BBC Complaints: The link you need!

Saturday, 19 September 2009


Hat tip to Guido Fawkes for this one:

The BBC's high regard for Vince Cable, as shown in interview after interview, has led the great man to be thought of by all-and-sundry as a very wise man. He is, as Tim Wilcox of News 24 told us, Britain's most trusted politician. He predicted the credit crunch, you know.

Well, if no-one challenges the idea that Dr Cable predicted the credit crunch, it's no wonder we all believe he did. Did he really?

If you are very rarely challenged - but your opponents (in the Labour and Conservative parties) are regularly challenged - then you might well gain the reputation for being a sage, consulted for his insights. Indeed, on too many occasions BBC interviewers have treated Vince more like an independent economist than a party politician. If, whenever you appear on the BBC, you are asked for your thoughts on the economy in general, or about Conservative or Labour policy, and only very occasionally about your actual responsibility - Liberal Democrat economic policy! - then you will seem like an independent expert. His virtues have been praised by several interviewers in their introductions. Who, therefore, can blame us, the politician-distrusting general public, for trusting such a well-respected man more than a mere politician?

Well, has the rug been pulled out from under the pirouetting Lib Dem by the Beeb itself, in the person of Andrew Neil, whose Straight Talk was a masterclass in reputation shredding? I, for one, will never see the sainted Vince in the same light again. Here is the link:

The interview starts with one of those very general questions that Dr Cable is so used to being asked and so comfortable at answering, but within a couple of minutes Andrew Neil starts asking the tough questions.

He nails Vince's u-turn on Quantitative Easing (Q.E.) for starters. Initially against (calling it 'the Robert Mugabe school'), he's now for, and admits he may have given us the wrong impression.

Then the big question: Did Vince Cable predict the financial crisis? "You have built a reputation for having predicted the financial crisis and giving wise commentary through it", said Andrew. Economists agree (he continues) that it was largely caused by the collapse of the US sub-prime market but he can't find any evidence on the record of Dr Vince actually making any reference to it prior to the implosion. Had he? Vince agreed he hadn't. Then, under further pressure, he conceded that he hadn't predicted the "totality" of the crisis, only a "corner" of it. Andrew Neil was not about to take even that at face value - and on and on went his questions for another twenty minutes, the usual Buddha-like serenity of Dr Cable growing ever more strained as the interview went on.

For all his alleged concerns about easy credit, Vince had dismissed early warnings from the IMF in 2003 about UK borrowing and asset prices being too high. Neil pressed him on that before moving onto 'contradictory things' Vince appeared to have said about fiscal stimulus. The exchange showed he had indeed made such statements. Andrew Neil had chapter and verse to quote, and Vince squirmed, variously claiming that he couldn't remember having said that or that the context for the quote must have been 'totally different'.

"When you look at his record, perhaps rather than being a far-sighted guru that people see, that you've flip-flopped on a number of the big issues", said Neil. Vince said 'not really' and 'read my book'. Neil went on and demonstrated another such 'flip-flop' over the Lloyds-HBOS merger. As Cable had to say, "I think it's fair to say I did change my position on that issue, I did change that. ..Yes, you're right I did take a different view." Another flip-flop over the independence of the Bank of England and interest rate cuts was nailed. Within a month Vince had gone from saying it was wrong for the government to demand that the Bank slash interest rates to demanding it himself! Oh, dear.

The conversation then moved on to public spending and cuts. After a general question on the timing of cuts (the sort of question the Beeb is always asking Vince), Andrew Neil (unlike most of his BBC colleagues) moved on and focused on Liberal Democrat plans, specifically his plans. Question after question probed the tensions within the party over policies and potential cuts, highlighted the differences between Dr Cable and Nick Clegg, and spotted more flip-flops, particularly over whether the savings from £6.7 billion's worth of cuts would still be spent on childcare and education, or not. Vince squirmed again.

Tax rises, particularly in VAT, were discussed next and some weaseling over whether he'd support such moves was challenged.

Andrew Neil went where few of his BBC colleagues have gone. He treated Vince Cable as a politician who has to be held to account for his many changes of position. He did not treat him as a far-seeing sage (which, in transpires, he wasn't after all). If Vince was treated more like this by BBC interviewers as a whole - which is, after all, the way Osborne and, to some extent, Darling are regularly treated - a fairer, more accurate perspective on the whole political scene might emerge. That's not too much to ask, is it?

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