Sometimes the BBC not only brings us the news, but ends up in the news itself, the latest example coming yesterday as Daily Politics lead presenter Andrew Neil was dropped in the mire by the organisation he might least have expected to do the deed. And this time it wasn’t something he said or did, but something he wore, that sparked the controversy. The story takes us to the oldest of Astroturf lobby groups.
Something else to chew on
Yesterday, the Twitter feed of the Adam Smith Institute gushed “Andrew Neil @afneil looking dashing in an ASI tie on the @daily_politics this afternoon. Grab your own here”. But, so what? Well, the ASI’s claim to fame is, first and foremost, that it is a museum of outdated economic thought that has fraudulently appropriated the name of the founder of economics. It is inherently and deeply Conservative in nature.
The ASI’s recent history has built not on Smith’s work, but on the strain of small-state, libertarian and free market philosophy so beloved of the likes of Milton Friedman, whose devotion to markets was such that he not only championed them, but declared any part of the economy where there was no market to be some kind of aberration, to be corrected only by the creation of a market. And state intervention was Streng Verboten.
In this, the ASI is today in the same bowl of alphabet soup as the TPA, CPS and IEA - all of them highly Conservative, sympathising with and supporting right-wing ideas, politics, parties, and candidates. Thus the problem for Neil and the BBC when he appears on air wearing a garment which appears to align him with such bodies. And it gets worse: as longstanding Zelo Street regulars will know, the ASI’s research has a poor track record.
The group, as is mandatory in Astroturf lobby group land, joined in the chorus of knocking copy directed at the HS2 project. Here, they demonstrated a lack of research and shortfall in technical knowledge that verged on the laughable. Spain, which constructs high speed rail lines at a relatively low cost, was explained away by telling it had “generally flat countryside”. The heroic scale of tunnelling for many lines shows it does not.
BR’s Advanced Passenger Train (APT) becomes APR in ASI-speak. France is held to have something called Très Grande Vitesse (TGV stands for Train À Grande Vitesse, and it runs on the LGV, or Ligne À Grande Vitesse). And the trains for HS2 will include “16 high-speed sets that will operate exclusively over the wider-gauge high-speed track”. There won’t be any “wider-gauge” track. The report had not been read for technical competence.
But the ASI had read “Gauge” - which meant “Structure Gauge” in HS2’s case - and thought the term applied only to the track. So association with the ASI links anyone thus associated not only to a highly partisan organisation, but one whose research standards leave something to be desired, all of which is not a good look.
Of course, Andrew Neil is free to wear whoever’s ties he likes. But equally, those of us on the other side of the screen are free to raise eyebrows and put the question.