Thursday, December 11, 2003

BBC drop a bollock over the Pre-Budget Report

Watching the 10 O'clock News and then (as yer do when you're a politics addict) Newsnight last night I was shocked - really! - by the BBC's performance. It was as if Conservatives on heat had invaded TV Centre and declared a coup d'etat. Where did they get the idea of illustrating the pre-budget report with graphics showing a roulette wheel, dice, cards and gambling furniture generally? I'm sorry, but this is not objectivity and it is not fairness. Especially as, after months of scare stories about "The £30 billion black hole!!" and how the government's economic forecasts were absolute nonsense, what they were reporting was surprisingly good news. Certainly, £10 billion is a very large sum of money - but it is not £30 billion as previously trailed. The truth of the matter is that the Treasury was right - and the Tories, the IFS, Ernst&Young, the NIESR and a whole volley of other organisations were wrong. Even the poor, battered manufacturing sector has produced some growth.

So what was Jeremy Paxman doing on Newsnight when he practically handed over the discussion to Letwin? Much as I despise the government, Paul Boateng was treated unfairly - shut up at once and ordered to listen carefully as the Shadow Chancellor issued a lengthy propaganda rant. Not just that, but the BBC itself, in the person of Paxman, indulged in some pretty awful statistical nonsense. Our man snarled at Boateng that "NHS spending has gone up by 40% but finished consultant episodes only by 5%!", which sounds tragic but is rather less than honest. After all, if the health service was succeeding, surely less people would need a consultant - and the figures would get worse. And - using this measure - building new hospitals is part of the "waste" that Mr. Letwin decried! (Because, of course, no distinction is made between capital or current spending.) Neither did Paxo or anybody else make the slightest effort to define what a "finished consultant episode" is - could you?

All in all, a pretty bad showing.

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