Thursday, January 05, 2006

The BBC were yesterday trumpeting a Radio 4 poll which produced some very odd results. The poll, organised by the Today programme's 'Who Runs Your World' season, apparently found that 22% of listeners believed Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, to be “the most powerful man in the UK”.

Considering that most people in the country don’t even know who Mr Barroso is, this is a curious result. But then, it was a pretty curious poll from start to finish. Setting aside the usual doubts about what exactly counts as 'power', listeners were asked to choose the most powerful “person” from a pre-selected shortlist of ten, which included a number of quite definitely non-person entities, including 'Parliament' and even 'Google'. (In no less than 300 words, discuss the merits of comparing the Prime Minister with an internet search engine…)

The results were even more odd: a supermarket chief executive scored more highly than the supposedly ‘dictatorial’ Tony Blair, who only made seventh place; while Gordon Brown, the ‘Iron Chancellor’, the holder of the strings of Britain’s biggest purse, managed to come joint last, tied with Shami Chakrabarti, who works for a political pressure group!

Something was clearly very wrong with the whole affair. According to the Yorkshire Post on January 3 (I couldn't find the online version of the article),
"the BBC did not say how many votes it received and there were signs that the number might have been quite small. Voters had to be keen enough to check into the Today programme website and were encouraged to make their own comments when they did. The last messages left before the final count were five days old and only one person wrote in to comment on the result yesterday."
The plot thickens.

Of course, the eurosceptics jumped on the bandwagon immediately. UKIP’s Roger Knapman crowed that Barroso is “a bureaucrat perceived as the most important man in this country and that is quite shocking”. (Wrong, as usual: Mr Barroso is no more a bureaucrat than Neil Kinnock and Chris Patten were. He’s a politician through and through, having previously been Prime Minister of Portugal! In his present post, he was proposed by the heads of 25 democratically elected governments and can remain in office only while he enjoys the confidence of the directly-elected European Parliament – just as our national ministers must enjoy the confidence of our House of Commons.)

Anyway, I was quite prepared to put this weird result down to a conflation of two euromyths in voters’ minds: the myth that the Commission makes laws (it can’t), and the myth that it is unelected (it isn’t). But then the final icing on the cake came in a report in today’s Guardian:
“The UK Independence Party admitted yesterday that it tried to rig the poll on the Today programme to find out who runs Britain. … UKIP and Dan Hannan, the fiercely eurosceptic Conservative MEP, both admitted to the Guardian that they had separately sent e-mails encouraging supporters to vote for Mr Barroso. … Mr Hannan said last night: ‘I had no idea UKIP were doing it. I was going to take sole credit for it.’”
So the mystery is solved, and another instance of UKIP’s media strategy lies exposed. All rather embarrassing for the BBC, of course, but sadly no surprise for those of us more accustomed to eurosceptic propaganda tactics. I won’t hold my breath for an apology from Mr Knapman, who, let’s not forget, claimed to find the results “quite shocking”.

But I’ll leave the last word to an indignant Ben Jones of the European Movement:
“Politics should be done through rational argument, not by manipulating the media.”