Thursday, September 18, 2003

Don't Kill The BBC

Says Peter Hitchens in the Spectator.

"The time has come for sensible reactionaries to rally round their old enemies at the BBC, and for the BBC to seek support among those moral and cultural conservatives it has spent too long despising. Those who think that such an alliance would be as unprincipled and doomed as the Nazi–Soviet pact are mistaken. There is a real community of interests here, if only both sides would see it. Unless the BBC makes some new friends rather quickly, it will not survive much longer in anything like its present form. If it does open itself to people and ideas it now excludes and scorns, then it will become better as well as stronger. And if the BBC goes, the things conservatives really value will suffer. "

His solution ? For the BBC to drop its pretence of impartiality and encourage partisanship and open debate in its current affairs programmes - hence opening up the airwaves for cultural conservatives. I think he has as his model the late lamented 'Grilled On Both Sides' - the Sunday morning Talk Radio show which caused me to desert the Archers Omnibus after 20 years. Presented with the Labour MP Austin Mitchell, it was compulsive listening.

Only one problem - I just don't think the BBC are institutionally capable of reforming themselves. It just won't happen. They're like a much-loved dog suffering from an incurable and fatal disease that has to be put down. You know you won't ever have another dog like it, you know you'll be losing a friend and part of the family - but you still take that trip to the vet.

And the reason it won't happen ? A world-view which says that it would be better to be abolished by a future Tory Government than to admit that conservative ideas have any cultural validity.

The Today Programme - we don't report the news, we make it

So the BBCs apology lasted until Andrew Gilligan got out of the witness box. This morning the Today programme wheeled out Hans Blix, repeating what he's already said. This is now the main item on R4 news.

And for an unbiased look at the BBCs current position we had a studio discussion with ex-Times editor Peter Stothard and top BBC partisan (she was its social affairs correspondent for years), the Guardian's Polly Toynbee, who was allowed to both open and close the debate and was given about twice as much airtime. Ms Toynbee considered no criticism of the BBC from an ex-Murdoch employee was was valid, and slagged off all the papers except the Guardian and Indie.

This is what the BBC calls debate.

Update - as at 6.30 pm the Blix story (main item at 9.00 am) has completely vanished from the 30 minute R4 bulletin.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Neighbours From Hell, Frank Field, and the IWCA

Frank Field, one of the best Labour MPs, the man who Blair told to 'think the unthinkable' on the welfare state then sacked him for doing just that, has a new book 'Neighbours From Hell', describing the conditions that many people are forced to live in on our estates. The only review I've found is a small and flippant one by Fabian Paul Richards, but if this Sunday People article is any guide he's not short of ideas.

One of the greatest failings of the left, and a factor in peoples disengagement from politics, is the attitude which cares more for the offender than the victim. This is an especially grave failure in view of the fact that the poor, elderly and vulnerable are the main victims of crime. This is the theme tirelessly pursued by the good doctor Dalrymple.

So it is with pleasure that I can report on a small left group called the Independent Working Class Association or IWCA - a far-left group that actually seems to think that crime and fear of crime is an objective reality, with an existence outside a Daily Mail columnists mind.

They appear to have started as a quasi-anarchist grouping in London, but have branches in places like Harold Hill, Essex, and the notorious Blackbird Leys estate in Oxford. I haven't studied their policies in great (or any) detail yet, though headlines like 'Working Class Rule For Working Class Areas" don't exactly fill me with confidence - would they also support "Middle-Class Rule In Middle-Class Areas" ?

But you have to warm to an organisation which campaigns to get crack dealers evicted, and is then criticised by the police for doing so - whose side are they on ?

"Responding to the IWCA public meeting on the drugs issue, Inspector Eugene Gratwohl of Oxford police issued a warning to Blackbird Leys residents, telling them they could be ‘overstepping the mark’.

Speaking in the Oxford Mail (‘Residents Threaten Action on Dealers’, 1 July), Inspector Gratwohl said that residents who tried to gather their own evidence or demonstrated outside the homes of drug dealers risked ‘contravening the human rights of those implicated.’"

The IWCA responded to the police with classic British understatement :

"The police statement on the issue of ‘human rights’ for crack and heroin dealers will do nothing to reassure concerned residents that police priorities are in order"

Well, well, well. The Left is not completely dead after all.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Lay Off The Politicians ....

Aaronovitch joins Jackie Ashley and Polly Toynbee in a triptych of Guardianistas who all, correctly, feel that unremitting abuse of politicians is bad for democracy.

"... a piece in which a music magazine journalist writes about award-winning musician Dizzee Rascal, and his lyrics. '[His] album,' said the journalist, 'depicts Dizzee's life in Bow, east London. Uncompromising, raging, it is not easy listening - but every MP in Westminster should be forced to hear it.'

When music journalists speak, the world ought to listen. But I wondered whether this one actually knew who the MP for Dizzee's patch was? Or if he did, did he ask himself whether Oona King might not be more familiar with the problems of Bow than even the UK garage correspondent of Mixmag?"

Do you think this means that the Guardian will lay off Archer ? Dream on !

Triptych - what a lovely word ....

So put your hands together for ... Ambrogio Lorenzetti !

Triptych: Madonna and Child with Mary Magdalene and St Dorothea c. 1325. Wood, 90 x 53 cm (central panel), 88 x 39 cm (side panels, each). Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena Source:Web Gallery of Art

Monday, September 15, 2003

Rewriting History

The BBC and Guardian on the 'Three Degrees' .

"The Three Degrees may not have won anything together, but their influence cannot be exaggerated. 'At a time when far-right groups were recruiting outside other grounds, going to the the Hawthorns was more like being at a left-wing rally,' recalls Adrian Goldberg. 'The Three Degrees raised the political consciousness of Albion supporters everywhere.' "

Really. Was that why those same Albion fans made monkey noises at John Fashanu and Carlton Fairweather for the 90 minutes of their 4-1 F.A. Cup defeat at Wimbledon in 1989 ?

I was there and have never felt more ashamed of them. I think I was actually glad when the Dons got their fourth.

Note - the 'Three Degrees' were the three black players in the West Bromwich Albion soccer side of the late 1970s. Laurie Cunningham, a mercurial winger who never quite reached his full potential and died tragically young, Cyrille Regis, the powerful Guyanese centre-forward with a thunderous right foot, and full-back Brendan Batson. They WERE the start of the wave of black players into top clubs, but we never thought of them that way. Albion fans admired them as players and people, not as black icons. And I certainly never felt my consciousness rising as I stood at the Brummie Road End.
Why The BBC Must Still Go .....

The Guardian on Charles Moore, Telegraph editor, and his Beebwatch campaign.

"Shall we guess that breakfast in the elegant home of these serious and discerning folk is partaken to the background of the Today programme rather than, say, Planet Rock or Talksport? Come tea time do the smaller Moores watch JackAss and Kerrang, or are they tactfully steered towards Newsround or the Simpsons? Is that a prom on Radio 3 we hear in the background over supper or is it Heart 106.2? And as bedtime nears do we find the grown-ups glued to the mediocre film on Sky One, or are they throwing cushions at Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight? "

But Natalie Solent only notes that "I may even find a little tear trickling down my cheek as I take my £116 to the bank."

Strangely for a Biased-BBC contributor, I find myself more in agreement with the Guardian. As a Radio Four listener since the age of nineteen I often wonder what I shall do when it's gone. I have a vivid memory of sitting in a San Francisco flat, flicking through the 200-plus channels available, coming to the awful realisation that there was nothing worth watching on any of them (we ended up watching old Doctor Who episodes on PBS). There's no doubt that the BBC even now, after 30 years of relentless dumbing down, is still producing some great stuff.

But for me the price is too great. Unlike many libertarian bloggers, I accept the idea of a state-funded broadcaster in principle. Were the BBC still Lord Reith's BBC, I would be fighting its corner. I'm happy with a paternalism - the idea that the BBC should reflect the best of British culture and reinforce values, often now derided as "middle class", which were once shared by all classes. I'm happy with a measure of elitism, happy with excellence, happy with the view that what people want isn't always what is good for them.

The problem is that the BBC is too successful in reflecting the views of an influential and articulate section of the educated English middle class. That is why it must die - because the views of this section are so pernicious.

(Those views are in essence still those of my campus some thirty years ago, when we considered that 'straight white society' was the enemy. On the flagship Today programme, a Patti Smith comeback album is now greeted as if Adam Smith had written a new economics text. Radio Four are broadcasting a programme about West Bromwich Albion's three black stars of the 1970s in which they apparently made an impact on society like MLK's march from Selma to Montgomery. As one who was there at the time, Baggies fans simply thought of them as good players who happened to be black. (Oh, my Regis and my Johnston long ago !) And how dare they ignore Remi Moses ?)

There can be no doubt that the loss of the BBC will be grievous. And the domination of Murdoch more so. But things must get worse before they get better.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

Good News From Sweden

After a grim week for Swedish democracy, the Euro is decisively rejected. The mooted "sympathy vote" for the (pro-Euro) Foreign Minister Anna Lindh, tragically murdered on Wednesday, was insufficient to claw back the anti-Euro lead.

And Bjorn Again will be touring this autumn.

Oh Dear

For the BBC to reinforce sexist stereotyping in this way is disgraceful.

Still, they do use a photo of a couple of babes.

Is Lamb ?

From the Gulf comes the distressing news that a ship carrying 57,000 sheep from Australia to Saudi Arabia (Sadly I don't think they're founding a knitwear industry ...) is stuck at sea after the Saudis refused it entry. The sheep are dying due to the heat - more than 3,000 so far.

Apparently the owners are trying to give the sheep away - to the Baa'th Party ?
Thank You Ian Buruma

For dissecting brain-dead anti-Americanism so well. And thanks to Norman Geras via Harry for the pointer.

It's only human to admire someone who reinforces a point you've made. Even better when he does it in language you can only aspire to.

"When Indians kill Muslims, or Africans kill Africans, or Arabs kill Arabs, western pundits pretend not to notice, or find historical explanations, or blame the scars of colonialism. But if white men, whether they are Americans, Europeans, South Africans or Israelis harm people of colour, hell is raised."

"As long as white people aren't spilling it, ANY amount of Iraqi blood can be spilled and you won't give a damn, let alone pick up a pen to write about it. "

"Democracy, to conservative realists, was fine for us but not for strange people with exotic names. It was the left that wanted to change the world, no matter where. Left-wing internationalism did not wish to recognise cultural or national barriers. To them, liberation was a universal project. Yet now that the "Bush-Cheney junta" talks about a democratic revolution, regardless of culture, colour or creed, Gore Vidal claims it is not our business, and others cry "racism"."

"In politics there always seem to be two views of 'the Other' - the Other in this case being the people of Iraq. One side says 'they're just people like us - they want the things we want', the other says 'these people are not at all like us - beware'. Historically the former view was held by the Left - think of the idealism with which the African colonies were liberated (or abandoned), or the argument that asylum-seekers will in no time be helping with the PTA and sending the kids to medical school, compared with the traditional 'right' view of peoples 'half devil and half child' or (circa African independence) 'they're just not ready for it'.

But these days its a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world. The repentant Trotskyites who make up America's neocons seem confident that the whole Middle East can be 'liberated' from feudalism or theocracy, and it's the Left who are suddenly saying 'don't kid yourself - these guys are very different to you and me. "