One day, the tables might turn
Of course Emily Maitlis’s Newsnight monologue demonstrated unacceptable bias. One isn’t required to be a defender of Dominic Cummings to believe that a presenter on the BBC’s flagship news programme should not be permitted to flout established rules on impartiality by making deeply partisan statements about live and contentious political issues.
Neither is one required to be any kind of Conservative to conclude that what the Beeb’s own Andrew Marr once described as the corporation’s ‘cultural liberal bias’ not only causes it to fail in its rightful duty to sufficiently reflect the viewpoint of large swathes of our nation, but may eventually prove to be its downfall.
Indeed, some of us on the Left who hold an affection for the BBC and wish to defend it are keen for it to rid itself of its ingrained prejudice precisely because we know its political opponents have lined up the corporation in their crosshairs and are merely waiting for the right moment to pull the trigger.
That’s why the usual suspects currently rallying to Maitlis’s defence ought to be careful what they wish for. In defending such naked partisanship, they are ultimately playing into their opponents’ hands.
They made the same mistake when they reacted gleefully to an unauthorised tweet attacking Cummings and Boris Johnson posted from the official UK Civil Service account. How hilarious they all thought it was. Owen Jones responded with a stream of laughing emojis, and JK Rowling even offered to pay the culprit’s salary for a year.
But in elevating short-term political gain over the upholding of impartiality throughout our public and state institutions, they merely demonstrate their own short-sightedness. For the political neutrality of these institutions is a cornerstone of our democratic society. And though the subverting of that neutrality may on occasion provide an opportunity to slam dunk an enemy, the wise person should refuse to take it — not least because, one day, the tables might be turned, and that enemy will hold the greater clout inside these bastions of influence.
Indeed, the Left has complained in the past when supposedly politically neutral institutions have been reported as having worked to undermine the Labour party. Even now, for example, the theory of an establishment plot to bring down Harold Wilson enjoys credibility (perhaps justifiably) on the Left, and, more recently, many on the Left were — rightly — up in arms when a serving army general predicted a mutiny in the ranks if Jeremy Corbyn were elected prime minister.
There really is no room for political opportunism in these matters. What goes around comes around. Those cheering Emily Maitlis to the rafters would do well to remember it.