Brendan O’Neill

Jess Brammar isn’t the problem

Her appointment is a symptom of wider cultural troubles

Jess Brammar isn't the problem
(Image from YouTube/Reuters Institute)
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We need to talk about Jess Brammar. No, not the fact that Ms Brammar has landed the plum job of executive editor of the BBC’s news channels, despite cries of opposition from various Tories who insisted that Brexit-bashing Brammar is too politically partisan for such a position. My view is that it should be up to the Beeb who it employs, and politicians and their advisers should keep their beaks out of broadcasting.

Rather, Jess Brammar represents a wider problem. It’s the fact that so much of the cultural elite is hostile to Brexit, which, lest we forget, is the most popular political idea in living memory in this country. This is what feels so concerning, and also mind-numbingly predictable, about the elevation of Ms Brammar to such an august news role — she is yet another anti-Brexit person, overseeing a nation in which swathes of the population back Brexit. Surely we can all agree that having such a vast political chasm between the people who run society and the people who live in it is not a good thing?

The Brammar controversy has been highly irritating from the get-go. We’ve had people on the right behaving not unlike the cancel culture mobs they normally disdain. Sir Robbie Gibb, who was Theresa May’s director of communications and is now on the BBC board, was judged by many to be behaving overtly politically when he tried to block Ms Brammar’s appointment. Guido Fawkes and the Mail also gnashed their teeth over the possibility that this typically liberal voice — used to edit the Huffington Post, doesn’t like Boris, finds Brexit boring — might soon have one of the most powerful jobs in the news-making world.

Much of this has had a whiff of censoriousness to it. I agree with Rod Liddle, who argues in this week’s magazine that just as it is bad when leftists try to have right-wingers they don’t like expelled from public life — think Roger Scruton — so it’s not-on for the right to deploy similar tactics against journalists who have apparently problematic views. And yes, we can all see the staggering hypocrisy of cancel happy leftists, who are content to witch hunt wrongthinkers all day long and yet will reach for the smelling salts if people on the right behave similarly. ‘What do you think you’re doing?!’, they said about the campaign against Brammar. Erm, they’re doing what you do all the time.

So, no, Ms Brammar should not have been blocked from the job on account of her political views. Not to be insulting, but her political views are not even that spicy. They're not spicy at all, in fact. They’re very HuffPost — that kind of soft, bland leftish-liberalism that is instinctively wary of the Tories but also thinks Corbynism was a bit much. It’s not as if a pinko has just stormed the Beeb, is it? Indeed, these folks’ hostility to Brexit actually captures how wet their worldview is. Is the rabble rising up against European neoliberalism? Oh dear, we can’t have that. No wonder Ms Brammar tweeted that Brexit is like the TV series Better Call Saul, only ‘less funny or interesting or enjoyable’.

The problem, however, is not what she thinks — it’s what they think, the cultural establishment more broadly. Sniffyness towards Brexit is virtually a membership requirement among the new elites. I would love to know what percentage of BBC employees voted Remain. I’m going to take a punt and say it’s northwards of 80 per cent. There have been reports that around 90 per cent of academics voted Remain, or at least intended to. Even among MPs, who are literally meant to represent the public, more than 70 per cent favoured Remain.

In virtually every cultural and political institution, there’s a bent towards Remain. Sometimes the bent goes further and manifests as outright hostility towards Brexit and the allegedly ‘low information' plebs who voted for it. Just behold those tragic authors, professors, comedians and other members of the middle classes — I’m not mentioning any names — who have devoted much of the past five years to fulminating against the largest democratic vote in UK history. It’s no way to live.

This is what the Brammar appointment should get us talking about — not any one person’s political views, but rather the enormous separation between, well, Them and Us. It’s the Two Britains — one in which some people love Brexit so much that they voted for it again and again, not only in the referendum itself but in subsequent general and European elections; and one in which being archly suspicious of Brexit is utterly commonplace, to such an extent that people genuinely wouldn’t know what to do or say if an actual Brexiteer ever showed up. 

Call me old-fashioned, but I’d like to live in a country where our cultural institutions were reflective of the beliefs and concerns of the broader public. A country where there wasn’t such an insanely wide gap between ordinary working people who oppose the EU’s anti-democratic bureaucracy and the movers and shakers of the media and cultural worlds in which opposition to the EU is viewed virtually as a species of fascism. Brammar’s appointment confirms we don’t yet live in a country like that, which is a shame.

So, good luck to Ms Brammar in her new role. And now that the BBC has got that position sorted it needs to think about something rather more pressing — the question of why the public broadcaster seems so morally, politically and ideologically detached from the public.