Just like Brexit, the BBC’s mishandling of Jess Brammar will hasten their demise
The decision of Jess Brammar to delete her entire Twitter output when it emerged she was being considered for a new job as executive news editor at the BBC was certainly curious.
For a start, the corporation has never swerved recruiting people into sensitive posts who have expressed politically partial opinions, arguing that its journalists can be trusted to leave their biases at the door when they enter the hallowed ground of Broadcasting House.
That is why, for example, Andrew Marr was able to become the corporation’s political editor back in the day despite having pumped out strongly pro-EU and pro-single currency viewpoints when editor of the Independent and while writing his own columns in Fleet Street newspapers.
Upon his appointment a year ago, the new corporation director general Tim Davie, himself a former Tory activist, declared that BBC staff should up their game on impartiality, adding: “If you want to be an opinionated columnist or a partisan campaigner on social media, then that is a valid choice, but you should not be working at the BBC.”
The appointment of Ms Brammar is liable to turn into a pyrrhic victory for self-styled progressives
Yet this Davie doctrine was a “from now on” ruling, intended to apply while people were working for the BBC rather than to herald a ban on hiring those who had previously expressed strong views.
On top of that, it was hardly a secret in the media that Ms Brammar held pretty much the full set of metropolitan left-wing opinions — anti-Brexit, pro-BLM and knee-taking etc. Given that she had spent several years running the left-of-centre HuffPost UK and several more before that as a key figure on Newsnight when it seemed to have turned into an anti-Brexit campaign, nobody was going to mistake her for a leading light in the Bow Group. And that’s before we even consider her relationship with a “toyboy” Guardian journalist (copyright, Mail on Sunday) or the real clincher — that she is reported to live in the People’s Republic of Peckham (no further questions, your honour).
And yet, irrespective of her political tribal loyalties, what a canny operator Ms Brammar has turned out to be. Because well-placed broadcast industry sources say her appointment is now a “done deal”, with an announcement confirming it expected shortly.
And while many right-of-centre types can vaguely recall her being one of the most “out there” leftist tweeters in the entire UK media, their ability to conduct an offence archaeology audit of her output is now severely constrained.
The Telegraph and the Guido Fawkes website have unearthed one or two slightly embarrassing bits and bobs, but the full Brammar social media canon remains frustratingly out of reach. If only Toby Young had thought to do this before landing a public post at the Office for Students, he might have avoided cancellation at the hands of a left-wing posse in 2018.
Coincidentally, I’m sure, one of the outlets that went for him hardest was HuffPost UK, which ran a piece headlined: “Nine Of The Worst Things Toby Young Has Said.”
One can only guess at what horrors Ms Brammar has placed out of reach of what we used to term “the Tory press” but it is a rare achievement to outmanoeuvre Sir Robbie Gibb, the former Downing Street communications director who now sits on the BBC board and sought to block her appointment.
When red flags are routinely ignored, hitherto unimaginable changes can happen very fast indeed
Gibb, who as a long-serving former BBC political journalist knows more about the overwhelmingly anti-Tory views of its editorial staff than almost anyone else alive, had pleaded with corporation high-ups not to make the appointment because otherwise “the Government’s fragile trust in the BBC will be shattered”.
He may well be right about that, but an even bigger concern is surely the ebbing away of trust among the BBC’s audience about its impartiality. An Ofcom report in 2018 noted that only 61 per cent of those surveyed agreed that BBC News was impartial, a worse score than given to ITV News (68 per cent) or Sky News (64 per cent).
BBC supporters argue that this is mainly because the accusation of political bias is levelled against it more often and more vigorously due to its source of funding, effectively a compulsory poll tax on any household wishing to watch TV at all.
In our current, ultra-polarised politics, such a funding model is harder than ever to sustain because our collective tolerance to being exposed to opinions we don’t share has plummeted. To think that we are paying to have partial viewpoints we disagree with passionately trotted out as incontrovertible truths has become, to many of us, almost unbearable.
Given that polling also shows significantly more people feel the BBC to be biased to the left than the right and towards a metropolitan mindset rather than a provincial one, the appointment of Ms Brammar is liable to turn into a pyrrhic victory for self-styled progressives.
While the number of licence-fee payers is already falling by around 200,000 a year — something Mr Davie has already admitted is causing concern and that he is “watching like a hawk” — there is certainly potential for that trend to accelerate given the corporation’s decision to make such a controversial editorial appointment.
With the avowedly “non-Woke” new entrant GB News now finding its feet after a post-launch wobble, the media knight Sir Robbie may well find his best course is to follow the old adage about getting even rather than angry by offering his considerable talents to the upstart channel.
A few years ago the metropolitan establishment class in politics considered leaving the European Union to be a laughable pipe dream of right-wingers that would never occur. So they continued to pursue a provocatively integrationist course, opening up the UK labour market to Eastern Europe and withholding a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.
Now their counterparts in the media are in a similar position when it comes to the possible abolition of the BBC licence fee or even dissolution of the corporation. And they too seem determined to up the ante. A report describing BLM protests that left 27 police officers injured as “largely peaceful” here, a new head of news from the political and cultural left there — the ice gets thinner, red flags get ignored and tipping points get reached. And when they do hitherto unimaginable changes can happen very fast indeed.
It would be strange if BBC types had a damascene conversion now considering they still haven’t learnt the lessons from Brexit. They woefully underestimate how much getting Brexit wrong has hurt them — and is still hurting them, both with OAPs still watching linear telly, and with the political winners of Brexit, who are still in office and know exactly who put them there (Spoiler alert: it wasn’t the BBC). Fewer and fewer Conservatives wish to conserve the BBC — from their point of view it doesn’t make sense. The BBC’s idiotic mistake is to keep on having a point of view itself.
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