No, Newsnight, it’s not ok to talk about us when we aren’t there to defend ourselves

We had some absolutely cracking press coverage this Conference.

In her speech yesterday, Sal Brinton read out a newspaper editorial which said lots of nice things about us:

This Sunday, one paper’s editorial headline was ‘Lib Dems’ revival is a blow to sorry Labour’,

and it then went on to say:

‘fair play to the Lib Dems.

under Leader Tim Farron the party has risen from the ashes of electoral oblivion to reposition itself as the only effective opposition…

The Lib Dems have not only capitalised on the fallout from the EU Referendum but also the disintegration of the Labour Party…

They are speaking up for ordinary voters on issues that really matter, such as the NHS and education.’

The Observer on Polly Toynbee’s day off?

The Independent?

No, this, my friends, is the Sunday Express!

I’m delighted that Tim is at last getting the recognition that he deserves, and I suspect that phrase ‘the only effective opposition’ might appear in a few leaflets and tabloids over the next few months.

Tim got loads of coverage, from Buzzfeed to the Guardian to the Standard in the run-up to Conference, and there has been positive coverage of his speech yesterday, too. George Eaton in the New Statesman says:

In his peroration, Farron resonated passion for this task. “The only movement with the desire and the potential to stop the calamity of Brexit and the tragedy of a generation of Conservative majority rule, is this movement, is the Liberal Democrats,” he cried. Though the voters may tarry, if they come at all, Farron’s centrist radicalism gives his party a chance.

It wasn’t all great, though. Last night, the BBC’s package on Newsnight included a studio discussion with Anne McElvoy and former Labour SpAd Patrick Diamond, neither of whom, obviously, are particular fans of the Liberal Democrats. Diamond went on about how people didn’t like liberalism any more and the way that democracy worked wasn’t satisfying people. Such a shame that no party has been calling for people to be given more power and for there to be a fairer system where their votes actually meant something, then, isn’t it? If we’d had representation in the studio, we could have rebutted this and every other point that they made.

I am a great believer in complaining to the BBC when this happens. If a lot of people do so, then the subject can be featured on their complaints website and a response made public. However, I suspect that they don’t often receive complaints from us because, well, we’re way too busy to take 5 minutes and do it.

But it is only 5 minutes and this matters. We have a unique space in politics at the moment and it isn’t being presented to the public because the media ignore us. So, have a watch of the programme here and if you agree that we should have been represented on that panel, complain here.



* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Lorenzo Cherin 21st Sep '16 - 11:05pm


    A very appropriate article , I read the Express on Sunday , and never do , just browsing to see what coverage we might get , and was delighted and so glad you say what you are here.

    It is a regular theme of mine , complaining about the BBC, and misguided, and partisan, paid up members of the left, can mistake that all they like for attacking the public broadcaster, actually it is not that at all but defence of and argument for public broadcasting , if we had it, and we hardly do from that quarter, these days ,far to much commercial pandering and do as they please !

    I expect it from other channels , it is because of my belief in public broadcasting , I do not accept it from the BBC. Unfortunately too many in our party are complacent , pushing the line that to defend the status quo means flexing radical biceps ! The TV licence, we now see, funds salaries of managers up to 40% higher than in commercial TV, that we are forced to pay with no choice but to watch online.

    This week our party had a conference , our leader gave an important speech , our activists won in another council by election, and the TV channels had nothing on us at all, nothing but reports and programmes about Labour. Guess what , the panorama ,on BBC one , had the same production company producer as the dispatches on Channel four! The BBC did not even have one clip of Tim actually talking , when he made his speech,and led with about ten minutes on the Labour election latest , on the day Theresa May spoke to the UN !

    Do complain, they are not much more “fair and balanced ” , the strap line of Fox News, than , Fox News !

  • David Pocock 21st Sep '16 - 11:23pm

    I agree and made a complaint. It wouldn’t be hard to find a lib for the show.

    I am glad of the good rep Tim is getting. I tell friends who want a different politician they don’t need corbyn, they need to listen to a Tim speech. It is just really good to be winning again, can’t wait for the Oxford election.

  • Little Jackie Paper 22nd Sep '16 - 12:09am

    Lorenzo Cherin – ‘I expect it from other channels , it is because of my belief in public broadcasting , I do not accept it from the BBC.’

    Why? The BBC is no different.

    I do wonder however if there is a wider problem here with the idea of ‘balance.’ Too often it seems that balance is taken to mean that two opposing sides of an argument are given broadly similar representation irrespective of how much expert and political support those sides of the argument have.

    Gove was much-mocked for his line about people having had enough of experts. However take out the word experts and replace it with the word pundits and he probably wasn’t far off. Certainly that’s how I feel sometimes.

    What we have is a massive, massive oversupply of media. I didn’t see the coverage on the Parliament Channel sadly. In that environment the BBC is not special. Now, the stark reality is that for good or for bad at 8 MPs, the scope for the LDP to compete with (say) the PM’s speech at the UN on the major issues of the day is rather limited.

    But we now have a media where punditry and expertise are blurred because of media oversupply. How all parties deal with it matters greatly.

  • Richard Underhill 22nd Sep '16 - 1:05am

    The Daily Politics did a special programme for Tim Farron’s speech. Andrew Neil was unusually polite and did not make any of his unfunny and tediously repetitive jokes. There was a Lib Dem in the studio. I regret I did not catch her name, but when he told her she would probably not know much about Canadian politics she replied that she is married to a Canadian.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 22nd Sep '16 - 1:26am

    Little Jackie

    I think the whole point is the BBC get all the licence fee and should be different and too often are not.


    You mention the exception to almost the rule .Andrew Neil does indeed cover our party and is even handed , which is true of Murnaghan on Sky , both are hard on all parties but we at least exist to them !

  • Barry Snelson 22nd Sep '16 - 7:50am

    I agree with Lorenzo on the BBC and it should be broken up. It specifically should not tax the general public to provide itself a platform for its own political perspective and interpretation.

    However, this shouldn’t be about the BBC. The iPlayer tax will relentlessly erode its support. I think the view expressed by Caron is correct and paradoxically, I thought even the negative coverage was ‘positive’, in the sense that it came from die hard Tory and Labour columnists. I detected an air of mild alarm and an undercurrent of “here might be a threatening revival that needs to be nipped in the bud by a bit of sneering about tuition fees”.

    I accept there may be an element of rose tinted specs here but I thought Tim did well and looked like an honest, caring politician surrounded by snake oil salesmen. I believe Tim will lift us off the floor and that will do for the moment, but David Becket is also correct in that to move into serious political ambition we need a very plausible offering, for the voter.

    My view on that has long been that both shades (the social liberal and the economic liberal) should work in harmony to create a formidable electoral force. One that can’t be dismissed as unaffordable Santa Claus policies and an economic agenda that is just “Keynes and pray for a miracle” but a regeneration of our national wealth creating talents with a determination to leave no one out and no one behind.

  • Betty Patterson 22nd Sep '16 - 9:05am

    Yes, I have noticed the media tendency not to ignore us but to take a swipe at us as a postscript to endless discussion of tory and labour entrails.

    However, the one I find particularly humiliating is to watch Time Darton bobbing up after every question at PMQs and being so obviously ignored every time by the Speaker.

    On the one occasion that he took a question from Tim, he did with a conspiratorial leer towards the mocking tory benches.

  • Betty Patterson 22nd Sep '16 - 9:07am

    PS Tim Darton of course. Apologies for keyboard error.

  • Caron..”This Sunday, one paper’s editorial headline was ‘Lib Dems’ revival is a blow to sorry Labour’….”
    Don’t get too excited, Caron. I think you’ll find that, far from being interested/appreciative of LibDem values, the Express is more interested as pushing the, “Labour is doomed” story…
    If there is ever a threat to a Tory agenda the “leopard will still have the old spots”..

  • Not too worried myself. At least the media seem to have observed the general Council by eletion situation. Lert us sock it to them at Witney, then they will notice a lot more!!.

  • Peter Watson 22nd Sep '16 - 9:49am

    @Little Jackie Paper “Too often it seems that balance is taken to mean that two opposing sides of an argument are given broadly similar representation irrespective of how much expert and political support those sides of the argument have”
    This is most notable (sometimes embarrassingly so) in debates on climate change, alternative medicine, and wherever belief contradicts science or evidence. However, politics and economics do generally seem to be areas where expertise and opinion are less easily separated and where being in a majority is not necessarily the same as being more correct, so probably should be presented with “balance”.

  • Talking about Witney: see odds on us winning fallen from 50-1 to 16-1.

    PS Sorry about the spelling mistakes on last submission, was in an rush and did not check.

  • Oh dear! Let’s not get too carried away as bigging up the Lib Dems in the run up to Labour’s conference suits Express newspapers’ agenda. Be assured that when we get into a position to make a difference the change to negative coverage will be swift.

  • David Becket

    I agree that there is a hole in the LibDems where answers to real world questions should be. That however is not a reason for the BBC to not invite a representative of the Party when criticising it. Would they do a segment attacking a charity or business without giving them the right to defend themselves? For a FTSE 100 company, not way the legal bill would destroy the programmes budget. I want the BBC to succeed which is why we should criticise it when it messes up (all the time at the moment).

  • Sue Sutherland 22nd Sep '16 - 3:08pm

    David Becket and Psi, Tim has the qualities we need at the moment, he’s a guerilla fighter with the ability to inspire and if by deep you mean intellectual, we have lots of those in the party, though they may not be MPs, as many commentators on LDV show when they are willing and able to argue about details as much as they can. Brexit should have taught us that it’s emotion that grabs attention. Tim may well be that very rare bird, an intellectual with the cleverness to summarise a policy in a few well chosen words.

  • I agree that Tim Farron gave an excellent Conference speech and believe that we need a better ‘positioning’ strategy that will attract more centre ground support. That said I do feel that standards at the BBC have been falling steadily for the last 10 years or so and not having a Lib Dem on the Newsnight programme is just another example. Hence I will follow the link provided and complain.

  • “the party has risen from the ashes of electoral oblivion to reposition itself as the only effective opposition… The Lib Dems have not only capitalised on the fallout from the EU Referendum but also the disintegration of the Labour Party”

    There is no evidence whatsoever of this revival in the national opinion polls :-

    Nor is there any evidence of a collapse in the Labour vote. Perhaps the 30-odd percent still saying they support Labour are comfortable with the idea even with Corbyn in charge.

  • Jonathan Ferguson 22nd Sep '16 - 5:46pm

    The BBC, or at least certain elements of it such as the news, is not there to challenge people’s preconceptions, really; is it? It’s not that different from other ‘official’ or ‘state’ media outlets in history. ‘Don’t rock the boat’ is the watchword for Auntie. I believe this stick in the mud relative of ours has outstayed her welcome… I don’t mind the BBC existing, but I’d rather taxpayer’s money wasn’t being funneled into legitimizing the ‘far centre,’ which in some ways is no less extreme than the far left and far right.

  • Jonathan Ferguson

    “far centre”

    Love it.

    I’m not convinced there is always one establishment view on every topic but there is certainly an establishment BBC view on everything that won’t be far from most of the rest of the establishment’s view on most things.

  • nvelope2003 22nd Sep '16 - 8:26pm

    Lorenzo Cherin: You need a TV licence to watch the BBC online at any time but you can watch other channels without a TV licence except when they are being broadcast on TV sets.

  • nvelope2003 22nd Sep '16 - 8:33pm

    Stuart: The Evening Standard IPSOS Mori poll seems to be out of line with the others on the Lib Dems, UKIP, Green and Labour – maybe it was just for the London area ?
    The opinion polls seem to be contradicted by votes in actual elections where the Liberal Democrats have made significant gains.

  • I think the difference between local elections and national polls is that the Lib Dems get, proportionately, more attention at local by-elections than during a national campaign. I also think people are more prepared to take a risk. This is good in some ways, as it’s something to build on, and shows there is potential, yet it’s proving tough to translate to a national level. As soon as there are national campaigns, the large media outlets focus on Left vs Right, Red vs Blue. The mainly right-wing press campaign for the Tories by abusing Labour and ignoring the Lib Dems.
    We need to find a way to get the Lib Dems talked about more, and to keep us being talked about. Unfortunately, modern media is driven by ‘clickbait’, which lends itself to our more reactionary rivals, and has been particularly suited to the separatist messages of the SNP and UKIP, because greavance is more suited to angry headlines than talk of constructive collaboration, or technical accuracy. I don’t want us to play their game, but we can learn from them.

    In Scotland, a sub-section of nationalist campaigners used their collective online power to influence the media. They became known as “cybernats”, and their goal was to use the internet (cyberspace) to promote the nationalist cause. Inevitably, some of them went over the top, so the term is now very loaded. They would ensure that positive articles always got lots of hits, and the journalists were praised, encouraging more of the same. They were always quick to the comments section to control the narrative, and to steer further features. If there was a negative article, they’d complain vociferously, and they’d challenge the tiniest slur, complaining to editors if need be.

    These actions were often extreme, suffocating any debate that didn’t suit them, so not at all liberal. Many of us have been attracted to the Lib Dems because we are tolerant, and it is counter to our values to want to stifle criticism or alternative points of view, but I definitely think we could afford to be a bit more vocal in sticking up for ourselves. We should share links to those positive articles so they get more hits, and join in with the comments. We can contribute by sending the odd email to politely ask why the Lib Dem point of view was not represented, or to point out a misconception.

  • Simon Banks 25th Sep '16 - 4:20pm

    I don’t know if David Becket read the shortlisted essays on our principles under the 2020 banner, but there is abundant thought in the party on our basic beliefs and the kind of society we want to promote. The current Liberal Britain exercise is trying to put more flesh on the bones of that in a bottom-up way.

    Yes, Tim Farron is not a Liberal philosopher. Neither was Charles Kennedy or Paddy Ashdown. It was marvellous that Jo Grimond was a kind of philosopher-king (of an extremely small kingdom), but that is bound to be unusual in leaders. Where there is a legitimate complaint about ourselves is that the message tends to get lost in the baggage of policy and also, the party has in the past employed experts who thought our key message was something like “we’re nice people halfway between nasty Tories and wild Socialists”. There is actually a fair amount of agreement on our fundamental beliefs: we just need to work, at all levels, on making sure those are demonstrated by most of our publicity.

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