Cameron and Osborne condemn BBC's 'book of doom' description of budget statement as 'hyperbole'

David Cameron and George Osborne of questioned the impartiality of the BBC after "hyperbolic" coverage of the autumn statement.

The Chancellor condemned the corporation for its "unfair" portrayal of yesterday's announcements and Downing Street said the Prime Minster was also critical of the way it had been handled.

It followed a report on Radio 4's Today programme that claimed Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) assessments read "like a book of doom" and suggested the country was heading "back to the land of Road to Wigan Pier" – George Orwell's bleak 1930s account of poverty and division.

A clearly irritated Chancellor later attacked the coverage as "nonsense" in a tetchy interview with presenter John Humphrys.

"When I woke up this morning and turned on the Today programme, I felt like I was listening to a rewind of 2010 – you had BBC correspondents saying Britain is returning to a George Orwell world of the Road To Wigan Pier," he said.

"It is just such nonsense.

"I thought the BBC would have learnt over the past four years that its totally hyperbolic coverage of spending cuts has not been matched by what has actually happened."

He went on: "What I reject is the totally hyperbolic BBC coverage of spending reductions.

"I had all that when you were interviewing me four years ago and has the world fallen in?

"No, it hasn't.

"Government departments are going to have to make savings.

"On the welfare bill we are going to have to do things like freeze working-age benefits.

"I'm not pretending these are easy decisions or that they have no impact.

"But the alternative of a return to economic chaos, of not getting on top of your debts, of people looking at Britain across the world and thinking that is not a country in charge of its own destiny, is not a world that I want to deliver."

The programme had opened with a report from Norman Smith, the BBC's assistant political editor, who said the OBR's report was "utterly terrifying".

He said: "While there was a lot of enthusiasm on the Conservative benches and political joy at a lot of the popular measures … when you sit down and read the Office for Budget Responsibility report it reads, frankly, like a book of doom.

"It is utterly terrifying, it is suggesting that spending will have to be hacked back to the levels of the 1930s in terms of as a proportion of GDP.

"That is an extraordinary concept, you're back to the land of Road to Wigan Pier."

Downing Street said Cameron agreed the coverage was "hyperbolic".

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "He certainly does agree with the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

"Let me explain why.

"I think the Chancellor made an important point on this, which is I don't think that characterisations such as, I think if I heard it right, the Road To Wigan Pier or, I think I may also have heard, a reference to at least parts of the Autumn Statement are like being a book of doom, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor do think those are hyperbolic descriptions.

"I don't think that they help us have what is important here, which is a clear and sensible and measured debate about the decisions that both are being taken and need to be taken in the future.

"So, the Prime Minister very much shares the Chancellor's view."

He added: "Just as it is important to say, as the Chancellor did, that those types of references are hyperbolic descriptions and I'm not sure help the type of debate we need, it's also right to say that what the Prime Minister, Chancellor and others are focused on is their plan and explaining why their approach is the right one.

"So, that is what they are going to continue to do."

A BBC spokeswoman said: "We're satisfied our coverage and analysis has been fair and balanced and we gave the Chancellor plenty of opportunity to respond on the Today programme. The BBC takes its responsibility for impartial coverage very seriously. It is the duty of all journalists to ask politicians difficult questions. We will keep asking them. We'll undoubtedly get more criticism from across the political spectrum as the election gets closer, but we'll keep doing our job.”

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