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What is the point of Parliament? None, according to the BBC

BBC ParliamentTonight, in a debate on welfare reform and poverty, the government was defeated in the House of Commons by a majority of 123. The motion stated that “this House believes that a commission of inquiry should be established to investigate the impact of the Government’s welfare reforms on the incidence of poverty.” The debate was called neither by the government, nor by the opposition, but by the Backbench Business Committee in a procedure introduced in the last Parliament to strengthen the power of Parliament to hold the executive to account. The motion was introduced by Labour MP, Michael Meacher (whose opening speeech is here), but with the support of Sir Peter Bottomley (Con) and John Hemming (Lib Dem).

So, did you see the report on the BBC News? Or read about this momentous defeat on the BBC website? You did not. By midnight, two hours after the vote, it had received no coverage on any BBC programme or website. Nor, for that matter on any other news website. What does that say about Parliament, about British democracy, about the accountability of the Government? What does that say about the BBC? The BBC, whose public purpose remit states:

You can rely on the BBC to provide internationally-respected news services to audiences around the world and you can expect the BBC to keep you in touch with what is going on in the world”

Politicians may be held in low esteem by just about everybody outside the Westminster bubble, but that does not account for this contemptuous sidelining of Parliament in the news coverage of Britain’s media. This was an instance in which Parliament was seeking to hold the executive to account on a central plank of its programme. The debate included strong criticism not only from Labour MPs such as Michael Meacher, David Winnick, Steve Rotherham, Katy Clark and Chris Williamson but Tories Jeremy Lefroy and Sir Peter Bottomley, and Lib Dem John Hemming. Those voting for the motion included DUP MPs Nigel Dodds, Dr William McCrea, David Simpson, Independent (former Unionist) Sylvia Hermon, SDLP MPs Mark Durkan and Margaret Ritchie, SNP MPs Angus MacNeil, and Dr Eilidh Whiteford, Lib Dems Mike Crockart, John Hemming, John Leech, Greg Mulholland, Sir Andrew Stunell, Adrian Sanders, and Tories Philip Hollobone, Jeremy Lefroy and David Nuttall.

The collective failure of Britain’s media reflects:

  1. A wilful neglect of Britain’s democratic structures and of the fourth estate’s responsibility to enable the electorate to hold politicians to account – 30 years ago the press gallery would have included journalists to provide the coverage of parliamentary proceedings which most newspapers carried, and which the BBC is still paid to carry.
  2. The destructive symbiosis of newspaper proprietors who cut news gathering to the bone and the party leaders whose spin doctors are funded by the taxpayer – which was amongst the media failures so brilliantly documented by the Guardian’s Nick Davies in Flat Earth News.

Even without a single journalist in the press gallery, Twitter could have provided news editors with the necessary information in time for Newsnight:


A major defeat for the government on policies which cause enormous misery to hundreds of thousands of people goes unreported by those who sleep comfortably on salaries paid out of the license fees charged to the poor.

One Comment

  1. Robert says:

    It only takes for people to remember the 46 labour MP’s who did not even bother voting against the bedroom tax, I suspect this is Brown showing he’s still in charge of the Scottish labour party or some other idiotic idealism.

    I do not think to many people will be rushing back to get Miliband or labour back into power I know I will not.

    So in the end really it will be people who feel that Miliband is the man for them after all he’s pretty easy to control, one visit to Progress and we get the ending of the Union Link.

    The real question these days is simple who are labour and who’s in control of the party, Progress I suspect.

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