Nick Cohen

Nobody will ever forgive the right if they destroy the BBC

Nobody will ever forgive the right if they destroy the BBC
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Nowhere does the right show its isolation from its own country more vividly than when it demands the destruction of the BBC. The corporation is not like the telephone system, which you can pass into private ownership without anyone noticing. It is as integral to Britain as the monarchy and the NHS, which is why Scottish nationalists devote so much energy to denouncing it.

We are a small country, which is becoming smaller. In the world that is coming, Asian and African countries will have huge populations beside which Britain’s market of 70 million will seem puny.  Hence we subsidise culture that simply would not be produced in the private sector.

I like to imagine a right-wing columnist on this newspaper, or a Thatcherite minister, confronting their family the day after the BBC has gone. There will be no more Radio 4 or Radio 3, he will tell his partner. No more documentaries on British history, hardly any British dramas beyond soap operas and formulaic cop shows, no more Gardeners’ Question Time, Today programme, Antiques Road Show, Archers or Bake Off.

The family members would be appalled, because they understand what Conservatives in office and the right-wing media do not: the BBC is a conservative institution. Small ‘c’ conservative, that is; it has the conservatism, which comes from immersing yourself in history, tradition and national identity; the conservatism that is a thousand miles away from yobbish and glib ideas that dominate right-wing discourse.

And, yes, thank you for raising it, I know, there is BBC bias. I accept that Radio 4 will give us left- and extreme left-wing comedians but never their right- or far-right equivalents. You do not have to tell me either that you can find individual broadcasters who are bent. I have as much contempt for them as anyone else. But the point surely is that the BBC has standards that they are failing to meet.

Recently I met the American journalist Anne Applebaum. Her worst enemy would not describe her as a bleeding heart liberal. Her husband Radosław Sikorski is charm personified, but nevertheless left all who met him when he was Poland’s foreign affairs ministers thanking whatever gods there may be that Poland did not possess nuclear weapons. For all her conservatism, she defended the BBC with a passion. Without the requirements for balance and accuracy, there would be no common ground, no safe space for truth, as there isn’t in America.

Partisan stations would blare out half-truths and direct lies, and even Spectator readers would be horrified by the consequences of the destruction that had been wrought in their name.

Join us for a Spectator debate on 18 November at Church House, Westminster – Is the BBC really a national treasure? Speakers include Melvyn Bragg and James Purnell, director of strategy and digital at the BBC. Chaired by Andrew Neil. Click here for more information and to book tickets.


Written byNick Cohen

Nick Cohen is a columnist for the Observer and author of What's Left and You Can't Read This Book.

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