The BBC made a ‘terrible mistake’ in not reflecting public concern about immigration, Nick Robinson has said. This is the latest case of BBC self-flagellation. (Now I think about it, a sort of Maoist-themed programme in which Beeb executives denounced themselves would make great TV.)
BBC bias is a subject I know a bit about, having written a pamphlet on it last year. I thought that, while the BBC is a much-loved institution, it must carry at least some of the blame for the mistakes most people feel were made over immigration under New Labour. Especially in 2000-01, when Conservative politicians were making some quite modest criticisms of rising numbers, the national broadcaster clearly presented their arguments in such a way as to suggest they were beyond the pale, and gave far more space and weight to pro-government politicians and activists. If people now say they were 'unable to talk about immigration' during that period, then the BBC was very much a factor.
Now people talk about little else, so that even I’m a bit bored with the subject, feeling like I’m playing ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ over and over again for a Nirvana tribute band every time I write about it.
What I wouldn't say, though, is that the BBC is ‘Left-wing’ on immigration, because the axis on this subject goes not from Left to Right but from what might be described as globalist to parochial; and the BBC is strongly globalist on immigration, the role of the UN and EU.
Although the original moral impetus for migration was a New Left anti-racist one, that has rather diminished; many Tory elite figures are in favour of free movement, and today it could be argued that the Times is a more powerful and influential organ of pro-migration sentiment than the Guardian, and that’s partly because the Times is the closest thing to an elite newspaper.
On immigration the BBC simply holds the elite view, and it's hard to see how this is recognisably 'Left-wing' in any meaningful sense; these are the same attitudes identified as typically ‘Yuppie’ in the Young Foundation’s study of the East End; they are the views of most young urban professionals today.
Among these set of new elite values held by the globally-minded younger generation are far harsher attitudes towards people on benefits; this is not because they are ‘Right-wing’ but because this is consistent with the new virtues of tolerance, non-discrimination and individualism. As technology continues to widen the gap between the very rich and the struggling, shrinking middle class, elitist, globalist politics will become even more culturally dominant, opposed by Poujadist movements across the West.
There’s a problem, though, with the BBC’s global vision. Globalist people are the exception, and this is not likely to change because global-mindedness depends on a parochial majority; and, as Britain becomes more tolerant and global, the BBC will find it increasingly difficult to justify its license fee. Levels of trust in the corporation have fallen sharply in the past decade, and though the biggest leap was after the Savile scandal there is a broader decline consistent with a more diverse society’s attitude towards shared institutions.
The BBC, like the NHS and the welfare state more generally, are products of a parochial world, a small pond facing the rising tide of globalisation.