Dear Chief Secretary to the Treasury,
I'm afraid to tell you there's no money left.
Signed, Liam Byrne

(Outgoing Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury. May 2010)

Friday, 28 May 2010


It'll never happen, but Mrs Rigby imagined how she would feel if she was invited to take part in a televised discussion and, for whatever reason, declined. Because that's always the option, isn't it - there's "Yes" and "No" in response to an invitation.

If she said, "No," would her potential host mind? Would they worry about losing such a useful contribution to their debate? Would they try to persuade her, sweet talk her and offer gifts? Would they bemoan their loss, and prop her photo on an empty seat?

Would they say, "Okay then, we'll get somebody else," and get on with making their programme? Or would they do what the BBC did yesterday, when ex-journalist and never-been-an-MP Alastair Campbell appeared on Question Time to 'represent' the Labour Party, and the Coalition government decided not to field a high powered government minister to balance his opinions?

The programme went ahead, as planned. The BBC wouldn't, obviously, cancel a long-running show solely because they couldn't persuade somebody very important to turn up and sit on one of their seats. The other panellists, by the way, were ex-politician Susan Kramer (defeated ex-MP), Piers Morgan (TV presenter, journalist), Sir Max Hastings (journalist) and John Redwood (MP for Wokingham)

The BBC has allowed this one programme, and one 'rejection' to take on a life of its' own, and to become more important than it really is. The BBC has made a fuss, and has allowed Mr Campbell to make a fuss too.

In short the BBC has allowed itself to become the news, instead of merely reporting the news.

It seems that the BBC, and Mr Campbell, were unhappy to have such an experienced serving politician as John Redwood on their panel because they had wanted somebody much more important - and they have been petulant, and Mr Campbell has been petulant too, even though it wasn't his show, they weren't his invitations.

Alistair Campbell - who has his own blog, just the same sort of self-opinionated thing as Mrs R and loads of other non-MPs, knows he's very important because his partner is Fiona Miller, who was Cherie Blair's advisor, and because he was as the BBC says "the most famous press secretary the UK has ever seen" - ended the show by holding up a picture of the politician he had wanted to confront. So was it his show, or was it the BBC's show?

So, after all this, would Mrs Rigby ever hope to be invited to appear on that, or indeed any other show produced by that particular broadcaster?

No, she wouldn't. Not ever, because she's wonder why she had been invited. She'd wonder what the agenda was.

You see, the BBC is meant to be the British Broadcasting Corporation and it isn't meant to be self-serving. It is funded by compulsory license fees and also receives state funding, from taxation. The BBC is meant to be politically neutral, and it is meant to be balanced in its output, and its' political shows are meant to help keep the public abreast of developments and controversies.

The BBC justifies its actions in a news article, which says
David Dimbleby said he would have "expected" to have had a government minister on the panel in the week that it unveiled its legislative agenda for the year ahead in the Queen's Speech.

And, you know, so would Mrs Rigby. And Mrs Rigby would also have "expected" to see other politicians on the panel alongside that government minister.

But the BBC, in it's wisdom, and to balance the words of that now vilified cabinet minister, put together a panel that did not include an opposition MP, not even a junior one, did not include a Scottish or Welsh MP. Did they ask Mr Salmond to be on their show? They don't say - and that silence says quite a lot.

The BBC put together a panel of journalists and ex-journalists, and they did it because they could.
[David Dimbleby] said it was up to "us on Question Time to decide who should be on the programme ..."

And the BBC did decide, and sent out invitations, and at least one of their invitations was refused.

What were their contingency plans? Did they want the programme to be a serious political discussion, or did they merely want a government minister to be dissected by journalists?

A good host is a gracious host and learns to accept rejection.

When somebody is cornered, when they know they have made the wrong decision there are two things they can do. One is to concede gracefully and admit there was a mistake, the other is to turn on the offensive and make it appear to be somebody else's fault.

Mrs Rigby thinks the BBC was wrong, very wrong, to put together such a panel in such an important week. The BBC's choice of panellists belittled the importance of the new government, belittled the importance of their policies and opinions - because the BBC only thought it was worth getting journalists and ex-MPs to discuss matters of crucial interest to Britain and Britain's future.

The BBC should be asking itself why it hadn't invited either of the Milibands, either of the Balls/Cooper family. The BBC should question why Harriet Harman wasn't on the panel, or Mr Straw, or Mr Prescott, or Mr Blunkett - or even the Mr Brown, ex-Prime Minister.

The BBC should also consider whether they truly believe a journalist, any journalist, is of equal value and importance as any democratically elected politician.

It it time, Mrs Rigby thinks, for the BBC to take a long hard look at itself and for some of its highly paid journalists to investigate their own egos.


John R said...

The BBC should shut up about this and remember two things.

Firstly, that after their biased coverage of the election and its aftermath, they need the government far more than the government (especially this one) needs them, and secondly that there is a TV Tax review in 2012 which could easily result in there being no BBC at all.

There are also a couple of immediate actions that should be carried out at once. Dem Tories should ignore QT for the next 2 or 3 months and instead provide lots of access and political interviews with senior cabinet members to ITV, C4 and Sky. I wonder how many viewers would watch QT with no coalition presence week after week?

Also the Culture Minister should have a quiet word with the DG and remind him about the TV Tax review.

Mrs Rigby said...

They certainly do need the government on their side, but seem to have forgotten that small point.

They should report the news, not be the news.

Anonymous said...

I sat to watch that programme. It came from Gravesend, my home town (well, Northfleet next door, but within the borough of Gravesham, was my home town ) for over 50 yrs.
I don't know why i bothered. It was just a shout-fest. Dimbleby had absolutely no control over the panel who spoke lots of words, talked over each other and said nothing