Our Stale Groupthink Institutions Need to Change or Go
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BY TOM HARWOOD
This is a historic week. For the first time in a generation, a sizable majority of Conservative MPs will take their seats in parliament. For the first time in two electoral cycles, their terms will last a full five years.
The fact of this newfound political stability opens up a golden opportunity to rebalance the face of many of our political and cultural institutions, turfing out the unaccountable, faceless, leftist bureaucracies and quangos that hold so much sway over our politics and national conversation more broadly.
There is a hope that the reality of the election results alone will act as a nudge to the media, universities, and the denizens of certain quangos to reassess their biases, but the Conservative movement should not rest on its laurels when the weight of opinion amongst cultural elite is tipped so far against us.
The Electoral Commission, created by Blair in 2001, is just one of dozens of cosy retirement homes for former politicians, almost all of whom subscribe to the same centre-left world view and loathe Brexit. It’s not that many of these institutions are left wing, it’s that they are so steeped in the establishment that they view almost any change agenda as bad, wrong, or deeply suspicious. Now is the time for change.
The Conservative Manifesto promised that in its first year this Government will set up a ‘Constitution, Democracy & Rights Commission’ to examine some of these questions. One that does not look at the role of bodies like the Electoral Commission would not be one worth having. There is clearly something very broken about an institution that takes an almost vindictive pleasure in pursuing Leave campaigners on technicalities, whilst letting Remain campaigners off scot-free.
The broadcasting landscape is another area that has for the last two decades of Labour, Coalition, and hung parliament rule been allowed to drift too far from the bounds of impartiality.
This Government has committed to finally look at changing non-payment of the license fee from a criminal to a civil offence, but they shouldn’t stop there. The idea of license fees at all in a world of increasing freedom seems backwards and wrong. This new government with its powerful mandate should not make the mistake of merely tinkering around the edges when seismic reform is so often necessary.
Whether it’s the unbalanced makeup of panel discussions, or the ideological slant of employees, it’s clear that the BBC’s current approach to political balance is failing.
It was extraordinary to see the Labour Party pressed on Newsnight not about the lack of credible funding for its manifesto promises, or barmy nationalisation plans, but instead asked why its manifesto was not more left wing the day the document was unveiled. Technically, it was a critical line of questioning, but it was one that was far from impartial.
It all too often appears that well-meaning broadcasters think they are doing their job of conducting an impartial interview simply by being critical of a party’s prospectus. They’re not. Ideological balance has to be the name of the game.
Outlets like LBC and TalkRADIO, on the other hand, understand how to achieve a more balanced, honest discussion better than most. Television stations should feel liberated to follow their model, not uniformly trying to hide the opinions of their hosts but embracing a diversity of them.
A viewer will come away with a much better understanding of events if they are able to listen to the perspective of both sides, rather than a faux-neutral voice in the middle that only serves to raise suspicions and all to often see serious slippage of the neutrality mask.
It is very early days, but in order to unpick the unbalanced institutions of this country, work must start now.
Tom Harwood is an award-winning journalist and commentator. Follow him on twitter: @tomhfh