Opinion: BBC's Iraq fixation sets collision course

The BBC has had a terrible election. After the record low turnout last time, the Beeb took the blame and spent a fortune changing its political coverage. But what it has completely failed to realise is that the great unwashed have a very different view of the world from its management.

While the BBC has been banging on about the war in Iraq, the tabloid newspapers, much more in tune with the mass of the electorate, has been more interested in Posh and Becks. In fact both The Sun and Daily Mirror had ten times more coverage of the 'unofficial royal family' than the Iraq issue, while earlier in the campaign it was Wayne Rooney and Coleen who dominated the headlines.

Now I know these aren't election issues, but when just three per cent of the population declare Iraq is an election issue, who has really got it right?

Last week I was chatting to a Sunday tabloid editor who laughed at me when I suggested he might lead with an election story. He knew that sales would plummet if he did. The quality press have, as usual, given the election anoraks a very happy time, with their often excellent and extensive coverage.

Many of their readers do care about the war and it is from them that the BBC has taken its lead. Nowhere was this more clearly illustrated than when the BBC enthusiastically followed The Sunday Times' story of a leak on Blair's early intention to go to war. But didn't we all know this already?

To say that the Labour high command is annoyed with the state broadcaster is the understatement of the century. I spoke to one senior cabinet minister last week and even I was shocked at the language he used to attack the BBC.

And they aren't much happier over at Tory HQ. Michael Howard was seething with John Humphries after his set-piece interview on Monday's Today programme, when the Conservative Party leader rightly complained that hardly any issues the voters care about were covered. Jeremy Paxman too has riled party leaders with his arrogant and aggressive style, studio audiences taking their queue from his, shouting and hissing at the Prime Minister.

'Good telly,' the producers will say, but like millions of other voters, I just turned off.

The media pages of both The Guardian and The Independent took a look at the Today programme last week. How pleased the Beeb must be with all that positive publicity. 'Don't the chattering classes just love us,' the editor must be thinking. But I think the BBC are in for a right royal battle with Labour. And it will make the recent run-in with Alastair Campbell look like a vicar's tea party.

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