Ill-advisedly, in the wake of the Wirral South by-election debacle,
Charles Lewington, the Tories’ communications director, accused the BBC
of having a pro-Labour mind-set. He didn’t go so far as the Sunday
Telegraph’s headline on his article - ’the BBC is working for a Labour
victory’ - but the message was clear.
It is true that Mr Lewington conceded that ’Conservatives do not blame
the BBC entirely for the party’s temporary unpopularity’. Otherwise, we
might reasonably have assumed he had misplaced his marbles. The Tories
have only themselves to blame for losing Wirral South ignominiously as
distinct from just losing it.
But Mr Lewington still thinks that the BBC is slavering for a Labour
Government. Even if it is, this does not necessarily mean that it is
biased as an institution towards Tony Blair’s New Labour which,
incidentally, owes far more to Margaret Thatcher than Karl Marx.
Journalists are easily bored. After 18 Tory years, they are screaming
for another brand of cock-ups and conspiracies. Never under-estimate the
media’s - and especially the BBC’s - enthusiasm for putting the boot
into government - any government.
This is why every Government I worked for - Labour or Tory - believed
that the BBC was an agent of the devil Opposition, out to test it to
So is Mr Lewington just exhibiting the familiar symptoms of British
politicians in the dog house? Well, not entirely. The BBC has done some
daft things of late as Peter Preston, former Guardian editor-in-chief,
pointed out in the Observer.
He noted that Ben Bradshaw, presenter and reporter for The World This
Weekend and now prospective Labour candidate for Exeter, had been
’parked on full pay with nothing to do but work Exeter’s doorsteps’
until the Tories complained. Then the BBC found him a ’new, obscure
planning post’, which is what it should have done in the first place. It
has also re-hired, if not for an influential news post, Joy Johnson who
left after a year as Labour’s director of communications in somewhat
Such an appointment just feeds political paranoia.
This raises the hoary question as to whether, in Mr Preston’s words,
’journalists should even join political parties, let alone turn
He thinks they shouldn’t do either, which is a turn up for the book
since the Guardian positively encouraged both when together we worked
for it in the 1960s. I would prefer journalists to be openly prejudiced
than ’sleepers’ . But what about Lady Barbara Castle’s old idea of
journalists being required to declare their interests and affiliations
in a journalists’ Who’s Who? One thing is certain: we won’t get away
much longer with demanding accountability for everyone apart from