No point in complaining

I have received a response from the BBC to my complaint. Before I opened it I thought ‘ooh, that’s prompt,’ but having read it I can see why that is; because it’s basically a copy and paste job that doesn’t actually answer my complaint in any way. Here’s my original complaint:

I am writing to complain that your coverage of UKIP is entirely unbalanced, and driven entirely by a narrative that you wish to push, rather than by the facts. UKIP are not as yet a political party with any sway, and certainly with no more influence than the Green Party, yet you cover them with the same zeal and fervour that you do the main three parties, whilst ignoring the other smaller parties.

Where was your coverage of the Green Party conference? I don’t recall it getting mentioned in any of your TV or radio bulletins, and yet the UKIP party conference led the news reports. At the time of the conferences, the Greens were the only party of the two with a sitting MP, so why the publicity of one over the other?

Your organisation’s desire to have a political narrative that will engage viewers, readers and listeners with a ‘juicy story’ is having a huge impact on the political landscape, and quite contrary to the BBC’s principles of impartiality. Please can you address this and redress the coverage shown to this party and give it the status commensurate with its actual position in the political landscape.

Here’s the BBC’s response:

Dear Mr Stephenson

Thank you for contacting us about the proposed format for the 2015 General Election debates. We have received a wide range of feedback from supporters of different political parties across the UK. In order to use our TV licence fee resources efficiently, this response aims to answer the key concerns, but we apologise in advance if it doesn’t address your specific points in the manner you would prefer.

The BBC is working with other broadcasters to try and make election debates happen in 2015 and we believe we have set out a fair and realistic formula. Twenty two million people saw some of the debates in 2010. They were very successful in engaging the electorate, especially first time voters and the broadcasters would like them to happen again at next year’s general election. We are also putting forward our own proposals for other debates across the UK.

Ensuring impartiality during an election campaign is a priority and judgements about debates, and other programmes, are taken on the basis of objective editorial assessments of a number of factors, including the levels of past and current electoral support for each party.

Although UKIP did not win a seat in the 2010 general election, they polled more than three times as many votes as the Green Party, which did win a seat. In the 2014 European elections, UKIP topped the poll, beating all the Westminster parties in terms of seats (24) and share of the vote (more than 27% - up more than 10% on 2009).

The Greens won three seats in the European election, with just under 8% of the vote (a small drop since 2009). UKIP have also performed strongly in local government elections in England for the past two years and have more councillors than the Greens. Before their victory in Clacton, UKIP had come second in every Westminster by-election for the last two years – the Greens’ best performance was around 4%.

We also take account of opinion polls, when there is a robust and consistent trend: UKIP have been regularly polling in the mid-teens for more than two years, well ahead, for instance, of the Liberal Democrats and around 10 percentage points ahead of the Greens.

In Scotland, the BBC is proposing a debate, in peak time on BBC One, involving the leaders of the SNP, Scottish Labour, the Scottish Conservative and Scottish Liberal Democrat parties. We are proposing a similar format of debate on BBC One from Wales, involving the leaders of Plaid Cymru, Labour, the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and UKIP. We have written to the parties to begin discussions about our proposals and we will ensure impartiality during the Election in Scotland and Wales. Full details of our content will be released over the coming months once they are finalised.

We hope this goes some way in addressing your concerns, thanks again for taking the time to contact us. Kind Regards BBC Complaints

So, I wrote a complaint about news coverage of UKIP and got a pro-forma response about the debates. Nice to see it was taken so seriously. Quite aside from the facts quoted within their response being somewhat selective in their use in order to justify their narrative, I still maintain that UKIP’s polling position is inflated largely off the back of the huge boost in coverage, which makes their justifications a bit chicken and egg. That was the point I was trying to make in my original complaint.

Which they ignored.

There’s nothing in their email either about going back to them to give feedback to their response, so if I want to challenge it I’d have to send another complaint, referencing the first one.

Or, I could just bitch about it on the internet. Yeah, I’ll just do that.

Here comes the complainer

I wrote a complaint to the BBC today, which was a first for me. I love the BBC. I’ve always been part of the minority who feel the license fee represents great value for money, that the positive impact they have on the country as a whole is worth the cost. I’m not naïve enough to believe everything they do is farting sunshine and rainbows, but they’re actually that rare example of a British institution that I’m proud of. Which has made the way they’ve fallen so desperately in love with the narrative of the UKIP surge so thoroughly depressing. I get that it’s a story, but leading into the next general election we have a dangerously right wing lunatic fringe being actively championed and promoted through the national mainstream press. It’s bewildering and infuriating, so I thought I’d throw my tuppence into the ring. The BBC are not the only culprits, not by any means (I note it's ITV who have invited Farage to fart his half baked opinions into their cameras alongside the traditional three leaders and haven't invited SNP or the Greens) but they are the one I help to fund.

Once I’d written it, I realised that the most it’ll achieve is to bore some intern at the complaints office for the minute it’ll take them to read it, so I might as well repeat it here, so it can bore you too. So here it is:

*Straightens tie and adopts Points of View voice*

Dear BBC (I didn’t write that, but it looks better on here)

I am writing to complain that your coverage of UKIP is entirely unbalanced, and driven entirely by a narrative that you wish to push, rather than by the facts. UKIP are not as yet a political party with any sway, and certainly with no more influence than the Green Party, yet you cover them with the same zeal and fervour that you do the main three parties, whilst ignoring the other smaller parties.

Where was your coverage of the Green Party conference? I don't recall it getting mentioned in any of your TV or radio bulletins, and yet the UKIP party conference led the news reports. At the time of the conferences, the Greens were the only party of the two with a sitting MP, so why the publicity of one over the other?

Your organisation's desire to have a political narrative that will engage viewers, readers and listeners with a 'juicy story' is having a huge impact on the political landscape, and quite contrary to the BBC's principles of impartiality. Please can you address this and redress the coverage shown to this party and give it the status commensurate with its actual position in the political landscape.

*Shuffles paper*

So there you go. Doubt it’ll have any impact but worth a shot.

If you’d like to do the same, you can do so here.

Inactions have consequences

What a wanker Tomorrow is European Election day here in the UK (and also some local elections but alas, not for me). Now, I bloody love election day. I love voting. I love politics so much I did a degree in it, and somehow my affection for the subject even managed to survive studying it. Unfortunately for me I live in the single most apathetic political system in the world, with a populace even more apathetic than that. It's a real bummer.

If you are sitting there thinking ‘hang on Paul, you’re going to have to provide some serious demonstrable evidence to back up that wild claim’ then I hear you, and here it is:

UKIP are likely to win the European Elections tomorrow.

See what I mean? We’re screwed.

I'm not, in case you are interested, about to lay out the case for why you shouldn't vote UKIP. If you are really interested, you can find that out for yourself. It shouldn't be hard, they're fucking lunatics.

UKIP, in case you are reading this in another country, wouldn't like you. They are a buffoon led shower of shit of a political party who believe in banning immigrants, the gays, the European Parliament and basically anything that doesn't conform to their utterly warped nostalgia for a Britain that never even existed in the first place. Or to put it another way, imagine an ideologically fascist party led by Basil Fawlty.

How on earth did we get to this point? How does this once reasonably sane nation stand 24 hours away from letting these cretins anywhere close to elected office? Well the first thing they seem to have going for them is the aforementioned terrifying clown of UK politics, Nigel Farage. He’s a cretinous buffoon, but an affable one, and no matter how many clangers he drops personally about not wanting to live next to a Bulgarian, or how many utterly insane people staff the fringes of his party, his clownish antics and man-of-the-people shtick have made him incredibly popular with two very important groups of people.

Firstly, he’s loved by the right wing leaning anti European section of the populace, of whom there are a great deal. They love to bleat on about nasty immigration and the nasty European Union without bothering to actually learn anything about either of them. Taxi drivers and people who read the Daily Mail essentially, but who (correctly) think the Tories are a bunch of stuck up toffs who don’t speak to their issues.

Secondly, the media. They luuuuurve Nigel. Especially the telly news. Turn on your television tonight and if you flick around the channels for more than a few minutes you'll see his grinning, gurning face staring back at you. Why, you might ask, does our notoriously left wing media luuurve nasty Nigel so? Because they love a narrative, and they love characters. Nigel and his buoyant UKIP lunatics are giving them the former by coming out of left field and doing well in the polls, and they have plenty of the latter with a party basically stacked full of Tim Nice But Dim types who are utterly incapable of getting through an interview without putting their feet in their mouths and farting.

Nigel Farage has been on BBC’s Question Time fourteen times since 2009, more than any other politician from any party, despite the fact that he leads a party with not one single elected member of parliament, which places them behind the actual fourth party in the UK, the Greens, who have one.

In the lead up to the election the whole tone of the coverage across all different types of media is based around how much of an upset we are on course to receive and the dynamic change to the political status quo, courtesy of our good friend Nigel. He was on the news again tonight. In a piece about Prince Charles' off air comments about Putin being 'a bit Hitlery', BBC News got reaction to the mumbled Royal political faux pas from the David Cameron 2000 Bot, Nick Clegg the turncoat and the one from Labour whose name is too dull to type. Then, at the end, Nigel Farage. Nobody bothered to ask Nathalie Bennett from the Green Party, or Nick Griffin (thank fuck) or indeed any of the other myriad small parties.  But Nigel gets a voice, for no visible reason.

The media sniff blood, an upset for the government, and the possible eradication of the Liberal Democrats. They finally have a story to make stuffy old politics exciting again, and they are pushing their narrative as hard as they can.

But this is a self fulfilling prophecy. The more coverage he and his merry band of nutters receive, the more normalised they become. People will be going out to vote for them tomorrow in their droves, because they’ve bought into their media driven narrative about sticking it to the political establishment and because they’ve got some half baked anti-immigration sentiment rattling around their heads. The endless promotion of this tiny party has made them suddenly more than a protest vote. He must be worth taking seriously, he's always on the news, after all.

Now, you might think that it’s only the European election, so who gives a shit? Surely registering a protest against the Tory led back of shitehawks we have in government is quite funny, right? Well here to me is the scary thing about tomorrow if UKIP win; It validates their agenda.

Not only that, it does so exactly one year before the General Election next year. You might think that UKIP winning a low turnout protest vote in a (supposedly) meaningless European Election is going to have a negligible effect on the General Election, but what we see tomorrow could shape the entire political agenda of this country for the next parliament.

If UKIP win tomorrow, or even get a good showing, then suddenly the Tories are going to be looking at their right flank running up to the general. They don’t want to be in a position next year where they are forming a coalition government again, they want to win it outright. In order to do that they cannot be leaching support from the Daily Mail reading right wing working class, which is the ground where UKIP is gaining ground on them.

They will look to Labour, utterly ramshackle and ineffectual under the stewardship of Ed Millibot and decide the more pressing concern is to shore up their own base. In order to do this they will turn the full weight of their government voice toward satisfying the ‘concerns’ of the UKIP deserters. This means every initiative, every proposal, the whole election machine of the Tories will lurch to the right.

How will Labour react to this? Well, being the directionless buffoons they are, they won’t look at the abandoned centre ground with delight and leap onto it, they’ll blindly follow the Tories to the right, because that’s what they do. For the last four years all we’ve seen from this opposition is them fumbling about to defend their record and playing blind catch up, so why would the next year be any different?

So all of a sudden, we head into a general election with the assembled might of the two biggest parties both scrambling to woo over the stereotypical UKIP voter, talking about immigration and Europe non stop, because that’s what they assume most people actually care about (and they may even be right, even more depressingly) with nobody speaking up for the left wing, aside from the broken lying Lib Dems and the Greens, who seem unable to get any media platform, despite their polls showing a trebling of support in recent years. Sorry, you need a narrative.

Then there's the immediate consequence to our standing in Europe. Give them control of the UK voting block in the European Parliament and they can claim to be the voice of the British people. How terrifying a prospect is that?

So if you are thinking of not voting tomorrow, please think about what the consequences of that are. If you're not sure who to vote for, look online, read their manifestos, or visit the BBC Vote 2014 website. It may seem a trivial thing, to vote for a parliament that seems so utterly removed from our lives, but it is incredibly important. We need to stop this narrative in its tracks.