When it comes to renewing the BBC Charter, the Conservatives have a habit of talking big before walking away with not very much. As the struggle to even find people to interview Paul Dacre for the Ofcom job shows, their culture war game isn’t the sharpest — not least because it keeps being blunted by the permanent class. Quangocrats won’t volunteer [sic] to sit on the panel to interview Mr Dacre, and this government doesn’t seem to know what to do about that.
I have one proposal that ought to be relatively simple to deliver, and it might, in the long run, do much good for our politics and culture: mandate that the United States be covered exclusively in the “foreign news” section.
There can be an exemption for stuff of truly global magnitude. We shouldn’t expect the BBC to take its lead from the Morning Star and not put 9/11 on the front page. All the rest of it — natural disasters, abortion bans, Supreme Court wranglings, spree shootings, civil disorder, all of it — goes in foreign news and does not lead the front page on the BBC News website. This stuff happens in other foreign countries too, and that’s just where it goes: foreign news. So why make a different choice for America?
Nobody can pretend that this would do much to stem America’s baleful cultural influence overnight. It is (in this sense at least) Britain’s misfortune to share a common language with a mighty and deeply dysfunctional nation.
But it would be a small step in the right direction, not least by forcing the people choosing the news to stop mentally living in the United States. I strongly suspect that the United Kingdom would be a happier place if we could reduce somewhat our cultural exposure to our cousins across the sea.
For starters, it might help people get their head around how our country is actually supposed to work. As a writer who regularly covers constitutional topics, it never ceases to be deeply frustrating how often our system, and the Supreme Court in particular, seems to be casually analysed through the lens of US-style separation of powers. Especially so when American progressives, having plainly lost control of their Supreme Court, are suddenly discovering the virtues of our own Westminster model. Quite by coincidence, I’m sure.
We could at least get some basic cultural defences up
So too might it help to at least slow our importation of American-style racial politics. When protesters in London are advancing on our historically-unarmed police officers chanting “Hands up! Don’t shoot!”, something has gone wrong somewhere. It’s something worse than watching a British police procedural where in the courtroom scene a British judge, in a British wig, hits a very un-British gavel. In fairness that problem might start at school — why did I learn about Rosa Parks rather than, say, the Bristol bus boycott?
Best of all, putting some mental distance between our national psyche and that of the US might offer some hope of recovery to those politicians and think-tankers afflicted by ongoing belief that there is a “special relationship” between our two countries. Stop America seeming quite so important, and it might suddenly seem less urgent to convince ourselves that we’re important to the Americans.
Alas, that’s probably a pipe dream. The illusion of a special role in Washington provides British elites who might be sceptical of Europe with a second shortcut to a big role on the world stage. The decay of the American republic is an extraordinary spectacle – like the exposed core of a Soviet reactor, its light fascinates even as it irradiates.
We could at least get some basic cultural defences up, and there’s nowhere better to start than that most British, and unAmerican, of institutions: our state broadcaster. I like many things about the United States, but I don’t want to live there. And certainly not while I’m living here.
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