The dust has well and truly settled on the EU elections – among the political class knives are still out for UKIP, and watch out! – that man of impeccable political judgment, Gordon Brown has muscled in, telling voters they were wrong to vote for the party. Gordon’s considered verdict is that Mr Farage is a boozy womaniser who has the wrong views on globalisation and multiculturalism. So that’s that settled, then.
And such abuse, I would submit, is pretty much par for the course. Our politicians still believe fervently that their views about the EU are the ones that must be pursued and the 25 per cent plus who voted for UKIP are deluded idiots. Everyone will see sense again come 2015.
Why is this?
I was at a gathering of some media chums (who I love dearly) this week when I suddenly caught the tail-end of a conversation on a different table. I think it sheds valuable light on the mindset of media and political folk. They just don’t get it:
‘Bob voted UKIP!’ someone said, as we sat on an idyllic day overlooking the Hammersmith sweep of the Thames.
The puzzlement, shock and horror in his voice were palpable. Silence.
“Is that true?” someone ventured, the shock still at fever point.
“Yes, I did,” replied Bob, eventually, defiance in his voice. “I voted UKIP.”
More shock. You could cut the air with a knife. Silence again.
“Oh, my God why?” someone eventually said. “Why?”
At this point you could hear brains calculating furiously. I guess they wanted to call Bob a racist, because that’s the stock response. But they couldn’t because Bob was a mate, a trusted colleague.
Eventually, Paul, opposite, triumphant, said: “But they have got no policies, they only want to leave the EU. That’s not a party. Why on earth could you vote for them? Can you name a single policy?”
I report this scene because News-watch, my monitoring organisation has just completed a new piece of research into BBC output. I think it sheds important light on why both media folk and politicians are so savagely disparaging about not only UKIP but withdrawal as an issue. They get their views from the BBC…and the report also shows graphically that Corporation journalists – despite endless protestations to the contrary – simply don’t report the issues surrounding withdrawal and those who support it. Not only that, their main editorial coverage conveys that withdrawalists (because they are principally UKIP supporters) are racist, potentially venal and incompetent.
Our latest survey looked at 14 weeks of Today programmes, chosen because it’s the radio flagship and should be balanced and fair in covering all legitimate political parties and causes. The transcript analysis shows that shockingly, although withdrawal was very much on the news agenda, only 800 words in which those supporting withdrawal were heard putting their case were transmitted by Today in their items on this.
Other findings were:
· EU matters relating to the structure and operation of the EU were inadequately covered. There is systematic ‘bias by omission’.
· Those who support the EU were given regular platforms for their views and were not challenged as rigorously as those who don’t.
· Items about withdrawal assumed it was supported principally by amateurish, potentially venal politicians with racist views.
· That withdrawal was a matter that concerned only the ‘Right’ in British politics, and that those politicians were deeply divided.
· That Labour views about the EU were not worth exploration. This added to the bias by omission and reinforced the impression that withdrawal is a ‘right-wing’ issue.
The full report and summary can be read on the News-watch site.
In this context, the 25 per cent plus support achieved by UKIP, I would argue, is even more remarkable. The BBC works flat out to show UKIP as incompetent. It does not properly report withdrawal as an issue. And it considers euroscepticism as something that only affects the political Right generally and the Conservative party more specifically.
Until this changes, Mr Farage truly has an Everest to climb.