Yesterday the nation opened its newspapers to be confronted with near-blanket front-page coverage of Boris Johnson’s declaration in favour of the ‘Brexit’ campaign.
Usually I buy into the media’s ‘public interest’ (at least the ‘giving-the-public-what-it-wants’ version of that term) line of defence for its obsessions with celebrity, minor royalty, actors, sports stars, sexual depravity, political hypocrisy, fraud and drugs or alcohol [in any combination], but on this occasion it was definitely a case of the Westminster ‘Bubble’, including the political media itself, driving if not creating the story.
Hitherto the impending Referendum campaign had the ‘Remain’ camp peopled by the Prime Minister and the bulk of the Tory cabinet; the Labour, SNP, Lib-Dem, Plaid Cymru, the Loyalist Northern Irish and Green parties; the City and Big Business; and, of course, the insidious British Establishment.
In contrast those standing in the ‘Leave’ corner seemed to be composed of merely (1) Nigel Farage (UKIP) and a bunch of other fringe political never-has-beens or loonies; (2) half a dozen B-List cabinet ministers and dissident Tory MPs; and (3) a bunch of think-tank, policy wonks and sundry other media tarts who’ll happily offer a political opinion on anything if asked.
For the media political journos – tasked with preserving something like an impartial viewpoint for public consumption – it was all a little one-sided.
A bit like Roger Federer entering one’s local church’s ‘Over Thirties’ charity tennis tournament.
What the ‘Leave’ camp, with its two or three groupings all vying to be chosen by the Electoral Commission as the ‘designated organisation’ for £7 million public funding, desperately needed was a ‘Big Beast’ around which they, and indeed the media, could rally.
Step forward Boris, with his stage-managed late Sunday night bombshell announcement via his latest occasional article in The Daily Telegraph. Actually, as a reasoned manifesto and statement of intent, it was not half as good as Michael Gove’s 1,500-word offering only about 24 hours previously.
My purpose this morning is to provide Rust readers with a personal view of yesterday’s media coverage of the Referendum – prefaced with the proviso that this ‘rough and ready’ analysis of the campaign so far is based upon a pretty thin fundamental, viz. my personal choice of programmes watched!
DAILY POLITICS (BBC2, noon to 1.00pm)
Once again hosted by Jo Coborn, featuring amongst others two anonymous ‘new-intake’ MPs from the Tory and Labour parties; George Galloway; and Nadhim Zahawi (Tory – Leave) and Chuka Umunna (Labour – Remain).
The Zahawi v Umunna bout was won by Umunna on points, solely because Zahawi came across as boorish and blustering.
La Coborn then copped plenty of flak from Galloway when he took strong exception to being asked whether his very presence in the ‘Leave’ camp might turn off voters. He immediately stated that she’d invited him on under false pretences – he’d attended specifically to discuss Referendum issues and she was asking him irrelevant questions about himself, which he wasn’t prepared to discuss. A stand-off ensued for four or five minutes. She fought back (asserting his ‘Marmite’ persona was an issue) but I thought he had a point.
Decide for yourselves here, courtesy of YouTube – Galloway’s protest begins at about 1 minute 30 seconds into the piece – DAILY POLITICS
PRIME MINISTER’S STATEMENT TO THE COMMONS (BBC 24/7 News Channel from 3.30pm)
Cameron performed well (7 out of 10) on the day, partly because, although clearly well-briefed and rehearsed, in responding to the points made in the debate following his statement by successive speakers he was working ‘off the cuff’ rather than to a script, as he often seems to be doing at PMQs.
In contrast Jeremy Corbyn (4 out of 10) seemed both vague and out of his depth, whilst Boris (5 out of 10) could only muster a token and rather weak query which Cameron – now on song – batted easily away with an added swipe at his supposed ‘biggest’ heavyweight opponent to the effect that he (Cameron) wasn’t personally staying on much longer and therefore his overriding (and therefore sole) consideration was simply what was best for the UK.
EU REFERENDUM – IN OR OUT? (BBC1, 8.30pm)
A half-hour piece hosted by Nick Robinson, introduced as ‘in a change to our advertised programme …’ in which he had Anna Sobrey (Tory – Remain), Nigel Farage (UKIP – Leave); two business people, one from each camp; and Alan Johnson (Labour- Remain) and Chris Grayling (Tory – Leave) arguing three key issues – Immigration, Business and Sovereignty.
Having ironically tuned to BBC1 to watch the scheduled comedy panel show Would I Lie To You?, I caught this one by accident.
It was a poorly-conceived and executed piece. Robinson – his voice less croaky than immediately after his cancer scare, but still a touch weak – introduced what he implied was going to be the first of a series of programmes over the next four months in which the BBC would bring together representatives from each camp to debate the main issues, this week as indicated above.
First bout was Soubry v Farage on Immigration; second the Austrian CEO of Siemens versus some female City fund-manager on Business; then Johnson v Grayling on Sovereignty.
So far so good. The scheme of the programme must have looked promising on paper when being considered by the BBC commissioner responsible.
But then the problem – it was a half-hour show. Each bout lasted about 8 minutes. Robinson barely had time to introduce the contestants and ask each of them an opening question before [somewhere in the metaphorical background] a spotty-faced floor manager with a clipboard and ‘cans’ [earphones] behind the cameras must have begun making frantic flapping ‘wind them up’ gestures. Because that was about all they had time for.
It was a minor disaster. None of the participants could develop an answer, nor could any proper debate get going. It was a ‘tick the boxes and hope’ kind of a show and it just didn’t work. Why the BBC, and indeed the participants, didn’t realise in advance that it was going to be a no-no is beyond me. Well, I excuse the participant slightly because – given the importance of the campaign – they must have been desperate to get any media coverage for their arguments that was going.
The overall score so far?
Very definitely ‘One-Nil’ to the ‘Remain’ camp.