Yesterday the Chairman of the BBC Trust and the Director General came to the Commons to talk about their service. I went along to ask them why BBC political journalism confines itself to the agenda of the spin doctors, and to repeating the half truths and misleading comments encapsulated in the soundbites.
The BBC took this as a request for a few more academic type programmes to go wider than the news. It was instead a complaint that the BBC is too influenced by spin, to the exclusion of the audience understanding what is really going on.
Letâ€™s take three examples. Readers of this site will know I have been a long standing critic of the government soundbite â€œWe made the Bank of England independent and that guarantees economic stabilityâ€. The first half of this was never true, as any well informed Whitehall watcher should know. They did not make the Bank independent â€“ they took away crucial responsibilities from it and interfered at crucial moments with the MPC. The second part is now unravelling â€“ can you claim it is stable to have a run on a bank, a halving of mortgage activity, a halving of house sales and a collapse in property and housebuilding?
The second is the current soundbite â€œWe must not talk ourselves into recessionâ€. The sharp slowdown we are experiencing is not the result of idle talk, but the result of a shortage of money. It is the direct consequence of a boom-bust credit and money policy pursued by the authorities, who created easy credit in the period 2004-6 and tight credit 2007-8 through their handling of banking regulation, money markets and interest rates. Ministers will not be able to talk their way out of this one. They need to take action in markets to sort it out.
The third is the soundbite â€œThe UK is well placed to ride out this international stormâ€. The BBC dutifully puts into bulletins that the Credit Crunch was made in the USA, and this is an international problem. They should instead ask some of the following questions:
1. Wasnâ€™t Northern Rock a British collapse, based on the UK mortgage market?
2. Didnâ€™t nationalisation of the Rock remove the most aggressive large mortgage lender from the market, intensifying the mortgage squeeze?
3. Isnâ€™t the boom-bust in UK property prices and housebuilding a UK phenomenon brought about by British monetary policy?
4. Isnâ€™t the UK government in a bad position, having borrowed and spent too much in the good years and now unable to reflate the economy with tax cuts?
5. Didnâ€™t the UK government use off balance sheet vehicles and creative credit devices itself on a large scale, fuelling the credit boom of recent years?
6. Hasnâ€™t UK competitiveness declined significantly in recent years, making UK adjustment more painful?
7. Why did the UK fail to add more to non fossil fuel electricity capacity during the good times, to ease shortages now?
8. Why does the UK impose some of the highest taxes on oil products, and increase them during a period of sharp upward movements in oil prices, exacerbating the squeeze?
9. Why did the government increase North Sea oil taxes, putting companies off from more exploration and enhanced recovery?
If they asked some of these, they might see that repeating uncritically the notion that this is entirely a US or international problem is just not the case. The UK dimension to this crisis reveals serious flaws in the conduct of policy in recent years.