We have been warned about this government, often not by the Left but by what used to be the voices of the Right: two former Conservative Chancellors and the editor of a right-wing newspaper, among others, have spoken out strongly.
Philip Hammond wrote:
“the Conservative party has been taken over by unelected advisers, entryists and usurpers who are trying to turn it from a broad church into an extreme right-wing faction. Sadly, it is not the party I joined.”
Max Hastings, ex-editor of the Daily Telegraph commented:
“What’s heart-breaking, I think for all of us, is that our country does seem in the eyes of the world increasingly ridiculous. … they don’t hate us, they just look at us with complete disbelief: ‘what has this country done to itself over the last 15 years?’ … Nigel Farage has poisoned the Conservative Party … the [extreme] right is now running Britain and it’s a terrifying sight. … For the sake of the Conservative Party and for Britain, they’ve got to go.”
And Ken Clarke went so far as to highlight the risks to our democracy:
“We are dangerously close to the ‘elected dictatorship’ that Lord Hailsham, the former Lord Chancellor, warned us about half a century ago.”
One of the bulwarks in the UK against any such slide to dictatorship has always been the BBC, whose fabled balance was equally irritating to Left and Right and which, though never perfect, was internationally respected as a source of news.
But this week, the BBC made two decisions which have drawn fire from many sides: one relating to Gary Lineker and one to Sir David Attenborough.
Can we still rely on the BBC to give us a broadly impartial picture?
- The events of this week confirm what many have feared for a while, like the Conservative Party itself, the BBC is now largely under the control of the far-right;
- The UK’s media landscape is dominated by market fundamentalists;
- Many other checks and balances need to protect our democracy are also under attack.
We must act now to increase the pressure to restore the traditional balance of the BBC and on MPs to reverse these dangerous trends.
The BBC is now under the control of the far-right
The Chairman of the Board of Governors of the BBC, Richard Sharp, is a political appointee, a major donor to the Conservative Party who is currently under investigation for helping to arrange an £800,000 loan to Boris Johnson. He is the person ultimately responsible for upholding the BBC’s values. Can we expect him to do so impartially?
The Director General of the BBC – who runs the organisation on a day-to-day basis is Tim Davie, former Deputy Chairman of the Hammersmith and Fulham branch of the Conservative Party.
The Director of News is John McAndrew, of whom the BBC says, “He was most recently the launch editor of The Andrew Neil Show at Channel 4. Before this he spent a year as Editorial Director and Director of News and Programmes at GB News [the newly formed far-right channel]”
These are some of the most powerful people in the BBC.
This is disconcerting, but does not prove that bias has permeated into day-to-day decision-making. So let us look at this week’s decisions.
The first is that Gary Lineker was suspended for tweeting about the Home Secretary’s continued use of inflammatory language in relation to refugees.
This comment so incensed a number of Conservative MPs that they called for his sacking and the BBC agreed to “speak frankly” to Lineker – a frank discussion which has now resulted in his suspension.
Let us look at the facts of Lineker’s claim.
Here are the relative numbers of refugees accepted by other countries in Europe and beyond:
The UK has fewer asylum seekers than Sweden, a country with a smaller population and far fewer than Germany and France. On the numbers, it is hard to argue with Lineker’s comment.
And here is the language used by Ms Braverman to describe refugees:
“I thank my hon. Friend for his observations. Ultimately, he is right. We need to be straight with people. There is an influx, an unprecedented number of people coming to this country. They are claiming to be modern slaves, they are claiming asylum illegitimately, and they are effectively economic migrants. They are not coming here for humanitarian purposes. We therefore need to change our laws. We need to ensure that there is a limitation on the ability to abuse our asylum laws, and we need to ensure that our modern slavery laws are fit for purpose and cannot be exploited by illegitimate claimants.”
For comparison with the language of the 1930s, here is a paragraph from the Daily Mail in 1938:
And it is not just the similarity of the language which is concerning, it is the attitude to Human Rights. Braverman herself has admitted as much in the text of her Illegal Migration Bill:
Lineker was – ostensibly – not punished for being wrong, however, but for expressing his political views on social media. The guidelines state that,
“Our audiences should not be able to tell from BBC output the personal opinions of our journalists or news and current affairs presenters on matters of public policy, political or industrial controversy, or on ‘controversial subjects’ in any other area. They may provide professional judgements, rooted in evidence, but may not express personal views on such matters publicly, including in any BBC-branded output or on personal blogs and social media.”
But there was no censure for Sir Alan Sugar when he tweeted a far more overtly party-political comment:
The second issue of the week was the decision of the BBC not to broadcast an episode of Sir David Attenborough’s documentary, Wild Isles. Without having seen the documentary, it is impossible to state with certainty that it should have been broadcast, but as Caroline Lucas, the Green party MP for Brighton Pavilion, commented:
“For the BBC to censor of one of the nation’s most informed and trusted voices on the nature and climate emergencies is nothing short of an unforgivable dereliction of its duty to public service broadcasting. This government has taken a wrecking ball to our environment – putting over 1,700 pieces of environmental legislation at risk, setting an air pollution target which is a decade too late, and neglecting the scandal of our sewage-filled waterways – which cannot go unexamined and unchallenged by the public.”
And it is hard to disagree.
The UK’s media landscape is controlled by market fundamentalists
If we can no longer rely on the BBC for impartial news, we must turn to other media, but when we come to look at the rest of the media landscape, this is what we see:
More than 60% of total readers in the UK are consuming media owned by one of four off-shore, tax-avoiding billionaires with a strong vested interest in this government remaining in power. And to a surprising extent, the broadcast media follow the lead set by the press. As a result, most people have little idea of the risks the government poses to our wealth, our health and our democratic rights.
And while media owners are a key part of the problem in the UK, they do not account for all of it. Money from wealthy donors increasingly determines government policy – we are moving de facto from a one-person, one-vote system towards a one-dollar, one-vote system.
One third of UK billionaires have donated to the Conservatives. That is a group of fewer than 50 people who, between them, now have vastly disproportionate influence on government policy. While they might like to see the UK implement market fundamentalism in the UK, it would be a disaster for most of the population.
Many other checks and balances are also under attack
A free press is just one of many checks and balances which are intended to protect UK democracy.
And the government has been systematically undermining all of them. From the ability to protest peacefully to the ability to ensure that the government acts legally; from the independence of regulators to the certainty that Parliament can scrutinise legislation; even the ability to vote is under threat.
It looks as though Ken Clarke was not exaggerating the risk.
We must act now to increase the pressure on the BBC and on MPs to reverse these dangerous trends.
If you have a Conservative MP – now is a good time to write to them calling for Suella Braverman to be sacked. These notes will be helpful if you would like to do that.
If your MP is from an opposition party, you can write asking for them to call for the dismissal of Richard Sharp at the BBC – or at least his suspension until the inquiry into his conflicts of interest is complete.
And, if you are not already a member of the 99% Organisation, do join us.
3 comments so far
We need to get them out but will anyone wake up?
Trust can be lost in a minute. It will be years, if not decades, before the public trust the BBC again – and that is if the corporation TRIES to regain it.
At present it looks like a source of jobs for Tory mates and donors.
It’s time for this corrupt group of people calling themselves the Conservative Party to leave public office to people who will work on behalf of the people of this country and not to a small group of billionaires and oligarchs. It’s also time for the press to be more strictly monitored. Press barrons should not live on the other side of the world!