The Budget, the BBC and the Bias

The BBC's reporting of the Budget debate on Radio Five Live has been fantastically lop-sided. On the most basic measure - air time - they broadcast the whole of Gordon Brown's speech but cut off both David Cameron and Ming Campbell mid-flow.

Instead of hearing their words, we were given John Pienaar's conclusions to save us the bother of making up our own minds. DC had been "outmaneouvred", he was "like a man who had had his legs cut off from under him", he was "floundering" and "drowning", unable to respond to the "magic" of Brown's cut in the basic rate of income tax to 20%.

To be fair, Cameron had missed the main point - that the cut to 20% had been largely paid for by the replacement of the starting rate (10%) with the basic rate, which Brown disingenuously announced as the abolition of the starting rate - sounding as though tax on income within the 10% band would now be zero, rather than the 20% that is actually intended. This is dangerously close to deceiving the house, but it did seem to have done the job in deceiving DC.

Ming Campbell (whose Treasury team, headed by Vince Cable, have a real understanding of economics, unlike the Tories) was not taken in, and, in his earnestly dull but intelligent way, nailed the point - that the changes to income-tax rates benefited middle-income earners but penalised low-income earners. We were not allowed to hear much more of his speech (in many ways a blessing, but hardly balanced) before the BBC cut back in and Pienaar told us that Campbell must have "mis-read" the announcement, that the effect was not to penalise the poor. This is what we need from the BBC - insightful analysis of the impacts of the budget. So why has Campbell got that wrong, then, John? Because Gordon "would not do that", apparently. What insight!

No wonder the big beast of the political jungle has survived so long, when the elephant guns of the media have been aimed largely at his predators. How strong is the beast really, if he needs that sort of protection?



TheThe Lib Dims aren't better at economics they just had the whole of DC's speech to prepare whilst DC had a few moments.

True, and I certainly didn't mean to suggest that the LibDems as a whole are sound economists. They are, as we all know, a rag-tag mix. But that mix will include the good with the bad, and I happen to think that a couple of them (Vince Cable and David Laws) have a stronger grasp of economics than the current Tory Treasury team. If you compare Cable's background with Osborne's, Villiers' and Francois' you will see what I mean. It would explain why George seems to have mastered the art of inconsistency - some of what he says is excellent, and some of it drivel. Or perhaps that's just the nature of being a frontman for a centrist faction, more focused on power than principle. It may be that George really believes the good stuff but has to come out with the bad stuff to stay on message.

Taking your point as a valid reservation, I think one can still say that Campbell did well on picking up this point, if not on presenting it, on the basis that the FiveLive commentators (at least) had not spotted it until he pointed it out, and it has now become the basis of most media reporting and the official Tory line - that the 2p cut was a sleight-of-hand that hasn't saved much money for many people. I didn't hear anyone make the point before Campbell, and am inclined to give him and his team credit for being acute enough to get the key point in the speech.