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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

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.
Lenny Henry said: ¿I have been talking about global poverty since Comic Relief began [in 1988, when it focused on famine in Africa] but if you told me back then I would be here today asking you to reach into your pockets so we could help feed children in the UK, I wouldn¿t have believed you.¿ But Tory MP Nigel Evans said: ¿He paints a picture that I simply do not see¿
Lenny Henry said: ‘I have been talking about global poverty since Comic Relief began [in 1988, when it focused on famine in Africa] but if you told me back then I would be here today asking you to reach into your pockets so we could help feed children in the UK, I wouldn’t have believed you.’ But Tory MP Nigel Evans said: ‘He paints a picture that I simply do not see’
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.
Ed Sheeran spoke about homeless people dying on the street but was branded a hypocrite by viewers who pointed out he won permission to install railings ¿to deter rough sleeping¿ outside his £8 million London home
Ed Sheeran spoke about homeless people dying on the street but was branded a hypocrite by viewers who pointed out he won permission to install railings ‘to deter rough sleeping’ outside his £8 million London home
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’.
Olivia Colman urged support for a charity that reunites children from refugee camps with their families in Britain, using images like the one on the right in her appeal. But the wider campaign to bring child refugees to Britain took a blow last year when it was found that nearly two-thirds of those challenged about their age were found to be adults
Olivia Colman urged support for a charity that reunites children from refugee camps with their families in Britain, using images like the one on the right in her appeal. But the wider campaign to bring child refugees to Britain took a blow last year when it was found that nearly two-thirds of those challenged about their age were found to be adults
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.’

Controversial investigators compiled BBC homeless stats

Comic Relief used research on the deaths of homeless people collated by an outfit of investigative journalists that has previously been rocked by controversy.
In 2012, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism helped BBC’s Newsnight with a report that resulted in Lord McAlpine, the former Tory party treasurer, being wrongly identified as a paedophile.
Iain Overton, the then editor, resigned over the blunder.
The bureau is investigating the number of people who die on Britain’s streets because no official body records the numbers. 
Sheeran cited its research that 332 rough sleepers have died on the streets in the last 12 months. Comic Relief used Instagram to thank the bureau for supplying the stories.

But Sir Lenny’s comments were well-received by those on the Left – with the only criticism that he didn’t go far enough. One Twitter user who describes herself as a ‘passionate Lefty’ said she wished ‘he would mention the reason why – The Tories’ cruel policies.’
Another Corbyn supporter wrote: ‘Lenny Henry you have done some amazing work... Please help further by putting pressure on the @conservatives to end child poverty, hunger and homelessness. You could help campaign for a @UKLabour govt?’
Later in the evening, Ed Sheeran presented a hard-hitting film about homeless people dying on Britain’s streets, reading out the names of nine of the 332 homeless people who it is claimed perished in the previous 12 months.
‘The money you give tonight can literally save a life,’ he said. ‘Let’s find them a home and not find them dead on the pavement outside Poundland, outside Debenhams, in a car park, under our feet and we can make this terrible list shorter not longer next year.’ But the 28-year-old suffered a backlash on social media from viewers who highlighted how he won planning permission last year to install gates and railings at his four-storey London home to deter rough sleepers. In the application, the singer’s representative, Paul Smith of Apex Planning Consultants, said that the ‘stone plinth and railings will help to deter rough sleeping’.
One viewer wrote on Twitter: ‘Ed Sheeran preaching about homelessness? Seriously? Didn’t he have bumpy bits put outside his house so homeless people couldn’t sleep there?’
Another criticised Mr Sheeran for failing to interview any homeless people in his appeal. A spokesman for Mr Sheeran last night declined to comment but sources said homelessness was an issue that meant a great deal to him.
New Government figures reveal that the number of rough sleepers in England fell by 74 to 4,677 in the 12 months to last autumn, although numbers are still up 2,909 since the start of the decade. The Government has pledged £100 million over two years to tackle rough sleeping.
Towards the end of the first half of the broadcast, Olivia Colman, who scooped best actress at last month’s Oscars, made an emotional appeal for donations for a charity called Safe Passage, which gives legal advice and help to child refugees attempting to enter the UK.
Her film used footage of Jewish children escaping Germany before the outbreak of the Second World War as part of the so-called ‘Kindertransport’.
The Mail on Sunday can reveal that the chief executive of Safe Passage, Bethany Gardiner-Smith, is the daughter of Barry Gardiner, Labour’s Shadow International Development Secretary.
Miss Gardiner-Smith, 31, has also worked as a political advisor to senior Labour MPs Yvette Cooper and Gloria Del Piero.
Safe Passage, which says it has helped more than 1,800 refugee children arrive in the UK, has been highly critical of Conservative immigration policy.
Comic Relief was founded in 1985 by Mr Henry and scriptwriter Richard Curtis in response to the devastating famine in Ethiopia. While it continues to raise millions for sub-Saharan Africa, it has also increasingly focused on projects in UK, with half of the money raised now spent in this country.
Appeal: Lenny Henry famously recorded a film in Ethiopia for the first Red Nose Day in 1988 (shown)
Appeal: Lenny Henry famously recorded a film in Ethiopia for the first Red Nose Day in 1988 (shown)
Despite the apparent criticism of Government policy during this year’s show, the Department for International Development made a £2million donation to Comic Relief this year.
The BBC last night announced that this year’s appeal has so far raised £63 million, compared with £71.3 million at the end of the previous event in 2017. The final total that year was £82.2 million, which was a major fall on the record £108 million raised in 2011.
This year’s appeal had previously attracted controversy after Labour MP David Lammy criticised Stacey Dooley as a ‘white saviour’ for posting a picture of herself on social media cradling a young child in Uganda while making a film about Comic Relief’s work there.
He argued the charity was perpetuating unhelpful stereotypes about Africa. Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, took to Twitter on Friday night to attack Mr Lammy, noting that he was ‘wisely keeping quiet’ during the telethon.
The BBC last night said: ‘Across the evening a number of films are broadcast which demonstrate the depth and range of the many projects and issues supported by Comic Relief both in the UK and abroad. Thanks to the generosity of the public, vital work such as that shown last night can continue making a positive difference to so many people’s lives.’ 
 

Charity run by daughter of Labour MP 

The daughter of a key Jeremy Corbyn ally runs a refugee charity supported by the BBC’s Comic Relief.
Oxford-educated Bethany Gardiner-Smith is CEO of Safe Passage, which helps reunite children from refugee camps with their families in Britain and elsewhere in Europe.
But The Mail on Sunday can reveal that the 31-year-old’s father is Barry Gardiner, Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade and a staunch cheerleader for Mr Corbyn.

Ms Gardiner-Smith campaigned for Labour in 2015 and worked as an adviser to MP Gloria De Piero as well as former Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper.
The day before the 2015 General Election, she published a Labour poster on her Facebook page that read: ‘Sick of this Tory Government? So are we.’
Last night, critics accused the BBC of straying into political territory by supporting the charity and warned that the public would stop donating if Comic Relief became politicised.

Tory MP Nigel Evans said: ‘This could actually damage the whole product which has been hugely successful over the decades.
‘They have to remember that lots of people support Comic Relief, and if there is even a sniff that this charity is becoming politicised then people will stop giving.
‘But the people who will pay the price for that won’t be the BBC or the superstars, it will be the people who need the help most.’

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