The BBC and the leadership

Early this morning local BBC phoned and asked me to comment on their live show about the current mess at the top of the government. I was surprised to be asked, but agreed to do so.

As soon as I heard their introduction I realised why I had been asked. They asserted that the resignation of Mr Purnell was just like my challenge to John Major, and they wished to remind the public of that distant event!

So for all those BBC programmes wanting to do the same, the answer is “No”.

My challenge to John Major was fundamentally different.

1. I applied for a vacancy, as the PM had resigned as party leader.
2. He had told us to “put up or shut up”. As the main advocate of a very different policy approach in the cabinet I felt I had no choice but to “put up”. I had continued a long disagreement about policy in private whilst being loyal to the PM.
3. The challenge was about big issues. I wanted to say “No” to the Euro and to any further power to the EU. I wanted tax cuts and had identified spending reductions that could be made without damaging front line services.

The Ministers now resigning have put forward no different policy approach, and are not responding to a challenge from Mr Brown. There is no vacancy. If only they would put forward a policy alternative, as we need it urgently to tackle the government borrowing crisis. Instead, all they talk about is the electoral prospect of the Labour party and their own careers.


  1. kardinal birkutzki
    June 5, 2009

    Well said, John. That is precisely what I have been thinking for a long, long time. People may say whatever they want about the Conservative Party -and I am no tribal supporter of theirs- but one thing is clear: for the Tories the country comes first and the Party second.

    Clearly it is a value judgement as to what is indeed good for the country; however, Kenneth Clarke’s actions prior to the 1997 election in resisting calls for tax cuts because in his judgement it would have been politically motivated and unafforable for the country at that juncture stands in clear contrast to the current parcel of rogues. Witness the idiotic decision to raise taxes in the present climate when not even a majority of the Labour Party believes it is in the country’s interest.

    Furthermore, whilst Purnell is thinking of the Labour Party’s future, Brown doesn’t even care about the Party but thinks only of himself.

    1. Denis Cooper
      June 5, 2009

      I can’t agree that “for the Tories the country comes first and the Party second”.

      One example: I’ve seen Tories seriously suggesting that an independent Scotland would be a good thing purely on the grounds that the Scots won’t ever again vote for their party, and without MPs elected in Scotland they, the Tories, could always have a majority in the House of Commons and could rule forever.

      1. Mark M
        June 5, 2009

        But that’s only ‘some’ Tories, not ‘the’ Tories. An independent Scotland is not the official party position, and so just because you might have met some who think it’s a good idea doesn’t mean it is the direction the party would go in.

        Another example of that kind of argument was people’s insistence that David Cameron should caution Dan Hannan for his views on the NHS, even though Hannan said they were his personal views and not the views of the party. Are our politicians not allowed to have some individual opinion any more?

      2. adam
        June 5, 2009

        sounds good.
        think of the majority on EU issues

        1. Denis Cooper
          June 5, 2009

          A misconception, I suspect: the only recent comparative evidence I’ve seen about attitudes towards the EU, specifically about the Lisbon Treaty, showed no significant difference between the Scots and the English. The obvious difference is that in 2005 the Scots voted in far more Labour MPs and only one Tory MP, but the reasons for that go back a long way and aren’t necessarily connected with their present attitudes towards the EU. Maybe, hopefully, with the collapse of Labour the Tories will make some respectable progress in Scotland at the next election, and that will start to lay to rest the idea that the Scots are exceptionally pro-EU. They certainly weren’t exceptionally pro-EEC, before we joined and at the time of the 1975 referendum – the reverse, in fact, so much so that as I understand the European Movement decided that Scotland needed a particularly intensive propaganda campaign.

      3. jean baker
        June 5, 2009

        It seems from your example you’re clearly misled. Tories ‘govern’, serve those who pay their wages and are willingly answerable to the electorate.

        Conversely, examples of Nulabor’s “rule”via media spin and manipulation of those who pay their wages are a daily occurrence.
        John Redwood’s invitation from the BBC is a prime example.

  2. alan jutson
    June 5, 2009

    Very well said.

    Will be interesting to see if they broadcast your answers John.

    June 5, 2009

    “Instead, all they talk about is the electoral prospect of the Labour party and their own careers.”

    This stems from Brown himself and typifies his whole approach to governance – forever coming back to Tory history and current policy and never putting the interests of the country before that of his party.

    The troops are being drafted to the front line overnight but, as we write, Alan Johson’s statement sounds somewhat equivocal.

    Perhaps the real key is the sequence of results as they come in over the weekend.

    Interesting times!

  4. Denis Cooper
    June 5, 2009

    Yes, I’ve noticed that the emphasis is on what might be good for the Labour party, rather than on what might be good for the country.

    But that’s the party system as it has developed, and as we can’t (or at least we shouldn’t) ban political parties we have to look for ways to limit their power to subvert our democracy.

    Then we have to somehow persuade those controlling the main parties to allow such measures to be put in place, which will not be easy.

    In fact it will be difficult even to prevent them from agreeing measures which increase their degree of control.

    1. Lola
      June 5, 2009

      It’s the same thinking that we suffered when Wilson was in power. It runs like this.

      “The Labour Party is the right party to lead the country because it is right. As I am the leader of the Labour Party which is right because I am the best man for it, I am therefore right for the country. So whatever I do keep the Labour in being and in power is right for the country.”

      One of the chief reasons that they are all dithering in getting Brown out is that it confounds all that. It then becomes:-

      “Brown has to go because he is no good. He has always been no good. As he has always been no good his Chancellorship was no good. Because his Chancellorship was no good the whole New Labour project, which rested on the deceitful alchemy of Brown’s manipulation of the financial reality, was no good. New Labour is therefore no good”

      New Labour. You are weakest party. Goodbye.

      Getting Brown out not only leads to an election, nothing else being acceptable to the public, it also leads to the destruction of the whole logic behind the New Labour project and the exposure of its central deceits.

      The political calculus is merciless, thank God, and New Labour will suffer whatever they do. I am sort of convinced that Cameron is not being as thoroughly nasty with Brown as he could be. I think he thinks that the longer Brown stays the bigger will be the wipeout. Or he wants Brown to stay whilst the expenses scandal is put to bed and the Tory’s vote share recovers. This is a dangerous game. What Brown is waiting for is an ‘event’. And he might just get one. If he can manipulate the ‘event’ (that if it is economic will be his fault or if a recovery, not his doing) to his advantage he’ll get a bounce and then call an election.

      My betting is still on an early election. I have thought July for some time. Is there any technical reason why one couldn’t happen in July if say Brown was ousted this month?

      1. Lola
        June 5, 2009

        Sorry, missed out a bit.

        If an election isn’t called for soon, say July, it won’t happen until next year. Unless there is an ‘event’.

    2. jean baker
      June 5, 2009

      The results of the way in which Nulabor has developed lead many intelligent people to believe that their ‘hidden agenda’ is a march (by cunning and guile) to ‘socialist totalitarianism’; controlling via government selected private agencies/bodies – compliant ‘box tickers’.

      1. Freddy
        June 5, 2009

        What is the hidden bit ?

  5. Frustrated taxpayer
    June 5, 2009

    I watched part of Newsnight last night where they introduced their ‘countdown to the election’ coverage. The bias shown in at least two of the panels was an absolute disgrace. The “Dragon’s Den” style panel looking at public expenditure appeares to have three out of the four members associated with the Labour Party, and the one of the discussion panels appeared to have two advocates for the Labour Party (a blogger and a former policy adviser) plus a Lib Dem . The fourth member was a historian!
    I thought the BBC were required to provide balanced coverage – their preview last night seemed more like a Labour Party broadcast.

    1. m wood
      June 5, 2009

      I agree. when is someone going to do something about the BBC’s obvious anti-Conservative spinning. They regularly give the LibDems the first comment slot to answer a Government statement and they have spent far more time on ‘Moats and Duckhouses” not fiddled mortgages and bathplugs.
      Why has so little attention been given to the Balls/Cooper household expenses?

    2. Liz
      June 5, 2009

      Don’t watch the BBC for balanced political coverage – they do not know what the word “impartial” means. They are even promoting Ken Livingstone again (on again last night) – but never ever do they refer to him as being on the extreme left of the Labour Party in the same way that they label even moderate Conservatives as “extreme right wing” Nick Robinson, the political editor, does not seem to like David Cameron and does not care who knows it. The first thing a Tory Govrnment should do is to reallocate a portion of the licence fee to other broadcasters required to put on public service programmes and cut the whole bloated, arrogant Corporation down to size.

  6. David Belchamber
    June 5, 2009

    Yes, you are quite right to make the distinction you do.

    Your third point is so relevant for today and I hope that the incoming conservative government will make it their policy to carry out:

    “The challenge was about big issues. I wanted to say “No” to the Euro and to any further power to the EU. I wanted tax cuts and had identified spending reductions that could be made without damaging front line services”.

  7. TomTom
    June 5, 2009

    The broadcast media are a disaster. They have overcapacity and use politics as a soap opera to fill so-called News bulletins with pablum. They try to script parts for politicians as if they are jobbing actors and feed them libnes for a puppet show. The public is heartily sick of the trivialisation of everything to the level of a game show.

    Privatising the BBC would take enormous excess capacity out of broadcast media and it would not have such a bloated politics section. Noone comments how people like James Purnell were able to get Corporate Planning jobs at the BBC after Oxford, nor indeed how Jeremy Mayhew did so after working with Peter Lilley.

    The BBC is simply too cosy with the politicians and totally alienated from the general public. It calls RTE “the Irish State Broadcaster” but refuses to call the BBC “the British State Broadcaster”. We have a fundamental alienation of institutions from the fabric of the nation and it is clear to the voters that no institutions merit trust.

    We have left a country that was recognisably England in the 1970s to one that is more like Putin’s Russia than is comfortable to reflect upon

  8. Neil Craig
    June 5, 2009

    Alan Johnson, without officially (& possibly even unofficially) challenging Brown, has put forward a policy alternative – PR. It isn’t an economic policy difference but it is a big one & if he wins & the Tories fight on it it could get Labour back in.

    BBC, of course, up to the same old tricks.

  9. Robin
    June 5, 2009

    Don’t trust them again.

  10. Matt
    June 5, 2009

    Remember it well

    Mr Major took a very tough stance, “Put up or shut up”

    But then when you accepted the challenge he and his confederates seemed to take the huff!
    Disloyalty was talked about.
    I thought this slightly ridiculous; you can’t put down a challenge and then complain when someone takes it up.

    That was the way it came across to much of the public.

  11. MarkE
    June 5, 2009

    I thought Huttons resignation was particularly spineless; he wants to spend more time with his family? Yeah right!

    Clearly he sees Brown as a liability and no longer wants to be associated with him, in which case he should have said so. (Allegation left out-ed)

    Watching TV coverage you can see the calculation in Labour MP’s minds; “If I support Gordon I’m employed for another eleven months and then out of a job with no skills or prospects; if I help dump Gordon we get a new leader who may reduce the kicking we will take at the next election, but that election will probably be sooner. Go sooner and hope to keep my seat, or accept that I’ve lost it and stay as long as possible?” Given the limited part MPs play in forming laws, this must be the hardest decision many have faced since being elected.

  12. Adam Collyer
    June 5, 2009

    The biggest difference between then and now is that John Major at least had the courage to say, “Put up or shut up”. And you had the courage to put up.

    But if even the BBC think the situation now is like the dying days of Mr Major’s administration, things must be bad for Labour!

  13. Mike Stallard
    June 5, 2009

    It must be horrible to be used to dig up the “Tory” past under “Thatcher”. What a load of losers! Next week: the exciting discovery that Sir Robert Peel was involved in the Corn law Scandal!!!!!
    The BBC is biased. We all know that.
    I have, however, noticed that the reverential tone for Labour politicians and the snotty tone used for “Tories” is changing slightly. I think they are seriously considering supporting the LibDems because their reverential tones are now employed for Nick Clegg and Vince Cable.
    The huge question is this: what will Mr Cameron do about BBC bias if he is elected in the autumn?

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