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So why has the BBC banned the term “electoral reform” ?

By Angela Harbutt
February 7th, 2011 at 8:58 pm | 4 Comments | Posted in AV referendum, BBC

About a fortnight a story emerged that BBC journalists had been sent an internal document from the top brass demanding that their staff stop describing “electoral reform” as “electoral reform”.

I raise it now (late) because having missed the revelation at the time I assumed “word had got out there” about it, so I let it pass. I am however surprised to find how few people who are usually “in the know” – don’t know. Here are the basics….

In an internal BBC memo leaked to The Independent, Ric Bailey, the corporation’s chief political adviser, said: “Please can we make sure that we don’t describe this – in our own scripts, headlines, etc – as the referendum on ‘electoral reform’. When the [BBC’s] Guidance is published ahead of the referendum period, it will make clear that, in the context of the referendum, that is not an impartial term – ‘reform’ explicitly contains a definition of ‘improvement’.”

 So if “reform” is “not an impartial term” why is it that changes to the public services and laws of this country can be described in terms of “reform” by the Government – and parroted by the BBC…. NHS reform plans will strenthen NHS,says Government. BBC October 1st 2010. Welfare benefit reforms unveiled by Government. BBC October 2010. Government to press ahead with radical NHS reform plans. BBC December 15th 2010.  “When ministers drew up their plans for radical reform of the NHS, schools and the welfare system..” Norman Smith Chief Political Correspondent, BBC Radio 4 , February 2nd 2011. and so on……

Why is it that a term such as “electoral reform” causes such offence to the BBC but all other Government reform is OK?

You could argue I suppose that the reason why”electoral reform” is on the forboten list and “NHS reform” isn’t, is because there is to be a vote on electoral reform. But then surely that must mean that the BBC is openly admitting that it frankly doesn’t give a toss about the language it uses day-today, but does care when it comes to a vote.

Slack, lazy reporting on a day to day basis BBC? Maybe. But I suspect that it is not that. Could it be that the BBC is running scared of the Government? Could it be that the BBC has been got at by the highly influential No campaigners with their slick suits, armed with promises of who-knows what  post election by those in the corridors of power?  So BBC,  are you incompetent, lazy,or just plain “got at”. It doesn’t look good any way you look at it.

And here is why this is oh so puzzling.. “electoral reform” is a term that has been around longer than the BBC. It is part of the language of politics. Of democracy indeed. We all know what it means.

Significantly it was this Government  that made a pledge to introduce a vote on electoral reform. Not “electoral change”. Not “electoral alteration”.. It is there in black and white. A vote on electoral reform.. We will bring forward a referendum on electoral reform” … (Coalition Agreement)… Next May, there’ll be a referendum on electoral reform”; (David Cameron speech to Conservative Party) ..

And so, The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill 2010-11 has thus been called, ever since, as the “electoral reform bill” by all the main news sources in the UK – including the  BBC….. “Lord Falconer and Lord McNally debate whether the house of Lords should pass the electoral reform bill”  (source BBC)….  “Peers’ threat to AV voting reform referendum defeated” (source BBC)…

 So if the Prime Minister and the Coalition Government can and have promised this country a vote on electoral reform -and  the newspapers and broadcasters of this land have thus described it, and the bill that will enable it, as “electoral reform” / “electoral reform bill”, for the last 12 months, why has the BBC decided in its infinite wisdom to ban the term now?  On whose say so?

The BBC should not be allowed to rewrite history, or skew the debate. Nor should any shiny suited boys, with an eye to their own future prospects, be allowed to threaten or cajole the BBC into actions that suit them now.

 Yes to Fairer Votes are writing a letter to the BBC condemning this action, which you can sign here: Reform” isn’t a dirty word: Cosign our letter to the BBC.  It is a start but it is almost certainly not enough if what we get in May is a free and fair vote. We need more questions raised in every public place, and to the BBC at every opportunity. And frankly, a lot more answers…

Oh…. and if any BBC employee  out there is willing to spill the beans and tell us what is really going on – please email me – I will happily publish your post – anonymously if necessary. Surely one of you cares more about journalism than just plain self interest?

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The Prince, the Politician and the Player

By Angela Harbutt
December 2nd, 2010 at 3:09 pm | 5 Comments | Posted in Culture

We didn’t so much “wheel out the big guns” in Zurich, for the England’s 2018 World Cup Bid over the past couple of days, as haul out “bloody great canons”. And had David Cameron been anywhere like as good during the General Election Leaders debates as he was today in the final presentation – he would have won the Tories a clear majority single-handed back in May. I am rather surprised and somewhat delighted that despite going into this process  in second or (maybe even) third place, Cameron has had the balls to go for it. With all the talk of how Blair won the Olympic bid,  Cameron is putting his political neck out – and that takes a bit of guts.

I was against the Olympic bid -it was hugely costly, London-centric and however you look at it we are hardly a nation of 100 metre sprinters and shot-putters. Football is however the great national sport of this country. The event would be hosted right across the country – spreading the love (and the financial benefit) countrywide. And we have the stadiums (or stadia?) and the fans and the carparks, training grounds and hotels pretty much sorted in almost all circumstances.

I confess I am somewhat conflicted about government getting involved in the process – and have never had much time for royalty – but I guess my love of the beautiful game is winning this particular battle – a case of “whatever it takes”…. So I will take Cameron involvement, and the royals lending a hand and, for the record, I am hoping we will win. Yes the FA is in need of a total overhaul, its relationship with the Premier League is a disaster, many of the big clubs have lost contact with the fans and too many of the smaller clubs are run by numpties and dimwits….and lets not even talk about the players…. But for all that,  we are a football mad nation… I am a self-confessed football fanatic – and the World Cup is the finest competition in the world.

It’s anyones guess who will win it. Mafia ridden-Russia, financially-stricken Spain/Portugal, safe but dull Dutch/Belgians or the serially-rubbish-at-international-football English. I hope its us. Good luck to the prince, the politician, the player -and everyone else involved.

UPDATE: Conflict over. Russia wins the bid to host 2018 World Cup.

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“Chocolate Orange Dave” strikes again…

By Angela Harbutt
November 28th, 2010 at 3:17 am | 4 Comments | Posted in freedom

 You will recall that Chocolate Orange Dave has oft grumbled about supermarkets alcohol pricing policies . You remember his  “20 tins of Stella for a fiver” line surely. Now it looks like he is going to do something about it  – planning to introduce a ban on supermarkets  selling wine, beer and spirits below a national “minimum price“.

If true , one has to start to question seriously the philosophy – or lack of it – of this man and his government. Far from rectifying the mistakes of the previous regime. They seem intent on a repeating them. We are already being told that government is actively considering banning branding on cigarette packs – providing an open door to counterfeiters to increase their market share of sales, damaging the activities of legitimate business and doubtless losing tax revenue into the bargain.

Now we are told that they wish to further “fiddle” with business by telling those most able to sell a product at the lowest price – that they can’t. So much for stripping away legislation that hinders growth. Government policy seems to be all about the new controls it wishes to impose. In case Dave hasn’t realised it yet, its not the supermarkets or the alcohol producers that are responsible for so-called binge-drinking – that’s the responsibility of those individuals who choose to drink to excess. No-one elses. 

What is especially concerning is that a government appears to be emerging that is happy – nay determined  – to interfere in areas of life where it has no right to be..whether that’s poking and prying into our “levels of happiness” or determining how we should spend our hard earned cash. 

This all smacks of a government running around trying to put out small individual fires and “be seen to be tackling” social problems without any underlying principles to guide them.

You can’t bang on about social responsibility and individual responsibility and the big society and localism and goodness knows what – and in the same breath seek to impose national rules that will penalise the responsible and the poor because of the actions of the irresponsible few

In case you care: Happiness Index DOWN

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Words about words

By Timothy Cox
May 5th, 2010 at 1:08 pm | Comments Off on Words about words | Posted in Election, Liberal Democrats, Policy, UK Politics

Is the Clegg/Cameron friendship cooling off before it even got going? Well, certainly a neat analysis (from Millward Brown) of the language employed during the last leaders debate would seem to suggest that it might be.  Clegg and Cameron had the smallest pool of common words by some way- just 13, compared to 27 shared between DC and GB, and 20 between NC and GB (see chart).  Considering that almost a quarter of their shared terminology was unlikely to be complimentary (“Gordon”, “Brown” and “Labour”), and the only meaningful phrases they shared was “council” and city” (both issues upon which they disagree) they appeared to have very little in common to say at all.

I’m afraid it’s a little hard to make out, but hopefully you’ll get the picture!


Of course, this is hardly a litmus test for co-operation but is does provide some interesting insights. Take a look at their top twelve words used list: 

Brown                                        Cameron                        Clegg 

people  62                                   people  61                         people  53    

tax     56                                     government      37            tax     49    

cut     45                                     tax     33                            money   26    

bank    32                                   year    31                           work    26    

country 32                                work    28                           pay     25    

David   31                                  bank    25                           bank    24    

credit  29                                   country 23                        Cameron 16    

job     25                                     economy 22                      David   16    

Conservative    24                   business        17                 income  16    

year    23                                  cut     16                             Brown   14    

economy 21                             money   16                         Gordon  14    

work    21                                 waste   14                          problem 14    


Neither Cameron nor Gordon made reference to “Nick” or “Clegg” enough to make the list. Fence sitting before a hung parliament, perhaps? And while tax and people topped all the polls, work was a strangely low priority in GB’s vocab- possibly starting to regret that tax on jobs he’s stoutly defended for so long?

One final observation from the shared words chart: Clegg was the only man to breathe the word “Chancellor”. In 90mins of debate in which the economy was the focal point, neither Cameron nor Brown dared to mention what we’ve all been thinking. No-one wants another term of Darling after the mess we’ve been put through and Osborne looks green and unsure. During times of financial uncertainty the minister behind the finances need experience and nous- Vince has both in abundance. Increasingly he looks like the only man well suited to steering our economy and Brown and Cameron both know it. Funny that Brown didn’t remind us of his (oh so successful) tenure as Chancellor isn’t it?!

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Gordo the Saviour! Dave the Cowering! And more…

By Julian Harris
April 26th, 2010 at 4:23 pm | Comments Off on Gordo the Saviour! Dave the Cowering! And more… | Posted in UK Politics

I have some sympathy for Nick Robinson (bear with me now…)  He does, on some occasions, have to form his analysis of political events extremely quickly, and then promptly figure out how to articulate it in a snappy way to an audience with the collective attention span of a hairdresser’s goldfish.  I reckon I’d fail miserably at such a task, so just as well that I have the luxury of getting my points across on a blog, several days after the event.

Nonetheless, I am going to add another knife to those already inserted in his back, following his incorrect verdict that last week’s TV debate was encapsulated by “I disagree with Nick”. Statistics from the show, you see, reveal that Call Me Dave was, in fact, the most attacked leader (not Nick). Interestingly, Call Me Dave was also the meekest, perhaps in nervous, cowering mode, given the sudden possibility of him entering future history books and DVDs as the failed Tory leader who was forced into electoral reform.

The graph below shows how belligerent each of the leaders were:


Some more interesting findings come from examining the number of words uttered by each leader.  Clearly looking to appeal to the more nationalist element of the electorate, Gordo and Call Me Dave both had “country” in their top two words, with “Britain” being Gordo’s fifth most used word.  Notably, “country” only just scraped into Nick’s top 10 words, and neither he nor Call Me Dave had “Britain” in their top 10.

Gordo’s reputation as a self-styled wannabe global saviour is further enhanced by the analysis.  Out of the three leaders, he used the most language relating to international affairs, with the following words all appearing in his top 10: “Britain”, “country”, “world”, “Europe”, “European”.

The top 10 lists of words are below, with a couple of other graphics to keep you amused. This research, I must confess, was not done by myself, but rather done entirely by Millward Brown. Which is nice of ’em.


Shared Words: [sorry, can’t get this to be more visible. If you want a copy, e-mail admin *-AT-*]


All three leaders’ top words combined, by frequency:


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