The Budget was not the only subject which gripped my attention at Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons today.
There was the contentious issue of Freedom of Speech, which none of the parties appear to have a consensus on given that the Tories put the boot into Gary Lineker over the weekend.
And I myself have been shunted out of the council chamber in Dumbarton by the SNP administration on West Dunbartonshire Council.
My “crime” was to have asked the then SNP Provost, who chaired the Council, if he could ask the flunkeys present to turn up  the sound in order that the press and public could hear what was being done in their name in the so-called council chamber.
As you know, the administration has changed at the Council since Labour came out top in the local government election last May.
To my absolute astonishment and disbelief the Labour group have refused my request for access to the chamber and my right to ask questions of their press officers.
Or even to take a seat during meetings with other journalists at the press bench – if only they had one.
It seems that like the Tories who run the BBC, they want to have control of what I write and where I gather the news I print in The Dumbarton Democrat.
Now I’m no Gary Lineker. In football terms, I was never good enough to lace that man’s boots.
But as a journalist I have a trophy cabinet of my own which I have built up over my nearly 60 years in newspapers and other media.
And I have scored a hat-trick of wins in the Scottish Press Awards.
So, when the Labour Group at West Dunbartonshire Council showed me the red card, I was dismayed.
I never expected them to be as small-minded as the basket case SNP in Dumbarton or the Tories at Westminster, but they have been.
So far as Labour in West Dunbartonshire is concerned it seems I can rot in the sin bin since there is little prospect of me getting back on the park.
I have wondered often what the likes of Jackie Baillie MSP and Sir Keir Starmer, Leader of the Labour Opposition, would do if they knew about my situation.
The truth is that I am not guilty of having interrupted a council meeting. I asked for the sound to be turned up during a comfort break.
But I did tell a press officer to ‘bugger off’ when she took my arm and attempted with about six other suits and skirts to escort me out the door.
So, here’s what Sir Keir had to ask Prime Minister Rishi Sunak about Freedom of Speech during questions at Westminster on Wednesday.
Sir Keir Starmer (Holborn and St Pancras) (Lab): “Last summer, the Prime Minister claimed that he wanted to protect free speech and put a stop to no-platforming, so how concerned was he by last week’s campaign by Tory MPs to cancel a broadcaster?”
The Prime Minister replied: “As I said at the time, the issues between Gary Lineker and the BBC were for them to resolve. I am very glad they did so and that we can look forward to watching “Match of the Day” on our screens again.”
Sir Keir Starmer, pointing at the Tory benches, replied: “The sight of them howling with rage over a tweet and signing green-ink letters in their dozens, desperately trying to cancel a football highlights show, should have been laughable.
“Instead, it led to a farcical weekend, with the national broadcaster being accused of dancing to the Government’s tune by its own employees. Rather than blame everyone else, why doesn’t the Prime Minister take some responsibility and stand up to his snowflake MPs who are waging war on free speech?”
The Prime Minister told him not to be silly: “It is just the usual political opportunism from the leader of the Labour party. I do not know if he noticed, but first the shadow Attorney General and then the shadow Home Secretary actually criticised the language used in the tweet. But what a surprise: he saw the chance to jump on a political bandwagon and changed his mind. [Hon. Members: “More!”]”

Sir Keir added: “Conservative Members are calling for more from a Prime Minister who does not understand that we can disagree with what someone says while still defending their right to say it.

“If he does not understand that, we have a real problem. Does he accept that people’s concerns about the BBC have been made worse because the Government chose to put a Tory donor with no broadcasting experience in charge of the BBC?

The Prime Minister replied: “As he well knows, the BBC chairman was appointed before I became Prime Minister. [Interruption, loud shouting from all sides of the chamber.]

“There was a rigorous, independent and long-established process. The appointment was supported by expert panel members, as well as by the cross-party Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee. That process is being independently reviewed by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments, and we should allow the review to conclude.”

Sir Keir said: “The problem is that the chair of the BBC is not just any old Tory donor. He is so close to the Prime Minister—[Interruption.]”

Then it got dirty. Sir Keir said: “The chair of the BBC is no ordinary Tory donor. He is so close to the Prime Minister that he has been described as the Prime Minister’s mentor. He helped to arrange an £800,000 credit line for the former Prime Minister—a minor detail he forgot to tell the Select Committee that scrutinised his appointment. Does the Prime Minister think his friend’s position is still tenable?”

The Prime Minister and the Speaker were unhappy with Sir Keir’s persistence. Mr Sunak told him: “As I just said, the independent Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments is reviewing what was a rigorous, independent process to appoint the chairman.
“Instead of prejudging and pre-empting that review, we should let it conclude and wait for the outcome. That is the right way to do things, and that is what the Government will do.”
Sir Keir insisted [and for this he might have been sent out to the Commons tearoom] that this was no minor matter.
“When people with links to the Tory party somehow find themselves in senior positions at the BBC, it is important that their impartiality is seen to be beyond reproach, so has the Prime Minister received assurances that no one with links to the Tory party was lobbied by Tory MPs or involved in the decision that saw “Match of the Day” effectively cancelled?”
The Prime Minister replied: “As I said, these are matters for the BBC to resolve, and it is right that the BBC, as an important institution, takes its obligations on impartiality seriously. I care about the integrity and impartiality of our institutions—the BBC, but also the civil service—and it is right that those processes carry on properly.
“What I would say is that there is an independent review, and it is right that the process concludes and that he, I hope, respects the process.”
Sir Keir refused to back off: “The Prime Minister comes here today with these mealy-mouthed platitudes, pretending that the actions of his party are nothing to do with him, but the whole country saw how he kept quiet and hid behind the playground bullies while they tried to drive someone out simply for disagreeing with them.
“An impartial public broadcaster, free of Government interference, is a crucial pillar in our country, but is that not put at risk by the cancel culture addicts on his Benches, a BBC leadership that caves into their demands and a Prime Minister too weak to do anything about them?”
They were nearing the final whistle on this one. The Prime Minister summed up: “We are not going to take any lectures on cancel culture from the Labour party. We know what this is about, although the right hon. and learned Gentleman has avoided it in six questions: the substance of the issue that lay behind the tweet.
“What has he done in the past week? The only thing he and his party have done is voted against our Bill to stop the boats—siding with people smugglers over the British people. That is the substance of what has happened. Instead, what have we done? We have concluded a new migration deal with France; we have managed to sign a new defence partnership with our allies, the United States and Australia; we have protected British start-ups; and we have boosted defence spending. That is what delivering for Britain looks like. [Interruption.]”
We were now in injury time. The Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle told the rabble rousing MPs: “Order. I just say that this is the biggest day in the House—[Interruption again.] Do you want to carry on cheering? As I have mentioned, there is plenty of room in the Tea Room for those on both sides.”
No one was sent out or sanctioned, but then Sir Lindsay is a true democrat, not a trumped up one like his party colleagues on West Dunbartonshire Council.

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