Ordinary People

Thursday, 26 July 2007

This was posted on my Livejournal on 20 July 2007

The BBC has been in a right tiswas this week, It has been caught out in some fairly minor crassness, like rigging charity phone-in competitions, and showing a trailer for a documentary about Queen Elizabeth which made some newspaper editors look silly by prompting them to write inaccurate stories the morning after they saw it.

Of course, the whole point of the phone-in comps was to have a bit of fun while raising money for charity, and the media has always gone in for making people look silly (the BBC is as guilty as anybody in running Candid Camera type shows over many years). But that isn’t the point. Somebody’s put them up to a public display of hand-wringing. It’s hard to avoid the feeling that somebody is part of a noisy caucus of media luminaries with an interest in discrediting the BBC, which is standing between them and their right to make vast amounts of money while bending the populace to their will. These people have an agenda which is much broader than the probity of charity phone-ins. They use anything and everything to discredit their enemy and this is just a part of it.

The broader charges levelled at the BBC are that it has an institutional ‘liberal bias’ and that it doesn’t reflect the values of ‘ordinary people’. I’m not going to dwell on the first charge, beyond mentioning my long-standing puzzlement that ‘liberal’ seems to have become a term of abuse in America and the usage is insidiously creeping in over here. As far as I always knew, being liberal was about being broad-minded, tolerant and accepting, and consequently frowning upon intolerance and bigotry. That seems to me to be a Good Thing, and ‘liberal bias’ seems to me to be inherently contradictory. It’s these mysterious ‘ordinary people’ that puzzle me.

I don’t know any ordinary people. I doubt very much if any ordinary person is reading this. Everybody I know is extraordinary, in one way or another. Once I thought I caught a glimpse of ordinary people in their natural habitat. I was working in the Mid Staffordshire by-election in 1990 and I was knocking on doors in a town called Rugeley, where there were lots of neat little houses with neat gardens and a Ford Sierra in the drive and doorbells that played Home Sweet Home when you pressed them. I could imagine that inside there would be flying ducks on the wall, a rack of James Last LPs, and people who read the Daily Mail and believed every word it said. But it was an illusion – all these people were voting Labour (who won the by-election by a landslide).

These ‘ordinary people’ seem to be defined only in terms of what they are not. They are not members of the ‘chattering classes’. They never went to university. They don’t live in Islington (why pick on Islington? The last time I saw the Caledonian Road it didn’t look especially precious.) They don’t eat bruschetta (toast rubbed with garlic, a good snack when you’re skint). They don’t hold or attend dinner parties. They don’t read ‘highbrow’ books. They don’t read The Guardian (with its trendy leftie columnists like Simon Jenkins and Max Hastings) In short, they aren’t the kind of person who takes an interest in current affairs to the extent of researching matters and thinking them through. (And by definition, they aren’t the kind of people who are employed by News International, or United Newspapers.) So why should their knee-jerk opinions carry equal weight anyway?

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