By Tim Montgomerie
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Aidan Burley MP has got himself into trouble (again). This time for some sour tweets about the Olympics' Opening Ceremony:
There's a report in The Telegraph. Number 10 quickly distanced himself from Mr Burley's Tweets. "We do not agree with him," said a Downing Street source. Fellow Tory MP Gavin Barwell tweeted his own rebuttal. There's nothing left-wing about embracing diversity, said the member for Croydon Central.
Robert Halfon MP was positive throughout the evening (writing a blog entitled "Olymptastic") but he did object to Shami Chakrabati's casting as Olympic flag carrier "given her senior role in LSE: the Uni that sucked up to Gadaffi". I agree with Rob, why not an Afghan war vetaran instead?
Most Tory MPs were completely uncritical, however. Here's a selection:
By Tim Montgomerie
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The BBC has often scrutinised the Conservative Party and its once male-dominated candidates list but how women-friendly is Auntie herself? Nadine Dorries used an adjournment debate on Monday night to expose the BBC's do-as-we-say-not-as-we-do attitude. Pasted below are some highlights from her speech.
BBC Radio 2 doesn't have one female presenter during daytime broadcasting: "The most listened-to music radio station in the world has not a single female daytime broadcaster. Is that not shameful? Radio 1 has one daytime female presenter. However, Radio 2 has “Sally Traffic”, whose job seems to be moving in and out of one studio after another to massage the egos of the male presenters who are there throughout the day. Although she outstrips most of the presenters in wit and rapport, I imagine that she earns a fraction of what the male egos that she massages do. Sally appears far more intellectual and witty than every male broadcaster whom she has to humour. However, the BBC bosses, whoever they may be, appear not to have noticed that."
The Today programme can lack a female voice for two hours: "The “Today” programme on Radio 4 has 7 million listeners a day. Many of them are influential and decision makers. Yet only 16% of the voices heard on the “Today” programme—comprising both contributors and presenters—are women’s. As Jane Martinson states on the women’s blog, and as others have pointed out, if the female presenter is away from the presenting team, one can go two whole hours in the morning when listening to the “Today” programme without a single female voice, and have male voices speaking at you throughout all that time."
Men dominate the BBC's current affairs line-up: "Let us forgive Andrew Marr’s line-up of the best 20 political moments of 2011, and the fact that each and every politician was male. Let us not include David Dimbleby or Jeremy Paxman or Jeremy Vine; let us give them an exemption, because all three are undeniable experts and silos of historical political knowledge, and considered to be more national treasures than presenters. I will do a quick round-up of the men who present TV news and current affairs: Robinson, Naughtie, Webb, Campbell, Marr, Craven, Davis, Snow, Stewart, Murnaghan, Boulton, Sopel, Mair, Simpson, Mason, Pienaar, Stourton, Portillo, Esler, Edwards, Matt Frei, Murphy, Austin, Gibbon, Crick, Thompson and Islam. That is just the top layer of news and current affairs. I challenge any hon. Member to start a list of women. They would get stuck at three names."
by Paul Goodman
As some MPs prepared for the Easter recess, one in particular was still in the Commons yesterday - that inveterate attender, Peter Bone (Wellingborough). He moved the second reading of his Broadcasting (Public Service Content) on behalf of Christopher Chope (Christchurch), which succeeded the Broadcasting (Television Licence Fee Abolition) Bill, also originally introduced by Chope -
"The aim of the Broadcasting (Television Licence Fee Abolition) Bill was fairly modest: it just wanted to abolish the licence fee in total. I do not think that that is right. I want to retain the licence fee, but I want it to cost a lot less, and I want its benefits to be available to non-BBC broadcasters. At the moment, it is not so much a licence fee as a BBC fee. All the money goes to the BBC, and none goes to other broadcasters...I am told that the current licence fee, which is in effect a poll tax, is £145.50 a year. Almost no one can avoid paying that if they are under the age of 75. Anyone who has more than one television set in more than one location has to pay more than one licence fee. It is a very regressive tax. Also, anyone who does not have a television is still hounded as though they do have one. I had a constituent—this is not made up—who told the BBC licensing authorities that he did not have a television set. They did not believe him. They sent inspectors around to inspect every room in his home to see whether there was a hidden television. That is the sort of thing we might get in a totalitarian state, but surely it is not acceptable in the United Kingdom at any time, and certainly not in this century?"
Bone went on to explain what the effect of his Bill would be, if passed -
"The public service content is mentioned in clause 1(1) and is defined in some detail in clause 1(2). Let me outline the idea behind the Bill. The licence fee will be available to all broadcasters and it will be paid out in return for public service broadcasting content. It will not be left purely to the BBC, but be open to ITV, Channel 4, Sky and any other broadcaster and to local radio. The licence fee, which many people think is paid directly to the BBC, is, in fact, paid to the Secretary of State, who then dishes it out. I believe that the licence fee should be allotted for a specific purpose—in this case, the provision of public service content broadcasting. That is what my Bill would do."
By Jonathan Isaby
On Tuesday night, Devizes MP Claire Perry secured an adjournment debate on the subject of pornography on the internet, in order to promote a particular proposal she is championing - to require all UK-based internet service providers to "restrict universal access to pornographic material by implementing a simple opt-in system based on age verification".
"Pornography is one of the most widely available forms of content on the internet, representing 12% of the estimated 250 million global websites. Studies suggest, shockingly, that one in three British children aged 10-a third of our British 10-year-olds-have viewed pornography on the internet, while four out of every five children aged 14 to 16 admit to regularly accessing explicit photographs and footage on their home computers. The world has really changed."
"These statistics are simply red-lining a problem that every parent recognises-namely, that our children are viewing material that we would never want them to see, especially at such a young age. So what can we do about it? The current way of controlling access to pornographic material on the internet is via safety settings and filtering software, installed and maintained by users-parents, teachers and carers across the country. Unfortunately, however, through technological ignorance, time pressure or inertia or for myriad other reasons, this filtering solution is not working. Even among parents who are regular internet users, only 15% say that they know how to install a filter. It is unfortunately also the case that our children know better than we do how to circumvent the filters, while the constant changes in internet technology and content mean that they can quickly become outdated."
"I am a fervent supporter of personal responsibility and have an innate dislike of Big Brother regulation, but there is a form of content delivery in this country that, in contrast to the internet, is either regulated by the Government or has a successful self-regulation model that does not appear draconian or heavy-handed. Our television viewing is restricted by sensible Ofcom guidelines, including section 1, which says that material equivalent to the British Board of Film Classification's R18 rating must not be broadcast at any time, and that adult sex material cannot be broadcast at any time other than between 22.00 and 05.30 hours on premium subscription services or on pay-per-view or night services, which have to have mandatory restricted access, including PIN verification systems. We all accept such regulation of our television viewing quite happily.
In the Commons yesterday Christopher Chope MP introduced a Bill that would ensure revenue from the licence fee would only go to public service broadcasting. Here are some key sections of his contribution:
The definition of public service broadcasting currently used by the BBC is useless: "The argument is that if we are to have a licence fee, income from it should be expended solely in support of public service content. Ed Richards, chief executive of Ofcom, was guest speaker at a breakfast that I was privileged to attend earlier this year that discussed Ofcom’s review of public service broadcasting and content. I asked him what part of the BBC output, funded by the licence fee, was not public service content. He assured me that the definitions of the genre of public service content are so wide and all-embracing that 100 per cent. of the output of the BBC is public service content. I do not think that that accords with common sense or with the views of most people."
On 'Kirsten's Topless Ambition': "In the last few weeks, I have been confined to barracks by a health condition, and I was able to note how various programmes on BBC3 were described by the BBC itself. I did not waste time watching these programmes, but one programme caught my attention—“Kirsten’s Topless Ambition”, which was produced by the BBC, funded by taxpayers’ money and, according to the chief executive of Ofcom, is “public service content”. The BBC describes the programme on its website as “A documentary in which kids TV presenter Kirsten O’Brien must decide whether to take her clothes off for a lads’ mag to try and clinch bigger presenting jobs.” It adds that the programme “contains adult themes.” In other words, it contains smut. Why should that programme be funded out of public money raised by a poll tax—that is effectively what the licence fee is? I understand that BBC3 has very low viewing figures, and it is obviously trawling desperately to try to attract new viewers."
The need for public service broadcasting for children: "A lot of us are concerned that in the present squeeze on funding for public service broadcasting, traditional children’s programmes are losing out. The definition of “public service content” in my Bill would ensure that programmes designed to inform, educate or entertain children would have a high priority and could draw on licence fee revenue as programmes that contained public service content."
Last October Ed Vaizey Tory Culture spokesman clashed with Mr Chope on the BBC. Yesterday, Ed Vaizey again set out the frontbench's thinking:
The House of Commons returned yesterday, and launched into questions to ministers from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
Kettering MP Philip Hollobone ensured that he won't get an invitation to join the front bench any time soon:
"Given that we spend far too much time in this country celebrating cultures other than our own, is it not time to start redressing the balance by creating a public holiday to celebrate St. George’s day?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Barbara Follett): I commend the hon. Gentleman for the work he does in promoting Englishness and the flag of St. George. I would have to discuss with Government colleagues the idea of holding a public holiday to celebrate St. George’s day, but I hope that people will follow the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and celebrate St. George’s day, while also remembering that we will also be celebrating the birth of William Shakespeare."
Shadow DCMS Minister Tobias Ellwood asked about lapdancing clubs:
"As the Minister will be aware, the so-called designated premises supervisor is legally responsible for the conduct of any pub, club or lap-dancing establishment. However, there is no requirement for that supervisor to be present in his establishment at any time; he can verbally hand over responsibility to an untrained manager with no qualifications. Will the Minister examine whether that is the best way to ensure that pubs, clubs or lap-dancing operations are run properly? The feedback from local authorities with vibrant town centres is that it is not.
Mr. Sutcliffe: Designated door supervisors have been a force for good in the sense of working with establishments, the police and local authorities. I made an enjoyable visit in my Bradford constituency to police on the licensing route late one Friday night, to see at first hand how door supervisors were working. [ Interruption. ] No, lap dancing was not on at that venue that evening. We are trying to ensure that local authorities, the police and the industry are working together in trying to protect the public."
On Friday, backbencher Christopher Chope had the Second Reading of his Broadcasting (Television Licence Fee Abolition) Bill. He explained:
"This debate is about abolishing the television licence fee, which is more accurately described as the television tax. It is not about abolishing the BBC. One can be a friend of the BBC—as I am—without being a supporter of the licence fee, although the lengths to which the BBC sometimes goes to defend the licence fee often create enemies."
His effort, inevitably for now, failed. It was opposed by Shadow Arts Minister Ed Vaizey, who said:
"I want to put it on record that I am a firm supporter of the licence fee, as is the Conservative party. Nevertheless, no one should be afraid to rehearse the arguments about whether the licence fee is the best funding mechanism."
Mr Chope quoted former BBC Director-General Greg Dyke, who said the licence fee has:
“always been an unfair tax—the rich pay the same as the poor—and...it will be increasingly difficult for the BBC to collect the amount they collect now. In the age of internet TV, how can you insist people continue to pay a licence fee? A licence fee for what? Already you don’t need to pay the licence fee to watch most of the BBC’s programmes if you watch them on your computer via the iPlayer”.
Last Friday Conservative MPs talked out a bill from Labour's Nigel Griffiths that sought to ban the advertising of junk food and drinks to children. Here are highlights of Ed Vaizey MP's contribution to the debate:
Own obesity: "One thing that unites everybody in the Chamber is the recognition that obesity is a serious problem in the UK. I make that statement in the full knowledge that I am an obese man who needs to lose at least 40 lb and who was obese long before the advertising and food industries got their teeth into me. It is obviously true that obesity problems start in childhood, from bad habits picked up as a child."
The three causes of obesity: "The causes of obesity are extraordinarily complex, but in essence it comes down to three things. We will avoid obesity if we take more exercise and eat less food, and parents will avoid having obese children if they are prepared to take responsibility for the kind of food their children eat."
Rejecting Nigel Griffiths MP's bill: "We already have some of the tightest restrictions on such advertising in the world. Indeed, a great many companies and advertising agencies have already engaged in a voluntary downgrading of such advertising. Since Ofcom introduced its ban, the exposure of unhealthy food to children aged four to nine has been reduced by a quarter, to children under 16 it has been reduced by more than half. Food advertising is now at its lowest level since 1982, on an absolute measure of food advertising. As a proportion of the total advertising take, it is less than half the level in 1982. Indeed, the advertising industry has been found to be 100 per cent. compliant with the Ofcom ban. So we find ourselves in a conundrum, where the advertising of unhealthy food has been dropping not simply since the Ofcom ban, but for several years, yet obesity continues to rise. As has been pointed out by some hon. Members, including me in an intervention, bans on the advertising of unhealthy food exist in other countries, and as yet no evidence can be seen to show that they have any effect on childhood obesity or, indeed, adult obesity."
McDonald's ain't so bad: "McDonald’s, the company that people love to hate and pillory, has done an enormous amount in terms of corporate social responsibility. My hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) mentioned football, but it has also been involved in training, including vocational training. Because of my involvement in work experience, I have visited McDonald’s and have seen what it does. An enormous amount of responsibility is taken. As everybody knows, the McDonald’s product range has changed, mainly because of public pressure, and there is a much greater focus on healthy eating. It is important that we recognise that the debate is not completely one-sided, with people from the evil industry desperately trying to force high-fat products on our children behind our backs, and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South standing like Horatio at the bridge to prevent them from crossing. As has been mentioned, billions of pounds-worth of food products are now much lower in fat, sugar and salt."