How can the left get heard amid the BBC’s political mudslinging?

Jo Coburn and Andrew Neil on The Daily Politics show.

The Daily Politics, which on Tuesday aired on BBC1 for the last time, was never watercooler television, for one simple, practical reason: if you were watching an hour of suits, chatting, in the middle of the day, you most probably didn’t have a job. Retired people could watch it, though that’s just a guess; I’m definitely not inferring from the distinctive vintage to the comments on social media (“Will someone tell that annoying woman to stop biting her nails?”). It seemed to exist in the fine tradition of daytime news coverage, there to satisfy the Gods of Public Information that the discussion format was being observed. Arguably, office-hours audiences for day-time TV will always be pretty small, and so it should be. It is not the job of a public service broadcaster to make sure everyone is watching telly all the time, or at least I don’t think that’s what Reith had in mind.

Presenter Andrew Neil was plainly on the right; his defenders would claim he was equally hard on Labour and Conservative politicians alike, but as enjoyable as this often was to watch, as a definition of neutrality it is a little lame. Fellow presenter Jo Coburn had a more sober style and was a deft interviewer (both will continue to present the show’s replacement, Politics Live). The show never deviated, so far as I could see, from its core precept: anything Labour said that sounded remotely appealing was a leftwing pipe dream, while the Conservatives were natural arbiters of affordability. I remember having a particularly ridiculous argument when Jeremy Corbyn was promising a limit to primary school classes that was a fraction less ambitious than Tony Blair’s 20 years earlier: someone from Conservative Woman tendered the view that, in austerity politics, we couldn’t afford luxurious educational standards, and anyway, Keir Starmer’s kids didn’t go to ordinary state schools (which they did). This is silly, I thought. Nobody thinks that deficit reduction is a more important goal for a civilised nation than basic schooling. Nobody wants important debate reduced to a mud-slinging match in which even the mud is fake. But I always went on anyway, because the battleground was so clearly marked, and it seemed important to disrupt the lines, like a bad apple at a barn dance; question the caller, go the wrong way, interrupt the boisterous inevitability.

In the Corbyn era, many in the Labour party complained about the lack of balance, particularly on the Sunday Politics, the show’s weekend edition, where it was…

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