The Cameronista BBC

Let me explain to foaming blog responders

What is it about people who comment on blogs? I have long wondered why the "blogosphere" is dominated by the libertarian right. As in America, the online right's many outlets here are completely co-ordinated and on-message about anything that threatens to damage their beloved Conservative Party. They are able to parrot the same attacks and counterattacks (most recently, say, on the anti-Semite Michal Kaminski) apparently without consulting one another, while the left turns on itself and flounders.

Now I look on in awe as commenters flock to blogs like ours to defend the Tories at all costs. Who are these poeple? Do they work at Conservative Central Office? If they don't, is that even more worrying? If I knew how, it would doubtless be fruitful to check the locations of their computers.

Recently, these people have got very angry about a debate between Mehdi Hasan and Peter Hitchens over whether the BBC is left-wing or right-wing. Abuse has been hurled at Mehdi for daring to suggest the BBC is, contrary to myth, a power-seeking, Establishment-pleasing broadcaster that -- if anything -- is right-wing. Now, while I think Mehdi is right to point to research showing that, for example, the BBC gave more airtime to supporters of the 2003 Iraq invasion rather than its opponents, and in that sense easy myths like "the BBC is anti-war" can be dismissed as nonsense, I would actually disagree with my colleague about the corporation being biased in any direction in a co-ordinated way. This is because it is too shambolic and huge.

Conversely, I agree with Hitchens that the BBC is very pro David Cameron. Hitchens is one of the few writers exposing the many examples of this. I completely disagree, however, with his outlandish reasoning: he says that the alliance shows that Cameron is left-wing and argues, absurdly, that the BBC has somehow converted the Tory party to its (liberal left) side.

In fact, the BBC is devoted to giving Cameron disproportionate airtime, as it memorably did when he talked tough against some of his expense-abusing backbenchers without actually withdrawing the whip as he promised he would. It does that because, outstanding institution though it is, its news culture journalistically is not very sharp. In short, it goes with the flow. This is not about its reporters, some of whom -- including Nick Robinson, James Landale and Iain Watson (the numbers one, two and three on its political reporting team) -- are among the best and most well-informed in the business. (Compared to some other outlets Robinson gave Cameron an impeccably hard time last night.) It is about a sluggish caution and group-mentality among faceless executives and producers.

The media, whose centre of gravity is anyway to the right in this country despite all the howls of fury from blog posters, have decided collectively, with a few exceptions, that the Tory party has changed, has "modernised" and is going to win the next election, probably by a landslide.

The BBC's movement towards Cameron, which results in incessant lead stories about Tory proposals and initiatives, is merely a reflection of this. So, the corporation is not so much biased (though for several years it has been on a recruitment drive to find people who have worked inside or understand Cameron's Tory party) as lazy.

Now, if you can't understand that, and still maintain that the BBC is "left-wing" or a vessel for Labour propaganda, you are going to have to do better than merely post clever-stupid one-liners below. Give me some real examples, please, and put your money where your loud mouths are.

James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
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It's easy to see where Berlin is being rebuilt – just hit the streets

My week, from walking the streets of Berlin to class snobbery and the right kind of gentrification.

Brick by brick, block by block, the people are rebuilding the city once called Faust’s Metropolis. To see it clearly, put your boots on. One of the most bracing walks starts by the Gethsemane Church, which served as a haven for dissenters in the last days of the GDR and takes you down ­towards the Hackescher Markt.

Here, in what is still the eastern half of a divided city that wears its division more lightly, is a Berlin experience both old and new. In three decades of frequent visits, it has been fascinating to note how much this part of town has changed. Even a decade ago these streets were rundown. With crumbling buildings showing bulletholes, it wasn’t hard to imagine what the place looked like in 1945. Now there are lilacs, blues, and yellows. Cafés, bars and restaurants abound, serving the young professionals attracted to the city by cheap rents and a renewed sense of community.

 

Breaking the fourth wall

Looking north along Schliemannstraße, you’ll find a delightful vista of well-tended balconies. It’s a pleasant place to live, notwithstanding the gaggle of grotesques who gather round the corner in the square. On Kastanienallee, which forms the second leg of the walk, an old city feels young. It’s a kind of gentrification but the right kind. There’s more to eat, to drink, to buy, for all.

Berlin, where Bertolt Brecht staged his unwatchable plays, was supposed to have been transformed by a proletarian revolution. Instead, it has been restored to health by a very middle-class one. Germany has always had a well-educated middle class, and the nation’s restoration would have impossible without such people. The irony is delicious – not that irony buttered many parsnips for “dirty Bertie”.

 

The new snobbery

The British Museum’s survey of German history “Memories of a Nation” is being presented at the Martin-Gropius-Bau as “The British View”. Germans, natürlich, are curious to see how we observe them. But how do they see us?

A German friend recently in England  said that the images that struck him most forcibly were the tins of food and cheap booze people piled up in supermarkets, and the number of teenage girls pushing prams. Perhaps Neil MacGregor, the former director of the British Museum who will shortly take up a similar role here at the new Humboldt Forum, may turn his attention to a “German View” of the United Kingdom.

There’s no shortage of material. In Schlawinchen, a bar that typifies Kreuzberg’s hobohemia, a college-educated English girl was trying to explain northern England to an American she had just met. Speaking in an ugly modern Mancunian voice that can only be acquired through years of practice (sugar pronounced as “sug-oar”), she refer­red to Durham and York as “middle class, you know, posh”, because those cities had magnificent cathedrals.

When it comes to inverted snobbery, no nation can match us. To be middle class in Germany is an indication of civic value. In modern England, it can mark you as a leper.

 

Culture vultures

The Humboldt Forum, taking shape by the banks of the Spree, reconsecrates the former site of the GDR’s Palace of the Republic. When it opens in 2018 it will be a “living exhibition”, dedicated to all the cultures of the world. Alexander von Humboldt, the naturalist and explorer, was the brother of Wilhelm, the diplomat and philosopher, whose name lives on in the nearby university.

In Potsdamerplatz there are plans to build a modern art museum, crammed in between the Neue Nationalgalerie and the Philharmonie, home to the Berlin Philharmonic. Meanwhile, the overhaul of the Deutsche Staatsoper, where Daniel Barenboim is music director for life, is likely to be completed, fingers crossed, next autumn.

Culture everywhere! Or perhaps that should be Kultur, which has a slightly different meaning in Germany. They take these things more seriously, and there is no hint of bogus populism. In London, plans for a new concert hall have been shelved. Sir Peter Hall’s words remain true: “England is a philistine country that loves the arts.”

 

European neighbours

When Germans speak of freedom, wrote A J P Taylor, a historian who seems to have fallen from favour, they mean the freedom to be German. No longer. When modern Germans speak of freedom, they observe it through the filter of the European Union.

But nation states are shaped by different forces. “We are educated to be obedient,” a Berlin friend who spent a year at an English school once told me. “You are educated to be independent.” To turn around Taylor’s dictum: when the English speak of freedom,
they mean the freedom to be English.

No matter what you may have heard, the Germans have always admired our independence of spirit. We shall, however, always see “Europe” in different ways. Europe, good: we can all agree on that. The European Union, not so good. It doesn’t mean we have to fall out, and the Germans are good friends to have.

 

Hook, line and sinker

There are fine walks to be had in the west, too. In Charlottenburg, the Kensington of Berlin, the mood is gentler, yet you can still feel the city humming. Here, there are some classic places to eat and drink – the Literaturhauscafé for breakfast and, for dinner, Marjellchen, a treasure trove of east Prussian forest delights. Anything that can be shot and put in a pot!

For a real Berlin experience, though, head at nightfall for Zwiebelfisch, the great tavern on Savignyplatz, and watch the trains glide by on the other side of Kantstraße. Hartmut Volmerhaus, a most amusing host, has been the guvnor here for more than 30 years and there are no signs that his race is run. The “Fisch” at twilight: there’s nowhere better to feel the pulse of this remarkable city. 

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage