottish Parliament. You know ? The one that the Scottish Separatists run ?

      There are very few English Separatists here on this Diary. What most people such as myself argue for, is a fair, just, and equal settlement for England and the English. That is not unreasonable, or in fact, controversial.

  14. Old Albion
    Posted December 27, 2014 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    There may be some individuals within the BBC who have failed to understand devolution and it’s effects. But make no mistake the BBC as a whole, has an anti-English agenda. The BBC willingly created BBC Wales, BBC Scotland and BBC N.Ireland. But just like politicians, it fears that should it recognise England too. It in effect stops being the BBC. Too bad! We need a BBC England now, just as we need an English Parliament now.

  15. Denis Cooper
    Posted December 27, 2014 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure who is most confused, JR – the BBC, Liz Truss, DEFRA, or me, or you.

    Checking the website for Today, they describe Liz Truss as the “Environment Secretary”, and on her own website she says that she is the “Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs”, and wikipedia says that the person holding that position is “in charge of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs”.

    And when I check the DEFRA website:

    https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-environment-food-rural-affairs

    I find that although as you say today’s news story is only about England:

    “Rural productivity driven by hi-tech boost and better roads – More rural opportunities could increase rural employment in England by 6%.”

    yesterday’s news story was about exports of salmon:

    “Scottish salmon – a worldwide success story”.

    Which “Environment Secretary” Truss describes as “UK produce”, notwithstanding that “almost all UK salmon exports come from Scotland”, but with a bid for “London Cure Smoked Scottish Salmon” to get EU protected status as a “London food” …

    Maybe what you have done here is demonstrate how totally confusing it would be to try to have a notional devolved government for England buried within the structure of a UK federal government, rather than just do the simple, obvious and normal thing and have it as a recognisably separate body like the devolved government for Scotland?

  16. Mark B
    Posted December 27, 2014 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    The BBC’s Charter comes up for renewal in 2016, and will begin on 1st January 2017. I think we have discussed what we would like to see in a future BBC, and I am all for it as we move into the final stages of this Government.

    Because each Charter is negotiated every 10 years, and technology is advancing with regards to media, I think it is important to know where all the Parties, including minor ones, stand with regards the BBC and its funding.

    It has become clear to me, that the BBC no longer represents value for money and, a major change to the way it is both funded, monitored and administrated is long overdue.

  17. Richard1
    Posted December 27, 2014 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

    The concept of Justice for England terrifies the left, as it would mean that even in the unfortunate event of another Labour government, its ability to inflict the kind of big tax spend and borrow policies on England (as all previous Labour govts have done) would be limited. We must therefore expect the broad left caucus, which clearly includes the BBC, to fight it tooth and nail. Conservative spokespersons, such as Ms Truss, need to be much more on the ball to argue this with the BBC and other voices of the left.

  18. Tad Davison
    Posted December 27, 2014 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

    How about this one then!

    A BBC presenter has just confirmed to me he’s been leant on by the powers that be to go easier on the EU and not to allow so many negative comments.

    These lop-sided people want sorting, and fast! We have known all along the BBC is a mouthpiece for the EU. That appears to confirm it!

    How might we finally get the BBC investigated?

    Tad Davison

    Cambridge

    • Lifelogic
      Posted December 28, 2014 at 9:11 am | Permalink

      It certainly is a propaganda outfit for the EU and clearly given the appointments of Lord Patten and Lord Hall Cameron wanted this propaganda to continue.

  19. Martin
    Posted December 27, 2014 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

    I presume the BBC were trying to ask out the High Speed Roll Out to rural areas in Scotland? There is a programme going on with contributions from Scottish Government, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, EU & local authorities as well as BT.

    Nothing to do with DEFRA !

    The scheme has been moving forwards with Fibre being laid to the main islands amongst other things. Areas like Aberdeen are not covered as they come under the existing commercial scheme!

    Why on earth the BBC in London has to raise the matter with a minister who has nothing to do with the scheme is anybody’s guess.

    I understand there are various schemes for rural England – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-hereford-worcester-26919060 (not sure what is happening in Wales or Northern Ireland).

  20. formula57
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    Now that I deny the BBC the oxygen of funding from me, I am less bothered by its failures but their effect is no less corrosive and you do everyone a service in pointing out this recent error. Yet if the government wishes (as it should) to challenge the BBC’s deficiencies, it needs to send people for interview well-briefed and well able and willing to make the points that need to be made in that regard.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted December 28, 2014 at 9:12 am | Permalink

      Indeed Truss performed badly too.

  21. Peter Stroud
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    Reading this article reminded me why I ceased to listen regularly to theToday programme. However, ministers, including the PM often fail to put the interviewers in their places. We know that the BBC will never admit being wrong: but showing up errors, and political bias on such a live broadcast, can only help voters realise how some of their licence fee is being used.

    • sm
      Posted December 31, 2014 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

      Currently we have been given a wholly unintended effective vote and referendum on this matter. Do not record or watch live broadcasts and decline the BBC licence fee tax.

  22. Iain Moore
    Posted December 29, 2014 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    Of course the BBC can get away with this confusion when the likes of Liz Truss doesn’t put them in their place. Her response should have been ‘Aberdeen’s broadband has nothing to do with me, it is a devolved matter’ , forcing the BBC to hold the Scottish Government to account for it, that she didn’t makes you wonder if she actually knows the scope of her Ministerial responsibilities.

    So the fault is not just the BBC’s but also the British political classes, who seem to want to pretend that they still in control of everything, and then stupidly wonder why the Nats aren’t held to account for their responsibilities. Its the same with the EU, where we get Minister after Minister telling us how wonderful a policy is, when it isn’t, and then you later find out it wasn’t their policy at all but a diktat coming from Brussels.

    It seems the British political class want to delude themselves to the amount of sovereignty that has gone to Brussels, and find it demeaning to admit their responsibilities are limited to England.

  23. Colin Hart
    Posted December 29, 2014 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    Liz Truss would be at a loss to explain anything (etc ed). Which is probably why the BBC asked her on – to show her up and give us all a laugh.

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    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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