The BBC’s pusillanimous decision to have not only Rule Britannia!, but Land of Hope and Glory, played rather than sung during Last Night of the Proms is the worst of both worlds.
It won’t do enough to appease a tiny woke minority, but is more than sufficient to anger a lot of people. The best summary of the decision to date is in today’s Times: “white guys in a panic”.
The decision comes as Boris Johnson broods over the coming decision about the BBC’s next Chairman. Lots of names are being floated as runners-and-riders. Most look very speculative.
Almost certainly, those writing won’t have much hard information, if any – given the Prime Minister’s propensity to play his cards not so much close to his chest as stuffed up his vest.
All that said, two intriguing names stand out from those punted. Put them together, and an old rivalry is newly re-ignited.
The first is Andrew Neil – Chairman of Press Holdings Group (which owns the Spectator), founding Chairman of Sky TV, former Editor of the Sunday Times…and the BBC’s most effective political interviewer.
The second is Charles Moore – Former editor of the Spectator, the Sunday Telegraph and the Daily Telegraph, Margaret Thatcher’s biographer…and a committed critic not only of the Corporation but of the licence fee itself.
The two men have something of a history: Neil edited the Sunday Times at the same time as Moore did the Sunday Telegraph, the best part of 25 years ago.
Both are right of centre in politics, but of a chalk-and-cheese difference in flavour. Moore is a high Tory, who can’t see an institution without wanting to shore it up. Neil is a low one, who can’t see one without itching to tear it down.
It is part of the binding genius of Thatcherism that both men rose with it and were at home with it. Of the two, the first may be unavailable and the second judged unsuitable.
Neil would know more than a bit about the corporation from the inside, and his energy, intelligence and swagger would shake it up. But he is reported to be involved in a new centre-right TV enterprise to rival Sky News.
Moore was once fined for refusing to pay the licence fee. If a Neil appointment would have senior BBC managers heading for the doors, a Moore one would see them running for the hills.
(On the advice of Dominic Cummings and others, the Prime Minister swerved a TV interview with the Neil during last December’s election campaign.
Cummings argued that though the Twitter class might foam itself into a lather, most voters wouldn’t even notice the row. The election result suggests that he was right.)
ConservativeHome is not in favour of making of making the licence fee voluntary, but believes that the Corporation is losing its way, and urgently needs to re-connect with its Reithian vocation.
As the Last Night of the Proms fiasco shows, the BBC’s problems are not confined to, or even demonstrated by, its news coverage.
Rather, it is of orientating it towards the nation as a whole, including the majority that voted Leave in 2016, and Britain outside central London, where much of the Corporation’s senior management is based.
Like him or not, Moore understands Reith’s inheritance, and would be more than capable of applying its ideals to (especially) education, drama, the regions, and programming as whole.
Finally, being Chairman of the Corporation is not to be confused with being its Director-General. Moore, Neil or whoever would be operating at one remove.
Johnson left the Spectator under Neil but flourished at the Telegraph titles under Moore. This bit of personal history will of course have no bearing whatsoever on any decision that he will take.