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Cautious critic: The Culture Secretary John Whittingdale is not (yet) saying he will end the BBC licence fee (photo: DCMS)

David Cameron’s appointment of John Whittingdale — a right-wing critic of the BBC — as Culture Secretary was greeted with delight by the Conservative press. “Payback Time” yelped the Sun. “War on the BBC” cried the Telegraph. The life of a much-loved and much-despised British institution appeared to be over. The Right’s long propaganda campaign against the corporation appeared to have reached its culmination.

It had been remarkable for both its intensity and mendacity. Toby Young, for instance, a friend of and cheerleader for the Conservative ministers now in power, was the author of one of thousands of attacks on the corporation. If words have any meaning, his connections would make him a member of the elite, or at least its pet or servant. In his own account in the Mail on Sunday, however, he put himself forward as the tribune of the outcast, put-upon masses in their struggle against the “liberal metropolitan elite”.

I should admit that we have all  struck ridiculous prolier-than-thou poses on off days when we didn’t know what else to write. And Young is correct to say that the liberal metropolitan elite is real and powerful. (I should know. I keep trying to join but they won’t have me.) But then he went from being a poseur to something more sinister.

He accused the BBC of “squandering” licence fee payers’ money on biased pollsters, who upheld the left-wing narrative that the Tories had no chance of forming a majority governmen. Young forgot to mention that every opinion pollster for every media organisation was saying the same. He could not bring himself to admit that the very newspaper whose money he was taking ran polls predicting a hung parliament. Nor did he add that on the day of the election the Tory pollster, Lord Ashcroft, who was not when I last looked a member of the liberal elite, tweeted: “All the final polls so far seem to be showing a move towards Labour.”

Young damned the BBC for ridiculing Rupert Murdoch’s claim that the Tories would do slightly better than every pollster expected. It is a measure of the man that he left it there, and did not continue that Mystic Murdoch later downgraded his hardly optimistic forecast of 294 Conservative seats — in fact they got 331 — and said: “Maybe I guessed 10 too many for Cons”. His readers’ minds cleared of anything that might stand in the way of his conspiracy theory, Young demanded that the BBC be exposed to “commercial realities”.

I don’t pick on Young because he is an unusually prejudiced writer, but because his prejudice is so commonplace. You have to read the right-wing press to see how unrelenting the assault on the BBC is in England. You have to read Bella Caledonia or one of the other SNP blogs to see how Scottish nationalists ape English Tories. It’s not that the BBC deserves to escape scrutiny for its biases and faults, or for the many follies of its managers. Rather, you need to look at the cultish refusal to allow one good word to be said about the corporation, and at how this stifling uniformity reveals the emptiness of nationalist and Tory myths.

Conservative intellectuals are fond of Jonathan Haidt’s argument in The Righteous Mind that liberals do not understand tradition and therefore cannot tolerate conservatives. Haidt’s thesis is highly dubious — the American and European liberal-Left are suffused with traditions of their own. But when conservatives go on to say that the Right is more broadminded than the Left, they reduce Haidt to absurdity.

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October 5th, 2015
7:10 PM
As an American and frequent visitor in the UK I say if you want to see some really bad television, visit the United States.

June 5th, 2015
10:06 AM

June 1st, 2015
2:06 PM
I think Nick's usually well tuned irony radar has a bad attack of window. Surely, the problem with BBC bias is the near universal left/liberal group-think so pervasive that insiders confuse it for virtuous (and impossible) impartiality and get very cross if challenged. The BBC no longer represents a cross section of opinion. Just listen to the bizarre Any Questions in which an hereditary presenter who seems to think his job is to oppose the government presides over an audience who practically explode with joy at the expression of leftist views (about say welfare and immigration) that have just been expressly repudiated at the ballot box. I agree that some of the more frothing criticism from the right is equally absurd and that much of Radio's 3 and 4 (and BBC 4's) output is exemplary; BUT much of it isn't (especially say Drama, Comedy and Current affairs), and the prevailing drearily predictable bias on Israel, Climate Change, White privilege and British History until Atlee seems to have infected everything they do.

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