On Friday, the Conservative commentator Toby Young became the latest Brexit supporting Tory to express the wish that Ireland would leave the EU and “rejoin” the UK. Toby Young was roundly mocked on social media for his suggestion. However to be fair, Ireland leaving the EU and becoming a part of the UK again is not an entirely unpopular idea. It is a fact that there are millions of people who yearn for Ireland to leave the EU and become a part of the UK once more. It’s just that they’re all British nationalist Brexiteers living in England. In Ireland itself, the notion is about as popular as a massive plook on a prom night. Besides, Irish people will not unreasonably point out that it’s not really a question of Ireland rejoining the UK because Ireland never exactly joined the UK in the first place, more that it was despoiled, colonised, depopulated, and oppressed.
Toby Young proved that it is entirely possible for someone to know even less about the politics of Ireland than Darren Grimes. The ardent Brexiteer Darren went on the BBC’s Politics Live show last week to discuss the results of the Irish election, despite having extensively tweeting during the preceding week that he found it all terribly confusing and didn’t really understand what was going on. Although this is precisely the kind of expertise that both the BBC and Sky News prefer when it comes to discussions of Scottish politics.
I look forward to my own invitation onto BBC news to discuss the intricacies of electoral politics in Mongolia. Although I probably wouldn’t qualify since I can actually locate Ulan Bator on a map. Actually, I don’t qualify because I’m an independence supporter who doesn’t do British nationalists’ job for them by constantly attacking other independence supporters. That seems to be the main criterion for getting on the telly if you’re an independence supporting commentator in Scotland.
Meanwhile the BBC’s descent into face-palmery continues. We’ve all heard of Orange Jaiket Man and his claims that he received regular invites to the BBC Question Time audience. Some of you may also have heard of Alison Fuller-Pedley, the Question Time staffer who is apparently responsible for the audience selection. Back in 2016 Ms Fuller-Pedley was the object of some controversy when claims were made that she’d been sharing social media posts from the far-right group Britain First, had tweeted support of Vote Leave and had joined facebook group the “British Patriot Front”. The BBC claimed that she had shared these posts “unwittingly”. However here’s the rub, you cannot have a job doing political background checks on potential members of the audience in one of the BBC’s most important political programmes while claiming to be unaware of the context of social media posts by Britain First.
The Scottish editions of the programme regularly feature Conservative and other politicians in the audience whose political affiliations are not made clear to the viewers. The episode of the programme last year from Moray featured audience members who were former Conservative MSPs, and current members of the local Conservative party. One of them was recently forced to resign from the party after tweeting abuse about Nicola Sturgeon. If you wondered why when BBCQT went to the markedly left of centre and independence supporting city of Dundee the audience was full of posh Tories who supported Brexit, it seems that your suspicions were not unfounded. BBC QT audiences seem to be disproportionately full of Brexit supporters and opponents of independence. It’s not unreasonable to wonder if there’s a connection.
It is now being alleged that the woman whose racist rant from the QT audience last week was publicised by the BBC was in fact a known supporter of Stephen Laxley-Lennon, Britain First, and was once a National Front candidate. It’s further being alleged that the woman was invited onto the show by Alison Fuller-Pedley. If true, this destroys what little remains of the credibility of the programme, and a BBC which continues to support it.
BBC Question Time is presented to us as a serious political discussion programme, one of the few which features direct engagement with – supposedly – ordinary members of the public. However the programme’s production team are presenting it as a serious political discussion while at the same time structuring it as a click baiting entertainment show in which audience members with extreme views are deliberately sought out and featured. It’s a programme which no longer seeks to enlighten and inform, but to entertain and enrage. In doing so the producers are doing a great disservice to the viewers. The programme should be dumped from the schedules immediately. There is now a widespread perception that it has become a forum for the promotion of right wing British nationalist views, a toxic boil on the already disfigured face of British politics.
If the audience in a programme which travels to different towns and cities throughout the UK doesn’t accurately represent the views of those different towns and cities but rather the preferences and predelictions of its producers, then what’s the point of it? If a producer is skewing audience selection for the purposes of entertainment, we need to know because then we can adjust our expectations accordingly. If a producer is skewing audience selection for the purposes of promoting their own personal political agenda, that’s a bona fide scandal.
But it’s not just BBC Question Time which has questions to answer. Today on the Andrew Marr Show, the flagship political programme on BBC 1, one of the guests on the newspaper review was the Daily Mail journalist Sarah Vine. Now of course people should not be defined by who it is that they happen to be partnered to, but it’s a disservice to the viewers that it wasn’t pointed out that Ms Vine is the wife of Michael Gove. She used her appearance on Andrew Marr to lay into all and any criticism of her husband’s government. When she insisted that she didn’t believe allegations that some civil servants are being bullied by some government ministers, and told us what the relationship between ministers and civil servants was “really like”, she was leveraging her personal connection to a UK government minister. Her marriage then became germane and relevant to the discussion. Yet she was presented to us as an objective and disinterested observer.
Media companies with contracts with the BBC should not get to decide in secret who is allowed to speak on the only programme on the BBC which allows the public a mass political platform. If the BBC is serious about restoring trust, then transparency is a vital first step. If it is indeed true that the producers of Question Time deliberately sought out and publicised the views of a member of a far right extremist racist organisation, then this is not a BBC that anyone of a liberal, socialist, or social democratic persuasion could defend. It is an organisation which is unfit for purpose, and which is contributing to the descent of the British body politic into a cancerous malignity.
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