Over the past 40 years I’ve watched the rich and powerful greedily chomping their way through every scrap of public property they could get their hands on – from British Aerospace and British Telecom to gas, electricity, water, British Rail , the Royal Mail and now – the last remaining jewels in the Great British public’s crown – the NHS and the BBC.
It’s not hard to understand why they want all this stuff. If you sell things people don’t really need, your profits are hostage to the whims of fashion, but if you have a monopoly on all the things people can’t live without then your profits are guaranteed for life.
In the age of global terrorism, the need to increase security to protect our freedom is something most of us accept without a second thought. “If you’ve got nothing to hide you’ve got nothing to worry about” is the mantra repeated whenever concerns are raised about any loss of civil liberties accompanying increased surveillance – succeeding not only in dismissing those concerns but also implying that anyone who IS concerned MUST have something to hide.
So what Benjamin Franklin had to say on the subject seems to make about as much sense as saying that those who are willing to trade money for something they want deserves neither and will lose both. Everything comes at a cost, and loss of liberty is the cost of safety. Everybody understands that.
But what DOES make sense are the constant threats to our safety and well-being that we hear about on the news everyday. Every kind of ill, from terrorism to carbon emissions, from measles to AIDS. All are kinds of illness. All put is ill-at-ease. All are kinds of dis-eases to which we are continually trying to find a remedy or cure.
Watching Jeremy Paxman interview Russell Brand last night my first thought was that Paxman has way too much of that laconic Oxbridge arrogance the BBC thinks made Britain great, and Brand has way too much of that street-smart wit and charisma the BBC posh boys really hate.
But the more I thought about it “in my nut today” the more I agreed with The Artist Taxi Driver when he said: “Listen to what Paxman’s saying. You can’t change things. This is how things are.”
“Jeremy Paxman is like the voice of the entire centre ground of the country, which is virtually everyone bar f****ng extremists.
It used to be that we had a controller, name of Muggeridge, who was joint controller of Radio 1 and 2, quite a good idea. When the BBC was looking for a man to do this job, quite naturally they chose someone who until that time had been head of the Chinese section of the BBC World Service.
Once he had got the job he interviewed various DJs one after another, and I was last in. I think he thought I would do something unpredictable and startling, like rub heroin into the roots of his hair. He was sitting at his enormous desk, a sort of Dr Strangelove position. At some point in the conversation I mentioned public schools, and he brightened up a little at this idea, as if at some stage in my life I had actually met somebody who had been to a public school.
I said, ‘Actually, I went to one myself.’
He went, ‘Extraordinary! Which one?’ He was assuming it was some minor public school somewhere on the south coast. I said, ‘Shrewsbury.’ He said, ‘Good heavens!’ At this stage he was getting quite elated. ‘Which house were you in?’ I told him and he said, ‘How’s old Brookie?’
It was clear that he thought, whatever he looks like, and whatever sort of unspeakable music he plays on the radio, he is still one of us. I think for a long time it was this factor that sustained me at the BBC.”
Britain’s largely middle-class consensus on what constitutes impartiality helps to explain why TV news is so predictable and unadventurous – and why TV news is growing less and less attractive to large cross-sections of the viewing audience.
The top comprehensives may be able to give a child an excellent chance of an elite university place; the private schools can virtually guarantee it. All else said on the subject is waffle.
The 7 per cent of children who attend private schools take nearly half the places at Oxford and Cambridge and nearly a third of the places at other elite universities such as Durham, Manchester and Bristol.
It is crude educational apartheid and a major obstacle to the equality of opportunity that New Labour says it wants.
Two of my colleagues at the BBC have regional accents and are very experienced, yet they are constantly asked: ‘Which university did you go to?’ There is this unspoken reality that, although I look different from you, I must act, think and speak the same as you, which is then promoted as diversity.
Tony Blair’s pledge to destroy the establishment that controls large swathes of British life has been shattered by research showing that the country’s ‘cultural gatekeepers’ are still older, white men, most often educated at either Oxford or Cambridge.
“If anything, appointments under New Labour have become more male and Oxbridge-dominated” said Damian Tambini, author of the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) report, All Change at the Top?
“Every few months the senior executives at BBC and Channel 4 and ITV leave to take up similar jobs at a rival channel, where they immediately sack the existing staff and bring in their mates from their last jobs. They then cancel programmes and commission focus groups of unemployable daytime TV- watchers with personality disorders to try and find out what viewers want.
Meanwhile, writers are summoned from all over the country to dream up ideas for vibrant new, original programmes – ‘We don’t know what we want but we’ll know it when we see it’ – which are then ditched in favour of pet, cookery, gardening and home improvement shows, or more shite with Nick Berry in.
This time I’m considering pitching an idea about two sick dogs who swap homes. While they’re away they get looked after by sexy vets, and their gardens and kennels have makeovers. Then they die and get barbecued by Ainsley Harriott. I’ll need about a month in England for meetings with various chancers, charlatans and posh boys calling themselves producers, then I can go back to Ireland for as long as I like.”