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March 15, 2006

BBC4's Tory! Tory! Tory! - Harry Phibbs finds the series as biased as he feared

Posted by Harry Phibbs

Tory! Tory! Tory!
BBC4, Wednesdays, 8th, 15th, 22nd March 2006

Well, it was pretty much as biased as I thought it would be. This series is worth watching and some interesting and persuasive right wing arguments do filter through to the airwaves. But the difference in treatment for this series of three programmes, compared to the three programmes that constituted Lefties is pretty blatant. This series is full of left wing commentators attacking the various Thatcherite endeavours which are chronicled. In the Lefties series there was not a single conservative commentator included. It was very much by Lefties for Lefties. There is not the equivalent treatment here.

In my earlier review of Lefties I speculated of a right wing equivalent:

Imagine their film sympathetically reliving the heroic strike breaking of the Freedom Association members managing to smuggle out the post from the film processing company Grunwicks after the Post Office unions blacked the mail in the 1970s.
Funnily enough, episode two does devote quite a bit of time to this initiative. But rather than allowing those involved to tell their story we have interviews with Lady Williams, then cabinet minister Shirley Williams, and the trade union leader Jack Dromey attacking Grunwicks. Shirley Williams repeats 30-year-old myths about Victorian working practices with workers having to hold up their hand before going to the lavatory.

Jack Dromey declares of his puzzlement at the refusal of the management to give in:

They were being encouraged to be obdurate.
Dromey denounces John Gouriet of the Freedom Association declaring:
The man is paranoid.
In case we still weren't anaesthetized against right wing interviewees, weirdo sci fi music is played to accompany them to get across the idea that they are mad. A strong message is that the toffs are motivated by defence of their class interests. No workers sacked over the closed shop are interviewed in the series. Or workers, such as those at Grunwicks, who kept on working despite the intimidatory mobs on the picket lines. There is no suggestion in the series that trade unionists themselves might think the unions had too much power.

Thatcher's awkward habit of winning General Elections has to be explained away. The Winter of Discontent which preceded the 1979 election is described as:

Badly paid ordinary trade union members who were fed up and who were now defying their leaders and demanding a better deal.
But it is acknowledged to have made some difference to the election result. The commentary suggested that the Tories would never have been elected in 1979 if the electorate had realised Thatcher would go as far as she did - but then why did she get back in with landslide in 1983? Purely the Falklands:
What secured the revolution was war.
sent thousands of businesses to the wall.
No mention of the thousands more that started and expanded.

Other techniques used to get across to the viewer the message that Thatcher was a bad person were Spitting Image clips and the use of an actress reading out a letter from Thatcher with an exaggerated sarcastic use of her voice.

The series is not all bad. I am focusing on bias because of the compare and contrast opportunity provided by the two parallel series. But the left wing bias is of the routine extent automatically produced by the BBC.

There is some delightful archive footage. I was most impressed by a video clip of a film in praise of monetarism with the actor Gordon Jackson:

let's make money real again. If you want more money you have to earn it.
The first episode, the most balanced of the series, includes a public information film to holiday makers about exchange control:
Remember, you can take out five pounds in notes but not more than five pounds.
Unlike the rest of the series it did not dismiss all Thatcherites as toffs, giving attention to the influence of Hayek and the founding of the Institute of Economic Affairs. As Lord Harris of High Cross noted, it was better to have himself and fellow IEA founder Arthur Seldon as:
working class lads [being the ones] attacking the trade unions and welfare state.
Seldon had grown up in abject poverty in the East End but had never been attracted to socialism. His widow Marjorie Seldon declared:
We believed in Classical Liberalism where people weren't telling each other what to do.
In the early 1960s Ted Heath was an ally of the IEA, persuaded by them to push through the abolition of resale price maintenance - under which rules the government had decided the price of a chocolate biscuit. As Prime Minister, Heath abandoned free market policies with dire results. Lord Rees-Mogg, then editor of The Times was among those who felt Heath had made a mistake. Rees-Mogg said:
I changed my mind because the neo-Keynesian policies being pursued by the Heath Government were a failure.
The final episode concerns the Thatcher Government itself. Thatcher declares in a Party Conference speech:
Popular capitalism is nothing less than a crusade to enfranchise the many in the economic life of the nation. We Conservatives are returning power to the people.
During her time as Prime Minister the number of people in this country owning shares rose from 7% to 25%.

Of course the Left didn't like it. Economist Patrick Minford living in riot torn Liverpool went ex-directory after he got phone calls in the night saying:

You're a gonna.
On the strength of this film, the Left still can't forgive.

Harry Phibbs is a journalist.

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This review is full of the kind of turgid reactionary blether only to be expected from Phibbs. Both programmes were full of criticism of their relevant subjects but more importantly they tried to reverse perceived dogma. So Lefties weren't quite as looney as the Sun and Express made out nor were Tories saviours of the country.

The dismissal of comments are without foundation. Yes share ownership increased by selling off those assets that belonged to the nation, most of which went not to the man in the street but to financial institutions at knock down prices.

War won the second election, course it did. That and the massive wave of anti-Labour spin in the national press.

Businesses to the wall? Yes there were thousand of businesses created but they hardly replaced the jobs and livelihoods destroyed en mass. The communities destroyed by Tory interventionism are still suffering today, hopeless wastelands filled with violence and drugs where a once proud people celebrated in their skills and industry.

So yes Thatcherism made the nation proud again but left a legacy of misery and horror that today's tories attempt to pin on the current administration.

Posted by: Border Reiver at March 15, 2006 10:39 AM

"Tory! Tory! Tory! - Harry Phibbs finds the series as biased as he feared". No surprise there, then.

Unlike Harry Phibbs I was around at the time and was one of those who went into Grunwick at dead of night and hauled out the mailbags. That may not qualify me as an expert on what constitutes biased programming, but to my mind the programme told it like it was - Jack Dromey, Shirley Williams, John Gouriet and all. I am not sure how you could convey the flavour of the time without giving airtime to the likes of Jack Dromey - who clearly has not changed his opinions one iota.

Gouriet came over on the programme exactly as I remember him. And you could hardly ask for anyone better to tell the story first hand than Teresa Gorman, who was given a generous share of the airtime. (Strangely, Harry does not mention her at all in his review - instead he claims that those involved were not allowed to tell their story.)

As far as I'm aware it's the first programme even to attempt to tell the story. I'd say it was a pretty reasonable effort.

Posted by: graham at March 16, 2006 10:05 AM

Yes, Graham. It's Graham Smith isn't it? I know you were very much involved and pay tribute to you for it.
I should have said:

rather than JUST allowing those involved to tell their story....
My point is simply that while in this programme Gorman and Gouriet were countered by Williams and Dromey, in the Lefties series the views went unchallenged.

It doesn't mean I wasn't pleased and interested to see the programme.
Dromey's been rather in the news hasn't he? Curious that the leader of a mob of vilent mass pickets ends up as the husband of the (one-time) Solicitor General.

Posted by: Harry Phibbs at March 16, 2006 09:29 PM

The Harry/Graham discussion catches the thing pretty well.

But I would just add that it seems to me that we on the right can be pretty pleased with the BBC 4 Lefties and Tory! Tory! Tory! series.

Lefties was a story of failure and Tory!X3 was a story of success.

But the right has an unpleasant propensity to feel whipped - the left doesn't realise that this is so, of course.

Odd that both sides of the argument feel they have lost!

Frankly, I think most interesting young broadcasters know that the right's is the story which demands now be told, and which is interesting.

We've got to expect the media to hold their noses a little whilst they explore these propositions.

Posted by: Richard d North at March 24, 2006 06:39 PM
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