Tories target Ann Ford for 'bias' at BBC

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The Independent Online
The BBC came under fire from the Conservatives yesterday when the Radio 4 Today programme was accused of bias by Brian Mawhinney, the Tory Party chairman.

Dr Mawhinney protested to John Birt, Director-General of the BBC, that an interview with the Chancellor by Anna Ford, one of the programme's co-presenter, had been partial.

Dr Mawhinney accused Ms Ford of having "repeatedly interrupted" the Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke. But, he said, James Naughtie, another presenter, treated the Labour leader Tony Blair "with kid gloves" in an interview a few minutes later.

Ms Ford opened with a question about the Government's so-called "demon eyes" attack on Labour, beginning a robust series of exchanges with the Chancellor. At the end, Ms Ford commented: "So you are not going to elevate the debate - thank you Mr Clarke."

A Tory spokeswoman, comparing Mr Clarke's encounter with Ms Ford with "gentle" questioning of Tony Blair by James Naughtie, said: "I think any independent observer just looking at the transcripts and comparing the two would be absolutely horrified."

The Chancellor can expect another rough ride today when pay review bodies for five million public sector workers will be told that the Government is enforcing a pay squeeze for the fourth year in succession.

Mr Clarke's letter to the pay review bodies covering nurses, doctors, teachers and civil servants is certain to cause an outcry in the wake of the MPs' decision to give themselves a pay rise of 26 per cent.

The nurses will table a demand next week for a "substantial" pay increase, without setting a figure, to enable them to catch up with comparable groups, including teachers.

The main public sector union, Unison, representing 1.5 million workers, rejected the Chancellor's pay freeze strategy. "Yet again the Government expects low-paid public staff to bear the brunt of the cuts to pay for tax cuts in a last attempt to bribe the electorate in November," said a spokeswoman.

The Chancellor will tell the review bodies that pay rises must be paid for with productivity, but he will give a clear signal that he expects the public sector to squeezed more tightly than before, with running costs facing a cut of 12 per cent over the next three years.