London (Parliament Politic Magazine) – In normal circumstances, even a single government by-election defeat would typically dominate political discussions in the media for several days, let alone two such defeats. Considering the substantial margin of the Conservative losses in Tamworth and Mid Bedfordshire, pundits could have engaged in extensive speculations about a potential Conservative leadership challenge that might have persisted until the start of the new year.
However, this past week’s Sunday political shows exhibited a distinctly different atmosphere. With the ongoing events in Israel and Gaza taking precedence, there appeared to be limited interest in discussing the Westminster by-elections. Nevertheless, the presenters and guests adhered to the obligatory formalities.
BBC Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg
When the prominent guests, namely Robert Jenrick, the immigration minister, and Lisa Nandy, the shadow international development minister, broached the subject of the Middle East, they did so with extreme caution, intentionally steering clear of partisan politics in their discourse.
During her interview on BBC1’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg (with Victoria Derbyshire as the stand-in host), Nandy expressed her reluctance to sit in a studio in Salford and make sweeping declarations about a situation as intricate and rapidly evolving as the one at hand.
Simultaneously, it was imperative to raise questions. This, in turn, resulted in intense and contentious exchanges, especially during the broadcast on BBC1. To address a more local concern, the focus wasn’t on the floods – those had already been discussed on BBC Scotland’s The Sunday Show. Instead, the spotlight was on the by-elections. Jenrick provided the customary explanation that governments typically struggle in midterm by-elections.
When questioned by Derbyshire about whether he was in denial regarding the losses, the minister responded by emphasizing the importance of the party listening to the messages conveyed by voters in by-elections while also advising against over interpreting their significance. He went on to state, “My sense is that the public remains undecided. They’re certainly not fully convinced by Keir Starmer.
Conservative Supporters Seeking Compelling Reason
Conservative supporters are seeking a compelling reason to turn out and vote for us.” The fact that the Member of Parliament for Newark was asked about concerns regarding his own seat, where he held a majority of “only” 21,816, reflected the unique nature of the current political climate.
Derbyshire’s interviews with Palestinian politician Hanan Ashrawi and Naftali Bennett, the former prime minister of Israel, highlighted the challenges broadcasters face in presenting this story in a way that is perceived as fair by different sides.
Dr. Ashrawi expressed concerns that not enough attention was being given to Palestinian suffering, while Mr. Bennett made similar claims about Israel’s situation. He accused the BBC of “lacking moral clarity” in its reporting.
The BBC has faced pressure from Conservative MPs and sections of the press for previously referring to Hamas as “militants” rather than “terrorists.” In response to this criticism, BBC presenters have recently altered their phrasing to describe Hamas as “a proscribed terrorist organization by the UK Government and others.” The BBC faced criticism when one of its reporters engaged in speculation about the party responsible for the bombing of a hospital in Gaza City.
Tim Davie Addresses in House of Commons
These issues are expected to be brought up when the BBC’s director general, Tim Davie, addresses the 1922 committee of Conservative backbenchers in the House of Commons on Wednesday. The invitation for this meeting had been extended during the summer. He reveals:
At times of crisis, the BBC always gets attacked by both sides, always. Go back to the Falklands. I seem to remember Mrs Thatcher attacked the BBC for not saying… ‘our boys’ as opposed to British troops. I think (the message) for the BBC (is)… ‘Don’t lose your nerve, keep trying.”
He emphasized that there is no doubt that mistakes will occur due to the rapid pace at which the story was unfolding. Editors needed to maintain a high level of vigilance, constantly assessing whether any errors had been made and whether they could be promptly rectified.
This Wednesday, aside from Mr. Davies’ meeting with the 1922 committee, there’s another significant event on the calendar. October 25 marks one year since Rishi Sunak assumed office as Prime Minister. Much like the by-election defeats, this is a topic that the media might be expected to scrutinize in detail. Given that it’s a Wednesday, it’s also highly likely to be addressed during Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs).