A conservative chairman won’t save the BBC

No matter who takes over the BBC, the corporation is irrevocably broken

Artillery Row

A heads-up declaration of interest: I loathe the BBC and almost all its works with a passion borne of someone who has worked inside it. Twice.

After a spate of outrageously biased – even by the corporation’s already dismal standards – left-wing broadcasts during last year’s election and the current Covid-19 pandemic, speculation is mounting that the Prime Minister will appoint a conservatively-inclined Chairman to bring the BBC to heel and re-establish its reputation for impartiality.

The two names most frequently mentioned for this role are senior journalists Andrew Neil and Charles Moore. The abrasive Neil is the last man standing employed by the BBC who is not a fully paid up left-winger, and has a well-deserved reputation for taking no prisoners and not tolerating fools or liars, both as a former editor of the Sunday Times, and as the BBC’s most formidable and fearless political interviewer. (Admittedly there aren’t any others.)

Charles Moore is a former editor of The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph and The Spectator (which Neil currently chairs). An acclaimed biographer of Margaret Thatcher, Moore has a long track record as a critic of the BBC, and at one stage refused to pay its compulsory license fee in protest at the obscene broadcasted phone call to the elderly actor Andrew Sachs made by Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand.

But despite his occasional anti-BBC bluster – such as his protest at the proposed cancellation of “Land of Hope & Glory” and “Rule Britannia” on the Last Night of the Proms ­­– Boris Johnson is probably too timid and pusillanimous to appoint either man, even if they were willing to accept the job. Let us also not forget that in Andrew Neil’s case, Boris famously chickened out of facing a grilling from the great man during last year’s election campaign.

But in the unlikely event of one of them or any other Tory accepted the Herculean task of clearing out this particularly noxious Augean stable, they would find themselves on a mission impossible without sacking the entire BBC staff and starting from scratch. The rot has gone far too deep and the poison of leftist wokeism is ingrained in the BBC’s very bloodstream.

In today’s digital age the BBC is a doomed anachronism

Besides, it has been tried before by a far more resolute Tory PM than Boris. In 1986 Mrs Thatcher, annoyed by the BBC’s constant carping criticism, appointed a trusted Tory, Marmaduke “Duke” Hussey as the corporation’s chairman to sort out what Denis Thatcher called “those pinkos at the BBC”. Hussey, a one-legged Second World War veteran and executive on both the Daily Mail and Times newspapers, started well by forcing out Alastair Milne, the BBC’s leftist Director General (and father of Jeremy Corbyn’s Marxist media chief, Seumus Milne). But after Thatcher’s fall, Hussey’s purge became bogged down in the labyrinthine entrails of BBC bureaucracy and he retired, defeated, in 1996.

Animosity between the BBC and Tory governments has a long history. In the early 1960s the satirical TV show “That Was The Week That Was” commissioned by another leftist Director General, Hugh Carleton Greene, was blamed for mocking Harold Macmillan’s regime in its dying days. Even further back, the BBC’s founding father, the stern and puritanical John Reith, clashed with Stanley Baldwin’s Tory government in 1926 after the government stopped Reith from broadcasting the TUC case during the General Strike, which Reith saw as reflecting the BBC’s impartiality.

Churchill and Reith detested one another. Churchill called the six-foot-six Scot the “Wuthering Height” while Reith regarded the wartime PM as “a bloody shit”. Churchill often side-lined Reith – who had left the BBC to become Minister of Information – during the corporation’s finest hour in Second World War. Its news bulletins were listened to in secret throughout Nazi-occupied Europe and it gained a worldwide reputation for sober and impartial reporting. Unfortunately, this reputation has long outlived the sad reality of its current abysmal state.

There are two good reasons why a bold and truly conservative government should have the guts to pull the plug on the BBC by scrapping the license fee and leaving it to sink or swim in the harsh world of commercial broadcasting by its own efforts, unsupported by a TV tax which is reluctantly paid by an increasingly resentful and restive public.

The first reason is political. The BBC has long since surrendered any credible claim to be what its charter says it should be: an impartial national broadcaster. Its own former employees such as Mark Thompson, John Humphreys and Peter Sissons have admitted – once they have safely retired on their fat BBC pensions – that the BBC is institutionally biased to the Left in a country that is temperamentally and traditionally conservative.

Programmes such as “Question Time” and “Newsnight” have demonstrated left-wing, anti-Brexit and essentially anti-British tendencies far too often to leave any room for doubt. For all their trumpeted diversity, the BBC represent a small, London-based white middle-class left-liberal elite with no understanding or sympathy with those who reside outside the M25. The conveyor belt of senior BBC appointees from the last Labour government and The Guardian tells its own story.

The second reason for defunding the BBC is structural. In the digital age the corporation is a doomed anachronism. Young people don’t watch or listen to it, and thus the financial burden falls on a dwindling audience of the older generations. The BBC is overmanned and stuffed with grossly overpaid and under-employed “stars” and “suits” who would struggle to make a living outside the cushioned corridors of the corporation.

We await (probably in vain) for a prime minister with the necessary balls of steel to bring the curtain down on this antiquated and increasingly despised farce.

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