Advertisements

Should Journalists Have To Declare Their Political Biases And Donations?

NXT-TRIVIA KRT

Belief that the media is biased is one thing that unites conservatives and leftists in America and Britain. So why not demand that journalists reveal any political affiliations upfront, to give us better context for their reporting and commentary?

Should online, print and television journalists declare their political leanings (and donations) upfront, in the name of transparency? Jonah Goldberg thinks so, and makes a persuasive case.

Goldberg writes in the National Review:

One of the reasons I like good opinion journalism, particularly in long-form magazine articles, is that it doesn’t hide from the fact it is making an argument. You know where the author is coming from, and you can take that into account as he or she marshals facts and evidence for his or her case. We know opposing lawyers in a courtroom are biased, but if they don’t make strong arguments, they lose.

I understand bans on reporters giving to campaigns, but we should understand what those bans are: a means of hiding the political leanings of reporters from readers and viewers.

This has become a particularly hot topic after a report issued by the Center for Public Integrity confirmed the unsurprising fact that American journalists and media personalities give vastly more in campaign contributions to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party than to Donald Trump and the Republicans.

And given this vast discrepancy – with $382,000 given by hundreds of media personalities to Clinton and just $14,000 by a handful of people to Trump – Goldberg points out that hiding behind the fig leaf of impartiality or being a political “independent” is no longer fooling anyone:

Anyone who has spent a moment around elite reporters or studied their output knows that they tend to be left of center. In 1981, S. Robert Lichter and Stanley Rothman surveyed 240 leading journalists and found that 94 percent of them voted for Lyndon Johnson in 1964, 81 percent voted for George McGovern in 1972, and 81 percent voted for Jimmy Carter in 1976. Only 19 percent placed themselves on the right side of the political spectrum. Does anyone think the media have become less liberal since then?

None of this means liberals — or conservatives — can’t be good reporters, but the idea that media bias is nonexistent is ludicrous. Judges have far greater incentives to be neutral and objective, yet we know that Democrat-appointed judges tend to issue liberal decisions, and Republican-appointed judges tend to issue conservative decisions.

The Obama administration and campaigns have hired dozens of prominent, supposedly nonpartisan journalists, including former White House press secretary and Time magazine reporter Jay Carney, former Time managing editor Rick Stengel, the Washington Post’s Shailagh Murray, and ABC’s Linda Douglass.

Was it just a coincidence that they were all ideologically simpatico with the Obama agenda? How did the Obama team even figure out they were liberals in the first place?

Of course, exactly the same revolving door between the media and political worlds can be found in Britain, with well-known television journalists from BBC and ITV news suddenly shedding the white robes of virtuous objectivity to mysteriously shack up in Downing Street in a political communications role. This transcends party politics, and the Conservatives are by no means the only ones at fault – in the case of Jeremy Corbyn’s ideological henchman Seumas Milne, we have seen a Guardian polemicist not even leaving his job but merely take a leave of absence to become head of communications for the opposition Labour Party.

You can’t stop this from happening, and nor should anyone necessarily try. But the public do have a moral right to know the political leanings and affiliations of those who report and interpret the news. We expect MPs and Lords to declare their financial interests so that we can monitor their behaviour and ensure that they are not unduly influenced by their commercial connections. But a well-functioning press is every bit as vital to our democracy, so why should we not understand the motivations of reporters, commentators and editors.

Consider the case of Jasmine Lawrence, editor of the BBC’s 24-hour news channel. Lawrence was caught posting virulently hostile (and ignorant) thoughts about UKIP on social media prior to the 2014 European Parliament elections, and received only the mildest of cautions from her bosses.

As this blog noted at the time:

What the BBC fail to address in their response is the fact that the remainder of the BBC’s election coverage is not the problem. The problem is the fact that Jasmine Lawrence will remain the editor of the BBC News Channel, presumably resuming full duties as soon as the election coverage is completed on Sunday.

Yes, it is certainly likely that she caused editorial harm and biased coverage in the weeks leading up to the election before her ill-advised tweet saw her stripped of her duties, but how much more damage can she now do in the coming year leading up to the general election?

We all have political preferences, and that’s fine. But the Jasmine Lawrence tweet doesn’t just reveal a tendency to lean one way or the other along the political spectrum. The editor of the BBC News Channel clearly has a deeply ingrained, long held antipathy toward UKIP and the people who support that party or agree with its policies.

Are we really supposed to believe that when she walks into the BBC offices in the morning, Jasmine Lawrence takes off her scornful, UKIP-denigrating hat and puts on her cap of unblemished impartiality, and that the decisions she makes regarding story selection, focusing of time and resources, determining which guests to interview, lines of questioning and other matters will not be influenced by the same sentiments that prompted her to call UKIP supporters white, middle aged sexists and racists?

At present, we are deluding ourselves that the people who report the news – and worse still, the people who get to decide what even counts as news in the first place – are uniformly honest and committed to impartiality, and that the possibility of subconscious bias simply doesn’t exist. And this is holding human beings to a standard of behaviour which cannot possibly be met.

Far better that we more fully embrace the free market in our journalism, and equip news consumers (i.e. ordinary voters) with more perfect information – not just about our politicians, but also about the people who report on them. That way, television and print journalists can continue to strive for objectivity where appropriate, but we will have the backup of knowing about any political memberships, donations or affiliations that may influence their reporting, either consciously or subconsciously.

This doesn’t need to be an official thing. Indeed, nothing would be worse or more totalitarian than keeping a centralised state register of journalists’ political affiliations – that would be Orwellian in the extreme. Rather, the culture should be changed so that declaring one’s political allegiances upfront comes to be seen as a matter of honour and journalistic best practice.

Only earlier this week, a BBC television journalist named Danny Carpenter was suspended from his job for describing Theresa May’s new Conservative government as “the new Nazis” on his personal Facebook page.

The Daily Mail reports:

A BBC news presenter has been suspended for allegedly calling the Tory government ‘the new Nazis’ in an online social media rant.

BBC Look North’s Danny Carpenter reportedly accused the government of being ‘cynical, vicious, racist and xenophobic’ in a Facebook rant and has now been suspended by the corporation as they carry out an investigation.

Mr Carpenter is also said to have called for the Brexit to be ‘voted out’ by Parliament because of a ‘combination of dishonest fear-mongering and lies about the economy’.

This is clearly a partisan zealot of the highest order, someone with political beliefs even more pungent than those of this blog – and clearly very ideologically different. But just as I would never expect to be allowed to stand in front of a television camera reporting the news with a straight face, so Danny Carpenter should never have been allowed within 5 miles of a BBC studio except as a paid opinion contributor (like my star turn on the BBC Daily Politics earlier this year).

Jonah Goldberg is quite right to point out that the pretence of journalistic impartiality is a fraud which we all perpetrate on ourselves. Pretending that we are being served a conscientiously-curated stream of objective, unbiased reporting at all times lulls those of us credulous enough to believe it into a false sense of security, meaning that people do not apply their own scepticism or challenge what they are told.

And the rest of us, fully aware that what is being sold to us as objective coverage is in fact ideologically skewed, are increasingly spurning the mainstream media. More and more of us are taking refuge in new independent media sources, curated for us by algorithms and presented through social media, some of which are diligent and honourable but many of which can trap us in an ideological bubble of bias confirmation.

Goldberg concludes:

This lack of transparency benefits news organizations, but it really doesn’t fool anybody — except maybe the reporters themselves.

I agree. And playing along with the deception by furiously pretending that we have an impartial media only fuels the atmosphere of distrust and resentment in our politics. Having prominent journalists declare any strong political allegiances upfront would not solve all of our problems by magic. But it certainly wouldn’t do any harm.

 

newspaper

Support Semi-Partisan Politics with a one-time or recurring donation:

Agree with this article? Violently disagree? Scroll down to leave a comment.

Follow Semi-Partisan Politics on TwitterFacebook and Medium.

Advertisements

Remainers Are Trying To Rewrite History, Claiming Media Coverage Favoured The Leave Campaign

eu-referendum-media-coverage-television-news-bias-2

Yes, the BBC let the public down with their spineless, uninquisitive EU referendum coverage. But this only benefited the Remain campaign, not the Brexiteers, and to suggest otherwise is absurd

Disappointed Remain activist Hugo Dixon takes to the pages of InFacts with with a sullen litany of the many ways in which the (ahem) notoriously eurosceptic television news media supposedly hindered the pro-EU camp’s chances and aided the fact-free Brexiteers at every turn.

Dixon writes:

The BBC has rightly been criticised for its weak referendum coverage. If the broadcaster had done a better job of challenging interviewees, informing the public and making room for a variety of viewpoints, voters would have had a better chance of sifting fact from fiction. The BBC, after all, dominates our news coverage: 77% of the public use it as a news source, according to Ofcom.

The most common criticism aired against the BBC is one of phoney balance – namely that it gave equal airtime to experts and their opponents’ unsubstantiated bluster. But this is probably not the most serious charge. After all, it would not have been fair to deny the two sides of the referendum equal airtime or to keep off the air campaigners who were telling fibs or spinning fantasy.

However, what the BBC could and should have done was grill its guests more vigorously – and make more space for coverage that didn’t fit into the tired Punch-and-Judy style battle between spokespeople put up by the two official campaigns.

There is a kernel of a sensible point in here. This blog has written numerous times that sensationalist or craven news coverage which merely allows two opposing talking heads to scream at each other without any effort to arbitrate or discern truth is a pox on our journalism – whether it is infecting the US presidential election or the EU referendum in Britain.

Dixon is also admirably on-point when he criticises the media’s reliance on the sanitised, focus-group approved  media grids of the two opposing lead campaign groups, effectively suggesting to their viewers that these incompetents and nepotism beneficiaries represented the full spectrum of eurosceptic and pro-European thought:

This wasn’t the BBC’s only failing. It also allowed too much of its coverage to become a Punch-and-Judy style battle between the official campaigns. The broadcaster, of course, had to give a lot of airtime to Vote Leave and Stronger In. But it allowed its coverage to be virtually dictated by their agendas.

I know the Remain side of the story better. Stronger In had a “grid”, on which it set out what stories it wanted to push on particular days and which people it wanted to push those messages. It coordinated this grid closely with Craig Oliver, David Cameron’s director of communications. Indeed, Stronger In was effectively in Number 10’s pocket. It rarely put forward people who weren’t on message with its Project Fear strategy.

The BBC should not have allowed itself to be manipulated in this way, particularly since it was aware of the potential problem. Its guidelines said: “Where there is a range of views or perspectives, that should be reflected appropriately during the campaign.” They went on to say: “The designated Campaign Groups – whilst offering spokespeople to programme-makers and other content producers – cannot dictate who should or who should not appear on BBC output.”

But the broadcaster didn’t do enough to resist the pressure. As a result, Downing Street and its puppets dominated the Remain camp’s share of airtime, and people who wanted to make a positive case for Britain’s involvement were edged out. Even Gordon Brown – who was trying to argue that we should lead Europe, not leave Europe – found it hard to be heard.

While Hugo Dixon’s heart wells over with sympathy for Gordon Brown’s inability to claim his fair share of the limelight, this blog would point to the many independent and non-aligned voices on the Brexit side who struggled to get a hearing of any kind, despite (in some cases) holding media events in the heart of Westminster under the very nose of the establishment.

So on both of these complaints, Dixon is on solid ground. But to go on and suggest that intellectually lazy journalism which impacted the Leave side every bit as much as the Remain campaign somehow decisively swung the outcome of the referendum is to venture into the realm of fantasy.

Dixon concludes:

For every such example, the BBC could presumably come up with a counter-example. But when its senior figures search their souls, do they really think they fulfilled their mission of informing and educating the public well during the referendum? And, if not, what are they going to do about it? How about an independent, public audit of how the BBC fared during the referendum backed up by recommendations on how to do better in future?

The world is not getting any simpler. Hard, honest thinking about how to cover often very complicated questions could stand the BBC in good stead. Audiences and license fee payers definitely deserve it.

The underlying assertion, carefully left unsaid, is that these various journalistic failures added up to a succession of “microbiases” which somehow cumulatively tipped the referendum result, and that if only BBC and other television news presenters had challenged guests and demanded more “facts” then the British people would have come to their senses and realised just how star-spangled awesome the European Union really is.

And maybe in an alternative universe that was the case – that there simply weren’t enough highly credentialed experts, both hysterical and sober, using abundant media platforms to lecture the British people that seeking freedom from the EU would be an unmitigated disaster.

Why oh why were these noble voices, these latter-day Cassandras so cruelly shut out of the national debate, swamped by a relentlessly pro-Brexit television media amplifying the Leave campaign’s monopoly on falsehoods and scaremongering?

But that’s not how I remember the EU referendum campaign.

Hugo Dixon inhabits an interesting parallel universe, and no doubt a comforting one for disappointed Remain campaigners so deeply invested in their failed euro-federalist dream. But it bears no resemblance to the real world, where the plucky, haphazard, incoherent and almost terminally disorganised Leave campaign triumphed against the arrayed forces of the establishment and a television news media which only amplified rather than diminished their influence in support of the status quo.

 

European Union - United Kingdom - Britain - Flags

Support Semi-Partisan Politics with a one-time or recurring donation:

Agree with this article? Violently disagree? Scroll down to leave a comment.

Follow Semi-Partisan Politics on TwitterFacebook and Medium.

Julia Hartley-Brewer Is Wrong To Fear Mandatory Reselection Of MPs

Why are conservatives so concerned that the Labour Party is moving in a more socialist direction?

On last night’s Question Time, journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer – a journalist with whom this blog often agrees – held forth on the state of the Labour Party, and calls by some activists for the implementation of mandatory re-selection of MPs prior to a general election in order to make the Parliamentary Labour Party more representative of the membership.

Huffington Post reports:

Journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer said Britons would “never elect a Socialist Government” on Thursday’s edition of the programme, as Corbyn is expected to be re-elected Labour leader easily on Saturday.

She was speaking after Blairite Labour MP Liz Kendall was the target of an audience member who advocated the mandatory re-selection of MPs before they could defend their seats in a General Election, something Corbyn supporters could use to remove those critical of the Labour Party leader.

“What a depressing conversation, genuinely,” Hartley-Brewer said.

“I’m a great believer in democracy. The thing about democracy is you have a Government but you also have Her Majesty’s Opposition.

“The reality is the Labour Party needs to make a decision about whether it wants to be a serious alternative Government in waiting or a Friday night Marxist book club. It can’t be both.”

This, of course, is a common refrain from conservative types either hoping to have some fun at Labour’s expense or express genuine concern about what they see as an unbalancing of Britain’s political system.

Personally, I don’t understand why so many prominent movement Conservatives – people who would never vote Labour in a million years – are so upset that the Labour Party is once again expressing genuine socialist tendencies, and desperate for it to tack back to the centre and become an electoral threat to the Tories again. Even after the EU referendum have these people learned nothing about the dangers of a stultifying cross-party consensus in the middle of British politics which shuts out whole swathes of people who dare to hold staunchly conservative or socialist (or individualist/authoritarian) beliefs?

The Huffington Post continues:

Hartley Brewer then defended [Liz] Kendall, calling her a “very good, very sensible hard-working MP” who “talks about the real issues affecting real people”. She bemoaned the fate of Labour MPs who face either “deselection for speaking sense” or losing their seats at an election.

I can’t help but feel that Julia Hartley-Brewer is failing to consider the upside of mandatory reselection for conservatives. Finally, real small government conservatives would have a mechanism to get rid of statist, pro-European Tory-lite interlopers like the pointless Anna Soubry, and those numerous other MPs who pretended to be staunchly eurosceptic during their initial constituency selection procedures only to come running to the Remain campaign like loyal dogs the moment that David Cameron snapped his fingers. Don’t Conservative Party members deserve a parliamentary party – and a government – which more closely reflects their interests and priorities, too? And what better way to do this than through mandatory reselection?

Yet many people with whom this blog usually finds common cause seem to see this issue differently. They seem aghast at the idea that a party founded on socialist ideals should actually dare to be socialist, which is puzzling to me. Julia Hartley-Brewer will probably never vote Labour for the remainder of her lifetime – so why the concern that Labour avoid becoming a “Marxist book club”? At a time when the Conservative Party is so soul-sappingly centrist in outlook, would she really rather have a battle-ready, equally centrist Labour Party nipping at its heels?

As this blog recently commented:

It is as though it is no longer enough for the party we personally support to reflect our own views and priorities – we now expect opposing parties to reflect them too. This is a politically stultifying and increasingly ludicrous state of affairs. As a small-c conservative I believe strongly in maintaining our nuclear deterrent, a strong military, the NATO alliance, low taxes and small government. But I don’t for a moment expect the leader of the Labour Party to hold these exact positions, too. And while it would be calamitous were Jeremy Corbyn to become prime minister by some dark miracle and actually enact all of his policies, I trust in the wisdom of the British people to see through his policies and reject Corbynism at the ballot box.

And that’s the difference, I suppose, between this blog and the political and media establishment. I trust the people to look at the political parties and refuse to vote for a party campaigning on a manifesto which is so clearly damaging to our economy and national interests. The establishment do not trust the people, because they do not respect the people. They have no faith that the British people will make rational decisions when presented with a range of political alternatives – therefore they see it as their job to artificially limit our choice beforehand, taking certain options off the table by declaring them “unacceptable” and suppressing their very discussion by mainstream politicians.

Besides, who should be the judge of whether an MP is “sensible” and “hardworking”? Come general election time, surely the best people to pass judgment are those from the local constituency party, who know best whether their MP is adequately representing their values. If they are dissatisfied with their candidate, why should their views be steamrollered by a cliquish Westminster conspiracy to protect the centrist Good Old Boys (and Girls)?

If Labour’s centrist MPs really do speak such “sense”, they will surely have no difficulty in winning the support of thousands of non-aligned voters who do not subscribe to the Jeremy Corbyn agenda. If they are so wise and pragmatic, surely they could not fail to succeed by striking out on their own and forming a new centrist party?

And yet the centrists are going nowhere, because they have no compelling vision of their own to offer the electorate, and many of them would struggle to even win back their deposits if they ran as independent candidates or under the banner of a new centrist party. Therefore their only hope, in the short term, is to cling on to their seats despite often being loathed by their own local parties, in the hope that one of them will come up with an alternative policy agenda which actually commands enthusiasm and respect. And frankly, few Labour centrist MPs have done anything to deserve such an unfair helping hand.

The cold, hard truth is that the Labour Party has shifted decisively to the Left. Julia Hartley-Brewer’s attitude seems to be “to hell with the party members who actually do all of the hard work and unglamorous campaigning – they should be lumbered with a centrist leader they despise, just so that British politics can continue to be fought over a vanishingly small sliver of real estate in the centre ground”. Personally, I find that idea repellent.

In a democracy, decisions are made and influence is wielded by the people who actually bother to show up. And right now, the Corbynite Left are showing up and making their voices heard, while the various centrists (despite their prestige) are able to conjure up all the excitement of a cold bucket of sick. The left-wing have earned the right to be heard, while the centrists have demonstrably not. Hearing what the Corbynites have to say and abiding by their wishes is therefore not only the fair thing for the Labour Party to do, it is the only remotely democratic thing for the Labour Party to do.

And the proper reaction from conservatives is not to brim over with sympathy for the poor Labour centrist MPs who have so grievously lost touch with their own party base – it is to demand a similar rebirth of radicalism on the Right.

Julia Hartley-Brewer is aghast at the idea of mandatory reselection for Labour MPs, but I say bring it on. Let the Tories have their own version of Momentum too, something to put a rocket up the government’s complacent and depressingly un-ideological posterior – and then give Conservative Party members the same opportunity to shape the future of their party, hopefully by dragging it away from the smoking ruins of Cameron-era centrism.

 

Jeremy Corbyn - Labour Leadership Election - Victory Nears

Support Semi-Partisan Politics with a one-time or recurring donation:

Agree with this article? Violently disagree? Scroll down to leave a comment.

Follow Semi-Partisan Politics on TwitterFacebook and Medium.

Brexiteers Are Not Violent Savages. In Fact, More Brexiteers Than Remainers Strongly Oppose The Death Penalty

Darwin - Evolution of man - EU Referendum - Brexiteers

The BBC uncovers ‘devastating evidence’ linking support for Brexit with being a primitive Neanderthal

The latest act in the BBC’s ongoing effort to catastrophise Brexit and discredit Brexiteers is this delightful article from last week’s News Magazine, exploring the link between Brexit and the death penalty:

Immediately after the vote, commentators said it was about class – about professionals living and working in big cities, especially London (who voted Remain), versus working class people in smaller towns, especially in the north of England (who voted Leave).

So you would think that if you know that someone is working class and has a low income, you’d be able to confidently guess they voted Leave. But according to Stian Westlake, Head of Research at the think tank Nesta, this is not the case.

“If you look at someone’s class status and their income, and you try and use that to guess whether or not they voted Remain, it turns out it’s not that much better than guesswork. It gives you around 55% accuracy, and obviously a guess would give you 50% accuracy,” Westlake says.

His figures come from the British Election Study, in which around 24,000 people were asked about their voting intentions in the EU referendum.

Respondents to the survey were also questioned on their views on other things, such as the death penalty – and this provides a much better indicator of how people voted, Westlake argues.

“If you look at attitudes to questions such as, ‘Do you think criminals should be publicly whipped?’ or ‘Are you in favour of the death penalty?’ – those things are much better predictors, and you get over 70% accuracy,” he says.

“To give you an idea of how good a predictor that is, if you ask someone, ‘Do you think there is too much European integration?’ – which you’d think is a pretty good indicator – that only gets you to the high 70s. So if you can get to 71% or 72% prediction from these questions about traditional values, then it suggests it is that, rather than income or class, that is really driving the vote for Leave.”

So now Brexiteers are violent savages, dangerous authoritarian people who cannot keep their base desire for retribution and “an eye for an eye” under control. Brexit Britain will see a return of the stocks, the scold’s bridle and even the gallows in the town square if we get our way, the BBC is effectively telling its readers.

And of course this fits in with everything that Remainers like to think about themselves, and tell themselves about those who want Britain out of the European Union. To their minds, Remainers are compassionate, progressive, outward-looking, tolerant and fair, while Leavers are sneaky, conniving, closed-minded, inward-looking, highly intolerant and “post-factual”. Remainers want to hug a hoodie. We, apparently, want to bash their heads in with a brick and hang them from lamp posts as a warning to others.

Except that in their haste to demonise Brexiteers, the BBC neglected to mention the percentage of Remainers who also back the authoritarian policies cited in the survey. And there is a reason for this – to some extent, the data actually exonerates Brexiteers, while painting Remainers in an equally bad light, if not worse.

BES - Death penalty - Brexit

This chart plots satisfaction with EU democracy (a reasonable indicator of general euroscepticism given the fact that sovereignty and democracy were given as the primary motivation for voting to leave, according to post-referendum polling) against strength of agreement with the death penalty. The data is taken from the British Election Study, and and can be freely found and researched on their website.

And what we see here is that of those who strongly oppose the death penalty, over 62% are eurosceptic (that is, either very dissatisfied or a little dissatisfied with EU democracy). Of those who disagree with the death penalty a little less staunchly, over 65% are eurosceptic.

Admittedly, more staunch eurosceptics take up a much larger proportion of those who agree or strongly agree with the death penalty. But the europhiles (taken as those fairly satisfied or very satisfied with EU democracy) hardly cover themselves in glory as principled death penalty abolitionists. The proportion of europhiles either against or strongly against the death penalty struggles to break much above 20%.

This would seem to suggest that however much the BBC’s “traditionalist” narrative may play a part, there are also a significant number of very firm eurosceptic death penalty opponents who supported Brexit. That would make sense. This blog is one of them, as is nearly every other Brexiteer I happen to know. But why report on the principled band of anti death penalty Brexiteers when you can just play to the gallery and point at those eurosceptics who want to bring back hanging? It just fits so neatly into the tidy little narrative about primitive, left-behind idiots voting for Brexit against their own supposed interests.

But perhaps if the data tells us anything  at all, it is that people with strong opinions on either side of the death penalty issue (and perhaps other issues too) tended to favour leaving the European Union, while Britain’s army of vague, wishy-washy and noncommittal people wanted us to remain, guided as always by their dithering uncertainty and fear of change. After all, when it came to strongly disagreeing (or even strongly agreeing) with the death penalty, Britain’s EU cheerleaders are almost nowhere to be seen. That hardly fits with their sanctimonious claim to be more open and tolerant than the rest of us.

But that doesn’t quite fit the BBC’s preferred narrative. Far better to concentrate on the spike and declare all Brexiteers to be violent, vengeful authoritarians. That is the narrative the BBC loves to tell and Remainers love to hear, so that is the narrative which we will continue to get.

 

Abolish death penalty

Bottom Image: ForceChange

Support Semi-Partisan Politics with a one-time or recurring donation:

Agree with this article? Violently disagree? Scroll down to leave a comment.

Follow Semi-Partisan Politics on TwitterFacebook and Medium.

The Significance Of That Bizarre Eddie Izzard Appearance On Question Time

Eddie Izzard, Brexit Ambassador

While it was infuriating to watch at the time – I actually had to put down my iPad at times to stop myself tweeting things which I might later regret – Eddie Izzard’s tour de force of ignorance and condescension on BBC Question Time last night will have been a great boon to all Brexiteers.

Here, in one man, is embodied the distilled nature of the entire Remain campaign argument – a child’s level of understanding of the European Union’s history, what it does and how it actually works coupled with an unjustified level of arrogance and assumed intellectual and moral superiority which somehow makes them come off as smug, arrogant, condescending, pitying and self-aggrandising all at the same time.

Eddie Izzard’s strategy for the programme was clearly “Take Down Nigel Farage In A Blaze Of Glory”, and the comedian went at the UKIP leader from the outset. He would have been far better to focus his fire on the others. Nigel Farage is a man who has easily dispatched stageloads of Britain’s leading politicians in a single debate and twice bested Nick Clegg in one-on-one encounters. Coming at him with a paper thin case and the debating style of an over-excited sixth former is never going to work. It certainly didn’t last night.

The shriller Eddie Izzard became, the more he cut across Nigel Farage and make his grandstanding appeals to the audience, the more Farage looked like the adult in the room. As Izzard’s plea for more ice cream became ever more desperate, Farage leaned back in his chair with a look of bemused resignation. Considering that one of the Remain campaign’s key aims is to demonise Farage and then inextricably tie him to the Leave campaign, this was a huge unforced error.

But more than that, it showed the vacuity at the heart of the Remain campaign. Sure, there are a few honourable die hard euro federalists out there – my friend Paddy Briggs is one – but you will scarcely hear from them in this campaign. The only people with a coherent and honourable case for Britain remaining in the EU (and indeed deepening our participation) are shoved in the closet, the Remain campaign’s dirty little secret as they pretend to the rest of us that We Are All Eurosceptics Too.

The rest of the campaign is built on ignorance and fear. Yes of course large swathes of the Leave campaign are little better. But once Remain have dispatched with their meaningless pleasantries about “staying in Europe to reform it” and the importance of “cooperation” (which in europhile land can only take place between countries when facilitated by a supranational political union, for some reason), all they have left are their Armageddon stories about how Brexit would bring us all to economic ruin, or how the supposedly benign and friendly EU would behave like an abusive spouse to a departing Britain.

Pete North agrees:

We’ve heard all the europhile fluff. All the sanctimonious cliches about “not walking away from the table” and “getting in there to make it work better” and “respecting the rules of the club” and when you’re dealing with someone of great charisma it’s hard not to want to buy into that.

These are all positive and constructive sentiments reinforced with words like “cooperation” and “unity”. But sentiment is all it is. Contrivances. And if you hold only a superficial notion of what the EU is, how it works and the actual consequences of it, then that leap of faith is easier to make.

And this perhaps explains the gulf between age groups and voting intentions. Those who have wised up to the EU want out. The youthful ideologues lack the maturity and historical context to see through the veneer of shallow and meaningless rhetoric. This is what the remain camp is banking on.

And this is why I can muster a venomous contempt of Eddie Izzard. Think what you will of him and his politics but he is not a stupid man. Fatuous maybe, but not stupid. He has always been a true believer. He is a europhile to the core. And while they are capable of an extraordinary self-deception one thing europhiles do without exception is lie through their teeth. Up becomes down, black becomes white, dog becomes cat. No lie is too big and any lie will do.

Being a comedian and habitually attuned to audiences accepting a flawed premise in order to relate to the material, Izzard is able to lie with no self-awareness at all. It’s what permits him to lie as often as he does to an extent that even professional politicians would hesitate.

And this is what has characterised the European Union debate for as long as we’ve been having this debate. The attempt by europhiles to frame this as though it were a generational stand off between young progressives and old reactionaries. For one to be against the EU, in the mind of the europhile, one must naturally be a xenophobic, little Englander who could only possibly have selfish motives. This is the deceit that they wish to impress upon those new to the debate.

And this is actually what drives the blood curdling hostility between the two camps. We have a broadly europhile media class. A set of self-regarding luvvies largely culturally and financially insulated from the consequences of EU membership, believing themselves to be the living embodiment of virtue.

People wonder how the country will knit back together after this referendum. I’m not sure that it will. Pete North is certainly convinced that it will not. One thing is certain – there will be no magnanimity from the Remain side if they win.

Sure, a smiling David Cameron might come out of 10 Downing Street and make a little speech about his “renegotiation” just being the start, and how he will continue to fight for change in Europe. I can write the speech in my head already. But it will mean nothing, just as every single one of David Cameron’s convictions is built on sand. The Remain camp will take their gruesome little victory lap and crow about having defeated the forces of “xenophobia and isolationism”, and that will be that. A reconciliation reshuffle? That means nothing.

But the intellectual case for Brexit and the moral case for democracy will not have been defeated. What’s more, those of us who are custodians of these high ideals will not easily forget what has been said about us by sneering, grandstanding, virtue-signalling oiks in the Remain campaign, and their spokesperson Eddie Izzard.

Call someone wrong and they may be angry for a time. Call them morally deficient in some way (as Remainers do with their claims of boomer selfishness etc.) and it will wound a lot more. But call someone stupid and publicly mock them to their face, and you will nurture a resentment and antipathy which are almost impossible to undo. Over the course of this referendum campaign, the Remain camp have done all three.

Fortunately for Brexiteers, the glibness and shallowness of the Remain case become more exposed with every passing day. There is no new layer of complexity once one overturns their false assertion that Brexit means leaving the single market, or that all of the cooperation and partnership they seek can be accomplished just as easily outside of our current political union. The Remainers can hardly wheel out the hardcore euro federalist brigade to make their impassioned case – they would alienate far more people than they could possibly attract with their creepy, dystopian vision.

By contrast, a greater depth to the Brexit case is finally starting to emerge, as more and more influencers in the media pick up on the interim EFTA/EEA (Norway) option as an attractive first step in the Brexit process. Though it has taken an age (and may in fact still have come too late) at least the only thorough, comprehensive and safe plan for achieving Brexit is now finally starting to get a public hearing and an opportunity to allay the concerns of undecided voters.

I still feel that the odds of victory very much favour Remain, no matter what the opinion polls may say two weeks out from Referendum Day. But it is also undeniable that the broader Leave campaign has finally gained some traction – despite, rather than because of Vote Leave.

And if the Remain campaign continues to respond to these turns of events by wheeling out people like Eddie Izzard – who I think probably created a thousand new Brexiteers for every minute he had the floor on last night’s Question Time – then this might be a much more closely run thing after all.

 

Nigel Farage - Eddie Izzard - BBC Question Time - EU Referendum

European Union - United Kingdom - Britain - Flags

Bottom Image: Huffington Post

Support Semi-Partisan Politics with a one-time or recurring donation:

Agree with this article? Violently disagree? Scroll down to leave a comment.

Follow Semi-Partisan Politics on TwitterFacebook and Medium.