BBCQT hit a new low. One audience member has links to failed Tory smears against Corbyn.

Ryan Jacobsz
Tom Coburg

BBC Question Time (BBCQT) has hit a new low. A man who aggressively questioned Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn about antisemitism during the leaders’ debate is also a Tory activist who’s appeared on the show several times before. Moreover, he’s closely associated with two Tory MPs of the extremist wing who were part of a failed attempt to smear Corbyn.

White shirt man

During the BBC leaders’ debate, a man in a white shirt was invited by host Fiona Bruce to ask Corbyn a question. The questioner referred to the launch of a report by the Labour Party into alleged antisemitism by Marc Wadsworth, who was subsequently expelled from the party. At the launch, a Jewish MP Ruth Smeeth was heckled. Afterwards, Corbyn spoke with the heckler.

The man in a white shirt put his own spin on what happened and told Corbyn:

I looked at a video on YouTube because I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. Ruth Smeeth a Jewish MP was heckled out of that press conferences… and there you are, at the end of the press conference, chatting happily to that same heckler.

He added:

I don’t understand how you can say you stand for human rights and free speech with that’s how you support that Labour MP at a Labour press conference.

Corbyn responded:

Nobody should suffer abuse, and many women Labour MPs, Ruth Smeeth included, and others, have suffered the most unbelievable levels of abuse.

Corbyn added:

I simply say to you that bad behaviour, misogynism, racism in any form is absolutely not acceptable in any form whatsoever in my party, or in our society.

Suspicious

But the man in a white shirt looked suspiciously familiar to some people. And it didn’t take long before he was identified as a serial BBCQT questioner:

Indeed, he seems somewhat of an ‘expert’ on a variety of subjects that are usually associated with the Tory radical right.

For example, there was his question in November 2017 on the EU Withdrawal Bill:

Or his April 2018 intervention on Labour’s Brexit policy:

Or his question about intervention in Syria:

Identified

The man in the white shirt is identified as Ryan Jacobsz who, according to a 2018 post on Conservative Home, is a Hull West & Hessle representative to the Conservative Area Council. In that same post, he describes himself as a sort of roving activist, campaigning in advance of a general election in “Northampton to Mansfield, Calder Valley to Stockton-On-Tees”.

What’s more, he is accused by one person of having links to Andrew Bridgen MP and Mark Francois MP, who are both members of the ERG (European Research Group):

Extremist fringe

Both Francois and Bridgen promote no-deal Brexit and could be characterised as being on the more extremist wing of the Tory party, as these two video clips show.

Here’s Francois who, towards the end of this exchange on racists and Brexit, falls victim to the Will Self stare:

And here’s Bridgen also getting very confused over Brexit:

Smear tactics

Jacobsz was apparently party to an allegation by Bridgen and Francois to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards against Corbyn in regard to the required registration of overseas trips (and their costs) he made between August 2011 and December 2014.

In response, although the Commissioner decided to investigate only three of the nine trips raised by the trio, in fact Corbyn responded by providing details of 17 trips. Corbyn showed that the vast majority of the costs of each trip fell below the threshold for registration, or were exempt for registration for other reasons.

He clarified:

…as a matter of routine I take lower cost flights and stay in lower cost hotel rooms wherever possible.

The one trip he neglected to register was to New York to attend a Non-Proliferation Nuclear Weapons Treaty meeting (funded by CND). Corbyn said:

I can only imagine that we overlooked registration in this instance due to an incorrect assumption that the trip would be below threshold.

The Register of Members’ Financial Interests agreed with Corbyn’s responses. In February 2019, the Commissioner wrote to Corbyn and found no breaches of rules had taken place:

In other words, the allegations made by Francois, Bridgen, and Jacobsz were rejected.

Questions for the BBC

The BBC needs to reflect on how audience members are selected for its BBCQT programmes. In this instance, it failed to identify that a questioner had previously asked questions three times on BBCQT.

The Canary contacted the BBC for comment. A spokesperson said:

Every leader on Friday faced tough questions from the audience, which included people who’d identified themselves as supporting the political parties involved. The majority were supporters of the Conservatives and the Labour Party, in equal numbers. In terms of selecting the audience for the next two debates, there will be roughly equal amounts of Conservative and Labour supporters, followed by a smaller number for the SNP and the Liberal Democrats, and a handful for the other parties.

However, we’re not just talking about a Conservative Party supporter, but an activist with links to top Tory MPs and who was linked to a failed attempt to smear Corbyn. And this wasn’t just a regular BBCQT. It was an important leaders’ debate special with less than three weeks away from a general election. This raises serious questions about how the broadcaster selects its audiences.

Featured image via screenshot

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