Jo Swinson on Question Time: Brexit is a national embarrassment and we can stop it

It’s Jo Swinson’s first week back from parental leave and already she’s done more than most of us letter mortals do in a month. We’ll have more of that first week over the weekend but for now I want to concentrate on her appearance on Question Time last night. She was brilliant – clear and […]

It’s Jo Swinson’s first week back from parental leave and already she’s done more than most of us letter mortals do in a month.

We’ll have more of that first week over the weekend but for now I want to concentrate on her appearance on Question Time last night.

She was brilliant – clear and passionate, describing Brexit as a national embarrassment and showing how a People’s Vote could get us out of the mess we’re in. The programme came from Islington, her fellow panellist Emily Thornberry’s patch but Jo got way more applause than the Labour shadow foreign secretary did.

 

People were impressed with her:

 

 

She had loads to offer on a question on knife crime, too. James Cleverly for the Tories basically used the question as an opportunity to advocate for the Tory mayoral candidate rather than tackle the issue. Jo highlighted Glasgow’s experience of reducing knife crime by 62% with an integrated approach by schools, the police and health and care services. The same should work in London.

You can watch the whole programme on iPlayer here.

 

New host Fiona Bruce was less willing to allow grandstanding than her predecessor. She had this very dignified and calm presence in the chair.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

Judy Terry: Councillors are still too passive in allowing costly procurement and infrastructure projects

There remains a culture in much of the public sector that no-one will ever be held to account for wasting money on unworkable vanity projects.

Judy Terry is a marketing professional and a former local councillor in Suffolk.

How can the public sector waste and lose so much money, not just when major projects go massively over budget, but with poor decision-making, a lack of accountability, and irresponsible taxpayers?

Monitoring value for money is a key part of both councillors’ and non-executive directors’ roles; they are elected or appointed with responsibility to challenge, as well as support. They are paid to do just that. MPs have various committees to do the same; most are pretty robust, although there is little evidence that their recommendations are always pursued by the relevant Government departments. Taxpayers are actually shareholders in public services, and deserve better.

Let us start with Crossrail. At least we should have something to show for its potential budgetary overspend (costs rising to £15.8 billion, or even £17.6 billion) and year’s delay (or longer). Europe’s most important and complex engineering project for generations, it will hugely benefit the capital’s transport and economic infrastructure. Nevertheless, one has to ask how it got so out of control. Two Chief Executives took off to new jobs, as did four key directors, and the chairman was ousted, as problems with signalling, trains, and stations escalated. Losing an estimated £600m fare income also adds pressure to Transport for London’s fragile finances, bringing Crossrail 2 into question. One would expect London’s Mayor and his management team, including elected councillors, to be keeping tabs on such a major infrastructure project.

I won’t mention HS2, well, only in passing. No-one seems to have a handle on the costs, least of all the top management, who regularly abandon ship. According to media reports, it could hit £100 billion. Meanwhile, advertisements for a new HS2 Non-Executive director offers £950 per day in return for just two days a week. Nice work if you can get it…! Or maybe not. The job description requires candidates to have the skills to ‘challenge board decisions in a high profile organisation tasked with delivering against demanding objectives’. Good luck with that.

A report by the Cabinet Office’s Infrastructure and Projects Authority warned that “the required in-service date of 2026 is driving an unacceptable programme schedule compromising the accuracy and quality of the programme’s outputs”. And, according to engineers, costs could rise by a further £400m because a 12 mile stretch of the route passes through ground ‘which turns to porridge when it rains’, requiring deep concrete foundations to be constructed. HS2 admits that the final track design isn’t finished (so how could the original budget have been set?).

Unfortunately, there is nothing to show for London’s much vaunted Garden Bridge, beyond some elegant drawings. Cancelled by the current Mayor of London as construction costs escalated, following an alleged spend of £46 million of public money; architects’ fees accounted for £2.6 million, so what happened to the rest? Even the tenacious Dame Margaret Hodge couldn’t get to the bottom of that question when commissioned to investigate.

Now Suffolk County Council is wrestling with a spectacular £43 million increase on the original estimated £97 million for a three bridges project known as the Upper Orwell Crossing, to relieve traffic congestion in and around Ipswich.

The Government had committed £77 million, and the County £19 million, with the balance to be funded locally. £8 million has already been spent (on what?), enough to have covered the costs of the two smaller bridges, which would open up an important island site for development – and now in doubt.

An independent report (costing the taxpayer another few thousand pounds) commissioned to re-evaluate the project clearly identifies several key issues. Most important, however, the original budget was an ‘estimate’ without a final design and engineering input, or the cost of purchasing land. It confirms that the new ‘budget’ can also only be an estimate without further work on viability. The County’s Cabinet deferred its decision until January. But one has to ask how on earth could such a key project have ever been approved – by the County’s Cabinet and Government – in the first place without a detailed, costed, plan. The current leadership wasn’t in charge at the time, including the Chief Executive and Council Leader. Nevertheless, someone should be held to account.

Even the BBC finds itself condemned by the National Audit Office (NAO) for its ‘poor planning and lack of expertise’ in developing a new site for EastEnders, just yards from its present location. Now five years late, costs have risen by £27m to a spectacular £87 million.

The Taxpayers Alliance discovered it also wasted £11,000 on mugs, T-shirts and banners to inform staff of a new production system. Surely an email would have been sufficient.

Despite no-one taking responsibility for misspending public money, and David Dimbleby’s claims in a Today interview that the BBC is ‘over-managed’, senior management awarded themselves a 30% salary increase, adding a significant wad of cash to their already generous retirement pensions. What an insult to hardworking licence-fee payers, who can only dream of similar largesse, and the over-75’s now at risk of losing their ‘free’ licence because the BBC can’t afford it.

According to another report by the NAO, the British Army’s £495 million recruitment contract with Capita to develop a website is three times over budget and 52 months late. Is the contractor penalised for not meeting targets? I doubt it. The most likely explanation is that the ‘client’ kept making changes to the original specification after the project was commissioned, adding to costs and extending delivery. This is a common problem with IT.

The MOD is also responsible for 11,000 empty homes costing the taxpayer £25 million a year in management fees. There doesn’t appear to be any strategy for bringing them back into use, with an analysis of current or future demand within the Military.

Instead of pouring our money down the drain, these valuable assets – some in prime locations, vandalised and rotting, should be handed over to local authorities. Selected disposals could provide funds to invest in restoring and refitting them for those in need, reducing the housing ‘crisis’.

Dare I mention Motability? In another report, the NAO criticised the ‘lavish rewards’ available at what is essentially a government backed monopoly. The Chief Executive, in place since 2003, is paid (I won’t say earns) £1.7m a year, and is in line for a £2m bonus. A package described as ‘totally unacceptable’ by Parliament’s Work and Pensions Treasury Committee. In the first seven years of the bonus scheme since 2008, five directors received £15.3 million.

The NAO also found that customers had been charged £390 million ‘more than was required’ since 2008. Under the Motability scheme, an individual’s mobility welfare payments are transferred to the organisation in return for a leased car, with insurance, maintenance and roadside assistance. However, only 36 per cent of eligible customers use the scheme; there is no explanation for this.

Amongst other criticisms, the watchdog found that Motability Operations had generated more than £1 billion of unplanned profit since 2008 and held £2.62 billion in reserves as of March 31 2018, whilst benefiting from tax concessions amounting to £888 million in 2017. Responding to the report, the Department for Work & Pensions noted that it ‘strengthened their concerns about the financial model’. Really? How has this been allowed to continue without challenge, and what will happen to the billions ‘in reserve’? Surely the Government had its own representatives on the board, to ensure value for taxpayers’ money?

The NHS doesn’t escape. BBC Look East recently reported that £34 million is wasted annually in the Eastern Region, as prescription drugs (within their use by dates) are destroyed when returned to GP surgeries and pharmacies. Reasons for their return are unclear, but could relate to over-prescribing, wrong drugs supplied, drugs disagreeing with patients, or perhaps a death. Less responsible patients probably put surplus drugs in the bin (a risk to the environment?).

Inevitably, this is the tip of an expensive iceberg; if is happening in one part of the country, then it must be happening elsewhere, with the potential cost to the health service running into billions of pounds. Someone needs to get a grip. As an eastern region MP, I’m sure that Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, will do just that. A bit of a techie, himself, he will no doubt also be horrified at the millions (or billions) spent on failed software systems for the NHS, diverting funds from patient care.

Shamefully, we’ve just learnt that the NHS loses £200 million a year because 15 million (one in 20) GP appointments are missed annually; a surgeon friend told me that the situation is much worse, with patients not turning up for hospital appointments, or even operations. This is selfish, and irresponsible, so perhaps we need some research into the reasons. Text reminders can work, but not everyone has a smart phone, or speaks English.

Health & Wellbeing Boards should prioritise these issues for investigation in their own areas, setting specific timescales for outcomes to proffer advice to Government.

More than a decade on, it’s easy to forget John Prescott’s legacy: a failed mission to have regional Fire Service HQs. The last time I checked, seven of the 11 luxury new developments, each boasting the latest in coffee machine technology were still empty. PFI contracts continue to cost the taxpayer millions of pounds each and every year (at the time of writing, my BT internet connection is taking another week’s holiday so I can’t check the figures, but I think it is £25 million). Prescott was warned his plan wouldn’t work, but he didn’t listen.

There remains a culture in much of the public sector that there really is a magic money tree and no-one will ever be held to account for wasting it on unworkable vanity projects. Believe me, as a councillor, I’ve seen it, intervening to stop some; savings can add up to millions of pounds, not least on procurement. The lesson is stop and listen; is something actually viable, and is it a good use of public money?

But, let’s end on a positive note. Works to increase capacity on the A14 around Cambridge are on time and on budget… Happy 2019.

Tim Dawson: The BBC Murders. How the corporation used anti-Brexit poison to kill Poirot.

Its left-wing, metropolitan agenda is now at the heart of everything it does. And viewers are switching off in droves.

Tim Dawson is a writer. He created and wrote three series of the hit BBC sitcom Coming of Age, and has contributed to several other comedy programmes on the BBC and elsewhere.

The BBC has done it again. As the nation seeks a few days respite from division and argument, the BBC has launched their Yuletide adaptation of Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders. Sadly, it exhibits much of what is wrong with both the Corporation and our wider cultural discourse.

Naturally, the story has been reimagined as an anti-Brexit parable. Everything that makes Christie entertaining – the wit, the twinkle, the twee contemporaneous details – have been shorn away. The picture has been washed out: we have been treated to a portrait of a 1930s Britain overrun by fascism. (In reality, unlike on the continent, fascism gained little foothold in Britain; and was more likely to be mocked – with its Spode-like popinjays in their preposterous uniforms – than admired).

Christie herself was of course a Conservative, of the even-tempered Burkean variety. So it’s hard to believe she’d have sympathised with scriptwriter Sarah Phelps’ own strident, Junckerphile left-wing politics. To an BBC executive, this new mini-series’ conspicuous rejection of the source material may confer ‘freshness’: to many others, it will seem disrespectful. Packaging in an anti-Brexit crusade – particularly now – seems tin-eared and crass.

There is an assumption amongst the high priests of the corporation that another sermon on the evils of Brexit/Conservatism/‘Fatcha’ (delete as applicable) is welcome. Yet the relationship between the BBC and its audience is growing ever more fractious. Perhaps the way in which the BBC is funded is fuelling the acrimony – we are supposedly a liberal democracy, but we are forced to pay a regressive tax to maintain a state broadcaster.

More likely, it is the nature of the broadcasting we are compelled to pay for. The corporation has never been more political. From its Christmas blockbuster drama to its woefully underperforming comedy output, to its obsession with diversity quotas – the corporation’s left-wing, metropolitan agenda is at the heart of everything it does. And viewers are switching off in droves.

This is part of a wider cultural trend. Our universities – once world-leading beacons of critical thought – have been reformed by thousands of low-grade academics into left-wing madrassas. On social media, militant ‘campaigners’ hunt down any defiance of the New Orthodoxy, and organise punishment pile-ons. It is ironic that, 50 years after the abnegation of the Lord Chamberlain’s role in censoring live theatre, actors and academics, students and socialists, find themselves at the forefront of a new movement to curtail free thought and expression.

State industry quickly begins to operate in the interests of the producer rather than the consumer. Both the BBC and our higher education sector now reflect this universal rule. Some University Vice-Chancellors are earning three or four times the Prime Minister’s salary. An Executive Producer may expect to earn £200-250,000 a year. Meanwhile, graduates are leaving inauspicious institutions with valueless degrees; and the BBC’s Christmas viewing figures have been so poor that, even in the upper echelons of Broadcasting House – usually impervious to anything so vulgar as public opinion – alarms bells will be ringing.

Conservatives are squeamish about a culture war. But the hard left is waging one, and our only choice is whether to cede more territory or enter the fray. Achieving a cultural rebalance will mean tackling the corporation and higher education simultaneously.

The truth is that we have far too many universities, offering far too many degrees which will be of little value to an employer. Attempting to corral 50 per cent of school-leavers into university has been a mistake; unsuitable for many, and creating a bloated and unwieldy sector which is not delivering to the needs of either students, companies or wider society.

Reform should pivot around marketisation. Universities should be forced to publish details of what graduates from each of their courses can expect to earn and the chances of finding gainful employment in the months after they’ve left. We should encourage sponsorship of individual students by potential employers. Such institutions as the University of Buckingham – a successful private university which offers many undergraduate degrees in two years instead of three – should be learned from, and public universities incentivised to follow their example.

The BBC must also drag itself into the modern world. That doesn’t mean employees wandering around in LGBT+ ally badges (how appallingly patronising), but the organisation engaging with the reality of its position. As Anthony Jay (producer, Thatcherite and co-writer of Yes, Minister) noted in his 2008 Centre for Policy Studies report How to Save the BBC, a corporation run by a liberal elite for a liberal elite will lose the faith of those who pay for it.

He suggested that ‘quality’ should be at the heart of the BBC’s output – and, since quality can only be measured by viewing figures, this meant dropping the left-wing cant and catering to popular tastes. He also proposed that the license fee should be reduced, and funnelled into a slimmed-down range of channels. We could go further – switching to a subscription model which would allow the BBC to continue to pursue its political agenda unfettered, as it would only be beholden to those who choose to pay for it. Ultimately, the corporation can only expect to sit at the heart of our cultural life if it is aware of its audience. That means bringing salaries under control; abandoning the relentless identity politics; and creating programmes which reflect, rather than lecture, the nation.

Entering the cultural melee on behalf of ordinary voters represents an obvious opportunity for Conservatives. The luvvies may not appreciate it; but taxpayers will. It’s as easy as ABC.

WATCH: Gwynne – Labour’s priority is to try to “force” the government to hold the meaningful vote “before Christmas”

…and therefore, not bringing a no confidence motion to the House.

WATCH: What is Fox’s medical verdict on May’s deal? “It’s recovering.”

“They’re not going to renegotiate the withdrawal agreement…but how do you operate it in a way that’s acceptable to both sides?”

The House of Commons renders the proposed television debate on Brexit utterly superfluous

It is hard to see how the different Brexit alternatives can be presented anything like as well on TV as they will be in Parliament.

At first glance, Theresa May’s push for a television debate with Jeremy Corbyn looks understandable as part of her drive to be seen doing everything she can to persuade people of the merits of her Brexit deal.

The Prime Minister wishes to demonstrate she will leave no stone unturned and spare herself no exertion between now and the vote on 11th December. She is also confident she has a far greater command than Corbyn of the meaning and detail of her proposals, so has good chances of showing him up as a lazy thinker who has not gripped the subject.

But the more one examines how the debate might actually work, the odder it looks, and the less surprising it has become a stumbling block, with no agreement even about whether the BBC or ITV will host it.

Brexit is a horribly complicated subject, with a wide range of mutually contradictory outcomes being canvassed by devoted adherents, ranging from No Deal to the Norway option to a second referendum. It is obvious May and Corbyn have no interest in doing justice to these different ideas.

The Prime Minister is determined to frame this as a choice between her deal and chaos. She is entitled to push that line, but the broadcasters cannot allow themselves to become mere tools in Downing Street’s propaganda offensive.

So the BBC proposed a panel of 20, half of whom would back the PM and half of whom would canvass other options. It then agreed to reduce the panel to ten, split the same way.

What scope for rancour there is in this proposal. No one is likely to feel that in the small amount of time available, his or her cherished ideas about the best way forward have been represented as well as they deserve to be represented.

Happily, there exists a better way of having this debate. A chamber exists in which 40 hours have already been set aside for it, with over 600 members on hand to represent the different points of view.

This chamber has rules of debate which have evolved over a long period, and which enable opposing points of view to be expounded and challenged. It can and does oblige the Prime Minister to attend for hours on end, in order to answer every possible question, not just from the Leader of the Opposition but from the Scottish and Welsh Nationalists, the Democratic Unionists, the Liberals and from many Conservative and other backbenchers who have important and often inconvenient points about which they wish to inquire.

The Members of this House, who have been elected under clearly understood rules by the whole nation, feel themselves under pressure to be intelligible, and if possible to make their arguments in pithy and witty form, for there is then the greatest chance of getting what they have to say across to the wider public. They can be lobbied by their constituents, and find it prudent to remain aware of local opinion, while also exercising their informed judgment on the often very intricate and contentious questions which need to be resolved.

The House has a quick-witted chairman whose duty is to facilitate this process, learned clerks who know how to give legal form to the different options, and voting procedures which enable decisions to be taken. There are also press and public galleries from which the debate can be watched and reported, and the proceedings will, incidentally, be televised.

Why hold the other, much shorter television debate, under improvised and inevitably unsatisfactory rules of procedure, when this far superior forum, known as the House of Commons, already exists?

A cry of rage against the BBC

Robin Aitken, who worked for the Corporation for 25 years, accuses it of propagating liberalism and suppressing conservatism behind a pretend impartiality.

The Noble Liar: How and Why the BBC Distorts the News to Promote a Liberal Agenda by Robin Aitken

Do we need a book to tell us the BBC is biassed in favour of every progressive nostrum? One of my many weaknesses as a conservative is that I cannot bring myself, except on rare occasions, to get really angry about the Corporation’s coverage of current affairs.

It seems to me that it is not so difficult to detect and discount the preconceptions which inform its coverage, and to appreciate the work of the many excellent journalists who are employed there.

Robin Aitken, who worked for the BBC for 25 years, is made of sterner stuff. He is in a state of bubbling indignation with the bias he finds:

“The BBC has wholeheartedly thrown its lot in with the liberal reformers; there has been no ‘impartiality’ on any of the big moral issues of the past half-century. In every instance, the socially conservative argument has been depicted as callous, reactionary and dogmatic. Any counterargument to the prevailing liberal consensus is now ignored altogether; social conservative voices are conspicuous by their absence on mainstream current affairs programmes.”

Aitken accuses the Corporation of maintaining “an elaborately constructed pretence” of neutrality, while acting as

“a strident cheerleader for globalisation, immigration and ‘diversity’ (a quality which, in BBC usage, is always to be applauded, even though academic studies have shown that too much diversity lessens community cohesion).”

He suggests that in “BBC-world we are all liberals now”, and posits the existence of

“a nexus of media interests which is militantly liberal in outlook, and which has systematically destroyed the foundational beliefs and practices which informed the lives of previous generations. This process started in the post-war years, gathered strength in the 1960s and, since then, has enjoyed virtually uninterrupted success in the furtherance of its goals (the EU referendum is the exception and, at the time of writing, it is not clear whether the wishes of the voters will actually result in Britain leaving the EU, such is the ferocity of the fightback against Brexit).”

He illustrates his thesis with many striking observations. It is true, as he says, that BBC people quite often go on nowadays to be heads of Oxbridge colleges – by his count there are now six of these. And it is also true that our universities and schools contain a far smaller proportion of teachers who think of themselves as conservative than was the case only a generation or two ago. There has been a long march by self-righteous liberals through many of our institutions.

Divorce, feminism, mental health, abortion, euthanasia, Christianity, Islam: on all these questions, the BBC tends to promote  whatever the latest progressive orthodoxy may be, and to ignore the huge volume of evidence which contradicts that orthodoxy. Aitken examines these issues in turn, and points to the inconvenient facts.

In Aitken’s view, the BBC propagates “a series of noble lies in pursuit of a political agenda”, but “sooner or later people will realise they have been duped”, which will be “a moment of great peril for the established order”.

One of the errors he makes here is to exaggerate the credulity of the public. Go into any pub in the land and one has always been able to find people who do not believe a word either politicians or journalists (even BBC journalists) tell them.

A second error is to exaggerate the influence of the BBC. Towards the end of the book, he glances across the Atlantic:

“When President Trump was merely ‘Candidate Trump’ on the campaign trail, he hammered home one message in particular; he turned on the mainstream US media and accused it of peddling ‘fake news’. As anyone who has had any experience of US journalists will know, they do not, as a group, lack self-esteem; on the contrary, American media folk are monumentally self-important. Trump’s assault on their profession was bitterly resented and dismissed as the words of an inveterate liar who lacked the righteous virtues they see themselves possessing.”

But as Aitken points out, proving the facts in a story are correct – something over which The New York Times and other liberal American newspapers take inordinate pains – does not in itself exonerate the media from the charge of printing fake news:

“Trump wasn’t saying that the press and the TV networks were getting the facts wrong, rather, they were telling the wrong stories. And Trump had a good point: it’s a question of fairness, not facts. A report can be accurate and yet deeply unfair whether by selection or omission. ‘Fake news’ is not so much about factual inaccuracy as about ideological bias…”

Aitken often implies there can be such a thing as journalism written without bias. That strikes me as a very dubious assumption. Whether one is a historian or a journalist, one can to some extent be aware of one’s own assumptions, and can try to admit these to the reader. But one cannot write without preconceptions, or bias as it will be called by one’s critics.

He also tends to underestimate the extent to which egregious errors, though they may persist for a long time, do eventually tend to be noticed and perhaps even corrected. So immigration, which for a long time was a suppressed subject, is now quite openly debated. And the oddity of Western feminists standing up for Islamic dress codes is more and more noted, even though the discrepancy has not been resolved.

Part of Aitken’s horror is at the “trashy, tawdry and shallow” culture which we inhabit, and which he believes to be “in large measure the creation of our media”. But he does admit, on page 128, that the “collapse in the prestige, influence and centrality of Christianity in Britain” has its roots a long way before the BBC. Arnold wrote Dover Beach, about the “melancholy, long, withdrawing roar” of the Sea of Faith, in 1867.

The French Revolution, for which the men of letters of the Enlightenment had created the intellectual climate, was a more savage onslaught on the Church than anything perpetrated by the errant successors of Lord Reith. To this day, one can establish someone’s political outlook by asking whether they are for or against the Revolution.

Burke wrote a great counterblast to the Revolution. Who in recent years has written a great counterblast to liberalism, or a great defence of conservatism? It is no good blaming everything on the liberals. When the conservative case is not made, it is likely to go by default.

Michael Wharton, who worked at the BBC for ten years before Colin Welch recruited him in 1957 to write the Peter Simple column for The Daily Telegraph, made wonderful, despondent jokes about the whole “left-wing package deal”, personified in a range of ludicrous characters. There are virtually no jokes in Aitken’s book, but it maps a world of self-obsessed and irresistibly comic liberals against whom the pendulum may already have begun to swing.

Brexit shambles descends into debate farce

You really couldn’t make up the state of British politics at the moment. The monstrous shambles that is Brexit is bad enough. A governing party riven by toxic split. An opposition that should be 20 points ahead in the polls but is excelling itself only in being more useless than the Government. In recent days […]

You really couldn’t make up the state of British politics at the moment. The monstrous shambles that is Brexit is bad enough. A governing party riven by toxic split. An opposition that should be 20 points ahead in the polls but is excelling itself only in being more useless than the Government.

In recent days there has been talk of a tv debate between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn but even that can’t be sorted out. At the time of writing, Theresa May’s going to be on the BBC while Corbyn is cosying up to ITV, saying he wants it all over for the I’m a Celebrity final. I mean, really, the biggest substantive difference between the two is over which channel hosts the debate.

Certainly, if it ends up on the BBC, the trajectory of the evening will be markedly downward from Doctor Who to Strictly to the My Brexit’s bigger than Your Brexit despairathon.

It looks as though David Attenborough’s Dynasties will be booted to a later date. In a quiet but lovely corner of the internet, the wonderful Richard Flowers imagined the debate with an Attenborough voiceover:

Here… in the bleak midwinter… we see the skeletal remains of a Prime Minister being picked over by the vultures from her own Party, whilest a lst sheep in a loose collection of flappy organic rags bleats incoherant mantras about a Jobs First Bexit… And all about them, the country dies…

Vince, Nicola Sturgeon and the People’s Vote campaign are all rightly narked that they are being left out. I mean, after all, why wouldn’t they want to show an alternative opinion that might bring in more viewers?

This evening, Sal Brinton and Nick Harvey have written to BBC Chairman Lord Hall to suggest that the debate as currently planned might breach Ofcom rules. I’m not sure about that, because there’s no actual election, but the party is seeing legal advice. Here’s the text of their letter. 

Further to the letter from the Liberal Democrats on the 27th November, you will be aware of reports indicating that the BBC have offered to host a debate between the Prime Minister and the Labour Leader.

We are deeply concerned by these reports, and disappointed that the BBC has failed to communicate with us in regard to any such plans, particularly given the details reported in the Guardian[1] of some apparent proposals for other programmes that could include others beyond the Prime Minister and Labour Leader.

In light of these reports we are now seeking legal opinion on the reported proposed format and the possible exclusion of ourselves from the debate.

As we set out in our previous letter, a head-to-head debate between two leaders committed to Brexit would be entirely unacceptable, fail to provide balance and would be a huge disservice to millions of people who voted to remain in the European Union, and the growing number who want a people’s vote on the Brexit deal. It would be extraordinary for a publicly funded broadcaster to consider excluding such a sizeable viewpoint from a prime-time debate.

We are further concerned that any debate would move from the confines of the draft Brexit deal to broader political issues – the future of public services, the impact on the environment – where the Liberal Democrat position on such matters would be entirely unrepresented.

The BBC editorial guidelines state the need to “aim to give due weight and prominence to all the main strands of argument and to all the main parties”. The Ofcom Broadcasting Code emphasises the need for “due impartiality” and “an appropriately wide range of significant views must be included and given due weight” in such proposed programmes. This is something that could not be achieved in a head-to-head debate between Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May without a Liberal Democrat representative.

The Liberal Democrats are advocating a vote on the Brexit deal, with the public being given an option to remain in the EU – a distinctive view that is not represented by either Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn. This policy was included in our 2017 General Election manifesto, in contrast to other parties.

The distinctive position the Liberal Democrats offer on Brexit must be considered in arranging any forthcoming debate on the Brexit deal, in which we expect to be included.

We look forward to your response on this matter.

 

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

Chloe Westley: Jordan Peterson, not modern feminists, speaks for me

Peterson rejects collectivist doctrines, and instead emphasises the importance of the individual. This is why so many people say they have been inspired by his work.

Chloe Westley is the Campaign Manager of the TaxPayers’ Alliance.

Much has been written about Jordan Peterson. The Canadian academic has been accused of being ‘sexist’, ‘misogynist’, ‘racist’ and worse of all – a ‘white man’. As a reaction to a recent interview with Peterson in GQ, Marina Hyde published a Guardian piece expressing concern that “Peterson (spent) most of the interview looking like he’s about to urinate out of his face. ”

It’s a wonder that these many compelling and thoughtful counter-arguments have so far failed to debunk Peterson’s academic work. Perhaps if more of his critics had the attention span to look beyond the fact that he happens to be a white man, and listened to what he is actually saying, we would take them more seriously.

For when Peterson challenges the idea of an imposed patriarchy he does so on behalf of women like me. I’ve been told my whole life by modern feminists that I should be resentful of men, that I should fear discrimination at every opportunity, and that the world will always treat me badly because of my gender. Whilst that may be true in some countries, particularly in the Middle East, it’s certainly not the case in modern Britain.

Young women in Britain are being misled by feminists. Take the stories over the weekend based on “Equal Pay Day”. We’re told that there is a “gender pay gap” between men and women, and that this is due to rampant discrimination. But this gap is simply a comparison of the average salaries of men and women: it’s not indicative of any kind of discrimination. Equal pay for equal work is guaranteed by law. It is illegal to pay women less for the same work if they are equally qualified.

The difference in average earnings are more likely down to women’s choices. The ‘pay gap’ between men and women aged between 22 – 39 is virtually non existent, it has fluctuated  between -0.8 per cent and 2.2 per cent during 2015-2017. What is a more likely indicator of the difference in average earnings is that women are choosing, at a certain stage in their life, to raise a family and opt for more flexible or part-time work.

And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. To say that it’s somehow wrong for women to choose different kinds of work to men implies that we are not fully entitled to make their own independent choices. What right do do feminists have to look down on women who prioritise family life over the pursuit of a higher salary at a FTSE 100 company? Feminism used to be about opportunity and choices for women. Now I fear their aim is to socially reconstruct society, regardless of the cost to the rights of the individual.

But whilst the media obsess over Peterson’s views on women and gender, they are actually the least interesting thing about him. His academic contributions are really about how human beings can live in the world with dignity, and without destroying each other.  He explores the history of human societies and theology in order to identify what it might mean to be human, and the best way to preserve human life and prosperity.

At nearly every opportunity, he argues passionately against the doctrines of Postmodernism and Marxism  – and almost any ideology which seeks to destroy and rebuild society in its own image. Marxists aspire towards an ‘ideal’ order of human life, in which unjust hierarchies are torn down and replaced with a utopia of fairness and equality. The only problem is that in order to overthrow the system you have to kill a lot of people. And in the end, you’re left with another hierarchy – one that is based on loyalty to the regime.

Peterson rejects collectivist doctrines, and instead emphasises the importance of the individual. This is why, I believe, so many people say they have been inspired by his work. Instead of seeing people as victims, he praises our potential for greatness and compassion.

But individualism isn’t just about the actualisation of the individual. It’s our defence against evil. Authoritarian regimes have relied on the abdication of individual responsibility in order to rise to power. Things go wrong when enough people absolve themselves of being informed citizens who are awake and capable of stating the truth.

And in order to have informed citizens who are capable of stating the truth, you must protect free speech. On BBC’s Question Time last week, Peterson warned against the dangers of a government regulating speech. There is no question of whether hateful speech exists. It does.

But who decides what to criminalise? In socialist Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro uses a ‘Law Against Hatred’ to imprison political opponents, who are accused of ‘promoting fascism, hatred, and intolerance’. Those who speak out against the regime in media outlets or on social media can be accused of hate speech, and put in prison for up to 20 years. Some of us may dismiss or laugh at ‘Social Justice Warriors’ in the UK, but their attempt to shut down debate and dismiss any opposing argument as ‘fascism’ should alarm us all. This isn’t just a phenomena on University campuses: even an elected politician has pathetically called for me to be banned from TV.

The ad hominem attacks on Jordan Peterson are lazy. He’s not interested in dividing society into group identities, and pitching them against each other: that’s the goal of the identitarian Left. Instead, Peterson offers a thoughtful defence of the individual, and warns against the tyranny of the collective.  It’s not a “patriarchy” that women in the west should fear. It’s Marxism.