Coverage of the conference on the 10 o’clock news was shunted from the lead story position by the school shootings in Pennsylvania, but the length of coverage was extended considerably over the 6 o’clock edition.
It was noticeable too that the BBC’s efforts to turn the tax issue into a tax “row” as they had labeled it in the 6pm edition had failed to stick, and they reverted simply to referring to disagreements over tax.
The coverage included coverage of the Lord Tebbit fringe meeting covered at 6pm with the former party chairman making the moral case for lower taxation. Michael Fabricant was prominent in the audience – perhaps he is one of the 100 MPs referred to by Edward Leigh.
Two party members interviewed by the BBC at the end of the fringe meeting both wanted prominent tax cut pledges. One of these correctly identified the need to build an election-winning coalition that included plumbers, Mondeo man etc – what ConservativeHome has termed the “strivers”.
There was then a short soundbite from Edward Leigh before 3-4 minutes that focused on Huw Edwards shadowing David Cameron through the conference day. This part of the coverage was very favourable to the party and our leader. Edwards asked single questions of Cameron in different venues around conference, and the format followed meant that there was no opportunity for supplementary questions. The questions covered cash for peerages, the diversity of parliamentary candidates and David Cameron’s privileged upbringing. We learned little new, but it was positive mood music.
Two school-age wannabe journalists were filmed questioning the leader and arguably achieved a better result than Mr Edwards in extracting the statement that David Cameron intends to send his children to state schools.
The coverage concluded with Huw Edwards discussing the day with Nick Robinson. Nick Robinson took a similar line to that he took in the 6pm edition, basically stating that David Cameron would welcome the disagreement with the “right” as it allowed him to underline his claims to have moved to the “centre ground” while dismissing the ability of those arguing for explicit tax cuts to change current policy.
The BBC approach to the tax issue is clearly that only “the right” wants lower tax. There is no questioning of the need to reduce the disincentive to strive produced by marginal tax rates close to 70% for many in receipt of child tax credits. Simpler to present it as a row between a “moderate” leader and “old” party activists (yes, the usual close-ups of retired party members in the conference hall were used yet again). The Corporation’s thinking does not even seem to have caught up with the prevailing mood among contributors to the tax debate on their own BBC news website.
If BBC journalists actually read the 1979 Conservative manifesto then our leader might not have such an easy ride in future interviews. David Cameron is undoubtedly wise to avoid any specific tax commitments at this stage of a Parliament, but some of the language he used today risks exposing the party on its right flank – something Nick Robinson commented upon in concluding tonight’s coverage. Worryingly, he suggested that some people close to the Leadership felt that this was a risk well worth taking.