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Comic Relief was ‘TV ad for Corbyn’: BBC is accused of breaching neutrality by ‘peddling socialist nonsense’ on Red Nose Day and making ‘absurd’ claims about poverty in Britain
The BBC was tonight accused of allowing its Comic Relief TV appeal to become ‘an advert for Jeremy Corbyn’.
Tory MPs reacted with fury at this year’s Red Nose Day broadcast, lambasting BBC bosses for peddling ‘socialist nonsense’ and making ‘absurd’ claims about the scale of poverty in Britain. During the six-hour broadcast on Friday night, celebrities painted a bleak picture of hunger, deprivation and homelessness in the UK, which MPs say amounted to a political attack on Theresa May’s Government.
Under its Royal Charter, the BBC has a strict obligation to remain politically neutral, but in a series of controversies that rocked its flagship charity appeal:
• Comedian Lenny Henry was heavily criticised for likening hunger in the UK with the malnutrition endured by millions in the developing world in the late 1980s;
• Chart-topping superstar Ed Sheeran was accused of hypocrisy after making a heartfelt plea about the plight of homeless people – after he sought to install railings to stop people sleeping rough outside his £8 million London home;
• Oscar-winning actress Olivia Colman urged viewers to support a refugee charity which has made repeated attacks on the Government and is run by the daughter of a key ally of Jeremy Corbyn;
• Donations to the appeal fell, with £8 million less raised this year than during the previous event in 2017;
• Viewing figures were also down, with 600,000 fewer people watching the show this year.
Just minutes into this year’s BBC1 broadcast, Mr Henry made an appeal for FareShare, a charity which collects food which would otherwise be thrown away and hands it out to food banks and women’s refuges. Sir Lenny, who famously recorded a film in Ethiopia for the first Red Nose Day in 1988, warned that ‘real hunger’ is ‘hitting a huge number of people in this country’. He added: ‘I have been talking about global poverty since Comic Relief began but if you told me back then that I would be here today asking you to reach into your pockets so we could help feed children in the UK, one of the richest countries in the world, I wouldn’t have believed you. But that is where we are and that is exactly what I am doing.’
His comments were last night branded ‘complete rubbish’ and ‘socialist nonsense’ by Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory Work and Pensions Secretary. ‘That statement is frankly, simply not true,’ he said. ‘That is an absurd exaggeration and clearly should not be used in Comic Relief advertisements.’
FareShare claims that one in eight people ‘go hungry in the UK’, equivalent to more than 8.25 million people. But according to the latest figures from the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation, 2.2 million people in the UK – around 3.4 per cent – are ‘severely food insecure’, which means they are ‘experiencing hunger’.
Tory MP Nigel Evans said Sir Lenny’s film ‘paints a horrific picture’ of Britain, adding: ‘This is an advert for Jeremy Corbyn and his brand of politics that will alienate a lot of people. This is a Party Political Broadcast and that is incredibly dangerous. I know they want to raise funds but distorting the picture in order to do so is not clever and it runs the risk of dragging the BBC and the charity into politics, which is somewhere they really do not want to go.’