Friday 30 March 2018

Brexitwatch: a letter to the BBC

I am tired of the constant pro-Brexit bias and the inaccuracies about leaving the EU that I keep seeing and hearing on the BBC, a broadcaster I used to admire. This is what I have written to them. Please feel free to borrow, adapt etc if you feel the same.

This is the link for complaints 

I have held my tongue since the EU referendum, but I can do so no longer.

For decades I have defended the BBC and the licence fee, but, in view of the Corporation’s blatant pro-Brexit bias, I no longer feel I can.

During about 30 minutes on the ‘Today’ programme of March 29 on Radio 4, there were a series of examples of this. First shortly before 0800 Nick Robinson said that Remainers were demanding a ‘Second Referendum’ on the Brexit terms. This is completely inaccurate. There has not yet been a referendum on the Brexit terms, so any referendum on them would plainly be the first. To describe it as a ‘second referendum’ is likely, by accident or design, to undermine support for it by implying falsely that it is a re-run of or an attempt to subvert a referendum that has already been held.

Then, around 0815, Brexit supporter Liam Fox was allowed to claim without challenge that the UK economy had been doing well since the Brexit vote. This is completely untrue. The government’s own figures show the UK’s was the only major economy in the world to slow down last year, the fall in the pound that the Brexit vote caused has made us all poorer, real wages are still declining etc, etc. Why did your interviewer fail to put these points to Dr Fox?

Sadly, this is not an isolated instance. While pro-EU interviewees are usually given a hard time, Brexiters are allowed to spout their untruths without challenge. When a handful of Brexit campaigners set up a stunt the BBC covers it. When tens of thousands march against Brexit across the country, the BBC ignores it.

 The EU referendum was advisory and non-binding on MPs. The BBC constantly ignores this etc. etc.

Thursday 29 March 2018

Brexitwatch: respect and obedience - the latest Brexit con

As George Orwell astutely noted in 1984, one of the crucial steps in the transition from democracy to dictatorship (Theresa May would presumably call this the ‘implementation phase’) is the perversion of language. We have heard a lot of it since the Brexit referendum.

I read today that fewer than half even of Leave voters think Brexit will benefit them and their families, but 90 per cent still believe the referendum result should be ‘respected’. I agree with them, the result should be ‘respected’, but as George Orwell would no doubt remind us, ‘respect’ is not the same as ‘obey’. Generals often speak about ‘respecting’ the enemy, but that does not mean they obey them!

The referendum was advisory, not binding, at the insistence of the Parliament Brexiters say must be sovereign. So MPs are NOT bound by the result, but they should respect this enormous consultative exercise by debating and taking decisions, without further delay, on these questions:-

1. Was the referendum conducted fairly and is its result valid? If no, MPs must act at once to halt the withdrawal process and decide how to proceed. Should there be a new referendum? If so, how should it be conducted? Should it be binding or advisory? etc

2. If they consider the result of the 2016 referendum IS valid, MPs must examine what would be the effect on the prosperity, quality of life, security, integrity etc of the UK if we were to leave the EU, and, if they were to decide that it would be in our national interest to leave, then they must examine what post-Brexit state we should be aiming for – in or out of the Single Market and/or customs union, for example.

Yes. I know it’s a scandal that MPs have failed to do any of this during the 21 months since the referendum, but they need to do it NOW before they consign themselves to irrelevance. And if the government tries to block their efforts, they must bring it down.

*Will a woman always win an argument with a man? Here's a television vox pop I conducted in Coventry in 1974.

Saturday 24 March 2018

Christchurch: seven years after the earthquake

Just back from New Zealand where the delightful city of Christchurch is still toiling to recover from the earthquake of 22 February 2011, which killed 185 people. Buildings had already been weakened by another quake five months before in September 2010.

Of the victims, 115 died in the 6-storey Canterbury Television Building. The Royal Commission that conducted an inquiry into the disaster said the local authority should not have allowed it to be re-occupied after the quake of 2010.

Seven years on, the damage from the 2011 quake is still clear to see, with many buildings unrepaired, notably the cathedral which still has an end wall missing.

Concern has been expressed about the number of key reconstruction projects that have failed to get underway, and the government has admitted some will not be finished for years.

*One of the things I missed while I was away was this review of my book Secrets of the Centenarians in the Oldie.

Thursday 22 March 2018

100 years ago this month - the start of the world's deadliest flu epidemic

In March 1918, a cook at Fort Riley in Kansas, USA reported to the infirmary with a 'bad cold'. By noon, 100 men were sick. More than 40 at the camp would die. With America and its allies caught up in the dreadful conflict of the Great War, the authorities tried to keep the news as quiet as possible from the enemy.

But it soon became impossible. For 12 days in May, the British fleet could not take to the sea because 10,000 sailors were ill. The disease appeared to strike with frightening speed. The Times wrote of people being 'perfectly well' at ten o' clock, but 'prostrate' by noon. 

Another odd thing was that unlike most flu epidemics, this one seemed to hit the young and fit harder than the old. More than 30,000 American soldiers would die of the disease, with a top doctor declaring at one point that it was more dangerous to be in a camp in the US than on the front line in France.

Across the world, what became known as 'Spanish flu' is estimated to have claimed about 70 million lives, while the First World War killed perhaps 17 million in all. Famous victims included the painter Egon Schiele, while King George V, the Kaiser, Woodrow Wilson and Walt Disney caught it, but survived.

For the full story, see A Disastrous History of the World.