When I last wrote about the BBC, back in May, I pointed out one of the big advantages enjoyed by the Corporation in its battle with the rather ragged forces of the ‘Defund the BBC’ brigade.
This is the sheer breadth of its coverage. Full-spectrum attacks on the BBC, motivated by unhappiness with some of its political coverage, must look very strange to the huge numbers of people who mostly experience only its drama or entertainment programming.
But I also pointed out that this was no grounds for complacency. The collapse in trust amongst Conservative voters will only embolden its critics in the parliamentary Conservative Party. The long-term security of an institution depends on it commanding strong bipartisan support.
Which is why it is so strange, with so many potential opponents circling in the water, that the BBC has allowed itself to get embroiled in a row over whether or not to cut popular, patriotic songs from the line-up of Last Night of the Proms.This is precisely the kind of thing which is likely to cut through with people who aren’t keeping track of the ideological balance of the Question Time panel.
It isn’t yet quite clear what the motivation is. According to the Times, the team overseeing the programme are “concerned about how to strike a sombre tone during a global pandemic and how to respond to the ongoing debates over race equality.”
There are also questions over whether some of these tunes can be performed effectively without the usual massed choir and audience. But if that really is the reason, it was extremely foolish to let that get muddled up with talk about the ‘Black Lives Matter proms’. And there is something chillingly cynical about the conductor’s reported belief that ‘a ceremony without an audience is the perfect moment to bring change.’
Coming as it does alongside the National Trust’s announcement of huge cuts to its programme – and the planned conversion of many of its country houses into ‘venues for hire’ – it feeds an impression that the institutions charged with maintaining parts of our national heritage playing fast and loose with that responsibility.
Previous Conservative governments have shied away from grasping the nettle of BBC reform, but such attitudes will not prevail forever. Tony Hall, the outgoing Director General, clearly recognises that the Corporation needs to be fought for and is in the news today selling it as ‘the nation’s voice’.
His cause would be much better served by confirming that the Last Night of the Proms will feature its traditional line-up, and the Corporation’s huge resources will be bent to the task of finding innovative ways to deliver it if required.