Magazine article The Spectator


Magazine article The Spectator


Article excerpt

We're not scared

From Alexandra Henderson

Sir: Enjoyable as Rod Liddle's polemics are, I can't let him get away with some of his wilder conclusions about the BBC's local election programme ('Why is the BBC so scared of the truth?', 10 May).

Liddle says that we under-reported quite how bad a night Labour had, and failed to say how good a night it was for the Conservatives (apart from the resignation of a Tory shadow minister, Crispin Blunt, which Rod appears to have missed altogether).

We were live in Birmingham, Bristol and Leicester to witness Labour losing control of councils they had run for years. Local Labour activists stated clearly that their own party was in trouble with electors about issues from the war to the delivery of public services. Time and again, Peter Snow pointed out that the Conservatives had the biggest share of the vote and were winning councils and councillors up and down the land. When we came off air with half the votes counted, we reported that the Conservatives had already won 331 extra seats. We did not give a prediction of the final result, because in local elections it is almost impossible to translate projected share into gains and losses.

However, as independent psephologists have pointed out, gaining seats is not the only barometer of performance. It is legitimate to ask whether a rise in the share of the vote for the opposition parties in the midterm elections will or will not translate into a rise in their vote at the next general election.

Liddle says we played down the low turnout in Wales. In fact, all discussion about Wales, since it was too early to bring actual results, was about the low turnout. Far from blaming the rain, Harvard's Professor Pippa Norris and Andrew Marr were clear in blaming 'deep disappointment' in both Scotland and Wales with the Parliament and Assembly.

Similarly, Liddle objects to us asking why people voted for the BNP. He feels we should simply tell the British public that the BNP is racist and leave it at that. We sent Mark Mardell to Burnley to report the BNP story through the night. And several of our guests - including the Commission for Racial Equality chairman, Trevor Phillips - did call them 'racists' on air.

Finally, in another throw-away line, Liddle accuses the social affairs editor Niall Dickson of asserting without evidence that British Muslims were opposed to suicide bombing. On the contrary, substantial evidence supports this view, including an opinion poll commissioned by Radio Four's Today programme.

Alexandra Henderson

Editor, Vote 2003,

BBC Television Centre, London W12

Orwell in 1942

From Mr Philip Skelsey

Sir: I heard the 'voice of calm reason' that Philip Hensher describes (Books, 10 May) when Orwell gave a talk in 1942. When he started, he asked us to close our eyes for a minute or so, think back to the period before war started, and consider what was the biggest change we had seen since then.

He must have canvassed our views - I remember nothing about that - but I do remember what he himself said. He was living not far from Lord's cricket ground and saw those who wanted to be pilots in the RAF reporting for duty there. They came from all classes, and he realised that men who might ultimately take the controls of fighters and bombers and command formations of aircraft would not all be drawn from the upper classes of society. They could include anyone with the necessary qualities - whoever he was. This removal of class barriers to promotion would spread and not stop when the war ended. This was the most important change in Britain since September 1939.

I remember nothing else of what Orwell said, only his appearance - gaunt, hollow-checked, just as he appeared in photographs - and his manner: analytical, gently detached but not condescending.

Philip Shelsey

London NW8

Loony Scots

From Katie Grant

Sir: In answer to Stephen Glover's plea for more information about the Scottish election (Media studies, 10 May), the only thing he really needs to know is this. …

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