Scrapbook notes this characteristically loaded question from Lord Ashcroft with interest:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have made representations to the BBC regarding the neutrality of its news coverage.[HL93]
Lord Gardiner of Kimble: There have been no representations or recent discussions with the BBC concerning the neutrality of its news output.
The BBC is required to deliver duly impartial news by the Royal Charter and Agreement, and the BBC Trust is committed to making sure that the BBC fulfils this obligation. One of the ways the trust does this is through a rolling programme of impartiality reviews looking at different aspects of the BBC’s output. The trust is currently carrying out an impartiality review, looking at the BBC’s breadth of opinion, which is set to be published in July.
Why would the government need to “make representations” when they can attempt to intimidate BBC staff through back channels or, indeed, face-to-face on Downing Street:
Senior political journalists have been told that 10 Downing Street will not stand in the way should they look to unseat one of Michael Gove’s top team. Special adviser Dominic Cummings has become a lightning rod for controversy — his latest dalliance with negative headlines came this week after emails emerged in which he suggested a journalist needed therapy.
The charge sheet against Gove’s team as a whole would be more than enough to scalp a special adviser if aspects can be linked to a particular individual:
A vicious negative briefing against a former Tory education minister, who was described to The Spectator as “lazy incompetent narcissist obsessed only with self-promotion.”
Ownership of the @ToryEducation Twitter account, used to bombard journalists and others with abuse
Gove’s team have also been linked to the @SteveHiltonGuru Twitter account — which has abeen used to attack a string of figures across Westminster including David Cameron’s chief of staff Ed Llewellyn.
Scrapbook understands hacks were briefed after finally exhausting the patience of a group of senior Cameron aides, who are of the settled view that Cummings is a “complete liability”. The group, which is thought to include director of communications Craig Oliver and former head of press Henry McCrory, who still works for the Tories on an informal basis, are apparently “making enquiries within government about Cummings’ conduct with a view to having him fired”.
After manifold breaches of the special advisers code across government, it looks as though some blood may finally be spilt.