Wednesday 4 May 2016

Why is the BBC Silent about Tory Electoral Fraud?

It is the biggest political story of this year in a year of big political stories. Not that you would know if you didn't watch Channel 4 News. The reporting Michael Crick and his team have done uncovering dodgy election expenses suggesting the Conservatives overspent in 26 parliamentary seats at last year's general election is dynamite. If electoral law is deemed to have been broken, this could lead to 26 sitting MPs in court and by-elections in each of those seats. As they are all marginal, it's not beyond the realms that each could be lost by the government and their wafer thin majority evaporate. The stakes couldn't be higher.

And yet the BBC, the bastion of British liberalism, fair-mindedness, and broadcast impartiality hadn't until this lunch time touched the story with someone else's. And then it was only The Daily Politics. Naturally, to ignore allegations back by a strong body of evidence is bound to raise a few eyebrows. Now, I don't usually carp on about the BBC's bias because it's a fact of political life. Ever since the 1926 General Strike, the BBC have tilted towards the establishment-in-general (as opposed to party political pandering) and shows no indication of changing. Except recently. As a tally of featured news stories and a skim through bulletin and politics programming this last week or so demonstrate, the focus has been Labour, Labour, Labour and next to no Tory. Indeed, since the election of Jeremy it would seem the Tories only receive negative coverage if there isn't a row brewing up in the PLP. Normally BBC coverage is not so egregiously skewed.

Elaborating further on the establishment bent, in his complex but straightforward work, State, Power, Socialism, Nicos Poulantzas argues that liberal democratic capitalist states are normally beholden to what he calls the 'dominant party'. It can manifest in terms of the electoral dominance of a governing party, like the Liberal Democratic Party in Japan or the Swedish Social Democrats, but more usually when governments change frequently there is a cross-party consensus on key matters, such as economic policy, defence spending, etc. As far as Poulantzas was concerned this consensus is so strong that while, formally speaking, most mainstream politicians sit in different parties, substantively they are the same. None of this is new thinking; you might say it's the anti-politics "you're all the same" refrain in Marxist taffeta and pearls. Yet while it's never as cut and dried as this, the BBC's behaviour have tried their damnedest to prove it to be true. All it takes is a member of Jeremy's team to fart and a camera crew is camped outside the leader's door and a core-hostile talking head is doing the studio rounds. The utterly confected row about McDonald's is a case in point. It therefore doesn't take much to make a plausible case arguing the BBC's political reportage is doing its level best to shore up the dominant party wing in the PLP.

Doesn't the free pass given the racism of the Conservatives' London mayoral campaign disprove this? After all, isn't Sadiq Khan very much a figure of Labour's centre and therefore one of who sits in the 'dominant party'? The conjuncture, or the balance between government and opposition the BBC has deal with always mediates the structural position, and this matters. Managers and leading journalists know the Tories have it in for the corporation. Be it meddling with the schedule or "jokey" veiled threats, the BBC have long followed a trajectory of appeasing their aggressor. So overblown coverage of KenGate? Check. Refusal to apply the same standards to Zac Goldsmith's campaign? Yup. And no mention of the electoral fraud investigation? You got it. Sensitive to the bad faith of the Tory right who always find something to blame on BBC coverage when it comes to electoral reverses, it's only from the standpoint of perceived existential crisis that its abject prostration before the government and its attacks on Labour make fuller sense. By joining in the anti-Corbyn feeding frenzy, the BBC is covering its back and hoping Whittingdale and Dave will row back on their worst instincts.

Once the moment of danger has passed (i.e. tomorrow) then we might see more the BBC take up Channel 4's baton, but if its output since September is anything to go by ...  Unfortunately, appeasement tends not to work.

1 comment:

Ken said...

After I found a listing for Wings over Scotland in your round up of blogs, I started reading it. It's a blog which analyses that MSM from a pro-independence point of view. I'm persuaded that Labour is given a free pass by a MSM that is hostile to independence and bolstered by decades of Labour being the hegemonic unionist party. Despite this, as we all know, it was swept away by the SNP tsunami last year. The moral of this is that when the political tectonic plates shift, the MSM can't hold it back. As one Labour MP was heard to comment last year - "Situation: Defcon fucked." If that were to happen here QT would become much more interesting N and S of the border and Boris might receive the kind of kicking applied to Labour.