“It’s the comforting lie that sells better than the objective truth”: James O’Brien challenges press inaccuracy at Hacked Off’s 6th Annual Leveson Lecture
James O’Brien delivered the 6th Annual Leveson Lecture on Monday at the University of Westminster to a crowd of over 380 people.
Drawing parallels between the newspaper editors of his father’s time and today, O’Brien condemned the inaccurate, distorted and misleading coverage of issues at some newspapers that has contributed to a culture of misinformation, especially around the EU Referendum.
O’Brien, commenting on past and present coverage of the EU, added that there is an “utterly uninterrupted avalanche of misinformation”.
He went on to describe how repeated lies and distortions from newspapers – without an independent regulator to set the record straight – about the EU have led to our politicians adopting false claims about not having control over our money, our borders and our laws:
“How you could be persuaded as a reader of a newspaper that something that was actively good for you was in fact your enemy. Or something you should vote against. I’ll give you health and safety to start with. Think about it. What do we want? Less safety? What do we want again? Less Health. Really? Every single right wing newspaper columnist of last 30 years has at some point tilted up health and safety as an enemy of the interests of the readers. Health and Safety legislation of course is simply an obstacle or an inconvenience for bosses who don’t care about their workers welfare. Health and safety legislation enshrined in European law and therefore of course brought into British law was mostly written by us. But again you never read that in the Daily Mail. Or The Sun. Or the Express. Or the Telegraph.”
Hacked Off Director Kyle Taylor added:
“As James said, there were serial inaccuracies published in some newspapers in the run-up to the EU membership referendum, which were inadequately remedied, if at all, by the industry-controlled complaints-handler IPSO.
Hacked Off does not take a view on the question of EU membership itself, but the threat to democracy of remedied inaccuracies being published in the run up to a public referendum ought to be of concern to all sides of the debate.”
You can watch the full lecture here:
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Hacked Off is the campaign for a free and accountable press, and we work with the victims of press abuse to achieve those aims.
Below is the transcript from James O’Brien’s speech. Please note that some text may not be exact to script:
Thank you very much. I said first time I’ve been described as a best-selling author and I think I could get used to it.
Thank you all for coming. My preparation this evening hasn’t been perfect. I’ve just been sitting there running through all the reasons why I shouldn’t have accepted this invitation. I don’t think anyone should ever be exposed to their own face magnified to that size for starters.
The second thing that occurs to me, especially given the scrupulous impartiality that Hacked Off adults towards Brexit, is that the title of the speech rather presumes a degree of consensus. Democracy is in crisis, but one presumes that half the country still thinks it isn’t, and the reason why Brexit has all gone so badly is because Gary Lineker and Lily Allen keep being so mean about it.
The other reason why perhaps I shouldn’t have accepted this invitation and I’ll give you a warning in advance is that I’ve got a very tickly throat at the moment, known in the trade as a touch of the Theresa’s. So, if events do become unbearable then you can all fight among yourselves over who gets to play the role of Philip Hammond and bring me a cough sweet.
But I think the most important reason why I shouldn’t have accepted this invitation is because I think my late father wouldn’t be very impressed. My late father who passed away six months after Hacked Off was founded was a journalist. He left school in about 1955 at the age of 15 with no O-Levels.
And because the editor of the local newspaper the Shipley Times and Express on the outskirts of Leeds drank in my grandmother’s Pub, he managed to secure a month unpaid what we call now work experience. But what I suspect that it was called something rather less, euphemistic, in a nutshell.
He had a month to make sandwiches, run errands possibly do a tiny little bit of copy boy duties, and at the end of that period hopefully he would be offered some sort of wage to carry on doing some sort of job. And thankfully he was. So that was 1955. The Shipley Times and Express.
That followed a journey that will be utterly unfamiliar to most modern-day journalists including myself because he then went on a tour of Northern Regional. Morning papers evening papers, Doncaster Evening News, the Sheffield Morning, Telegraph the whole Daily Mail. In total about 10 different newspapers over a period of 20 years before he got a proper job on Fleet Street, or rather on a Fleet Street newspaper.
He was the Midlands Correspondent of The Daily Telegraph. And he would turn in his grave at the thought of me standing here tonight in support of the notion that press needs to be regulated. I’m sorry that the world has changed since we lost you.
One thing very that that was very good at explaining to me is where that change occurred. And so that’s where I’m planning on beginning tonight. That’s another reason why I shouldn’t have accepted this invitation, is that the more I’ve dug into it and the more I thought about it and the more I’ve tried to research some of the things that I took to be true the more I felt like this may alienate some of the older members of the audience.
But I felt that actually put the idea that most of the younger members of the audience as well, unless you’re more or less forty-six and three quarters consider yourself about to be alienated. But in the 1980s there was this wonderful craze called Magic Eye where you’d have books it looked like colouring books, but they weren’t. The idea was that if you stand for long enough that this collection of squiggles and apparently random shapes then eventually if you could do this thing with your eyes that I never quite got the hang of a fully formed image would appear as a form of optical illusion in the background of this. A random set of squiggles so you’d see a train coming towards you or an aeroplane.
Or a tiger or a lion. And the more I tried to address this question here, how this has happened, how has this crisis in democracy been not just not just committed but actively encouraged by a profession that should be diametrically opposed to everything it represents, and how has fake news contributed to the successful Brexit by the more I felt like looking at one of those pictures again.
Every now and then as I go through the history of coverage from Brussels by British newspapers, I look at some of the fatuous slogans of assumed utterly unwarranted place in the public discourse I stare. Stare and I stare every now and then I think I glimpse a train. And I say Oh God yes. And then it’s gone again. So, I don’t know that anyone’s going to walk out of this room tonight absolutely equipped with a full and definitive account of why what’s happened has happened, and how what’s happened is being permitted to happen, but I hope at least to give you to give you a few pointers.
So, 20 years after joining the Shipley Times and Express, Dad took the job as the Midlands Correspondent for The Daily Telegraph. And this was my introduction to journalism. It was all I ever knew really, and it was all I ever wanted to be. I grew up hearing him on the phone, drinking coffee. Sometimes it would take 90 minutes of reading down the phone.
Everything for the next day’s newspaper putting up dealing with such queries. And we also lived in a house where the phone would ring all the time, given what the Daily Telegraph has more recently become arguably as a result of Brexit and the patronage of those fantastically committed champions of working-class family values and doughty defenders of anti-elite rhetoric the billionaire Barclay brothers who also of course owned the Ritz Hotel.
I’ve always felt nothing says anti elite by owning the Ritz. But instead of all the time as a paragon of objectivity the editor was Bill Gardner who I think rightly assumed legendary status in Fleet Street even if he hadn’t been the subject of evening was scoop and dad would get calls from everyone.
I think younger journalists certainly journalism students will find it almost impossible to believe that there is still a handful in the game who don’t pick a side, and then furiously defend it or attack the other side. But for my dad and for his generation, journalism was all about objectivity.
So, during the miners’ strike for example our phone would ring I would pick it up, hello 62421 what – on the other end it would be its Arthur Scargill here is your dad around, and I knew he was famous I was quite impressed by this.
And then an hour later the phone would ring again, and it would be MacGregor giving his version of events. Then my dad would scrupulously report both of them so that the reader was equally equipped with both sides of an argument often both objectively and factually for the benefit of the reader, because forewarned is forearmed, knowledge is power.
I speak for the journalism students in the room. My uncle Martin got much more than I think I thought when we were growing up. He was the football correspondent for The News of the world in the northwest of England. I would occasionally open the phone at the house in Stockholm. I spent a lot of summers with them.
They wouldn’t be off escargot. So the other end of the phone or Lord Carey or someone like that it would be Ian flipping Rush or Kenneth how many were the times I asked Dad why I couldn’t go into football journalism instead of having a particular speciality for industrial relations which at the time would meet and drink to Fleet Street, the car industry and the miners’ strike were probably the two areas in which he worked most.
He started there in 1975 as I said 20 years or three left to ship three times and express. Five or six years after that, by his recollection something began to change on Fleet Street because prior to that.
The pack group of journalists representing all of the major national titles all of whom then had a Birmingham office they all had a proper Midlands representation. It was a few more years before Max Hastings the then editor of The Telegraph decided in his wisdom that the Second City of these islands didn’t actually need a dedicated journalist in situ, but that’s a conversation for a different day. What was explained to me was that, something shifted in the pack. So, I still believe it or not was still a relatively respectable title back then.
Today was up and running the newspapers you’ll be familiar with now the Daily Mail the Daily Express the Times. The Telegraph the Daily Mirror the Guardian. All reported the same story. They might have done so with a modicum of their difference’s differences, that the Guardian would probably use longer words than in the Daily Star for example, but they wouldn’t use different facts, they wouldn’t use different realities, they wouldn’t record different realities.
And that said it was, and they were all mates remember competition but also in co-operation. So, what you dreamt of getting a scoop that nobody else got there was always that trade off making sure everybody knew what everybody else was doing so that you didn’t get a monster from the news desk for not having got the story. And it was in the early 80s he said when The Sun started reporting these stories in a way that none of the rest of the pack recognised and it was best described in his account as a story written in a way that was designed to elicit the biggest emotional response from readers.
Some thinking about because it leads directly to Britain in 2018. The biggest emotional response from a reader is not necessarily going to be provided by telling the reader the truth or even giving the reader the dull detail the story that is from the horse’s mouth. But he’s actually not going to frighten the horses. It was The Sun that did this. In the end there’s a little quote from the disgraced former editor of The Sun at around this period when he was challenged by a colleague on why the newspaper that he edited didn’t concentrate more on serious news.
That I think is very pertinent and this is going back to the early 80s, which is I think where the journey here probably begins. It contains a rather offensive word for people of colour. So, I will apologize for that in advance, but I think it’s important to say the word out loud because this is the attitude that has been allowed since Rupert Murdoch bought The Sun and toppled the Daily Mirror off its dominance in the market. This is precisely the sort of attitude that has been allowed to infiltrate the public discourse and do for my money untold damage to the population. I’m speaking of course about Kelvin MacKenzie:
“You just don’t understand the readers do you. He’s the bloke you see in the pub, a real fascist. Wants to send the wogs back by his poxy council house. He’s afraid of the unions, afraid of the Russians, hates the queers and the weirdos and the drug dealers. He doesn’t want to hear about that stuff – serious news.”
He was right. There’s a there’s a real chicken and egg conundrum here. Because the Daily Mirror that you talk about told The Daily Mirror that Larry Lamb’s predecessor at the summit Rupert Murdoch is proprietor took on and defeated was a tabloid newspaper that believed in people. The best example of that I think is the fact that if you are familiar with sort of low-level voting water sports there’s a there’s a dinghy called a mirror, which I was aware of.
You know it goes to the sea side of its North Norfolk and I feel got me rubbing these on the key side and astonishingly when I looked into it partly through the autobiography of a former Mirror executive that that was a newspaper promotion. Who actually collected the tokens signed them up and bought a little boat construction on top of your car and drive to the seaside and sail. Five years, 10 years, 15 years later collecting tokens to get a ferry to Calais and stock up on dirt cheap booze.
And that seems to me to be emblematic of the values of those two newspapers someone because. Kelvin Mackenzie’s dismal disappointing and very rude description of the British people gained traction and it gained commercial success. So, the enemies changed vessel not the rhetoric not the philosophy. You could read this again. He’s the bloke you see in the pub a real fascist wants to know. You could just change the enemies. The point is he decided. For these people.
Well the unions and the unions be an enemy of the working people in this country. Yeah, I grew up. Margaret Thatcher. I was seven when Margaret Thatcher came to power. I grew up persuaded that the unions were an enemy of the working people of this country because even by then they had filtered into the mainstream of media coverage newspaper coverage to such a degree that it went almost unchallenged.
I’ll give you a quick example of how I have told you that is again it speaks to the Brexit story to newspapers. Kindly pointed out that no I work for the Daily Express during a curious experiment in social liberalism. But it’s fair to say that the Daily Express and the Daily Mail have done more than any other newspaper except of course the song.
To demonise immigration and to provide the notion to people who ended up voting for Brexit. So, immigration as a result of European Union membership would somehow diminish their lives, or more pertinently empty their wage packets. So those two newspapers in 2017 2016 just prior to the referendum in 2015 were edited and owned by men who I would argue have done more damage to the social infrastructure of this country than the one the Luftwaffe added to the material infrastructure of this country. I’ll give you an example of why
I worked for the Daily Express, before Richard Desmond bought it. After Richman Desmond bought it, he flirted with the Labour Party I think he gave them a bunch of money then he flirted with the Tories and he still hadn’t got a knighthood, so he ended up flirting with UKIP. During the course of this process, the Daily Express reported routinely and regularly that British workers were having their wages driven down by immigrants, by immigration.
That was the reason the main reason why they weren’t earning as much as they thought they should have been earning. These were stories written by my friends or former colleagues on The Daily Express, to whom I don’t know it well because they have bills to pay and who pays the piper calls the tune. But this was a deliberate proprietary slant introduced by the owner of the newspaper.
I haven’t got the numbers in front of me. So, forgive me if I’m out by 10 or 15, but over the course of this period, Richard Desmond took about £170 million out of the Daily Express while the journalists writing stories about how immigration was driving down the wages of British workers didn’t get a pay raise for eight or nine years. For the journalists whose own wages have been frozen not just tied to inflation but actually in real terms cuts because they didn’t go up in line with inflation.
They are writing stories about other workers having their wages driven down by immigration, while their own wages are literally being driven down by a proprietor who is taking hundreds of millions of pounds out of a once thriving business. Where does that leave the reader? In complete darkness. Let’s cross on a minute from what remains of Fleet Street, to Kensington where the Daily Mail was until very recently edited by a man called Paul Dacre. Paul Dacre routinely takes between £1.5 and £2 million gross salary at the Daily Mail, and also as you know is very fond of propagating the idea that wages are being driven down by immigrants.
A couple of years ago, after the referendum result there was a little whisper, you’d only probably have read about it in the gut. But there was a whisper that the cleaners at Associated Newspapers at their offices on Perry Street in Kensington were contemplating industrial action.
These are the kind of things that make my ears prick up. They’re the kind of things that would have made my late father’s ears prick up, but they’re not the kind of things that you’re going to read about in newspapers these days.
I’ll tell you why, because they did threaten industrial action. They were on less than a London Living Wage, these cleaners they were all on relative incomes let’s say £7.50 an hour. The man who was making £1.7 million a year was having his desk cleaned every morning by a man earning £7 an hour, or £7.50 an hour. And still, this newspaper prints its stories about how immigrants were driving down wages, and with a nod to the disgraced former officer of the Sun Kelvin Mackenzie how the trade unions were somehow the enemy of the working man and woman.
So, they threatened industrial action, and the fear of a PR disaster meant that they got a rather generous payroll the agency that contracted the cleaners to the Daily Mail suddenly had a completely random change of heart. But according to the official record had absolutely nothing to do with the threat of industrial action.
I just woke up one morning and like Ebenezer Scrooge, no doubt as a result of a horrible dream, and decided to suddenly pay these people a decent wage. All of those people were foreign. All of them were immigrants. They got a pay rise by exercising the powers of collective bargaining. They got a pay rise by, uniting, cooperating and demanding. And often they got a pay rise.
I hope this doesn’t come as a surprise to anybody in the room that after they got that pay rise. They were still foreign, they were still immigrants they’ve actually secured a rather generous payroll which you would never have read about in the Daily Mail. So, it’s not the game that’s changed. It’s just the enemies. And we’re getting closer now to Brexit, I’ll read you another quote. I don’t have many.
“It’s the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it’s always a simple matter to drag the people along. Whether it’s a democracy a fascist dictatorship or a parliament or a communist dictatorship. We saw no voice. The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism. And exposing the country to grave danger.”
So that is pretty much if you cast the newspaper proprietors, and the role of the leaders and some politician,s but by no means all. Well they want me. I think the two most prominent and successful politicians on that side of the Brexit debate were actually former journalists. Michael Gove and Boris Johnson.
“All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists or the remoaners for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to greater danger.”
No, it’s not, Kelvin MacKenzie or Paul Dacre. That’s Hermann Goering who was speaking at the Nuremberg trials in his own trial. It was a comment he made to somebody who was covering it. So, for fact check is among other things he wasn’t set up his own trial in Nuremberg, but it was said during the Nuremberg trials and that really got me thinking.
Because it’s so true. If you tell people, they are being attacked and you offer them a solution to that attack and escape route from that attack, then reaching for them doesn’t make them racist, it doesn’t make them bigoted, it doesn’t make them stupid, it does however make them wrong.
And that seems to be where the light, the chink opened up the new approach to Brexit because people being wrong were not being told that they were wrong, and the reason they weren’t being told that they were wrong is because newspapers – as a business model – as a commercial reality – were shifting a lot more copies and wielding a lot more power by frightening people, than they would be by informing them. I think that goes back to the shift in the countries discourse that occurred when The Sun overcame the Daily Mirror, and notion of frightening and exciting an emotional response, replaced the notion of informing and proving an evidenced based story to your reader.
Well no prizes for guessing. I think, the European Union became the new enemy. So, after Kelvin MacKenzie had moved on from the unions and the weirdos and the drug dealers and all and sundry other insults, he happened upon three, at least three new demons that the tabloid press in this country were keen to persuade us were lurking under every bed and around every corner.
And I’d like you to think about the words here, because it seems to me that we’ve forgotten to ask people what words mean, we’ve forgotten to insist that people who use words blithely and casually can actually account for what those words mean. I’ll give you an example of people using words all the time without being asked what they mean and that would be the Prime Minister.
Who now has adopted that ludicrous mantra of taking back control of our laws. and our money and our borders. We’ll have a look in a second at what she means by control, what she means by laws what she means by borders and what she means by money. But let’s instead look at how that started. How you could be persuaded as a reader of a newspaper that something that was actively good for you was in fact your enemy, and something you should vote against.
I’ll give your health and safety. Stop, think about it. Do we want less safety? How does that work? We wan less health? Really? Every single right-wing newspaper columnist of the last 30 years has at some point tilted up health and safety as an enemy of the interests of the readers.
Health and Safety legislation of course is simply an obstacle, or an inconvenience for bosses who don’t care about their workers welfare health and safety legislation enshrined in European law and therefore. Of course. Brought into British Law which was mostly written by us. But then again, you’ll never read that in the Daily Mail, or The Sun, or the Express, or the Telegraph.
It was essentially like a single market a British invention. But British newspapers were persuading British people that any attempt to introduce more health and more safety was somehow a bad thing. And it worked. I fell for it. You know I’ve laughed at high-vis jackets and thought well that’s a bit ridiculous, and then I’ve gone to other countries and I’ve seen somebody on a construction site 200 feet up in the air not wearing a helmet. And I thought you know what? Maybe health and safety legislation is actually quite a good idea.
Two more words. But again, the tabloid newspapers of the last 30 years have utterly and completely debased them – Human Rights. Put your hand up if you’re not a human? So, you can probably all agree that human rights are pretty good for everyone who is a human. Buy the Daily Mail and The Sun though of course and you will be persuaded almost immediately that human rights are the reason why wronguns are getting away with it. We can’t deport people willy nilly and somehow, we’ve ended up in a country where we’re paying too much attention to the rights of criminals. As opposed to the rights of decent ordinary law-abiding citizens.
But that’s the thing about humans, they cover every single one of those categories. And, if you want to make sure that the rights of the decent law-abiding citizens are completely protected and enshrined you have to somewhat inconveniently afford the same rights as other humans who aren’t very nice. Health and Safety. Human Rights. Negative, demons, evil. Mission accomplished by The Daily Mail and The Sun.
Then we come to third pair of words that have been successfully turned into a negative despite at first glance appearing to represent something that can be only good. European Union. When did Union become a bad thing? When did the idea that division was preferable to truth?
It doesn’t even get challenged really in most corners of the British media. And when you think of things in the context of post 1945, when did the idea of a union within Europe dreamt of and described by everybody from Winston Churchill right through to Margaret Thatcher in 1975. How did that ever get portrayed to us and the British public as a bad thing? And yet it did. And the risk of repetition I remind you of Kelvin Mackenzie’s Greatest Hits. Once again. Up yours Delores. Great front page. You see where it leads. It’s not just him.
I’ve got a list here of stories, you can find them online, you can find them on my Twitter account. These are all published, and they’re not confined to The Sun they’re not confined to the Times. Well they wouldn’t be in the Times, but they’re not confined to the deeper print as we used to call them, but just as likely to have popped up in my dad’s old paper and I could pick these almost at random.
I could probably have spared you all speech and just stood in front of me reading them all one by one and listening to the crescendo of laughter build until you suddenly realized that actually this is what passes for music written in 2018. And at that point, most of you would probably stop laughing.
“”English Channel to be renamed Anglo-French pond.” Daily Mail. Published.
“EU to ban selling eggs by the dozen.” Daily Mail published.
“UK to be forced to adopt continental two pin plug.” Daily Star, Daily Mail.
“Brussels to force EU flag on England shirts.” Daily Mail.
“EU orders farmers to give toys to pigs. That was in The Times.” The Times, the thunderer the newspaper of record.
“Fireman’s poles outlawed by EU and Euro ban on food waste means swans cannot be fed.” And that was in the Observer.
You see how it infected every area of Fleet Street.
We jumped the gun again. Because, in the early 80s. MacKenzie arrived at The Sun and started doing untold damage.
In the early 90s another journalist who barely deserves the description arrived in Brussels as the correspondent for The Daily Telegraph and his name Boris Johnson. He took the job at The Daily Telegraph after being fired from the traineeship at the Times for making a quote up from his own godfather.
That to me should perhaps have sounded alarms about the future reliability, decency and integrity of the man. But he moves in circles where reliability decency and integrity seem to be increasingly undervalued attributes.
And when he got to Brussels he realised despite having lived there as a child when his father was an MEP, he realised that the best way to bring himself to the attention of the editors of The Daily Telegraph was to do what he described as throwing rocks at the garden wall and rejoicing in the sound of greenhouse panes of glass smashing on the other side. So he would start filing back from Brussels the stories that lead us to a Fleet Street newspaper industry that considers it commonplace to now publish stories like “EU tells Welsh how to grow their leaks.”
“EU to ban lollipop lady sticks.”
“EU plot to rename Trafalgar Square and Waterloo Station”
“UK milk points are threatened by Brussels.”
“EU bans mince pies.”
“Eurocrats say Santa must be a woman.”
“Now EU crackpots demand Gypsy MPs.”
“Brussels to outlaw mushy peas.”
That wasn’t meant to rhyme
“Brussels say shellfish must be given rest breaks on journeys.”
“Pets must be pressure cooked after death.”
And that’s the Sunday Telegraph.
“EU speed limit on children’s roundabouts.”
“Two for one bargains to be scrapped by EU.”
“The EU tells woman to hand in worn out sex toys.”
“British rhubarb to be straight.”
“EU to ban rocking horses.”
“”Scotch whisky rebranded as a dangerous chemical by EU.”
“Brussels ban on pints of shandy.”
High up signs to be put on mountains.” – That was the BBC. So, this utterly uninterrupted avalanche of misinformation designed not to persuade, as ultimately to actually for go our own interests to become the first country in history to vote to impose economic sanctions upon itself. We did two and a half years ago.
There was no master plan. I don’t believe there was a conspiracy. There was just a bunch of journalists who didn’t have my dad’s background. Who didn’t have my dad’s dedication to objectivity evidence and truth. But had instead ambition and very little else.
And they realised that their ambition was more likely to be advanced by soliciting the sort of response that these stories got from the colonels and from the Letters page and therefore from the news editor and therefore from the editor. And so, they kept coming. Bosses to be told what colour copies to buy by EU.
“EU said British yogurt must be renamed fermented milk pudding.”
“EU to ban zips on trousers.”
“EU to ban 16-year olds from using Facebook.”
“Strawberries must be oval”
“Tea bags banned from being recycled.”
British laws to be replaced with euro loos. And I could go on. I mean I really could go on I could probably go on for about a day and a half and not even scratch the surface of the misinformation and lies that Boris Johnson, Kelvin MacKenzie, Paul Dacre and their fellow travellers have completely polluted public discourse with.
But it’s the BBC that’s most interesting there, because the BBC is not supposed to have fallen into these traps. It’s supposed to have risen above the frame and delivered instead proper objective journalism, but it doesn’t. My contention is that the newspapers have so completely subverted what we want to be universally agreed and the BBC has fallen into this dreadful trap of false equivalent and false impartiality and that’s why I think democracy is in crisis.
These days, if the BBC were to conduct a commemoration of the death of John G Kennedy, I would not be surprised that for balance they would have to have somebody in the studio who thinks he’s still alive.
If we were to go back a few hundred years and were to bring the BBC rules about potent impartiality to the table at the time of Galileo Galilei then I can imagine, as I was presenting to you tonight, having Galileo on the one side with his telescope and his charts of the sky and his pretty incontrovertible truth that the earth revolves around the Sun and not the other way round. With my BBC hat on, I’d say thank you very much Galileo and I’ll turn to Nigel Lawsine, who has absolutely no telescope and he’s never really looked to the sky, but has a feeling it’s all wrong from what is written in the books and from his exile house in France and is absolutely persuaded that Galileo has got this wrong and things were much better in the old days when we never even looked at stars and worried about the planets and just went to church and said our prayers and say thank you very much, good night.
I guess equal weight, equal balance is the equal importance and equal status to the science.
So, I’ve had Paul Nurse in the studio to my radio show. Paul Nurse has won a Nobel Prize. That, I think we can all still agree on is in indicator of someone being quite good at science. He spent 50 years on research science he was in my studio on the no deal science and the impact that Brexit would have.
I don’t know when we became a country that needs to balance out the opinion of a Nobel Prize winning scientist with 50 years on the clock with the thoughts of somebody like Andrew Bridgen or Nadine Dorries. But that is what we have become, and still the BBC subscribes to the notion that there are two sides to every story and still this ludicrous obsession with impartiality and balance even in the face of science.
Andrew Bridgen of course recently complained that because he was English, he was entitled to an Irish passport, Nadine Dorries famously took to WhatsApp to ask if someone could please explain what the EU customs union was, to then argue with people about why it was definitely the right reason to leave it.
And I’m not laughing anymore as she’ll be on telly tomorrow.
‘Crush The Saboteurs’. Crush the saboteurs. The. Saboteurs. Front page, mass market, daily newspaper. Describing MPs determined to exercise their sovereign right to represent their voters as saboteurs, but worse, not just saboteurs, saboteurs who needed to be crushed. If that was North Korea. We would laugh at that sort of journalism. But now we’re so groomed to find it normal, we barely batted an eyelid. Crush the saboteurs.
‘Enemies Of The People’ – this great defender of British values who’s got a problem with a sovereign parliament and democratically elected MPs moving on to high court judges with the ‘Enemies Of The People’ front page, high court judges the enemies of the people – an independent functioning judiciary and the rule of law.
“Enemies of the people”. So, this great doubting defender of British values has got a problem with our sovereign parliament our democratically elected parliamentary representatives, the rule of law and an independent judiciary. There aren’t many British values left. If you want to get constitutional about it, I’d put academic freedom on the list. The freedom of academics to research, teach, learn, cross the ties and bat the fruits of their academic efforts.
That that’s somehow where we’ve ended up. You think I’m exaggerating. Just consider this. Those three phrases that I said I would return to. We can’t control our money, our borders and all those. Put your hand up if you are familiar with Article 7 of the EU Citizens’ Rights Directive. Would you have had in May 2016? No. Nor would I. That was my job.
Seven of the EU Citizens Rights Directive states that in order to come to any member state without a job you must first demonstrate that you have sufficient resources to ensure you don’t become a burden on the social assistance service of the host country. You cannot demand that they provide evidence material wealth sufficient to ensure that they won’t become a burden.
You can also put three-month time limit on their search for work. I didn’t know that. We can’t control our borders. She’s still saying it. She said it in the House of Commons today when the truth is, we always could.
Successive governments elected not to. And if you had two off the top of your head the Home Secretary you tried to make political capital out of whipping up a bit of jingoism and xenophobia. I suggested the initials TM would be fairly high up. On your list so she knows not just the borders we can’t control our borders we can’t control money either. Next time you see her being interviewed and it won’t be by me I wonder why no one asks her what money it is that we can’t control.
She is presumably referring to the contribution we make to the European Union budget which in 2016 according to the Office of National Statistics was £9.4 billion. The EU Commission has it at £8.1 billion because they do their sums slightly differently, so we’ll go with the higher figure.
This is the money that we can’t control. She’s still saying it now. She said it in the Commons today. £191 million a week that we can’t control.
So what percentage do you think it is of overall government expenditure in 2016? 1.2%. We can’t control our borders? Except we can. We can’t control our money. What. You mean the 1.2%. of overall government spending that we choose to exercise or control. To contribute to the overall EU budget. Per person per day.
You know how fond these tabloid newspapers are of really nifty little statistics that get under the bonnet of a more complicated story. 39p. Per person. Per day. And still when you speak to people clinging desperately to the carcass of Brexit and pretending that it’s still a unicorn about to become revivify at any minute now. Still that’s how it’s all about the money, except it isn’t.
Control our border, control our money, and finally control our laws. Which has become a bit of a hobby horse of mine. Because when people tell me that they can’t control our laws, or the highway to leave the European Union because of all the laws that have been imposed upon us from without which we are powerless to resist I have one very simple question to ask, and I’ve been asking for ten years.
Name a law. Name a law that in April of next year you ought to be dancing in the streets about?
Audience member: “EU copyright law”
James in response: Well, you have very low criteria for dancing in the streets my friend.””
” Every year of my life, we are squeezed by these dreadful laws” they say. Name one. And then a sigh and a cold and uncomfortable silence until usually somebody mentions bendy bananas.
Which brings us back to Boris Johnson who invented that story, and who has lied and lied and lied again. To his employers, to party leaders, to his wife, to his mistresses, to his constituents, to every member of this country, and still he lies. £1000 he picked up this weekend to deliver a lecture to hedge funds and I puzzled over why they paid that sort of money?
Not because he’s trustworthy, but because he’s got an angle on what might happen next. He’s so immersed in British Politics, that integrity, decency and honesty aside, he is worth paying that to, because if you’re in the business of making money out of markets moving, or out of countries declining, you want to know what he’s got planned – you want the same thing.
You’re going to make £100 million quid out of waiting with a pen and tapping on the wall waiting for the referendum or on the morning of the actual departure of the European Union.
you want him close, you want to know what he’s up to. because he’s got no business, he’s got no business at all continuing to peddle the lies and misinformation, the divisive nonsense. Turkey. He’s got a Turkish Grandfather. And he thought nothing of betraying every single Turkish citizen as a potential rapist or terrorist who could be arriving in to London on the next Eurostar if we vote to leave the European Union.
So, in conclusion, I don’t know what the answer is.
But I know what the question is. The question we need to start asking, and the question we need to start asking now is how the hell did we let this happen to our island? How the hell did we let our country get reduced in to a muling, fighting, snarling cesspit of utterly entrenched division, whilst in fact our common interest was better served all along by Human Rights, Health and Safety and the European Union?
Thank you very much.