LONG READ: How the Free Market Can Help Us win the Culture War
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The culture war is raging all around us and it’s time for the Conservative Party to go into battle.
An eminent philosopher has recently been removed from a government appointment because of a series of inaccurate tweets by a left-wing journalist. An award-winning Doctor Who writer, who also happens to be a gay Conservative, has been sacked from an upcoming BBC Books anthology because of views on transgenderism which the majority would agree with. A Conservative Leadership contender has been castigated for refusing to describe himself as a feminist.
The left is on the march — through the BBC, through our universities, through our cultural institutions — and it’s essential that the Conservatives do something about it.
This is not about importing America’s toxic culture clash to the UK; that would be dreadful. It’s about accepting that the UK has a serious set of cultural problems, which need a concrete policy response.
The Conservative approach so far has been to appease, with Conservative politicians going out of their way to appear on board with identity politics and committed to big government with even bigger bills. The first problem with this is its ideological incoherence. A Conservative government which elevates state apparatus above the individual and seeks to expand rather than curtail its influence is not really conservative.
Second, in doing so Conservatives create a rod for their own backs: powerful public sector vested interests who will always resist the free market because a free market would curtail rather than expand their influence.
It is foolish to pretend that the University sector and the BBC aren’t dominated by left-wing bias. Ultimately, however, the problem and the solution come down to one key motivating factor: money. We know that human behaviour is influenced by opportunities to accrue wealth and thereby self-interest. It is in both the BBC’s and universities’ interests to push big government dogma.
And this attitude permeates the complete cultural ecology. ‘Arts groups’ — often pinned to an identitarian label — recieve funding from central or local government and effectively turn into organs of the state. The artists are reliant on public funds, largely because their output is not commercially viable. They are incentivised to dress to the left, which they do with verve; wherever you find an ‘arts group’, dishevelled men in Che Guevara t-shirts are always nearby.
Fear of the BBC and the academic sector also frustrates meaningful conversations about health policy. The NHS uses the BBC to provide endless self-aggrandising programming; witness the BBC’s saccharine “NHS at 75” season.
Sure, the NHS has its advantages but it has many disadvantages too. Ironically, people who have decided that the EU is the font of all that is kind and lovely are often unwilling to recognise that health provision in France, Italy, Holland, Germany and Belgium is demonstrably superior. We must have a debate about our health service; this is impossible as long as it is allowed to clog the airwaves with BBC-endorsed agitprop largely unchallenged.
Now is the time for the Conservative Party to strike. Frustration with our increasingly restrictive cultural life is spreading through the non-identitarian left and right; and the wider public. Our cultural institutions are pursuing diversity of everything, except thought. Meanwhile, if you do express a viewpoint outside of metropolitan acceptability – even if most people agree with you – you can face brutal reprisals.
I am, like most reasonable people, in favour of looking after individuals who through no fault of their own need help: the sick, the old, the unlucky. I do not think it sensible to extend this benevolence to left-wing academics in universities with no real value; nor theatres staging work nobody wishes to see; nor, frankly, legions of insulated BBC managers.
What is, for example, a University of Salford ‘Creative Digital Media’ degree worth in the wider economy? The answer is very little; certainly, not what it costs to ‘study’.
The key will be to rebalance away from left-wing identitarian sects reliant on state financing towards a truly representative, diverse cultural landscape, responsive to the market and catering to consumers. Ultimately, this reorientation will relieve pressure on the taxpayer and encourage all to flourish, released from the need to appease the apparatchiks of powerful state interests.
For many students – particularly those concentrated in the less-illustrious institutions – attending university is little more than 3 years of busywork which keeps them neatly out of the unemployment statistics. The illusion for these undergraduates – and the taxpayer – is that they are in fact paying for their education through their loans. The reality is that the repayments are such that they will never repay the loans which are due as their incomes will never become large enough to pay back the full amount.
For the universities, this set up is perfect: they expand, charge high fees and make enough money to pay their vice-chancellors hundreds of thousands a year, whilst sustaining legions of “academics” in employment. The current set-up therefore encourages universities to sell courses which don’t benefit the students, and young people to go to university who shouldn’t.
The solution is: acknowledge at every stage that prospective students are making a free market choice. Publish – as part of the university application information – what graduates of every course from every university are earning, on average, 10 years from graduation. This should focus applicants’ minds on whether their degree is “worth it”. Over the medium term, you would expect to see successful courses and institutions becoming more popular, with the rest being driven out of the market. Once this data was established, the government could then remove subsidy to institutions which aren’t sustaining themselves, i.e. where graduates are not repaying their loans, and the taxpayer is bearing the burden of the costs. This combination of measures should organically reduce the prevalence of low-quality degrees and institutions which are great for the academics “teaching” in them, but of little benefit to the student consumers.
The BBC has never been less popular. As the fallout from last week’s Leaders’ debate has shown – with revelations that the BBC news team knowingly chose dubious left-wing activists to question the candidates – patience with the Corporation is reaching breaking point. Combined with the BBC’s decision to force the over-75s to pay their licence fees, in direct contradiction to previous assurances, it’s clear the public are ready for the public broadcaster’s revenue settlement to be reassessed. Ending the licence fee would be a popular policy amongst Conservative voters, and voters in general. It would force the BBC to become competitive and start creating programmes which appeal to normal viewers, rather than left-wing managers. The BBC would most likely continue to exist, but as a commercial entity, instead of a fiefdom where people can indulge their personal agenda.
There is a case for keeping a much slimmed-down licence fee: say £25-a-year to cover impartial news coverage and some “high-brow” cultural programming. But that would bring with it further questions: for example, about their news-site. What is the BBC’s mandate for running one of the biggest free news websites in the world? It skews the market for local radio and local papers – and gives the Corporation an unfair advantage over privately-owned websites which need to charge. Why is the BBC allowed to do this?
Ultimately, it seems ridiculous that in 2019 you are forced by the state to pay money to a Corporation simply because you own a television. Severing that link will be an important first step in the de-socialising of our media landscape.
The “Diversity” Industry
To end “diversity” – which simply means the imposition of an agenda – all forms of discrimination and favouritism on any ground should be made illegal in public and private sectors. This will also end quotas – completely. It would no longer be possible, for example, for the BBC to advertise for interns based on their racial characteristics. This would also apply to identitarian arts groups: you could not make a special case for funding based on “labels”, such as sexuality.
Whilst this may sound draconian, an effective Conservative leader should be able to sell this well: it is about promoting genuine equality and meritocracy. We are country where everybody is equal; not a country where one group of people is favoured above another because of unalterable personal characteristics.
The Conservative Party can expect vocal opposition to these measures. But Conservatives have shied away from this debate for too long. Let’s reinvent our cultural institutions as modern engines of social mobility and change. This is about genuine equality of opportunity. For the many, not the few.