Magazine article The Spectator

The Inevitability of a Blairite BBC with Blairite DG

Magazine article The Spectator

The Inevitability of a Blairite BBC with Blairite DG

Article excerpt

On Monday morning the BBC advertised in the Guardian for a new directorgeneral to succeed Sir John Birt. `CVs should be sent in confidence to the chairman, Sir Christopher Bland, BBC, Broadcasting House, Portland Place, London W1A 1AA by 26 March 1999.' Does it matter who gets the job? I realise the question is sacrilegious. Almost every week one of the ever burgeoning media pages in our national press offers us a profile of Mr Greyman, the strong internal candidate, or of Mr Anodyne, the external favourite who pocketed 5 million when his shares were floated. The tenor of these articles is that the choice of the next DG is a matter of national importance. Whether it is Greyman or Anodyne could make all the difference.

The one thing we can be sure of is that the new director-general will be a man and a Blairite. There is one female candidate, Patricia Hodgson, who is director of policy and planning at the BBC, whatever that may mean. But, alas, she has a skeleton in her closet, having stood as a Tory candidate in a safe Labour seat in 1974. So, if the triumphant candidate is internal, it will have to be one of those Marks (two of them), Tonys, or Matthews, all virtually indistinguishable to the outside eye, and apparently cloned from the same source. If the successful candidate is external, it may be David Elstein, chief executive of Channel 5, which claims to be a television station, or possibly Greg Dyke, chairman of Pearson Television. Greg's credentials as a Blairite are particularly strong since he is an open and committed supporter of New Labour.

I make no complaint about the necessity of being a Blairite. There was a time when it was more than helpful to be a Thatcherite. In those far-off days, John Birt, then deputy director-general of the BBC, convinced quite a few Thatcherites that he was of their persuasion. His habit of shaking up the BBC won the admiration of the more iconoclastically-minded on the Right. In due course he became a Majorite and, when that became a lost cause, a Blairite, where one feels he has found his true home. Sir John is widely regarded as a revolutionary figure but in most respects he seems to me a typical end-of-century man who doesn't really believe in anything other than management, power and control. What others have identified as his almost Maoist obsession with perpetual change is standard management practice in many modern corporations, and not a few newspapers. Sir John is deeply conventional, as well as creatively deficient, and about as far removed from his predecessors Lord Reith and Sir William Haley as it is possible to be. They really did believe in something.

Whether it is Anodyne or Greyman, I don't expect we will see many differences. The Blairisation of political commentary on the BBC will doubtless continue. Again, I make no complaint about that, and it would be silly if some latter-day Norman Tebbit jumped on his soapbox and started making a scene. After all, the BBC has had a natural leftish bias for almost as long as anyone can remember. I say 'natural' because most journalists are so inclined. (This is even true on a paper like the Daily Telegraph. But there they have to watch their step.) What is amusing is that there is no longer any attempt by the BBC to conceal the affinities of its political commentators. No one seemed to bat an eyelid recently when John Kampfner, a BBC political correspondent, narrowly missed a job as a New Labour spin doctor. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.