BBC South West and the election

Local BBC TV has two outlets for its election coverage. First, there’s the daily dose of ‘news’ on Spotlight. I’d meant to monitor that but what with a couple of attacks of nausea and falling asleep in the first week, the project disintegrated as the will to live was rapidly lost. Which leaves the Sunday Politics South West show. There have been four offerings of this since the election campaign began. So what does it tell us about the BBC’s approach to the elections in Cornwall and Devon? The first conclusion is that Cornwall-based candidates do rather well, being given considerably more than their fair share of airtime. One can only suppose that this is because the BBC insists in claiming that coalition-coalition ‘marginals’ are somehow of great relevance to the election outcome. Whatever, of the 15 candidates invited to appear on the show (including the upcoming one next Sunday) we find that nine are based in Cornwall and only six in Devon, despite there being twice as many seats east of the Tamar. Sun Pols seats and cands Two Tory candidates, one each from Labour, the Greens and Ukip and an incredible four of the six Lib Dem candidates in Cornwall have or will appear on the show. By constituency, four of the six candidates in Camborne-Redruth have been offered a place on the programme. St Ives has seen two of its candidates, while the other four seats have had one of theirs appear. Adding in the Devon-based candidates, we have a total of four Tories, four Lib Dems and four Labour, two from Ukip and one Green. Given their polling strength in Cornwall and Devon, the Lib Dems and Labour seem to have come out best. Overall, the total coverage (expressed purely in the number of seconds allocated to party spokespersons speaking) for the first four shows broke down as follows. sun pols party airtime If we convert this to percentages and then allow for the over-representation of Cornish seats in the show, and go on to compare that with the number of candidates, we get the following percentage breakdown …

Airtime Candidates
Conservatives 28.3% 16%
Labour 26.0% 16%
Lib Dems 20.2% 16%
Ukip 16.9% 16%
Greens 8.2% 16%
MK 0.6% 9%
SNP/PC 0.0% 12%

There seems to be a bias towards the two bigger Westminster parties, while the Lib Dems and Ukip also get more than their number of candidates should entitle them to. The Greens don’t get their fair share of airtime. Meanwhile, neither does MK, which is almost invisible. Indeed, anyone relying on the BBC for information might be surprised to discover they’re standing in this election. They’d also be astonished to find that there are 12 other candidates, including three TUSC/Left Unity and two Communist Party candidates in Devon, one from the National Health Action Party in Cornwall and another half a dozen assorted Independents and odds and sods. Moving from quantity to quality, let’s review the four programmes we’ve had to endure. On the first (28th March) Phil Hutty for the Lib Dems was a bit out of his depth, admitting that his party would ‘take a hit’, a rather pessimistic conclusion one might have thought with over four weeks of the campaign still to go. There was some discussion of planning and neighbourhood plan referenda. Apparently, these are examples of ‘devolution’. Although the presenter did introduce this by the comment that the word ‘devolution’ conjures up an ‘image of nationalists in Scotland, Wales and yes, those in Cornwall waving flags and giving the English a hard time’. Thanks to the BBC for summing up SNP/Plaid and MK polices so succinctly. The possibility of a Cornish Assembly with powers over planning was raised in passing, although Phil Hutty wouldn’t promise any extra money for it, thus rendering it pointless given the level of Lib Dem/Tory cuts.

MK's Andrew Long: seen but not heard, or even named
MK’s Andrew Long: seen but not heard, or even named

On the 12th April there was a piece on Declan Lloyd, Labour’s candidate in South East Cornwall, one of the youngest standing in the election. Declan had not appeared at a hustings, having gone on holiday with his mum instead. As the date of this election has been known since 2010, this seems an odd choice of holiday date. Although Declan might be forgiven as he was of course only 14 in 2010. No matter, as the hustings was shown it was stated that all the candidates for the other parties, including MK, were there. MK’s candidate Andrew Long was briefly seen although not named. The piece then interviewed three of the candidates about the missing Labour lad – but not Martin Corney of the Greens or Andrew Long. Corney was then mentioned by name but it was a case of seen, but not heard, or named, for Long. His name didn’t even appear on the list of candidates shown at the end of the piece!

MK's Dick Cole: less time than cameron
MK’s Dick Cole: less time than Cameron

On the 19th a Cornish Assembly and affordable homes were among the topics. Any fair-minded and objective observer might have thought that here at last was a chance for the distinctive voice of MK to be heard on these issues. And yes, here was Dick Cole of MK, introduced inaccurately as the leader of ‘the Cornish nationalist party MK’, being interviewed. But not live in the studio. Instead he was given a generous 19 seconds to camera somewhere near St Dennis. That’s half the amount of time given to David Cameron, not believed to be standing in Cornwall. Discussion of a Cornish Assembly was left to Scott Mann of the Tories, Simon Rix of the Lib Dems and, peculiarly, or perhaps not given their outright opposition to it, Bob Smith of Ukip. Rix condemned MK’s plans as ‘too expensive and too extreme’, preferring more powers for Cornwall Council with devolution to town and parish councils. There was then some insipid discussion of affordable housing, with an interview piece informing us that the ‘biggest problem’ in Cornwall was the way nimbys prevent thousands of much-needed houses being built. This gem emanated from an estate agent in west Cornwall, one of those who definitelty have much need for more houses. No-one present cared to mention the need to meet developers’ profits first in the present failed market system. And second homes only briefly disturbed the screens, mentioned (by Rix) right at the end of the discussion.

MK's Loveday Jenkin: rendered anonymous by BBC
MK’s Loveday Jenkin: rendered anonymous by BBC

Last Sunday on the 26th we again had the spectacle of presenter Martyn Oates refusing to name an MK candidate on air. Loveday Jenkin was transformed into just an anonymous ‘opposing candidate’, despite being at the receiving end of one of Michael Foster’s alleged anger management problem episodes. The Greens’ Tim Andrewes had been invited onto this show, the first topic of which was defence. He was then duly lectured by the pair of pompous right wing Labour/Tory candidates for his ‘pie in the sky’ temerity, for daring to propose that this fine country of ours could possibly survive without Trident and the ability to blow Russia or Iran to kingdom come, as well as the rest of us. We might have no money, a point made several times by the Tory, but can apparently still afford to spend billions on nuclear bombs. As soon as Andrewes made the point that austerity was a political choice he was unfortunately cut off and the ‘regional’ opt-out abruptly terminated. Phew, narrow escape, almost a glimpse of a real issue there. (And again, did I miss the discussion of global warming or environmental issues?)

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