Met Office: smokescreen, confusion or conspiracy?

This whole story is becoming a tangled mess.  But it is important to stick with it because that could be exactly what the protagonists want, in the hope that people give up, turn off and let them quietly move on without any consequences for their actions…

John O’Sullivan, writing in the Canada Free Press, reports that the BBC has served a Freedom of Information request on the government concerning the Met Office’s private forecast to the Cabinet Office.  Plenty of other people have already served similar requests so this news initially resulted in a mere shrug of the shoulders.

Until that is, reading on into paragraph three forced me to do a double take.  For it is there we see what, if I am correct, is a completely new and unreported allegation connected to the story:

Last week the weather service caused a sensation by making the startling claim that it was gagged by government ministers from issuing a cold winter forecast. Instead, a milder than average prediction was made that has been resoundingly ridiculed in one of the worst winters in a century.

The emphasis in the quote is mine. I stand to be corrected, and I invite readers to share with me any reports that bear out this claim, but this is the first time I have seen any suggestion that the Met Office was gagged by the government from issuing a forecast projecting a cold winter. Until this article the Met Office has said on more than one occasion that it gives seasonal forecasts to the government that it no longer makes public because people supposedly told the Met Office they did not find seasonal forecasts useful.  But I can find nothing that suggests the government ordered the Met Office to withhold the forecast from the public.This represents a complete departure from the narrative to something altogether more serious.

The consequences of the gagging allegation would be extremely serious.  Either John O’Sullivan has accidentally misreported the facts in his article, in which case he can retract and correct it – or he has been briefed with a previously unreported version of events.  If it the result of a briefing, then the only possible explanation for it is a concerted effort to put up a smokescreen, sow confusion or shift scrutiny from the Met Office on to the government for the conflicting forecasts, that were put in the public domain and given to the government respectively. If that is the case it would mean there is a conspiracy afoot.

What sparks particular interest about this story is the continued intimate involvement of the BBC’s Roger Harrabin.  Far from reporting the story impartially, there is more than a suggestion that Harrabin is actively engaged in formulating it in conjunction with the Met Office.  It was Harrabin who in the Radio Times (subsequently reported by the Telegraph and Daily Mail) broke the story that a cold winter forecast had been submitted to the Cabinet Office – but interesting there was no story on the BBC’s own website about it at the time.  Harrabin effectively became a spokesman for the Met Office with that piece and notably, as highlighted on this blog, his use of language was clearly an attempt to influence the story and portray the Met Office as an unfairly maligned party.

Returning to the Canada Free Press piece, John O’Sullivan explains he contacted Harrabin to:

ascertain if the Beeb had a better handle on the story

Because of the Harrabin connection to the original story and this new piece, what needs to be clarified is whether O’Sullivan believed that the government had gagged the Met Office from his own understanding, or if this element of the story was shared with him by Harrabin as background.  O’Sullivan shares Harrabin’s reply to his question about the BBC having a better handle on the story thus:

Harrabin advised me, “I phoned the Met Office about this statement and the Met Office press office told me they’d given information to the Cabinet Office that we were facing an early cold winter.”

Mention of the ‘secret’ cold winter forecast appears in the Quarmby Report (Section 2.4) which states, “The Met Office gave ‘early indications of the onset of a cold spell from late November’ at the end of October.”

Giving a strong hint that a major rift appears to have opened up between Met Office chief executive, John Hirst and Climate Minister, Huhne, Harrabin further revealed, “The Beeb now has an FoI [freedom of information request] to Cabinet Office requesting verbatim info from [the] Met Office.”

We need to understand which statement Harrabin is referring to, the original or this previously unheralded accusation of being gagged by government ministers.  What we do know is that the Met Office version of events reported in both the Telegraph and the Daily Mail articles which originated from Harrabin, made no mention at all of any government gag of the department in respect of the winter forecast. Indeed, they suggest the Met Office chose to withhold them fearing ridicule of the forecast was wrong.

So we are no clearer about just where has this story of the government gagging the Met Office has come from.  If O’Sullivan learned about this new episode he reports as a result of communication with someone then he needs to say where it came from.

There are some other less pressing but nonetheless unanswered questions that need to be examined.

The first one concerns the Freedom of Information request the BBC has submitted.  As the Met Office had told Harrabin their story of an early winter forecast delivered to the Cabinet Office, why do they not simply cut to the chase and give Harrabin a copy of the communication they sent?  Is it likely such information – a weather forecast – would be restricted?  Is there a deliberate attempt here to play the ‘no smoke without fire’ game and cause confusion while focusing attention on the government?

There also remains the unanswered question about why the Met Office publishes its temperature probability maps, but then renders them of absolutely no tangible use whatsoever because they all carry a disclaimer that they are not forecasts. What is the purpose of these maps and why are they not forecasts?  No adequate answer has been provided.

Returning finally to the O’Sullivan piece, readers are told that:

In what may well be an orchestrated manoeuvre between the Met Office and Mark Thompson, Director-General of the BBC the freedom of information demand will heap huge embarrassment on David Cameron’s gaffe-prone coalition government.

At this time the only orchestrated manoeuvre seems to be is between the Met Office and certain journalists who are bought in to the climate change alarmism promoted by the Met Office, namely Roger Harrabin and Steve Connor of the Independent. The rationale for this is that the Met Office is wholly compromised.  Just yesterday, as made clear in the update on this post, their blog was used to maintain their stance on global warming while contradicting statements from their own climate scientist Peter Stott.

** It seems incredible that all of this stems from an organisation’s desire to stick doggedly to their belief in the concept of man made climate change and refusal to deviate from their predictions of subsequent warmer, wetter winters. With those not materialising they are twisting themselves into unbelievable contortions and now seemingly enlisting the support of prominent journalists to help them save face and their substantial funding. With that still not having the desired effect we see the stakes being raised with the possible briefing of allegations of gagging by Ministers and dark hints of malfeasance in public office.  This is not environmental concern, it is politics.

28 Responses to “Met Office: smokescreen, confusion or conspiracy?”

  1. 1 Hugh Bicheno 11/01/2011 at 6:51 pm

    Mate, do you really think the Met and Harrabin are that clever? Beware conspiracy theories – they involve suspending belief in the basic stupidity of mankind!

  2. 2 TheRagingTory 11/01/2011 at 6:59 pm

    This was always the story.

    Either The Government was forewarned of the cold snap, and did nothing, or the MET Office was telling porkies trying to cover its own arse.

    That the BBC has kicked it into the foreground would seem to indicate the government knew, otherwise why would the warmists make such an explosive accusation

  3. 3 Paul 11/01/2011 at 7:17 pm

    Perhaps this is one way of doing more damage to the coalition by way of discrediting them which isn’t such a bad thing.
    As an aside take a look at Deller’s latest piece in the telegraph. How the Aussies managed to be so stupid and in essence manage to destroy their homes given this evidence is beyond me. Take a look…..

  4. 4 Autonomous Mind 11/01/2011 at 7:21 pm

    Yes Hugh, I really do think they are that cunning.

  5. 5 Autonomous Mind 11/01/2011 at 7:23 pm

    Raging Tory, I think you’re missing the key point here. It was not always the story. We now have a new allegation that the ministers gagged the Met Office to prevent them releasing the cold winter forecast.

    The Met Office’s own comments contradict this. But Harrabin is popping up all over this story and there is a smell about it. No one disputes the government knew, but did they then gag the Met Office as O’Sullivan claims?

  6. 6 Barry 11/01/2011 at 7:30 pm

    Something I find increasingly peculiar – the Met Office keep insisting they forecast a cold *start* to winter. And they did sort of. Press releases were put up on their website in mid to late November* suggesting wintry conditions and up to 5cm accumulations of snow in places and 10cm on higher ground. Not exactly cause for alarm.

    It turned out to be much worse, more widespread and long lasting.

    If the Met believed it would have a cold start but still produce an above average winter for Dec, Jan and Feb combined they should have just told the press that they were confident in the (non)prediction they pretended they didn’t make. When they were in a hole they picked up a shovel and dug themselves in further. Perhaps the PR office view it as a foxhole against scepticism.

    So what happened?

    The Met Office above average forecast isn’t correct? AFAIK they haven’t suggested that chart is wrong. What they have done is play a game of semantics over whether or not it was a forecast. It was a forecast and they didn’t publicise it because they didn’t want to be seen to be wrong, again.

    Then we have whether the Met Office told the Cabinet one thing and the public another. My gut feeling is that the Met Office said just enough publicly (as evidenced by the press releases linked to above) to get away with it. But the Met Office aren’t pointing to those late-in-the-day gentle warnings they are saying they did forecast what hit us and provided it to the Cabinet. So why not provide it to the public?

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the Met Office told the Cabinet something that covered all eventualities, with extensive extreme cold weather merely being one of them. If they do stand by that forecast and it is as accurate as they claim (seemingly being a *weather* forecast at least a month in advance) then they should publish it.(and be damned!)

    Surely they can’t have conflated weather with climate when it suits their purpose so often that they can no longer approach weather forecasting with a clear head.

    * You’ll note from that link that the timeline provided by the Quarmby report has the secret seasonal/weather forecast being passed on to the Cabinet at the same time as the Met Office issued a press release saying they no longer do seasonal forecasts. Might the Met Office have jumped the gun a little or be trying to fob us off by using a 30-day forecast of a cold end to November (which turned out to be an underestimation anyway) as cover for the very public discovery that they still do seasonal forecasts and it still says ‘warm’.

  7. 7 RobertH 11/01/2011 at 8:02 pm

    It seems to me that O’Sullivan’s phrase “gagged the Met Office” is a plain speaking expression of the original story. As they have the same warmist agenda then a conspiratorial request to remain silent would be as effective as the more forceful suggestion of gagging. Someone who believes in windmills is clearly stupid enough to preside over this cock up. The antipathy of the BBC to the Conservatives is the conflicting motive in this delicious farce.

  8. 8 Will 11/01/2011 at 10:58 pm

    So FOI the Met office for the gag order!

  9. 9 Jonathan Stuart-Brown 11/01/2011 at 11:01 pm

    BBC presenters in News bulletins should be made to have a public register of outside financial interests and payments e.g. all fees for quangos, interest groups, charities, businesses, after dinner speaking venues, conference speeches, directorships etc
    It would be very revealing AND as they are paid from the public purse to present impartial unbiased factual news, it is necessary.
    In global warming the BBC are clearly biased to a hysterical degree.
    The Pension fund being so heavily invested in Carbon trading is a big issue affecting unbiased coverage.
    When The BBC Chairman was also Chair of Pinewood Shepperton plc involved in a controversial greenbelt housing scheme, with BBC news just doing PR in news bulletins for Pinewood you have to wonder how far this malaise goes.

  10. 10 Paul 12/01/2011 at 12:33 am

    Reading this sentence “A communications plan in February 2010 instructed staff that “interested customers” should be told the three-month outlook will be available on the research pages of the website but that “this message should not be used with our mainstream audiences”. it occured to me that it would be interesting to know who these “interested customers” really are. Even obtaining the forecast given by the met office to any one of them might be enlightening.

    This short piece is from the BBC open secrets blog.

  11. 11 Edward. 12/01/2011 at 2:59 am


    I seems all too obvious to me (and to all other readers of this blog) that, the Met office are clutching at straws and very petulantly attempting to blame anyone and point the finger at the hand that feeds.
    Utter puerility, it leads me to think, that there must be a modicum of truth in the rumour that all stupid….err less able civil servants end up in DEFRA and after a couple of years making farmers lives living nightmares, move down into the Met Office!

  12. 12 Stephen 12/01/2011 at 3:24 am

    There is always the possibility the reporter got his story on the “gagging” from his Met Office sources,then asked the relevant gov’t officials and the gag order was denied. Trusting his Met sources,for whatever reason,he then convinced his bosses there was something there and they then went for the FOI request.
    No need for a conspiracy,just the Met Office trying to deflect blame and a reporter/news organization going all-out trusting a source telling a story they want to believe.

  13. 13 TheRagingTory 12/01/2011 at 8:17 am

    “I think you’re missing the key point here. It was not always the story. We now have a new allegation that the ministers gagged the Met Office to prevent them releasing the cold winter forecast. ”

    I think your over stating the difference between gagged and ignored.

    Politicaly, electoraly even, there is little to no difference between the government knowing and doing nothing, and the government knowing and silencing others who knew.

    In any event, the populace went in blind and the government could have prevented it.

  14. 14 Autonomous Mind 12/01/2011 at 8:35 am

    I’m sorry, but there is no similarity between ‘gagged’ and ‘ignored’. Your assertion is absolutely wrong. Perhaps you have partisan political reasons for trying to spin this, but there is a huge difference between allegedly receiving a forecast but doing nothing and receiving one and forbidding the forecaster from sharing it with anyone else.

  15. 16 Stuck-Record 12/01/2011 at 11:12 am

    Autonomous. A couple of things.

    First, the old adage that lawyers have about ‘never asking any question that you don’t already know the answer to’ should apply here. The BBC is an organisation fully committed (and I mean fully, even down to the billions in its pension fund being invested accordingly) to the global warming dogma. They will do nothing to damage that. I find it inconceivable that the BBC’s goal here is to damage the Met office, and therefore the credibility of global warming. They are either being misled by the Met office (which is not inconceivable), or a warning was issued by the Met office to the relevant government department, and a ‘gag’ order of some kind was issued. Since the relevant department is Chris Huhne’s dad is not entirely inconceivable either.

    If this comes out it will be damaging to the government, specifically the LibDem/conservative coalition aspect, which is where the left and the BBC have been aiming their barbs, recognising it as the weakest link.

    Second, we have to be careful here not to accept the rules of the game that I been dictated by the BBC and the Met office. Part of this process – the whole farrago about the November forecast — is about distracting the general public from the long-term forecast inability of the Met office. It is this long-term forecasting ability that is the weak link in their predictions of global warming.

    Short-term weather predictions can be interpreted as just that: short-term. But, if you’re spending hundreds of millions of pounds a year making predictions about the climate of the next century with, according to the scientists and meteorologists involved, almost 100% certainty, you can and will be judged by your long-term predictions.

    The concentration on the November forecast is an attempt to misdirect everybody from the Met office is long-term forecasts which are predicated towards hotter summers, warmer winters and an end to snow.

    None of which are happening.

  16. 17 Autonomous Mind 12/01/2011 at 11:29 am

    Stuck-Record, you say that: ‘I find it inconceivable that the BBC’s goal here is to damage the Met office, and therefore the credibility of global warming.’

    I agree. What I am pointing out here is the mutually supportive link between the BBC and the Met Office. They are in cahoots, with Harrabin at the centre of it all. I also agree that there is a game afoot to sow confusion and thus distract attention from the Met Office. I have alluded to this in recent posts.

    Hope that clarifies things.

  17. 18 Will 12/01/2011 at 12:04 pm


    “Someone already has!”

    Is that a response to my post?

    Clearly the first person to contact about this is John O’Sullivan, to ask for his source for the claim that the Met were gaged.

    Have you tried to contact him?

  18. 19 Autonomous Mind 12/01/2011 at 12:12 pm

    Hi Will, yes it was a response to your post. I have also contacted John O’Sullivan with a link to my post and I’m waiting for a response. Rest assured I will come back to the subject as soon as I have some more information.

  19. 20 Stuck-Record 12/01/2011 at 1:31 pm

    I think you are bang on the money here, Autonomous.

    It’s a shame FOI doesn’t apply to the BBC. Every request made gets turned down on their ‘exempt for the purposes of journalism’ clause.

  20. 21 Craig Mc 30/01/2011 at 4:20 am

    “Mate, do you really think the Met and Harrabin are that clever?”

    The question to ask is, “Do they think they’re that clever?”.

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