Four ways the BBC helped sell Tory austerity to the public

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If you’re trying to understand how the Conservative Party misled the public into supporting ideological austerity, the role of the BBC is pivotal. Here are four ways the corporation helped the Conservative Party sell bogus austerity.

1. The deficit myth

The BBC repeatedly (such as Marr vs Balls in the video below) suggested that Labour’s structural deficit was to blame for the financial crisis of 2007/8.

The truth is that structural deficits are the economic norm around the world. In the last 25 years, only one UK government has raised more money than it spent in a single year. It was the Labour government of Tony Blair from 1998 to 2001.

2. Austerity is bad economics

The academic basis for the modern doctrine of austerity is a Harvard study called Growth in a Time of Debt. In a landmark speech laying out the economic rationale for austerity in 2010, George Osborne relied heavily on its findings. He called it:

Perhaps the most significant contribution to our understanding of the origins of the [financial] crisis.

In a major controversy only three years later, researchers at MIT found that the study relied on a single Excel spreadsheet. Worse, they concluded that:

Coding errors, selective exclusion of available data and unconventional weighting of summary statistics lead to serious errors.

While the BBC reported on the debacle, it then dropped from the conversation. BBC interviewers should be raising this with Conservative MPs every time they attempt to sell austerity. It is bogus economics. When was the last time you heard it mentioned? If ever…

3. Austerity has never worked

Austerity has literally never worked. In fact, the vast majority of economists around the world consider it junk economics. But the BBC’s host of political journalists rarely, if ever, put this point to Conservative politicians. This coverage risks leaving viewers with the mistaken impression that austerity is necessary to avoid another financial crisis. But austerity is the financial crisis. As economist Paul Krugman wrote in 2015:

It is rare, in the history of economic thought, for debates to get resolved this decisively. The austerian ideology that dominated elite discourse five years ago has collapsed, to the point where hardly anyone still believes it. Hardly anyone, that is, except the coalition that still rules Britain – and most of the British media.

4. There is an alternative

Last and arguably worst, BBC news and politics coverage provides almost no space for new ideas. In 2013, researchers at Cardiff University undertook a major content analysis of BBC coverage – funded in part by the BBC Trust. The findings revealed that:

  • The BBC consistently grants the Conservative Party more air time, even when Labour is in government.
  • On BBC News at Six, business representatives outnumbered trade union spokespersons by more than five to one (11 vs 2) in 2007 and by 19 to one in 2012.
  • When it comes to the financial crisis, BBC coverage was almost completely dominated by stockbrokers, investment bankers, hedge fund managers and other City voices. Civil society voices or commentators who questioned the benefits of having such a large finance sector were almost completely absent from coverage.

All four of these gaps in coverage have contributed to a wide scale public misunderstanding of austerity, the results of which include a 134% rise in rough sleepers, the 2,792% rise in food bank use (from the Trussell Trust alone), the 400,000 additional children living in poverty. Extreme policies, extreme outcomes. And the BBC is instrumental in making it happen.

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Featured image via Flickr Creative Commons/Flickr Creative Commons

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