The British tradition of booing & the BBC’s Political Editor

In Uncategorized on June 2, 2016 by kmflett

The British tradition of booing & the BBC’s Political Editor



I’m not a huge fan of the current BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg. I wasn’t a huge fan of her predecessor Nick Robinson.

This is not because of gender or follicle issues but because they appear rather more to the right than sometimes seems appropriate for a BBC person.

But I’m not sure I’m required to ‘like’ political commentators anyway, even ones I agree with

I’m not one to call for Kuenssberg to be sacked. I defend the BBC as a public broadcaster even when it broadcasts things I don’t like or agree with.

The obsession of some of the left with media bias is understandable because Rupert Murdoch and The Sun to name the most obvious example are absolutely and shamelessly biased. But despite what Murdoch thinks the world does not revolve around what it says in his papers.

I take the view that in a democracy it is healthy that there is a range of views and seeing things not all of which I will like.

My issue with Kuenssberg is that she sometimes seems a little short on professionalism but that could change as she develops in a role she is still quite new in.

Jeremy Paxman for example outed himself as a liberal Tory and often pursued lines of questioning I didn’t like. Who could doubt though that he  was completely professional?

The furore over some hissing and booing of Kuenssberg when she asked a question at a  Jeremy Corbyn press conference suggests that the summer silly season of media hyperbole is coming early this year.

I often speak in public (mostly doing my job as a union officer) and I don’t mind adverse reactions. It means people are listening to you rather than looking at their smart phones.

Further more as outlined in an earlier piece hissing, booing and groaning are actually all part of a great British tradition of politics as theatre.

Booing has a long and complicated part in the history of protest.

Historically, certainly dating back to the time the crowd becomes an actor on the stage of history in the mid eighteenth century, booing has been a way of showing collective protest at the rich and powerful.

But it hasn’t been just booing.

What the American historical sociologist Charles Tilly called the ‘repertoire’ of the crowd went far beyond booing.  It extended to hissing, groaning,hooting and pelting with missiles, often  rotten vegetables or fruit but sometimes stones as well.

The London crowd in particular was well known from the start of the modern era for robust reactions to those it didn’t like. When John Wilkes, who went on to become Mayor of London, announced his intention to stand for Parliament at Middlesex in the late 1760s one of his opponents on appearing at a Brentford hustings found himself ‘jeered and hissed’

At the State opening of Parliament on 29th October 1795, EP Thompson notes in the Making of the English Working Class, the King was ‘hissed, hooted and his carriage pelted.. the King’s carriage window was fractured probably by a pebble’

Parson Woodforde recorded that George 111 was ‘hissed, hooted and groaned at by vast crowds’.

After the formation of the Metropolitan Police the authorities began to attempt to control unregulated street noises and two Acts of 1839 and 1841 aimed to ban all ‘uncommon noises’ from horn blowing to street cries.

The Acts were robustly enforced and their main provisions remain in force little amended today as anyone who has ever tried to organise or do anything on the street without telling the police will testify.

However the power of the crowd could overcome robust policing at any time.

In August 1842 the 3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards were mobilised from their barracks at Charing Cross to march to Euston Station and then by train to the north-west to be used against strikers involved in the 1842 General Strike, sometimes called the Plug Plot.

Large crowds of protesters gathered as the troops marched through central London and what the historian of London Chartism David Goodway describes as ‘murmurs of groans and hisses’ began. These grew so loud that the troops fixed bayonets in an attempt to silence the crowd. They failed.

In more recent times such crowd reactions have sometimes been stage managed- as at a pantomime and sometimes at sporting events, but the point about their use at a live event or on the street is that they are essentially spontaneous and unpredictable indicators of popular feeling.

It is not something that can be created from above or controlled it just happens. George Osborne was booed at the Olympic Stadium in 2012 while I’m afraid to say that Boris Johnson is often cheered.

There is no place for sexist and gender based criticism of Laura Kuenssberg, but I think she may survive the odd hiss or jeer, just as Jeremy Paxman thrived on his Spitting Image puppet




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