Friday, August 17, 2007 

A less than glorious Tory inheritance.

In a way, it's almost encouraging to see the Tories finally producing something resembling a policy, or at least one that the press and people in general will be able to latch onto. It's too bad that rather than supposedly moving on, Cameron is still just as obsessed as his predecessors at bribing the middle classes, rather than improving the lot of the majority.

Of course, we shouldn't be surprised. Despite Cameron declaring himself a liberal conservative, desperate to consign the image of the nasty party to history, he's made the strange decision of ordering two of the most important policy reviews of his premiership to be conducted by yesterday's men. First we had Iain Duncan Smith, the disastrous former leader with his recommendations on how to mend Britain's "broken society". His solutions were all too familiar: get the single mother back into work as soon as possible, regardless of the effect on her own family, offer tax breaks to married couples and clamp down ever harder on those noxious illegal substances. Today we're treated to John Redwood's report, titled "Freeing Britain to compete", and it follows more or less the same lines; while its length doesn't quite touch Duncan Smith's 6 volumes, it still fills up 211 pages.

The attention grabbing recommendations then come as little more than a damp squib. For years we've witnessed the Daily Express and Mail complaining about the inequity of inheritance tax, nicknamed the "death" tax. In recent years they have started to have something more of a point: with the housing market getting more and more out of control, ever more estates have started to fall under the £300,000 threshold, which itself was raised recently. This though has never been an argument for the complete abolition of the tax, it's been one for redirecting it once again at those it was meant to fall upon: the ultra-rich and the handing down of the vast amounts of cash and property which their children have often done very little to either earn or deserve. While Labour is meant to be raising the threshold within the next year to £350,000 and according to official figures it still only touches 6% of estates, the best way to counteract the calls for complete abolition is to raise it to at the very least £500,000 and maybe to even £750,000. While this may encourage even more of those it's likely to hit to evade it, this would still lift the grievance held by some in middle England, and make it harder for journalists with their own well-off parents to make their readers' feel sorry for the awful plight, one of the main factors behind the calls for its end.

The other pledge aimed directly at the middle classes is the proposed raising of the 40% higher rate of income tax, which currently kicks in at £34,600. There again might be a case for raising it slightly, but it's worth remembering that the average yearly wage remains mostly static at around £22,000. This is why the case for a higher top rate of tax for those earning £100,000 a year or more has always been so persuasive, some would say easy to support, but there is of course nothing in this report at all suggesting that the ultra-rich are getting away with it, with the poor paying disproportionately more in tax those at the very top of society. Indeed, the report also recommends that those hard-done by large businesses getting an even further cut in corporation tax, already announced by Brown to be cut from 30p to 28p, with Redwood suggesting a 25p rate.

Perhaps the report's main prerogative is set out in the "Our vision" section, one full of holes apart from its typically Tory rhetoric :

A more enterprising Britain will be a more caring Britain: as incomes rise, so tax revenues rise and charitable giving flourishes.

But this is a fallacy based on the trickle down theory: in the last 20 years we've seen the rich get richer while the poor have remained poor. Rather than Britain becoming more caring in that time, we've almost certainly seen it become crueler, and you don't have to just point to the rise in deception and unethical behaviour in popular culture to reach that conclusion. Besides, should we really take advice from a committee that comes up with such laughable solutions to the problems of the rail network, when it was the Conservatives themselves that brought it to its knees through privatisation? Maybe we really did need that reminder from the BBC of one of John Redwood's previous most notable achievements.

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Thursday, August 16, 2007 

Scum-watch: Another day, another bash at the BBC.

The old cliched saying is that those in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. The Sun, no matter how many smashed panes it has, just can't help itself.

THE BBC can’t even get its apologies right.

It admits it was wrong to screen old footage of John Redwood singing the Welsh anthem.

But it uses weasel words to deny political bias, brushing aside its crass conduct as “wrong in retrospect”.

That won’t wash. News is not satire and this wasn’t a silly mistake. It was arrogant — and biased — journalism.

This is based on BBC director of news Helen Boaden's blog post where she apologised for the use of a clip of John Redwood failing to remember the words to the Welsh anthem, which took up approximately 5 seconds of the beginning of the report. As Steffan pointed out, it's been such a while since we were treated to glimpses of the Vulcan on our screens, it's quite easy to imagine that non-politicos would have long forgotten who he was. It wasn't the best clip to have chosen, it could indeed prompt accusations of bias, but only from those who recognised the clip, and the BBC has now apologised. Case closed.

One has to wonder if the fact that the rest of Boaden's post, where she sets out exactly how the BBC did examine Redwood's proposals, which incidentally the Sun doesn't even bother to mention, might have something to do with its non-acceptance of the apology. While some might think that the Labour reaction was too prominent in some of the bulletins, it was the BBC trying to put impartiality into a story where all they more or less knew was that some of Redwood's ideas had been leaked and discussed. With news being hard to come by, what do the Tories expect the BBC to do in the circumstances? Present them exactly as the party would want? Not report what Labour said about them? Not report his proposals at all until they're released in full?

The BBC can in fact be its own worst enemy. A quick read of the comments following Boaden's post shows them overwhelmingly filled with those highly critical of the corporation. If the BBC were so biased, unaccountable and Stalinist, would it even allow them raise their concerns? It's a similar situation at times over at Comment is Free: huge amounts of criticism, which on other places such as the Sun, Mail or even the Times or the Telegraph would soon be removed. The more accountable you attempt to be, the more vitriol you usually get chucked at you.

Speaking of the use of weasel words in apologies, it's hard not to be reminded of the Sun's own feeble non-apology on the non-existent Muslim yobs in Windsor:

Barrack attack correction

Following our report ‘Hounded out’ about a soldier's home in Datchet, Berks, being vandalised by Muslims, we have been asked to point out no threatening calls were logged at Combermere Barracks from Muslims and police have been unable to establish if any faith or religious group was responsible for the incident.

We are happy to make this clear.

Their story wasn't wrong then, it was simply "inaccurate". No apology for such a misleading, inflammatory report, just the weakest possible correction it could make.

The Scum continues:

The Beeb has developed a built-in sneer towards those it disdains.

That includes all Tories except pro-EU fanatics like Ken Clarke and Michael Heseltine — to whom it fawns — and virtually everyone in the American administration.

How completely unlike the Sun! During the Labour deputy leadership contest, the paper tried its best to smear all of the candidates as "left-wing dinosaurs", even that noted socialist Hazel Blears, and it quoted George Osbourne as saying:

“Labour is retreating into its left-wing comfort zone. We are seeing Labour lurch to the left and abandon the centre ground.”

Perfectly OK when the Tories do it, beyond the pale when the BBC does something similar.

Such accusations are in any case errant nonsense: Question Time especially often features the rants of Peter Hitchens on the EU, while members of Open Europe, which wants a referendum on the the EU reform treaty have popped out across the BBC's news bulletins, both on BBC1 and on Newsnight. The American administration, or at least ex-members of it have also found themselves being given increasing leverage on Newsnight, with John Bolton featuring almost once a week if not more.

The BBC is supposed to be an impartial public service broadcaster. There is no room in its news coverage for infantile student posturing.

Quite. After all, that's the Sun's job.

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