The Welfare State We're In, The website of the book by James Bartholomew
November 08, 2010
Did Channel 4 know what it was doing when it commissioned this film?

A TV programme is coming up on Thursday evening in which I expect I will appear. It is a 90 minute film by Martin Durkin about the huge national debt that has piled up and his solution. He will be arguing against Big Government and he interviewed me about the NHS and about welfare and social housing. Apparently the film also includes interviews with four former Chancellors. I believe he also filmed in Hong Kong.

I wonder if Channel 4 knew what they were in for when they commissioned this film since these kind of arguments - presented at length - are not usually seen on British TV. If the channel knew what it was doing, then all credit to it. Maybe something really is changing in Britain. There was a time when most of the media elite would not contemplate giving airtime to such ideas.

Here is a link to the programme details.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Behaviour & Crime • Housing • Media, including BBC bias • NHS • Parenting • Reform • Tax and growth • Welfare benefits

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September 24, 2010
What's wrong with regulation

Stephen Littlechild was a regulator and influential in the whole story of privatisation and the regulation of privatised utilities like telephones and electricity. Last night, though, he described some of the downside of regulation.

He told how he was involved in one of the utilities - I think it was telephones. The rules for the companies concerned ran to 250 pages then, in 1984. The rules, when they were revised ran for 500 pages. Five years later they were 2,000 pages. Recently they have reached 4-5,000 pages.

Regulation has exploded. They now substitute the regulator's view of what people want for the consumers'.

He commented that regulation undermines the 'discovery process' whereby markets find out what people want and what producers can provide and at what price. Regulation means that companies don't compete on price since the regulators set prices. Also the customers don't need to shop around since the prices and services are regulated. So 'discovery' is prevented.

He offered a proposal that users of a utility should negotiate with producers. Apparently this is successfully done elswhere. But he was running out of speaking time when he mentioned this idea and I confess I did not really understand it.

Still - it was interesting to hear what is wrong with regulation from someone who has been there and done it.

Stephen Littlechild was one of the speakers at an Adam Smith Institute event last night on Austrian economics.

I talked to the litigation partner in a London firm of solicitors afterwards. He said that litigation on regulation had developed into a big, complex field of its own. People went to law to try to work out exactly what the voluminous rules do and do not mean.

I wish the great believers in regulation - notably John Humphrys, of BBC Radio 4's Today programme who regularly airs his assumption that regulations are a good thing and we should have more of them - could be made aware that their views are not held by quite as many people as they think.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Media, including BBC bias • Off the subject

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July 05, 2010
Welfare reform: the backlash is only just beginning

It seems inevitable that there will be a growing chorus of bad publicity about the welfare reforms. It has already started. The cuts to housing benefit and the tightening of tests for incapacity benefit are the the first in line. At some point there will be hard luck stories that really get the attention of the public. There will be a 'Cathy Come Home' moment. ('Cathy Come Home' was a TV programme about a young homeless mother. She was shown in a pitiable condition and I believe it probably influenced social policy for years.)

I hope that Iain Duncan Smith and his advisers are thinking carefully about this.

There are undoubtedly some people who are going to lose out in the benefits changes. It is important that the reasons for the changes are kept to the fore.

Here are some of the stories about how people could lose out:

The National Housing Federation warning about homelessness as reported by BBC Online.

The Times had an article on Friday headlined 'Housing benefit cut by £1,0000 per family' and then, in quotation marks, 'Osborne is hitting 600,000 poor households'. Unfortunately I cannot link to it as Times Online now has a paywall. The material came from an analysis by the Chartered Institute of Housing. Here, though, is an earlier article in the Telegraph headlined 'thousands could be evicted because of 80 per cent cut to housing benefit' which also quotes the same institute.

On Incapacity Benefit, the Times again had a story about what could go wrong (in this case, he seemed to be projecting forward what the Labour government had already done.) Here is a report of the Times report(!) by the Press Association:

The architect of a new benefits system has said radical changes must be made to avert serious problems for vulnerable people, according to reports.

Paul Gregg, Professor of Economics at the University of Bristol, told The Times serious adjustments are necessary before 2.5 million incapacity benefit claimants are moved onto the new employment and support allowance (ESA) in October.

In its current form, the system leaves large numbers of failed claimants to languish on jobseeker's allowance with no prospect of work, he said.

Reflecting on perceived errors in the process, he told the paper: "To go ahead with these problems is not just ridiculous. It is, in fact, scary."

Such reports are building up a background of impressions of welfare cuts that are likely to hurt a lot of people. It is very likely that sooner or later, a concrete case of a decent person being hurt through no fault of his or her own will hit the headlines. Then it will be the usual thing: BBC interviewers will take a righteous, angry tone with ministers when talking about welfare cuts; uninformed comedians on television and radio (one of the most potent and irritating sources of propaganda combined with ignorance) will make 'jokes' about the cruelty of the government; the defence of the reforms by certain newspapers will get more cautious and the attacks from the Guardian and the Times will get more aggressive.

This is when the reform process will get really difficult.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Media, including BBC bias • Reform • Welfare benefits

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June 27, 2010
Beveridge would now be regarded as a right-wing fanatic

This morning I appeared on Broadcasting House, a BBC Radio 4 programme. I was discussing what had happened to state welfare since William Beveridge's famous report. A Labour MP, Kate Green, was there taking a more favourable view of how things have developed than I do. It was a good, civilised, if brief, discussion.

I was honoured when Kate told me after the programme that she had read The Welfare State We're In. Sometimes people ask me what influence the book has had and I am never sure. I know that a signicant number of Conservative MPs and ministers have looked at it. But this is the first time a Labour MP has told me that she has read it. I am delighted by this since influence lasts better if it reaches both sides of the political divide. Not, of course, that Kate Green is likely to have agreed with it all by any means.

Among other things, I said that if Beveridge brought forward his plan today he would be regarded as a right-wing fanatic. The modern welfare state is a travesty of what he proposed. If his system had been put in place and persisted, much of the damage done by the welfare state would not have taken place.

He wanted a system of flat rate contributions for flat rate benefits. Means-tested benefits were designed be a tiny part of the system. In fact the very opposite has developed. Means-tested benefits are vastly more significant than unemployment benefit.

He did not specify any particular favours for lone parents. He was, provisionally, against special payments for housing benefit. He never even dreamed of those who became too ill to work being given more money or different conditions from those who are unemployed. The modern welfare state has very little to do with Beveridge. It is a corruption brought about by vote-seeking politicians - notably during the governments of Macmillan, Wilson and Heath - who knew and cared little about what could go wrong in welfare.

Beveridge proposed that the insurance flat rate payments should be at 'subsistence' level and that the non-insurance, means-tested assistance should be "something less desirable than insurance benefits; otherwise the insured persons get nothing for their contributions" (section 369). So the insured benefits would be 'subsistence' and the means tested benefits would be significantly less than that.

More on this, of course, is in The Welfare State We're In (chapter 2).

But here is a quotation on pensions and retirement that is not quoted in the book:

"...the conditions governing pension should be such as to encourage every person who can go on working after reaching pensionable age, to go on working and to postpone retirement and the claiming of pension." (Section 245)

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Housing • Media, including BBC bias • Pensions • Reform • Welfare benefits

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April 22, 2010
BBC propaganda about inequality

The BBC left-wing propaganda never rests. It does not matter whether it is the Today programme, comedy programmes or social science. It is relentless.

Yesterday Laurie Taylor, a left-wing academic, was interviewing another left-wing academic about inequality. This was all under the guise of a non-partisan programme about social science called "Thinking allowed". Now Laurie Taylor is a very clever man with a lively mind. But he also has his left-wing prejudices. His interviewee yesterday was arguing - we were told this was on the basis of objective data - that Britain was a particularly unequal society and that inequality is highly damaging.

I was not able to listen all the way to the end however, at the time when it was being established that Britain was particularly unequal, Laurie Taylor did not think to query whether the evidence was reliable. My view is that he wanted to accept the 'evidence' and therefore did not want any doubt to be cast on it. However if he had thought to get in someone who took a different view of these matters, he would have readily had reason to doubt the figures.

For example, in the 1990s, the Department of Social Security, as it then was, studied the lowest income decile in Britain to find out what they did in life. You would think they were low-paid unskilled workers, wouldn't you? But the remarkable discovery was that a surprisingly high proportion of them fell into two categories: builders and accountants. In other words, these were people who were either fixing their tax affairs so that they appeared to earn little or nothing but who, in fact, were making plenty, or else they were plain crooked. The figures did not truly represent the condition of poor people. The figures were not reliable.

A second discovery was that people who were supposedly extremely poor had a remarkable amount of consumer durables.

A third factor, which would be obvious to anyone who knows anything about welfare benefits, is that those on income support (as it was) were not allowed to have more than a very small amount of capital, otherwise they would lose some of their benefits. So what do people on such means-tested benefits do? They have every reason to arrange their affairs as carefully as any tax avoiding "greedy banker". They buy consumer durables. They buy objects like gold which will not appear on bank statements or savings accounts. They simply spend the money by taking holidays. They "give" money to close relatives who will then "give" it back at a later stage. In other words, those on means-tested benefits have reason to reduce their capital if they have more than a small amount. This is one of the damaging unintended consequences on people's lives. It is also a reason wholly to distrust statistics on the assets of the poor.

But none of this was mentioned. The propaganda rolls on.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Media, including BBC bias • Politics • Welfare benefits

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February 10, 2010
Two out of three disabled are fit for work

It is extraordinary how trivial news can dominate the headlines while genuinely significant news barely gets mentioned, even in so-called quality newspapers.

One story that came out about nine or ten days ago was mentioned in only a minority of newspapers (including the People, the Daily Telegraph and, from memory, the Daily Express). It was the news that two out of three people claiming Incapacity Benefit (now renamed Employment and Support Allowance) have been deemed fit for work under new, tougher tests.

This is extremely significant news. For the first time since Labour came to power here is concrete evidence that, finally, it is tackling the vast army of people who are wrongly being given Employment and Support Allowance. I have not seen the latest figures but the numbers who were on the old Incapacity Benefit were over two million. That is a vast number. This news suggests that over a million people will be taken off this benefit and required to seek work. Those deemed incapable of work, of course, are not required to seek work.

The consequences could be:

- a dramatic rise in the numbers 'unemployed' as defined by those getting Jobseekers Allowance. This rise may be considered by casual observers to be a rise in unemployment. In fact, to the extent it is due to people being moved off Employment and Support Allowance, it will be a revealing of unemployment that was previously hidden because so many were wrongly on incapacity benefit.

- a great increase in the numbers genuinely seeking work, since the money given to those on Jobseekers Allowance is significantly less than the money people used to get on Incapacity Benefit. Also they have a legal requirement to seek work.

- most important of all - a long term increase in the proportion of people genuinely seeking and doing work. This could make a great - though hard to measure - difference in the morale and culture of Britain.

- a reduction in the cost of the welfare state, as people are moved to a less expensive benefit and more of them seek work.

We are talking about over a million people whose lives are being changed. This is truly important. Yet it is barely written about at all.

Some of the best coverage was by the Taxpayers' Alliance, using the story in the People. Here is the Telegraph coverage. The Guardian, I find, has mentioned it. Naturally it is worried that the test is unfair and appears uninterested in the idea that people have been claiming billions of pounds for being incapable of work when, in fact, they are not. It is, of course, important that a test is fair. But why cannot the Guardian have any sense of injustice to those who pay tax or the importance of work to the creation of decent lives?

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Media, including BBC bias • Welfare benefits

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February 09, 2010
'Of 12 incidents that ended with the victim attending hospital, only seven were reported to police'

Sometimes it is truly worrying how much is claimed by this government that is repeated, unchallenged, by the BBC and other media. One of the government's repeated claims of late has been that crime is falling. In reality, we don't appear to have the information to know either way - or so it would appear from the fascinating comments of Roger Graef, quoted in the Mail on Sunday. Roger Graef, according to the website of the London School of Economics, is a visiting fellow at the Mannheim Centre for Criminology. He is basically asserting that the official statistics are thoroughly inadequate.

In an interview, Mr Graef, voiced his 'worries' that official crime figures did not reveal the true scale of violence affecting women and children.

He warned that attacks on children by other children not reported to police were absent from the official British Crime Survey (BCS) - other areas of unreported crime are included to get a wider picture of trends.

Mr Graef said: 'We did our own survey of 1,800 schoolchildren aged 14 and 15. One in three had been kicked or hurt. One in four admitted to kicking or hurting somebody else in a month and that's not recorded anywhere.'

He also pointed out the Home Office-compiled BCS did not include unreported assaults at hospitals and prisons.

And Mr Graef highlighted the limitations of official police crime records - based on his own research.

He said: 'We spent two weeks in Oxford and watched how much crime, how much violence, how much harm was happening.'

Out of 12 incidents that ended with the victim attending hospital, only seven were reported to police.

Mr Graef also disclosed how domestic violence goes unreported. 'Women's groups say that 35 assaults are made on the victim before they call the police. That means there's a dark figure of violent crime which we simply cannot know for sure.'

Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said Mr Graef was 'absolutely right' to say the BCS was incomplete, and that 'some crimes will not end up on a police computer'.

Read more:

This is yet another example of government statistics being unreliable or actually misleading. Please use the search facility on this website citing 'statistics' for more entries on the subject.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Behaviour & Crime • Media, including BBC bias

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December 16, 2009
John Humphrys - the biased voice of the BBC

Classic John Humphrys this morning on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4: confronted with information on failings in the care for children with learning difficulties in our government monopololy system, his first demand was that there should surely be statutory law compelling local authorities to do what should be done. The answer came back, well actually there already is a law. It is just not carried out or not properly.

The next resort for this dyed-in-the-wool statist was to demand that more 'resources' - meaning more government money from taxpayers - should be spent on the problem. The reply came back that well, actually, the budget for this has been doubled in recent years but it is not being used well.

Mr Humphrys will never learn from such exchanges. He is convinced that more central diktats and more government money are the answer to everything. No quantity of evidence to the contrary or evidence of damaging effects of these things will change his mind. He promotes this view every week in the most important political radio programme on the airwaves. This is BBC bias.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Media, including BBC bias

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June 01, 2009
Suggested questions for Messrs Humphrys and Naughtie

Those who find the constant drip of anti-capitalism from most of the presenters on the BBC Radio 4 'Today programme' aggravating now have a more bearable alternative: Radio 5 Live, despite also coming from the BBC, generally has more open-minded presenters. Nicky Campbell is certainly not anti-capitalist and is able to ask questions which seem wholly beyond John Humphrys and Jim Naughtie on the Today Programme. True, there is a certain Left-wing bias to the questions of a chap called Bacon, but he is not usually around in the morning, I think.

Despite all the evidence, I still hope that one day the Today Programme might reform. In case the producers finally decide that the interviewers should sometimes ask questions from a free market viewpoint instead of always a Left-of-centre one, I offer some suggestions:


"Wouldn't this problem best be left to the market?"

"Government service + monopoly = bureaucracy + bad service + rationing. Which part of that do you disagree with, minister?"

"Since this government service has done so badly, does it make sense to throw more taxpayer's money at it?"

"Is it responsible to raise taxes when you know - or should know - that all taxes have bad unintended consequences?"

"We know what all this extra public spending will lead to don't we, minister: more waste of taxpayer's money, more index-linked pensions and early retirements, less productivity..."

"The government already taxes people whom it defines as being 'in poverty'. Is it morally right to add to those taxes?"

And here is a long one, especially for Jim:

"Since the government already taxes poor, elderly people, any further spending by government has to face a severe test: it has got to be more worthwhile than reducing the taxation of the poor. Your idea [for letting off fireworks/keeping an out-of-date car factory going etc etc] does not pass this test, does it minister?"

Further suggestions welcome.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Media, including BBC bias • Tax and growth • Waste in public services

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April 27, 2009
How the government puts an obstacle in the way of bright state school children getting into the top universities

The Labour Government wants more state school children to get into the top universities but at the same time is putting an obstacle in way of them getting there. It is refusing to fund the more demanding exams for 16 year-olds - the International GCSEs or IGCSEs . These exams stretch pupils and make them better qualified to go on to the top universities.

Why on earth would the government try to stop children from less well-off families getting to the top universities? Because, I suppose, it is politically determined never to admit that the GCSEs have been dumbed down. Or perhaps, more likely, it is because the government wants to maintain the fiction that all state schools offer a realistic chance to their pupils of getting into the top universities. The governments wants parents to think that if all children are taking the same exams, then surely they all have a chance of getting in. Of course this is rubbish. And it comes from politics. Clever children at the best state schools suffer as a result. Therefore the Labour government, for political reasons, acts to prevent children from less well-off families having the best chance of getting into top universities.

The information quoted below comes from the Times Educational Supplement Magazine. Note the remarkable rise in the numbers of students at private schools now taking the IGCSEs. The top state schools are prevented from following suit.

So far the retreat from the GCSE has been confined to private schools. When one state school, Bexley Grammar in Kent, announced last year that it planned to offer the International GCSE, an alternative that focuses on final exams rather than coursework or modules, it was barred from doing so. Even though Ofqual, the qualifications regulator, has since approved IGCSEs in 15 subjects, the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) has not agreed to fund it, so it cannot yet be offered in state schools.

Rod MacKinnon, the former head of Bexley Grammar who moved to the fee- paying Bristol Grammar School last summer, says his issue is not with the GCSE as such, but he feels it may not suit some pupils in some subjects. At Bexley, Mr MacKinnon tried to introduce IGCSE science on the grounds that the GCSE equivalent did not stretch the most able children. “It is a reputable examination, but my view was that in Bexley’s context, the IGCSE was more appropriate for some pupils.”

Bristol Grammar, his new school, offers the IGCSE in maths, on the basis that it provides a more challenging syllabus. The IGCSE includes calculus, for example, which pupils do not have to study for the GCSE. The school is considering offering the IGCSE in English.

The GCSE was introduced to fuse together its predecessors, O-level and CSE, into one course designed to suit children of all abilities. But Mr MacKinnon suggests it is time to accept the one-size-fits-all approach has not worked. “There are lots of really good arguments why we would want one exam for everybody, but in reality we’re not able to stretch the full ability range.”

He believes giving schools and pupils the choice of exams is a logical extension of personalised learning. If learning is to be tailored to each child’s needs, then why make everyone sit the same exam? “There is nothing profoundly essential about having one exam,” he says. “I can’t see why it should be a problem having two or three different styles.”

Much of the flight away from GCSEs has been towards the IGCSE. This year, almost half - 46 per cent - of private schools are offering at least one IGCSE, up from 34 per cent last year. Edexcel, one of two exam boards administering them, reports that the number of candidates taking the exam has almost doubled in two years, from 45,000 in 2006 to 85,000 last year. Cambridge Assessment, the other board offering IGCSEs, is coy about releasing figures, but will admit to a 20 per cent increase in entries this year.

Incidentally, the quality of coverage of education (and medical services) in the newspapers seems to have deteriorated substantially in recent years. The Daily Telegraph used to have a superb pair of journalists writing daily on education matters. As newspapers have cut back on staff in recent years, coverage of politics has been maintained but coverage of the welfare state has suffered badly.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Education • Media, including BBC bias

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March 22, 2009
People still die unnecessarily from cancer because we have the NHS rahter than a better system

From the Guardian, a remarkably frank account of the continuing failure of the NHS to treat cancer as well as the medical services in other advanced countries:

The government's national cancer plan, backed by a massive injection of cash for cancer services in England, has failed to boost survival rates substantially, a major study shows today.

The findings will dismay government ministers, who have secured a tripling of spending on cancer over the last decade with the ambition of bringing the UK from among the worst countries up to the standard of the best in Europe. But the authoritative study, from a team led by Professor Michel Coleman at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, shows that survival rates have barely shifted since the cancer plan was launched in 2000.

"We are at best keeping track with improvements elsewhere rather than closing the gap," says an editorial in the journal which publishes today's study, Lancet Oncology. It adds that the government's aim of matching the survival rates of the best performing countries in Europe by 2010 is looking optimistic.

The study also shows that regional divides linger on, with people in some areas of England likely to survive longer than in others.

Cutting deaths and improving the length of time people survive with cancer, while ending health inequalities, is one of the major health goals of the present government, triggered by an outcry over data which showed Britain lagging at the bottom of the European league.

Full story here.

This account is utterly different from that which I heard on BBC Radio. That entirely accepted the propaganda offered by, I think, the so-called Cancer Tsar (perhaps he should be called the Cancer Commissar). It is a sign of the times that a civil servant should promote misleading propaganda in favour of his political masters. It is also a sign of the times that the BBC should accept this propaganda so readily. It is ironic that a Left-wing newspaper, which you might normally expect to be more sympathetic to the Labour Government, gives a more honest account than a civil servant or the BBC. Well done the Guardian but a sad time for the integrity of the civil service and the BBC.

It is worth adding that the different parts of the BBC perform differently. Radio 4, led by the Today programme, has a Left-wing, politically correct, pro big government mindset, as has been widely observed. However Radio 5 is far less predictable. Its great virtue is that its phone-ins make its producers and presenters more aware that there are other views around beyond the BBC view.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Media, including BBC bias • NHS

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November 26, 2008
If Mr Dacre is changing his view, Mr Brown really is finished

As the dust settles, things are becoming clearer. They seem to be getting a lot clearer at the Daily Mail, for example. Today the main opinion article is by the City editor, Alex Brummer who confesses that he was conned by Gordon Brown. He had, he says, thought since 1997 that Gordon Brown was a good chancellor - his embracing of the City was a good sign and a great improvement on previous Labour chancellors.

But now, Mr Brummer, admits, the pre-budget report has changed his view of Mr Brown. He thinks "prudence has been trown ruthlessly overboard" and "gone is the economic rectitude of which the Treasury boasted for so many years".

The views of Mr Brummer are not, in the great scheme of things, of huge importance. But the printing of this article, I suspect, tells us that the view of Mr Paul Dacre may be changing and that is very important indeed. Mr Dacre, for those who do not know, is the editor of the Daily Mail. For all the time since Gordon Brown has been chancellor and continuing while he has been prime minister, Mr Dacre has been an admirer of Mr Brown. The Daily Mail is thought of by many as a right-wing newspaper and in many respects Mr Dacre has right-wing views. But his view on economics are not doctrinaire or passionately in favour of low taxes and small government. He probably prefers these things, but not with religious fervour - or not enough of it to stop him admiring Mr Brown. I used to know Paul Dacre pretty well since I was a leader-writer for the Daily Mail for two years. He is not perfect of course but I admired him a great deal and admired his courage in pursuing ideas about damaging changes in the British way of life. He got a lot of insults from the "liberal" media over these things. However it was a great frustration to me that he would not countenance a hostile approach to the policies of Gordon Brown (except in recent years by Richard Littlejohn who was obviously given licence to express his robust views in his column without restraint).

But the fact that Paul Dacre commissioned Alex Brummer to write this piece today saying that his (Brummer's) view of Gordon Brown has changed indicates that, more significantly, Mr Dacre's view has changed. Mr Brummer, probably understanding his employer's wishes, is not directly critical of Mr Brown himself. But there is no escaping the fact that all he describes has taken place under Mr Brown's stewardship.

Another article in today's paper that also suggests that finally Mr Dacre is seeing through the New Labour story. It is by Edward Heathcoat Amory and he describes how most of the jobs created in all the regions of Britain since 1997 have been in the public sector: "More than 1.3 million of the 2.2 million jobs created between 1998 and 2006 were in public sector areas".

So we now have a view emerging in the Daily Mail that Labour is being reckless with its borrowing and that most of the growth in jobs in the years of Labour power consisted only of public sector jobs. It is heading towards the view (or am I being too hopeful?)that much of the apparent growth that took place after the first three or four years of Labour government was a con trick, being created by rising debt and government spending, not real increases in production or productivity.

Why does the view of the Daily Mail matter? Because it is perhaps the most politically important newspaper in Britain. It has a far bigger circulation than the "quality" newspapers and is read by people who vote (whereas some readers of the low-end newspapers probably do not vote). Many of its readers are floating voters.

For over a decade, the Daily Mail has been sympathetic to Gordon Brown and his works. If that is truly changing, I suspect he really is finished.

p.s. For a truly hostile approach to Mr Brown, try this.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Media, including BBC bias • Politics

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November 24, 2008
BBC correspondents sympathetic to Labour borrowing spree

I took part in a lunch-time discussion about the pre-budget report on Radio 5 Live this afternoon. We did not know for sure what would be in the report although the leaks from the government have been like a flood.

It seemed at times as though it was me (arguing that extra increases in borrowing would be reckless) versus the man from the Sunday Mirror and the two specialist correspondents of the BBC. The BBC political and economics correspondents generally took a view that was sympathetic to the government but it was the political correspondent, John Pienaar, who showed outright pro-Labour bias. I jotted down a couple of his remarks.

He said that a fiscal stimulus "desperately needs to be done". This is the Labour Party's view. It is not the Conservative Party's view. His job, at the BBC, is to be impartial and not to express a personal view either way.

He then referred to the proposal to raise the top rate of tax to 45 per cent as "a bit of fairness". This was clearly a remark intended to leave the impression that an increase in taxation of the richest was a) fair and b) a good thing. I wonder whether Mr Pienaar has really thought through what "fair" means and how it differs from "re-distributive" or "equalising". He probably uses the word to mean "makes people's income closer to equal". I will leave aside the fact that history shows that this is not necessarily a good idea and merely remark that a 45% tax rate is not, at this moment, the policy of all the major parties and so, again, it is not for Mr Pienaar to say or imply that it is a good thing. He was taking the line of the Labour Party. It was bias, plain and simple.

He repeated this line about "fairness" a second time, later in the discussion. The implication, of course, is that anyone who opposes this rise must be against "fairness". That is absurd and indeed, unfair.

He also suggested that the government had got the Conservatives in a trap. This was an extraordinary line to take in the circumstances where a Labour government which claimed to have abolished boom and bust is today bursting through its own fiscal rules, facing a deep 'bust' and the prospect of an extra million unemployed. It takes a truly prejudiced correspondent at such a time to suggest that it is the opposition which is in trouble.

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October 17, 2008
President Clinton contributed to the current financial crisis

The BBC - especially the Today programme on Radio 4 - is showing ill-disguised delight at the current crisis of capitalism. Presenters such as John Humphrys have no doubt that it was as all caused by stupid, greedy capitalists and that a high priority now should be to ensure that these said capitalists do not get bailed out or rewarded or let off their crimes. His questioning of Alistair Darling, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, a short while ago was nearly all directed at attacking the idea of the innocent taxpayer being made to pay for the self-serving idiocy of bankers. He asked what the taxpayer was getting out of this.

It was, of course, a rare pleasure to hear Mr Humphrys suddenly develop an interest in the well-being of taxpayers. For many years he has suggested that the answer to any problem is for the government to spend more money on it and thus increase the tax burden. Leaving that to one side, what Mr Humphrys seemed to have trouble grasping is that we are dealing here the risk of a major recession and that the whole purpose of the Mr Darling's dramatic interventions was to try to prevent this happening. Mr Humphrys seemed unaware that banks are not like other businesses. They are central to the working of an economy. Incidentally, he also seemed unaware of the difference between spending money that disappears (as in spending it on a meal) and handing over money to banks that will in theory - and probably in reality - repay it.

Given the statist leanings of Mr Humphrys and other presenters, it is not surprising that the whole crisis is treated as a failure of capitalism and no effort is made to establish what role governments had in creating it. No, that is not entirely fair. I did hear Laurie Taylor, in an afternoon programme, searching for any academic economist who had forecast this crisis. He found a retired Professor Dale who had long ago warned about the change in the law that was known as Big Bang. This made it much easier for banks to own securities. He suggested - nearly 20 years ago - that the owning of securities by banks contributed to the Great Depression in America. He implicitly warned that Big Bang carried with it a risk of a repetition. This ascribing of at least a little responsibility to a government was unusual. There is much more scope, though, in this area.

Some may think, "How on earth could governments have contributed to the crisis?". I suspect there are a variety of ways but here, for a start, is quite an important one. On September 30th 1999 an article appeared in the New York Times headlined, "Fannie Mae Eases Credit To Aid Mortgage Lending".

Fannie Mae was the biggest underwriter of mortgage loans in America. I am no expert on American instituions but I understand it was an offshoot of government and in response to government pressure, according to the article, it was now going to "encourage...banks to extend home mortgages to individuals whose credit is generally not good enough to qualify for conventional loans."

Essentially this was an official move to embark on sub-prime lending - the very sub-prime lending that is at the core of the current financial crisis. Sub-prime lending means extending mortgages to people whose credit is "not good enough".

Part of the idea was to make more profit. But the article plainly states that Fannie Mae "has been under increasing pressure from the Clinton Administration to expand mortgage loans among low and moderate income people". You can easily imagine that Clinton and other Democrats thought it was a generous and popular act to get Fannie Mae to underwrite lending to the poor. But, as we now know, it was a disastrous act. The poor can't pay their loans back. The institutions that rely on them to pay back go bust.

Impressively, the writer was aware of this danger: "Fannie Mae is taking on significantly more risk, which may not pose any difficulties during flush economic times. But the government-subsidized corporation may run into trouble in an economic downturn, prompting a government rescue similar to that of the savings and loan industry in the 1980's."

That was spot on.

Let us lay to rest the idea that this crisis is entirely made by greedly capitalists. One President Clinton, that figure much-loved by the Left-wing consensus at the BBC, was one of its creators.

The New York Times article is here.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Media, including BBC bias • Off the subject • Politics

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May 09, 2007
"The Lives of Others" - an excellent film but...

The film "The Lives of Others" should be added to the list of books and films which bring to life what a disaster communism was. It is compelling and affecting. It is about a playwright and others involved in the theatre and literature in East Germany during the communist era. They are all under pressure to write and say things that support the regime. If they are disruptive, they risk being banned from the theatre. Their homes are bugged. They are followed. And, if they break the rules, they may be interrogated and imprisoned. The female lead, a famous actress, has to grant sexual favours to a government minister to be allowed to keep appearing on the stage. It is heart-breaking for her and her lover.

It is an excellent film and, being made relatively soon after the events it describes, it has an authentic feel. However it makes one realise how few such films have been made.

Apart from the world wars, the great historical theme of the 20th century was the worldwide competition between the ideas of capitalism and communism. Then, in a most dramatic fashion, communism in Europe suddenly collapsed.

Yet I know of few films about all this. I would be glad to hear of them.

More important, there are few films and only a limited number of books describing the economic failure of communism. I was, in a sense, fortunate to see the queues of people lining up for basic consumer goods in Moscow. I saw the absence of fresh fruit in Irkutsk. I went into a supermarket in Bucharest where the freezer shelves were almost empty and not refrigerated at all.

But anyone who did not visit, and all those who have grown up since then, must only be vaguely aware that communism was an economic disaster as well as a political one. There are relatively few films to fix this in the public mind for any length of time.

The relative paucity of media work on the disaster of communism is, I fear, a reflection of the fact that the media, in Britain at least, tends to be left-wing - and therefore not keen to expose the failure of the extreme form of their own beliefs.

"The Lives of Others" is about the persecution of people in the media. So it is by the media and about the media. It is as if the only way media people are capable of feeling and expressing outrage about communism is when the can see their own people affected. As for the the millions of peasants impoverished and starved, they are not considered important or relevant enough.

I don't intend to insult the makers of "The Lives of Others". It is a terrific film. I just wish that that film makers generally would do more about the wider picture.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Media, including BBC bias

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March 22, 2007
Gordon Brown: more bias from the BBC

"You have been respected as a Chancellor" said John Humphries when interviewing Gordon Brown this morning. He added, "I don't think many people would disagree about that." His tone was positively dismissive of the idea that anybody doubts that Gordon Brown has been an excellent Chancellor.

This is a simple case of BBC bias. There are indeed many people who do not respect Gordon Brown's record as a Chancellor. Indeed, when I have written critically about him in the past (use the search facility if you like), the comments I have received have been in the nature of "And here's something else he did wrong..."

Humphries is, of course, a superb interviewer. One can only conclude that he is surrounded by other BBC people who have pro-Brown views. He has come genuinely to believe that virtually nobody has much to say against Gordon Brown's record. This suggests that pro-Left political bias is extrememly widespread among people in the BBC. It is, indeed, an institutional bias.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Media, including BBC bias

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January 30, 2007
Lest we forget how bad European communism was

There is a danger that, as time passes, people will begin to think that the communist states were not so bad after all.

Gradually the generation that lived through the last few decades of European communism will become a minority. New generations will grow up who never heard the many anecdotes of deprivation, misery and political oppression that were widespread in those years. I have already heard one BBC radio programme in which Russian communists lamented the passing the 'good old days'.

It is, of course, a reflection of the political bias at the BBC that this programme idea was selected from the thousands that which are constantly being submitted. The way in which the programme was done - giving credence to the idea of 'good old days' - also reflected this bias. But this kind of thing is likely to become more common, not less.

Last night I heard another story of just how bad things were in the Soviet Union. Professor Christopher Andrew, the historian of secret services, gave a talk in which he mentioned in passing that mothers to be 'fled' from hospitals in Moscow and Leningrad. They went to the country to have their babies because they were terrified of having them in City state hospitals where the cross-infection rates were so dreadful.

Later, Mary Kenny, who was in the audience, told me that when she stayed with the Irish ambassador in Moscow in the 1980s, she learned that an American anti-abortion film sent to the Soviet Union had not had the effect intended. An American lobby group had wanted to shock Soviet women with pictures of how dreadful is the reality of abortion. Instead, Soviet women seeing the film were ecstatic by how wonderful - particularly how clean - were American hospitals.

I asked Professor Andrew if he knew of any book which documented the terrible state of the Soviet Union prior to its collapse. He did not. Surely someone has written about this. If not, someone should gather together and verify the stories and the data. The disaster that was communism should not be forgotten. Otherwise it could well be repeated.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in General • Media, including BBC bias • NHS

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May 29, 2006
The government-financed broadcaster sees no evil in the government minister

When I was researching the article on the photograph of John Prescott (see below), I looked at BBC Online. It was very hard to find any mention of it whatsoever. I only found it under newspaper reviews. Clearly it is a far more important story than that. That is why the other newspapers followed up either on Sunday itself or today.

Then I heard the World at One on BBC Radio 4 at lunchtime today. Finally the BBC belatedly felt obliged to cover the story. But the interviews were conducted as though nothing wrong had been done at all. The fact that all concerned were playing a game when we, the taxpayers, were paying for them to be working, barely got a mention. There was not the smallest sense of outrage from the presenter who, instead, asked the photographer whether or not he had been invading the privacy of John Prescott and this might be a matter for the Press Complaints Commissioner.

In short, the BBC has bent over backwards not to cover the story and then to treat it as a bit of muckracking. The bias of the BBC in this case is wholly indefensible. There was every reason to think public money was being wasted.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Media, including BBC bias

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May 14, 2006
BBC Radio 5 Live appearance

I will be appearing at about 11.05pm on BBC Radio 5 Live this evening

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Media, including BBC bias

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May 09, 2006
Ruth Kelly's 'social justice' and taxing more pensioners

Ruth Kelly was on the Today programme this morning and asserted that, under Labour, social justice had advanced. How does Ruth Kelly define 'social justice'? How does she measure it? The concept seems extremely vague. Does it mean giving more to the poor and taking more from the rich? So is the ultimate social justice when everyone has the same wealth? And does that not go by another name: communism? Has the concept of communism not been totally discredited by the vast and disastrous experiments in it during the 20th century?

It leads one to suspect that the phrase 'social justice' is a eumphemism for socialism or communism. And if it is not that, what is it?

Is it 'social justice' that:

The number of pensioners paying income tax has risen by 1.2 million under Labour, official figures reveal.

When Tony Blair entered No 10 in 1997 3.9 million men over 65 and women over 60 were in the tax net.

That figure has risen by a third to a record 5.1 million - nearly half the 11.1 Britons over state pension age, according to Government figures for the current tax year.

And later,

The Treasury put the rise down to the ageing population last night.

But the number of old age pensioners has only gone by 400,000 since 1997.

The above is from the Daily Mail.

Is the taxation of more old age pensioners a reflection of the greater 'social justice' in modern Britain? It remains the case, as I described in The Welfare State We're In, that the government defines a considerable number of people in this country as being in 'poverty'. It then taxes them. Many of these are pensioners. Rather more of them are now pensioners after Labour's rule. (I was glad to see the Tory spokesman Philip Hammond also making the point yesterday that the government taxes pensioners it defines as being in poverty.)

Incidentally, the Daily Mail is probably the most despised newspaper among the urban elite. But it keeps on picking up stories like this which tell us a great deal. It would be good to see some part of the BBC take this story on. The Today programme, for example.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Media, including BBC bias • Pensions • Tax and growth

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May 01, 2006
Has the government's reform agenda interfered with its ability to administer competently?

I appeared on The World Tonight last Friday (28th April), debating whether or not the government's apparent obsession with reform had interfered with its ability to do the everyday business of administering well. For one week, it should possible to listen to it on the 'Listen Again' facility on the BBC website here. The little discussion starts at about 20 past the hour.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Media, including BBC bias

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March 21, 2006
MIllions die because of government provision of water

We are regularly told in Britain that water is vital to the health of many millions of people in Africa and elsewhere. So it is. But never is it suggested that the reason there is such a problem with water in Africa is because water supply is run by governments, not private companies. That would be to undermine the 'government is best' assumption of virtually all broadcast media coverage in Britain.

Now, at last, comes a paper from the Globalization Institute putting the argument that millions of people in Africa have died because of this misguided belief that government is best.

These are the opening lines of the paper, by Mischa Balen, apparently a Labour Party activist:

Over a billion people worldwide do not have access to safe drinking water, and 2.6 billion people have no sanitation facilities. More than two million people die each year from diarrhoea, and over six million people are blind as a result of trachoma, a disease strongly related to lack of face washing. In Sub Saharan Africa, 42% of the population lacks access to decent water.

Other diseases which are caused by water poverty include scabies, typhoid and malaria. The need for clean water to prevent the spread of these and other diseases is therefore paramount.

This is one of the greatest problems humanity faces. It is a problem which is taking place under the auspices of the state sector: 95% of the world's population gets its water from state-run services. Government provision in water has overseen millions of deaths through poor quality and lack of sanitation.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Foreign aid • Media, including BBC bias • Waste in public services

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March 06, 2006
Not 'to the grave'

Many people remain committed to the NHS, I believe, because they think "if I get seriously ill at any time in my life, I will be looked after and it will be free". In their hearts, they may think the care may not be great, but at least they will get some care and it will be free.

But this is simply not true. Last night on Panorama there were graphic portraits of people who had believed this. But then they had got severe Alzheimer's Disease or had endured disabling strokes or had been knocked down by a car and become totally paralysed. They were treated, for a while, as patients in NHS beds - for free. But then they were shunted out into private nursing homes and told that they would have to sell their homes and pay for their care.

In theory, the government pays for medical care by not for 'social care'. In the Coughlan case, the Appeal Court upheld this distinction and insisted that the government should pay for someone with medical problems. But the programme eloquently argued that, in practice, the NHS ignores the Coughlan judgement and in many cases goes to great lengths to categorise people as being in need of social care, rather than primarily medical care.

In other words, the NHS shuffles off responsibility for paying for people who have become totally dependant on the help of others. It says, "you pay for it, we won't".

The NHS - and the government as a whole - offer the myth that you will be looked after, for free, if you become disabled for the long term. For many people, it is simply not true.

The welfare state has created an insurance policy that does not provide what it claims. It is another welfare state mis-selling scandal. It would be better if the welfare state were honest about it from the start - if it said, "We will not provide. Take out proper insurance because this is not it. Rely on us and you could lose your home."

"We are an accident and emergency service. We don't do long-term care." But such honesty is not a part of the welfare state. Perhaps it is just not a part of democracy as it has developed in Britain in recent years.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Care for the elderly • Media, including BBC bias • NHS

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January 24, 2006
More media interviews

I have recorded interviews this afternoon for Sky News and ITN. I am told my contribution will be about 25 seconds on Sky (during the 7pm news?) tonight and I will probably be given a bit longer on ITN's news at 10.30pm. ITN filmed some shots of my book.

It is very satisfying that the book seems to be reaching a high level of recognition in the media. I almost seems to be turning into part of the political landscape.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Media, including BBC bias

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January 16, 2006
The BBC makes progress and looks at benefit fraud

Another step forward: a six-part BBC series on benefits and how they got wrong. The first one, tonight, appears to be about benefit fraud. According the Telegraph,

David Street, the series' producer, said: "These are just a few of the cases that are prosecuted every year. The scale of fraud in disability living allowance claims is just staggering.

"I have made a lot of programmes about fraud and I have to say I was stunned by the size of this problem."

The full article is here.

The programme is on BBC1 at 8.30pm tonight and is called 'On the fiddle'.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Behaviour & Crime • Media, including BBC bias • Parenting • Waste in public services • Welfare benefits

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December 28, 2005
It's tonight

Tonight is the night when the programme is broadcast in which I put the argument 'The welfare state was a mistake' on Radio 4. The programme is called 'Hecklers' because four people, including two LSE professors, interrupt and object to my arguments. It goes out at 8pm.

Some supporters have been concerned that I have four 'lefties' against me and that the odds are stacked in their favour. But I have to say, in defence of the BBC, that this is the formula used for this series and was used in the programme the previous week in which someone argued that specific anti-terrorism laws were unnecessary and unhelpful.

Yes, it is possible to object that, in this format, my point of view is implicitly treated as 'way out' or, at the least, 'controversial'. But I think it is fair to suggest that the idea is, indeed, still controversial in British society. In fact it is a mark of a significant change in the thinking of the British governing class elite (in which I include the BBC) that the status of the idea has moved from being 'mad' a decade ago, to only 'controversial' today. That is progress. Slow progress, yes. But still progress.

It will - or would - be a further mammoth step if we get to the point that it becomes commonplace to think that the state is generally not good at running things.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in General • Media, including BBC bias

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December 15, 2005
BBC tries to imply that private hospitals have equally low standards of cleanliness as NHS ones.

BBC Online has a report today which throws in private hospitals with NHS hospitals as being part of a report which indicates standards of cleanliness are not good enough.

This is the opening of the BBC report:

Two-thirds of NHS and private hospitals are failing to meet the highest standards of cleanliness, snapshot inspections have revealed.

This makes it sound as though two thirds of private hospitals and two thirds of NHS hospitals are failing in this respect.

However going to Healthcare Commission website, the official press release summarises the findings as follows:

Dividing the hospitals into four bands, the Commission found:

- High standards of cleanliness were being achieved in a significant proportion of organisations with 33 hospitals in band one.

- But too many hospitals failed to perform as well as they could with 44 being in band two, indicating they have room for improvement.

- There was evidence of systemic problems in the 23 hospitals that were in bands three and four, indicating that cleanliness was unsatisfactory for an environment in which clinical care is being provided.

- Standards were markedly poorer in NHS mental health hospitals visited. These made up all six hospitals in band four, indicating serious and widespread problems, plus 18 of the 22 hospitals in bands three and four

So all of the hospitals in the worst category, without exception, were run by the NHS.

And what about the hospitals with the best results?

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Media, including BBC bias • NHS

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July 04, 2005
How Live8 may actually increase starvation in Africa

Moeletsi Mbeki, brother of Thabo Mbeki and deputy chairman of the South African Institute of International Affairs, wrote an open letter to Bob Geldof in the Mail on Sunday. It was all the more devastating for being politely expressed by a man who lives in and really knows Africa:

I know that you and Tony Blair have been genuinely touched by the suffering of Africa.
But, ironically, the contribution you are making is exacerbating the problem.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Foreign aid • Media, including BBC bias • Waste in public services

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June 12, 2005
The scandal of public servant pensions

Five million out of 5.7 million public sector employees (88 per cent) have final salary pensions. Meanwhile only 3.6 million out of 22.5 million private sector employees (about 16 per cent) have final salary pensions.

These figures, accourding to the Sunday Telegraph, will be published by the Government Actuary's Department on Thursday. There have been a fall of one million in those in the private sector who are on final salary schemes over the past five years. That is largely the effect of Gordon Brown's tax on dividends received by pension funds which has helped make final salary pension schemes just too expensive for private companies. But what is too expensive for private companies, is not too expensive for taxpayers to pay for.

The civil servant, the teacher and the hospital manager all get relatively luxurious, final salary pensions, courtesy of taxpayers. The MPs and the prime minister get the most luxurious pensions of all.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Media, including BBC bias • Pensions • Waste in public services

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March 31, 2005
On your bike

In today's Daily Mail, Quentin Letts describes one of the 'masochism sessions' which Tony Blair is going in for in the run-up to the coming election. He was on Sky News and was criticised by one voter after another regarding public services.

He waffled and made handsome noises of sympathy, with some Bill Clinton-style eye narrowing and shakes of the head.

The problem with these TV whip-fests he is suddenly doing is that no one ever says 'tax us less'.

The impetus, by the very nature of live TV, goes to the 'something must be done' brigade, with their lurid demands for more state spending. This suits Labour's philosophy but it underplays personal responsibility.

So when a whiny ex-con started bleating that the state was not doing enough to help him, no one told him to pull himself together. How one ached for a Norman Tebbit to tell the miserable little so-and-son to pull out his finger rather than making the rest of us pay.

Sadly it appears to be part of the nature of democratic government that appeals for the state to 'do something about it' get more of a hearing than objections that state interference in the past has done more harm than good.

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in General • Media, including BBC bias • Politics

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March 26, 2005
How can you bring about reform when there is reporting like this?

One of the greatest problems in persuading people that the welfare state is damaging is the difference in reporting experienced by the private and public sectors. When something goes wrong in the private sector, the fact that it is the private sector is particularly drawn to the attention of the audience. But when something goes wrong in the public sector, the same does not apply. You would never have a story starting, "A prisoner found hanged in his cell at a state-run Warwickshire jail...". But you would get the following, as revealed on the Biased-BBC website:

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in General • Media, including BBC bias

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