A troubled institution. Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

If anything, the BBC tilts to the right

The role of newspapers in shaping the news agenda has given the institution a right-wing editorial bias. 

What goes on the campaign bus should perhaps stay on the campaign bus – at least as far as David Cameron’s remarks about closing down the BBC are concerned.

The Prime Minister, amid the rigours of a tough old election campaign, told journalists he was “going to close it (the Corporation) down after the election.”

The story emerged – secondhand – via the venerable Nick Robinson, who was recovering from surgery during the campaign.

My instinct here is that BBC journalists – and I was one of their number for more than a dozen years – are right when they describe this as “yet another of bit of pressure” from a Conservative party which has long viewed the BBC with suspicion and in some cases outright detestation.

However it also rather sounds as though an embattled Cameron was letting off steam rather than making any kind explicit threat.

Nevertheless it would be a mistake to overlook the fact the BBC is approaching negotiations about charter renewal and any kind of comment by the governing party of the day about the broadcaster’s future will rightly be scrutinised to destruction within New Broadcasting House.

Employees there, certainly the journalists, have felt under near constant siege since around the mid-point of the last decade, with several strikes and a long slump in morale the outcome.

First came the devastating findings of the Hutton Inquiry in 2004, which plunged the Corporation into the biggest crisis in its history; there has since followed the seemingly endless rounds of budget cuts borne by those on the shop floor of news.

Taken together these traumas have destroyed confidence BBC producers had in their own ability and produced a drip-feed of hemlock taken via doom-laden emails from senior managers unaffected by mountains of proposed savings.

So the Prime Minister may joke and others around him fire off volleys of complaint in what the tabloid press gleefully calls the government’s ‘war with the BBC’ but oddly there is much the Conservatives would approve of at the Corporation.

While not being an arm of the State the BBC certainly carries with it much of the architecture of State. That is to say the overwhelming majority of senior journalists and bosses tend to be white, middle aged, middle class men and often hail from a public school background.

Their views – hardly surprisingly – reflect much of that and the idea of the BBC being a haven for socialists and subversives is just rubbish, for if there was ever a ‘Left-wing bias’ there certainly is no longer.

Rather the BBC is a socially liberal place and I suspect that is – in a broad sense – the politics of those who work there too. Witness the visit of the Queen back in 2013, with journalists flocking to get near the old dear for a selfie or two.

Indeed those of us who have worked there for any length of time know there is just as much pressure from the political Left as the Right to cover events in an unbiased way. I recall fielding editorial complaints from the likes of David Blunkett, Tory Central Office and the Israeli government.

Mr Cameron and his ilk might be interested to know that if anything there is an in-built editorial bias from the Right because of the way the newspapers – and especially the Daily Mail – help shape the day-to-day agenda at the BBC.

Senior editors plough their way through bundles of the day’s papers before ever committing themselves to covering a story and often end up reflecting what has already been printed, not only in the Mail, but the Times, Sun and Telegraph too.

All of this said I, like Nick Robinson, suspect the BBC will be around for a good long time to come even with John Whittingdale as Culture Secretary. It’s been in bigger scrapes in the past with Tory governments, especially those headed by Margaret Thatcher.

Imagine the UK without the BBC? – not even David Cameron would find that funny.

Getty
Show Hide image

A swimming pool and a bleeding toe put my medical competency in doubt

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Sometimes the search engine wins. 

The brutal heatwave affecting southern Europe this summer has become known among locals as “Lucifer”. Having just returned from Italy, I fully understand the nickname. An early excursion caused the beginnings of sunstroke, so we abandoned plans to explore the cultural heritage of the Amalfi region and strayed no further than five metres from the hotel pool for the rest of the week.

The children were delighted, particularly my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Gracie, who proceeded to spend hours at a time playing in the water. Towelling herself after one long session, she noticed something odd.

“What’s happened there?” she asked, holding her foot aloft in front of my face.

I inspected the proffered appendage: on the underside of her big toe was an oblong area of glistening red flesh that looked like a chunk of raw steak.

“Did you injure it?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

I shrugged and said she must have grazed it. She wasn’t convinced, pointing out that she would remember if she had done that. She has great faith in plasters, though, and once it was dressed she forgot all about it. I dismissed it, too, assuming it was one of those things.

By the end of the next day, the pulp on the underside of all of her toes looked the same. As the doctor in the family, I felt under some pressure to come up with an explanation. I made up something about burns from the hot paving slabs around the pool. Gracie didn’t say as much, but her look suggested a dawning scepticism over my claims to hold a medical degree.

The next day, Gracie and her new-found holiday playmate, Eve, abruptly terminated a marathon piggy-in-the-middle session in the pool with Eve’s dad. “Our feet are bleeding,” they announced, somewhat incredulously. Sure enough, bright-red blood was flowing, apparently painlessly, from the bottoms of their big toes.

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Often, what patients discover on the internet causes them undue alarm, and our role is to provide context and reassurance. But not infrequently, people come across information that outstrips our knowledge. On my return from our room with fresh supplies of plasters, my wife looked up from her sun lounger with an air of quiet amusement.

“It’s called ‘pool toe’,” she said, handing me her iPhone. The page she had tracked down described the girls’ situation exactly: friction burns, most commonly seen in children, caused by repetitive hopping about on the abrasive floors of swimming pools. Doctors practising in hot countries must see it all the time. I doubt it presents often to British GPs.

I remained puzzled about the lack of pain. The injuries looked bad, but neither Gracie nor Eve was particularly bothered. Here the internet drew a blank, but I suspect it has to do with the “pruning” of our skin that we’re all familiar with after a soak in the bath. This only occurs over the pulps of our fingers and toes. It was once thought to be caused by water diffusing into skin cells, making them swell, but the truth is far more fascinating.

The wrinkling is an active process, triggered by immersion, in which the blood supply to the pulp regions is switched off, causing the skin there to shrink and pucker. This creates the biological equivalent of tyre treads on our fingers and toes and markedly improves our grip – of great evolutionary advantage when grasping slippery fish in a river, or if trying to maintain balance on slick wet rocks.

The flip side of this is much greater friction, leading to abrasion of the skin through repeated micro-trauma. And the lack of blood flow causes nerves to shut down, depriving us of the pain that would otherwise alert us to the ongoing tissue damage. An adaptation that helped our ancestors hunt in rivers proves considerably less use on a modern summer holiday.

I may not have seen much of the local heritage, but the trip to Italy taught me something new all the same. 

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear