BBC ignores us, say Tories

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WILLIAM HAGUE has complained to the BBC Director-General Sir John Birt that the Conservative party is being ignored by programme makers to such an extent that it is no longer being treated as the official Opposition.

The Tory leader protested in a recent meeting with Sir John that he is angry about what he perceives as bias. Michael Ancram, the Conservative party chairman, has also complained to senior executives about the BBC's "systematic" insistence on inviting Liberal Democrats or representatives of lobby groups - rather than Tories - on to news programmes.

Officials from Conservative Central Office now telephone programme makers almost every day to complain about bias or failure to include a Tory voice on programmes.

Ann Widdecombe, the shadow health secretary, had a furious row with the producers of the Today programme last week over their refusal to allow her to respond to the Government's waiting list figures.

Alan Duncan, a Conservative frontbencher and close ally of Mr Hague, raised the matter in a speech to the Fabian Society last week. "We are finding it very difficult to get the Conservative party point of view over because they won't let us on the air," he said. "That is a clear breach of their remit."

The row follows a shift in BBC strategy to include fewer politicians and more "experts" in current affairs programmes. Research found that viewers and listeners thought MPs were boring and untrustworthy and preferred to hear the views of outsiders. However, the Tories believe that they are the biggest victims of this change.

"It's not our contention that the BBC is populated entirely by members of the Labour party but we are systematically left out and this is constantly the subject of representations from the Conservative party," said one official.

A BBC spokesman denied any bias. "Whenever government policy is being discussed there is a role for those who are affected by it such as patients, nurses, and also the voices of opposition politicians - one does not preclude the other."