Monday, 12 November 2012

Chris Patten and Tim Davie must stop the BBC's deranged vendetta against Thatcher and the Right

"Oh, bum!"
Commenter Umbongo makes an interesting point about the John Humphrys' evisceration of George Entwistle on Saturday’s Today Programme: “Unfortunately, Humphrys is not so motivated when it comes to matters nearer to his (and the BBC's) heart. Listen to him conducting interviews on the coalition's (non)cuts or tax "justice" or climate change or the EU and his "journalism" flies out of the window to be replaced by sneering quasi-invective poured over anyone opposing the BBC position."

First, I agree that what Humphrys did wasn’t in the least “brave” – but it was a well-conducted interview, because it revealed so starkly both the DG’s astonishing lack of grip on events and a mindset which suggested that, were he to be faced with the same challenges again, he probably wouldn’t handle them any better. I dislike Humphrys, but you’ve got to give him credit for asking the questions that led to his interviewee’s defenestration just over twelve hours’ later.

Second, I also agree with Umbongo that Humphrys’s devotion to winkling out the truth – or to “just asking the questions the public wants answered”, to use the poisonous little Welshman’s favourite weasel phrase – flies out the window as soon as any item on the BBC’s political agenda is questioned, in which case he might as well be shouting “Die, Mad Evil Right-Wing Tory Bastard!” at his guests rather than pretend to be seeking rational answers.

I’ve tried to steer clear of politics when analysing the McAlpine smear outrage to this point, but enough is enough – as I made clear in this email I sent Lord Patten after turning down his plea for me to return as the BBC’s DG at a salary of my choosing:
Sorry I couldn’t accept the DG gig – but, hey, these days I’m kinda more into kicking back with my old lady, chilling, making music and just “getting to me” here on my organic farm. 'The world is too much with us, late and soon…', 'What is this life if, full of care,/We have no time to stand and stare' sort of vibe. Y’dig? 
Look, I know you’re an obsessive reader of this blog, so you’ll have heard a lot of this before, but there’s some really basic stuff you and that musical cat Tim Davie need to wrap your heads round before making any big decisions.
In all honesty, Chris, you’re about as much of a Tory as Barack Obama – you’re a liberal establishment, big state, pro-EU (you were a commissioner, for God’s sake), climate change enthusiast who’s entirely at home with the sort of culture which has brought the BBC low. But you’re also pretty smart, so even you must be starting to realise that if the subject of last week’s attempted smear hadn’t been a Tory politician close to Mrs Thatcher, the lamentable item would never have made it to air.  
No matter what went wrong with which lines of command or which executive suffered brain-cramp at a crucial moment – it was the Thatcher connection that torpedoed you last Thursday, because the corporation deliberately made itself deaf to the views of over 40% of its licence-fee payers over thirty years ago – and has remained contemptuously deaf to them ever since. On immigration, public spending, the EU, Israel, the welfare system, law and order, Christianity, the monarchy, bad language, the threat of militant Islam, sexual behaviour, the IRA, patriotism, tax rates – and a whole range of other issues – the BBC has decided that it is undoubtedly right, and that everyone who disagrees with it is evil or deranged or both. Therefore, you have relentlessly ignored the political, social, moral and religious views of people who, between them, are compelled by law to pay you £1.44 billion a year.  
If that’s not an example of taxation without representation, I don’t know what is. 
True, you produce plenty of great stuff that, taken as a whole, appeals to just about everyone – drama, sport, kids’ programmes, nature documentaries, live coverage of national events (yesterday’s Remembrance Day coverage was moving and masterful, almost making up for the Jubilee pageant debacle) – but much of what your lavishly-funded News division pumps out 24/7 is frankly insulting to a significant minority of the people who are forced to pay for it.  
Your current crisis started with a failure to go after one of your own stars – but has now been made exponentially worse by an eagerness to screw over a Thatcher-era Tory. The witch-hunt was started by a ghastly, jumped-up, self-important Labour MP (a keen supporter of Gordon Brown, no less) hiding behind parliamentary privilege. You adore him because he made life uncomfortable for one of your primary right-wing hate-figures, Rupert Murdoch. You then allowed an outside organisation attached to a left-wing “university” to produce a grotesquely libellous item about a retired Tory politician, who turned out to be blameless. Are you going to tell me that the BBC’s willingness to smear an innocent man on the basis of one person’s uncorroborated testimony had nothing to do with the corporation’s pathological loathing of Conservatives in general, and Mrs. Thatcher in particular? 
Whatever you do about the BBC’s management structure and lines of responsibility, you must – really must  - address the basis on which you hire and promote staff, especially in News, and you must – really must – ensure that the next DG understands that the deeply ingrained culture of bias that has finally – after years of getting away it - almost sunk the reputation of BBC journalism really must be destroyed. You don’t have to appoint a frothing right-winger as DG – but at least look for someone who isn’t a product of the BBC’s political culture, and is intelligent, sensitive and “liberal” (in the proper, old-fashioned sense of the word) enough to realise that it really isn't the BBC’s job to act as if it were a major political party trying to ram an agenda down the public’s throat – because, you see, we can’t vote you out of office.  
Anyhow, if any of the above doesn't make any sense, just give me a buzz - I promise not to hang up this time! 


  1. Can I introduce you and your friend Chris to a bit of a hero of mine, Philip Virgo, and his post So we now know that Mary Whitehouse was right about the BBC.

    1. Excellent post - an undeservedly maligned woman.

  2. David Moss. Thank you for supplying the Virgo post. I very much enjoyed reading it.

  3. I have just watched the sequel to the great film "Patton" [1970] with George C. Scott. It was made 16 years later and Scott is not looking so hot [well, he was portraying a man who had been involved in a terrible car crash]. Patton's staff car was in an accident with an army truck driven by a bunch of drunken GIs [ Stonewall Jackson was also killed accidentally by his own troops]. Perhaps Fat Pang should storm into some of his studios and knock a few helmets off ["I won't have these yellow bastards stinking up this place of honour" or a milder British equivilant]. The title of the sequel is "The Last Days of Patton" [1986].Spooky.

    1. Unfortunately, I suspect Fat Pang is more likely to be one of those "yellow bastards" being slapped about. I wonder if Mrs Thatcher is still up to the job. Or Norman Tebbitt.