The BBC may be hampering the struggle to restore democracy to Tower Hamlets by excluding key parties from a BBC Radio London Mayoral hustings event.
Last week LW was informed by Andy Erlam, Red Flag Anti-Corruption candidate, that he believed he was being excluded from the hustings.
This week it seems that John Foster, Green Party Mayoral candidate, is also being excluded from the hustings by the BBC.
Inappropriate and somewhat biased
“Given the nature of this election, the makeup of the politics of the Borough and the reason why the election was called in the first place, limiting participation to the Westminster parties is inappropriate and somewhat biased.” said John Foster, Green Party Mayoral candidate. “The BBC as an institution, primarily funded by the taxpayer, has to show impartiality in all election coverage.” [Full text below.}
For those not familiar with the term ’hustings’ it is simply a political event during an election that consists of debates and speeches between rival candidates in front of an audience of voters.
They get to argue, you get to ask questions.
“The BBC can make its own decision regarding the hustings and I will respect that decision,””The BBC must make their own decisions,” said Andy Erlam. “But the BBC should remember that they are not choosing the next Mayor of Tower Hamlets, the voters are.”
Mayoral Candidates Tower Hamlets 2015 Election
The official list of candidates for the 2015 Mayoral Election is on the Tower Hamlets site.
- Elaine BAGSHAW, Lib Dem
- John BIGGS, Labour Party
- Andy Erlam, Red Flag – Anti-Corruption
- John FOSTER, Green Party
- Peter GOLDS, Conservative Party
- Vanessa Helen HUDSON, Animal Welfare Party
- Abdul Hafiz KADIR, Independent
- Rabina KHAN, Independent
- Nicholas McQueen, UK Independence Party (UKIP)
- Md. Motiur RAHMAN NANU, Independent
LW contacted the BBC for clarification as to which of the 10 candidates were being invited to their hustings event and found it rather tricky to get a straight reply.
Official BBC statement
After three requests for information LW was sent this:
“All mayoral candidates will be invited to contribute to the debate. The precise make-up of the panel and audience will be chosen in accordance with BBC guidelines.”
At first glance this seems fine. But read those two sentences again.
- What does ‘contribute to the debate’ actually mean? Will every candidate be given equal air time to state their case or will different candidates be permitted different types of ’contribution’?
- “Panel and audience will be chosen in accordance with BBC guidelines”. Sounds fair. Doesn’t it? Possibly not.
Section 4.4.24 of the BBC guidelines relating to Elections and Referendums has this:
“Special considerations apply during the campaigns for elections and referendums and, in some cases, the period running up to campaigns will involve greater sensitivity with regard to due impartiality in all output genres. Chief Adviser Politics will issue specific advice and, for the UK, will publish separate Guidelines for each campaign period.”
And in turn refers to Section 10 Politics, Public Policy and Polls: 10.4.16 – 10.4.22 – still awake yet?
Wade through this and… you give up.
However a quick Googling will bring you this from April 2012 of the experiences of independent candidate Siobhan Benita during the London Mayoral election: BBC accused of excluding independent from London mayoral contest coverage.
The nub of this is that it seems the BBC seems to be mainly interested in ensuring the views of the political parties long established in Westminster such as Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats and concludes that “its guidelines only require the BBC to give airtime to candidates from parties with a track record in a previous relevant election, or with clear evidence of support in the poll.”
Seems independents don’t get a look in.
If the BBC should take the same approach to ‘independent’ candidate Rabina Khan as they did with Siobhan Benita then the ex-Mayor’s preferred candidate will not have the opportunity to be questioned by her opponents and residents. And that would not be good.
Rabina Khan must be at the hustings.
The Green Party and Red Flag Anti-Corruption party candidates are of course not independents.
John Foster and Andy Erlam are representing political parties registered as such with the Electoral Commission.
What gives with the BBC?
The BBC editorial guidelines might be fair for General Elections but are of no use for a local council election such as that in Tower Hamlets.
As John Foster says, this is a struggle for democracy, not just the usual scrap between the main Westminster parties.
The BBC needs to be very aware of this and ensure that any hustings events relating to the Tower Hamlets Mayoral election provide a fair platform for all parties.
To even consider excluding Andy Erlam from the hustings is simply perverse.
Without Andy and the other electoral petitioners Tower Hamlets residents would still be subject to the corruption of the Tower Hamlets First administration.
At the time of publication the BBC were unable to confirm details of the hustings.
Letter from John Foster to BBC
I am writing to you as the Green Party’s candidate for the Tower Hamlet’s mayor election scheduled on 11th June . I understand that BBC Radio London is planning a hustings event for 2nd June. I also understand that to date my party and other parties in the election have been excluded from this debate. The Green Party was the third largest political party in the Borough at the last General Election (as you’ll see from your own data).
Just to confirm, when Bethnal Green and Bow and Poplar and Limehouse are added together, you’ll find (for the top five):
Labour = 62,273
Conservative = 21,040
Green Party = 7,369
UKIP = 5,591
Liberal Democrats = 4,544
I think – and would argue – given the nature of this election, the makeup of the politics of the Borough and the reason why the election was called in the first place, that limiting participation to the Westminster parties is inappropriate and somewhat biased. The BBC as an institution, primarily funded by the taxpayer, has to show impartiality in all election coverage. Westminster Politics is of secondary interest in Tower Hamlets. Although it is the right of the BBC to choose its own coverage schedule, I believe that all voices should be heard in this debate and should the exclusion of the Green Party and other parties persist I await a reasonable explanation of why this is happening.
Green Party Mayoral candidate for Tower Hamlets
Democracy is being stolen in Tower Hamlets
The reality of the situation is that democracy is being stolen in Tower Hamlets, and the BBC running a process like this is not helping catch the thieves one little bit.