Driving home on election night I turned on my car radio for the BBC’s World Tonight headlines: Thailand military declares coup; migration shapes Italy’s election debate; and Scotland’s beavers – with Philippa Thomas.
What about the local council and EU elections, the Ukip phenomenon and the latest immigration figures, I wondered, as I pulled up at the traffic lights. Not to be featured at all?
Ah, in third place after Thailand and the Ukraine, or so it seemed.
“As the polls close here”, Philippa was saying, “we hear one of the campaigns here being voiced in Italy too…”. Then an angry Italian verbal volley: “There is no place for them here”.
What? The Brits or the Germans taking Italian jobs. Surely not. The BBC had chosen Italy over Essex to explore views about immigration – African immigration to Italy.
Had I missed this in the Clegg-Farage debate? I didn’t think so. Umm. The BBC is at it again.
Philippa’s voice caught my wandering attention … “are they a force of nature or are they to be culled?”
Good God! Surely not the Africans? It must be Ukippers she’d got on to. No? I must have missed the broadcasting link while changing gear.
It was beavers. Beavers on the rampage was the evening’s topic of discussion, not the steadily climbing and extraordinarily high immigration figures released by ONS earlier. They’d needed no comment. The newsreader had already dismissed them as being no different to last year’s figures.
I felt for Philippa as she chatted about beavers. She must be thinking if only Ukip could be dealt with the same way. If only we didn’t have to mention them. After all Channel Four News had got away with ignoring them earlier in the evening.
But even for the biased BBC this proved to be a step too far. I looked at my watch. 17 minutes past ten. They couldn’t put it off any longer. Philippa read her cue:
“What do the last few weeks tell us about the state of British politics?” she asked.
The answer was prepared: First, a Dave soundbite – ‘I alone can deliver a referendum’; then an incomprehensible Ed ‘cost of living’ nasal mumble; finally it was Mr Clegg’s turn – ‘Farage hates modern Britain, I love it..etc etc’.
What about Nige? I turned off the engine and waited for a statement on the EU superstate we have never voted for. It didn’t come. No. Instead LBC’s Jamie O’Brien seemed to be attacking Farage all over again.
How predictable, I thought. The scene was being set for a Ukip skewering à la BBC, with Peter Oborne, the Daily Telegraph’s chief political commentator, and Rafael Behr, the political editor of the New Statesman, called up to represent ‘balance and impartiality’.
But it didn’t happen.
Oborne kebabbed the BBC:
“I think this election campaign has been extraordinary. It has seen something we haven’t seen in a generation or more. UKIP is an extraordinary phenomenon, an insurrection against the way we have been governed for the last two or three decades.
“It is amazing that a party that has been mocked, ridiculed, treated with hostility and contempt by the media, loathed by the mainstream political parties, finding it extraordinarily hard to gets its voice heard, and yet – we have no idea what is going to happen but it is clearly going to do very well in the polls.”
“I think it might be said that Nigel Farage has managed to get his voice heard quite a lot”, Philippa retorted sharply.
Who would Rafael agree with?
To Philippa’s shock, and indeed mine, it became clear he was with Peter. I was agog.
Here I was listening to the New Statesman’s political editor telling a BBC presenter over the BBC’s airwaves about Farage’s achievements.
He listed them:
First, he had dragged the Conservative party into recognising that ‘leaving the EU is a mainstream and legitimate policy’, to be talked about, something that was not the case in 2010 when Cameron got into government.
Second, he had brought to the fore (“and he is not entirely wrong about this”) the fact that any immigration policy a British government wants to have is necessarily only about non-EU migration. Why? Because our EU membership means free movement of labour has left us with very limited national control.
Third (Rafael was on a roll too), Farage had forced the pro-European camp to test out their argument (pause), their liberal pro- immigration argument (yes, I was hearing right). Stress tested, these arguments had failed.
Not I imagine what Philippa was expecting. It left her weakly asking Oborne how this challenge could be responded to.
It was worth staying in the car to hear his answer. His sonorous tones boomed out:
“If you go back ten years political debate in this country was stifled by a cross-party conspiracy between the Lib-Dems, the Conservatives and above all by New Labour. You couldn’t talk about immigration, without being called racist. You couldn’t talk about about Europe without being called a xenophobe….
“The wonderful thing about UKIP is that it has challenged this conformity of discourse which was imposed on British voters. Farage has rescued democracy for the voters. It belonged, ten years ago to a tiny political elite and it is an enormous contribution to our public life, whatever happens in these elections. Farage has done a fabulous thing for British democracy.
Philippa could take no more. “I think we are going to leave it there…” she stopped him, as she headed off to safer beaver territory.