In the last ten years much of which we could be proud of as British citizens has been damaged or destroyed. We have gone from being a civilised, pluralist European country which was tolerant of differences to an introspective, intolerant, divided, and nationalist island on the fringes of a land mass and nations for which our government shows open contempt. This has not happened serendipitously or by accident. Behind the scenes, and sometimes openly on the stage, people – often unelected – have pushed us to where we are. But they have only just begun. In their sights are institutions that have been part of our national pride – including the NHS and the BBC.
On the hard political Right there are well-funded groups whose goal is to create a largely free enterprise Britain in which migration is minimised, public services largely privatised and in which American rather than European ways of doing things predominate. These British groups have strong ties with libertarian nationalist Conservatives in the US and in the same way that these Americans are happy to use Donald Trump to occupy and control the inconvenient “democracy” so the British equivalents have used Boris Johnson. We are cloning the American puppet “democracy” in our once green and pleasant land.
The mixed economy “One Nation” which for most of post war Britain (the Thatcher interregnum aside) governed us is being dismantled. A key pillar has already gone – the checks and balances which came from membership of the European Union are no more. The “Sovereignty” goal only made sense from the perspective of the libertarian nationalists who wanted freedom to do what they liked free of the inconvenience of having to conform to the liberal values which are the European norm.
But it is not just the pluralism of Europe which Tufton Street wants us to abandon. (Tufton Street is the home of many of the Right Wing groups including the Centre for. Policy Studies, Migration Watch, The Tax Payers Alliance, Civitas and “Leave means Leave”). British institutions which threaten the Americanisation of Britain are firmly in their sights. Despite the glorification of the National Health Service spouted disingenuously by Johnson and his Cabal in the year of Covid the NHS will be a target once the virus stops killing us. The BBC already is.
The anti BBC imperative of the Right is principally about power and control – as of course was its Euroscepticism. The BBC’s power is the share it has of the media, especially television and radio. This position is established through the “Licence Fee” which is essentially a regressive poll tax. That the fee offers extraordinary value (£157.50 per annum, or 43p per day per household) is irrelevant to Tufton St who argue that it offends against Freedom of Choice. If you have a television you have to pay the Licence Fee even if you claim (improbably) that you never watch BBC programming.
The populism of the Right, honed in the think tanks of SW1P 3QL , is characterised by Anti Establishment posturing which has been remarkably successful. The “Leave” campaign appealed to those who saw the main parties’ commitment to the membership of the EU as being the establishment norm. Which it was. The Hard Right Eurosceptics were in 2016, as they always had been, a fringe eccentricity. But Nigel Farage’s UKIP had won the 2014 Euroelections considerably helped, ironically, by the uber-establishment BBC who gave him airtime.
The Leave campaigners knew in 2016 that there was an underbelly of a fairly toxic mix of xenophobia, blame culture and anti-establishmentism they could tap. Add in gut patriotism and jingoism with symbols of the greatness of the imperial past and who knew – maybe the establishment could be defeated. The rest is history.
If the Right could win the Referendum and then after a false start get their man in Number 10 with a thumping majority then anything is possible. Suddenly the BBC was vulnerable. Some at Tufton St would have prioritised NHS privatisation – but COVID has made it necessary to delay that (it will return without doubt). So emasculate the BBC it is. On social media the hashtag #DefundtheBBC is popular among the Right and the Corporation is on shaky ground.
Tim Davie, the BBC’s new Director General, is a Conservative though not a very active one – he also has a high level business background. His support for the Licence Fee suggests that he is not a natural friend of Tufton St. It will be a fascinating battle within which the Licence Fee will be the key battleground. Few on the Right support the Licence Fee so if Mr Davie doesn’t buckle it will be interesting to watch.
The BBC has its detractors and they are very close to Government, or in some cases in it. But in a Britain struggling for international relevance and at war with itself the Beeb is a jewel in the crown. It’s far from perfect and a root and branch review is overdue. But those of us who support the BBC must wish Mr Davie well. If he fails there are hungry men of the Right just waiting to gobble it up piece by piece.