Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Brexitwatch: BBC fails to address my complaint


In my post for April 19, I put up the letter I sent to the BBC complaining about its failure to challenge the constant lies trotted out by pro-Brexit speakers. I particulary wanted to know why BBC interviewers never ask:

1. Why should we have to obey the result of a referendum that was won by lying, cheating and criminality?
2. Why should we have to obey the result of a referendum in which voters were promised a Brexit that is not being and cannot be delivered?
3. Why are we pretending we have to obey the result of a referendum that was explicitly non-binding and advisory?

I received a reply which did not address any of these points: 

Dear Mr Withington

Thank you for contacting the BBC.
I understand you feel BBC News has shown a consistent bias in favour of Brexit and failed to properly question the assertions of those who are in favour of Brexit.
Naturally we regret when any member of our audience is unhappy with any aspect of what we do. We have received a wide range of feedback about our coverage of this story across our news programmes and bulletins. Keeping in mind pressures on licence fee resources, this response seeks to address the key points raised. That said, we apologise in advance if your complaint has not been specifically addressed here.
We aim to cover the ongoing Brexit negotiations with due impartiality. This means we carry a wide range of views about the European Union from across the political spectrum on our output.
We approach the story with the required level of impartiality, with input from various commentators and experts. 'Feedback' on BBC Radio 4 has addressed the issue of complaints about how we cover the story. Our Chief Political Adviser and the controller of the BBC's daily news programming joined Today presenter Nick Robinson, to discuss the common complaints from all sides. You may be interested in the sections at 3mins and 13mins especially:
As with any story we cover, BBC News does not have an opinion on the European Union, or on the UK’s position within it. Instead we try to explain the different and sometimes complex issues affecting our audience during Brexit. Our aim is to give them the information they need in order to follow the process clearly.
We appreciate your concerns and hope this helps to explain how we approach our reporting of this subject. Nonetheless, I understand this is something you feel strongly about and I’ve included your points on our audience feedback report that is sent to senior management and programme makers each morning and ensures that your complaint has been seen by the right people quickly. This helps inform their decisions about current and future output.
We appreciate you taking the time to register your views on this matter as it is greatly helpful in informing future decisions at the BBC.
Thanks again for getting in touch.
Kind regards
John Hamill
BBC Complaints Team
I have now complained about this response as follows:
I made a very specific complaint about how interviews with Brexit supporters are conducted on BBC programmes, and about how interviewers appear to constantly suppress crucial facts. I asked you whether this was because they were ignorant or because they were instructed not to raise certain issues inconvenient for the Brexit case. I also asked you if there was an instruction, from whom did it come.
You did not address any of these points, and instead delivered a standard, generic response claiming: 'we try to be fair'. The key points are below. I would be grateful if this time you address them.
Day after day, Brexit supporters are allowed to spout that the UK has to leave the EU because 'people voted for it'. (Most of them have by now given up any pretence that Brexit has any benefits.)
I used to work for the BBC as well as other broadcasting organisations, and I would have been asking these interviewees:
1. Why should we have to obey the result of a referendum that was won by lying, cheating and criminality?
2. Why should we have to obey the result of a referendum in which voters were promised a Brexit that is not being and cannot be delivered?
3. Why are we pretending we have to obey the result of a referendum that was explicitly non-binding and advisory?
I have heard many, many Brexiters being interviewed on your programmes, but I have NEVER heard one of your interviewers putting these points. Why is that? Is it because they are ignorant of the facts or is it because an edict has come from on high forbidding them from raising these inconvenient facts. If it is the latter, from whom does it come?


Saturday, 4 May 2019

Brexitwatch: inter-Remain party co-operation - a reply from the Greens' Caroline Lucas


Well done the LibDems and the Greens in the local elections! The outstanding results they achieved makes it all the more disappointing that there is no plan for pro-Remain parties to work together at the European elections on May 23.

As you can see from my posts of April 12 and 18, I wrote to the parties on this issue, and received a disappointing response from the Greens. I have now received a further reply from Caroline Lucas, the party's sole MP, which you can see below. I hope she has not underestimated the danger that splitting the Remain vote may lead to more of Nigel Farage's Brexit Party being elected as MEPs - a development that might make the EU less willing to grant any further delays to the UK's departure date.

Dear John,

Thank you for your email about the possibility of an electoral alliance of Remain parties in the forthcoming European Parliament election.

As someone who strongly believes that the UK’s future would be brighter, fairer and greener if we remained in the EU, and having been a co-founder of the cross-party campaign for a People’s Vote with the option to remain, I very much understand your desire to see the pro-Remain parties working together to maximise the pro-Remain vote in the European Parliament (EP) election. Unfortunately, however, the particular form of proportional representation that the UK uses for EP elections (the d’Hondt system) presents very significant practical barriers to the formation of a formal or even an informal electoral alliance.

In terms of a formal electoral alliance – that is, with the alliance’s name and logo appearing on the ballot paper – such an alliance would need to be approved and registered by the Electoral Commission. The deadline for seeking such approval by, and registration with, the Electoral Commission was in early February, long before the EU Council meeting on 10 April which granted the Article 50 extension to 31 October that makes it possible to hold the EP election on 23 May.

As for an informal arrangement – that is, with candidates standing under the banner of their own party, but some parties standing down in each region to give one pro-Remain party a free-run – the d’Hondt system, and in particular the division of the UK into electoral regions of varying size, makes it very difficult to predict with any certainty which party is best placed to maximise the benefit of being given a free-run in each region.

Furthermore, it is not at all clear how such an informal alliance could have ensured compliance with the Electoral Commission’s rules on campaign spending (and there would be little point parties standing their candidates down to give another party a free-run, unless they then campaigned jointly for that party’s candidates). These practical and legal difficulties would have made any negotiations between the various parties extremely complex. What’s more, although in principle I was open to exploring the possibility of working together, it quickly became clear that Change UK were unwilling to consider such an informal arrangement. And, contrary to some media reports, the Liberal Democrats did not make any approach to the Green Party on this issue.

In short, as attractive as an electoral alliance might have been, it was simply not a viable option (and the deadline for registering candidates has now passed).

I realise that this is disappointing, but can assure you that the Green Party, the Party’s excellent MEP candidates and I will all be campaigning hard over the next four weeks to maximise the pro-Remain vote and resist the opportunistic populism of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party and the far-right extremism of UKIP.  The Greens are well placed to build on the strong track record of our existing three MEPs on delivering not just a People’s Vote, but bold action on climate change too. We understand why many people voted for Leave in June 2016: the status quo is intolerable and we are pushing for the reforms necessary in both the UK and the EU to make a transition away from the current system – one which fails us all so badly, and hits the most vulnerable hardest.  

We have to redefine what success looks like in this EP election, and ensuring a majority of pro-Remain votes on 23 May is key – whether that translates into more MEPs, or not. If more than 50% of the voting public express a preference for Remain candidates, that massively strengthens the case for a People’s Vote, whereas alliances could in fact suppress the pro-Remain numbers (if traditional voters of one party felt unable to support a candidate from a different one, because although they agree on Remain, they have almost nothing else in common at all). Alliances might also not result in a pro-Remain MEP majority and strategically would not move us any closer to a ratification referendum. Even if the Brexit Party secures a majority of MEP seats, that will count for much less if the country has voted Remain overall and the pressure for a People’s Vote really builds.

I  hope that makes my position clear. I understand how worried and concerned you are, and hope that you will use your vote on 23 May to send a strong clear message in support of Remain.

Best wishes,

Caroline

Friday, 26 April 2019

Brexitwatch: Write to Labour


It's being reported that Labour has omitted any mention of a referendum on any Brexit terms - a 'People's Vote' - from its European elections leaflets, because it got 'forgotten'. (It's the second time Labour has used this excuse).

I've written to Labour's Deputy Leader, Tom Watson, (team@tom-watson.com) to protest and to say that I will not vote for Labour unless it stops helping the Tory government to drag us out of the EU.

Dear Mr Watson
I am bitterly disappointed to learn that the Labour Party's election leaflet for the European elections contains no mention of a People's Vote.. This is deeply foolish as well as duplicitous. After the 2017 General Election, Labour betrayed its voters by claiming that voting Labour meant they backed Brexit. Many will not be fooled again. I will believe the party is committed to a referendum on any Brexit terms, including an option to remain, only when I hear it unequivocally from the mouth of Jeremy Corbyn himself.
And when I hear alleged Labour MPs like Caroline Flint singing the praises of Theresa May's blind Brexit when even Nigel Farage admits it is worse than staying in the EU, words fail me.
If we leave the EU, I will not forgive Labour.
There is no longer any justification for Brexit:
1. Any Brexit will damage the UK and particularly the people Labour is supposed to care most about.
2. The referendum result is null and void as it was won by lies, cheating and criminality. (I have taken this up with my MP, Sir Keir Starmer on a number of occasions and I am bitterly disappointed that Labour has tried to sweep it under the carpet - an act of foolishness and cowardice that will haunt the party for a very long time.)
3. The Brexit that was promised is not being and cannot be delivered, and there is no mandate for either of the available Brexits - Theresa May's blind Brexit or 'no deal'.
Labour's half-hearted opposition to the right wing Brexit coup has been a dreadful stain on the party's reputation, and if we are now dragged out of the EU, I will regard Labour as being as much to blame as the Tories. I trust you will now do whatever is necessary to stop it.
If we do leave, I will not forget, and I will do everything I can to help defeat Labour in all subsequent elections.
There is still time to do the right thing, but it is fast running out.
Yours sincerely,
John Withington


Monday, 22 April 2019

History corner - for Manchester United fans


Yesterday Manchester United suffered a very disappointing 4-0 defeat to Everton at Goodison Park. I remember another 4-0 defeat at Goodison and its aftermath

It came on the first day of the 1963-4 season in the Charity Shield. United had finished the previous season on a high, winning the FA Cup, their first trophy since the Munich disaster. Matt Busby's response to the Goodison debacle was to drop four of the cup-winning team: David Gaskell, Johnny Giles, David Quixall and David Herd. Giles never kicked another ball for the club, though he had a distinguished career with Leeds, while Herd went on to win two championship medals. 

A fortnight later, United beat Everton 5-1 at Old Trafford. As for the new players who came in, Harry Gregg was a returning veteran, David Sadler went on to win a number of medals, including European Cup Winner, while Ian Moir played a total of only 45 games and Phil Chisnall 47, before being transfered to Liverpool, where he had only limited success.


Busby's tough approach seemed to work. At the end of the season United finished second in what was then the First Division, up from 19th the previous year.



Friday, 19 April 2019

Brexitwatch: another complaint to the BBC


The BBC's performance has been so lamentable that I could complain every day about the way pro-Brexit interviewees are allowed to spout their lies on programme after programme without even a token challenge.

But I've finally lost patience, and written to them again:


Last night a journalist was killed in N Ireland as Brexit undermines the peace process, and unfortunately the BBC has played its part in this sorry state of affairs by failing to expose systematic lying by pro-Brexit speakers on its news and current affairs programmes.
Day after day, they are allowed to spout that the UK has to leave the EU because 'people voted for it'. (Most of them have by now given up any pretence that Brexit has any benefits.)
I used to work for the BBC as well as other broadcasting organisations, and I would have been asking these interviewees:
1. Why should we have to obey the result of a referendum that was won by lying, cheating and criminality?
2. Why should we have to obey the result of a referendum in which voters were promised a Brexit that is not being and cannot be delivered?
3. Why are we pretending we have to obey the result of a referendum that was explicitly non-binding and advisory?
I have heard many, many Brexiters being interviewed on your programmes, but I have NEVER heard one of your interviewers putting these points. Why is that? Is it because they are ignorant of the facts or is it because an edict has come from on high forbidding them from raising these inconvenient facts. If it is the latter, from whom does it come?

Thursday, 18 April 2019

Brexitwatch: working together to beat Brexit - a disappointing response from the Greens


Last week I wrote to the three main pro-Remain parties in England: the LibDems, Greens and Independent Group to ask how they would be co-operating in the local and European elections (see my post of April 12).

The only response I've had so far has been from the Greens. It was disappointing (and suggested a lack of understanding of how the voting system works): 

Hi John, 

Thank you for getting in touch. 

We released this statement on the matter yesterday: 

"The Green Party has no plans to field joint ‘remain’ lists in the upcoming European Elections. The Green Party has a long and proud history within the European Parliament - from being a strong and unwavering voice for Remain, to fighting climate change and standing up for workers’ rights. 

"The European Parliament election is conducted by proportional representation, which means every vote counts and every vote can make a difference. In the last European Elections the Green Party came ahead of the Liberal Democrats, with three MEPs elected. We would also resist any calls for us to stand alongside parties with whom we have fundamental ideological differences on austerity, economic policy and beyond." 

Kind regards, 
Culann 
Membership Team 
Green Party of England and Wales 


I have replied to the Green MP Caroline Lucas  caroline.lucas.mp@parliament.uk and to the party's leadership - leader@greenparty.org.uk

Dear Caroline Lucas & Green Party,
I am bitterly disappointed by the reply I have received to my question about how pro-Remain parties are going to co-operate in the local and European elections. 
You do not even mention the local elections, and your reply on the European elections reflects a tribalism that would fit perfectly in the Tory and Labour parties. It also suggests an ignorance of how the electoral system in the Euro elections works. Except in N Ireland, it is not a properly proportional system. A threshold has to be passed before a party can get any MEPs. The more pro-Remain parties fight each other, the fewer pro-Remain MEPs there will be.
If the election is handed to Nigel Farage or the Tory party, it will be a terrible blow for the Remain cause, and anyone in the pro-Remain parties who helps facilitate it will not be forgiven.
Please thing again.
Yours sincerely,
John Withington

Friday, 12 April 2019

Brexitwatch: let's get pro-Remain parties to work together


If we're going to stop Brexit, it's really important that pro-Remain parties do very well in the local elections on May 2, and the European elections on May 23 (assuming they happen), so I've written to the LibDems, the Independent Group and the Greens to ask them what they're doing to work together.

Here's what I sent to the Independent Group:


It is very important that pro-Remain candidates do very well in the local elections and the European elections (assuming they take place).  So I would like to know what you are doing to co-operate with other pro-EU parties such as the LibDems, the Greens, the SNP etc. I am writing to the other parties asking the same question.