IS A NEW ERA BEGINNING FOR THE BBC?
It is refreshing to hear Tim Davie, the new Director-General of the BBC, admit that not everything is perfect at the BBC and that it is going to have to change. A notable trait of this great broadcaster under his predecessor, Lord Hall, was the lack of humility in the unwillingness of the BBC and its news personnel at least to admit that improvement may be necessary. This is exemplified by Newswatch, in which viewers’ praise and criticism of television news presentation and content is discussed. If the response is to criticism, admission by the BBC of error or misjudgement or that a concern needed real examination, rarely, if ever, occurs.
Notable targets in Tim Davie’s sights include comedy, and his perception that BBC comedy needs to be more diverse, catering for all tastes without bias towards left-leaning humour; and his recognition that the BBC employs too many like-minded people – he referred to the “BBC type” – whereas diversity is required to appeal to the many different audiences the BBC should attract: the current type being too London, or perhaps Islington, drawn; and then the need to reduce expansion to create a simpler and leaner organisation.
He put into perspective that the BBC should focus on delivering value to each member of the public and the UK as a whole, and that this matters more than debates about internal dramas, press flare-ups and political shenanigans.
Perhaps the most significant and encouraging principle he invoked is that the BBC needs to ensure its impartiality, and that means that its presenters need to be manifestly impartial instead of manifestly biased, as often illustrated by their tweeting personal commentaries, and so abusing the influence they have gained through the BBC platform to launch their own personal political or moral agendas. He said, it is reported, “ If you want to be an opinionated columnist or a partisan campaigner on social media that is a valid choice, but you should not work at the BBC”.
The commitment to put impartiality back at the core of BBC culture is welcome. Evidence of success in doing so will be even more welcome. The BBC remains highly respected worldwide. Perhaps most of the British public wish it to be first class, even the very best broadcaster in the world , and so enhance respect for the UK as a whole. So much goodwill towards the BBC in the UK has been squandered, particularly in the last 3 years. Tim Davie’s approach has the potential to revitalise it as a media institution. It is to be hoped that its key people will embrace his commitments, and also that the hiring of new people will reflect diversity of opinion, as it is in the end the representatives of the BBC in front of the public who will demonstrate or not its excellence.
EU-UK TRADE TALKS IMPASSE
As of now, the EU-UK trade talks to determine the relationship after 2020 have stalled with entrenchment BY BOTH SIDES. According to reports, the EU lead negotiator, Michel Barnier, refuses to discuss any significant matter until the UK demonstrates an acceptable approach to the EU’s level playing field requirements, which UKGOV refuses to adopt. Particularly the UK is unwilling to tie its hands to similar state aid subsidy rules as the EU operates.
The UK is still not bowing to the EU typical approach of demanding concessions and movement by the other party before it will agree anything. It is perhaps obvious from its behaviour in all negotiations that it will not give ground until the eleventh hour. Each side blames the other for intransigence – nothing surprising there. Each side wants to take the moral high ground in the public eye, but is there really such a thing as moral high ground, which perhaps is but another negotiating tool?
Nobody seems these days to mention much the Political Declaration, settled with the Brexit withdrawal agreement, and which , while not binding, sets out the general principles agreed in advance to underpin the negotiations. See Sherbhert https://www.sherbhert.com/eu-uk-future-relationship-a-predictable-impasse/ There are reasons perhaps why it is not referred to. For example, in it the EU agreed that it was to ratify a new fisheries agreement by 1 July 2020, quite separately. Yet the EU will not even discuss fishing rights now and it is September, having already acknowledged that their starting position on the topic is wholly unreasonable. So they ignore that element of the Political Declaration and perhaps any others which do not suit them.
Likewise the UK, when it comes to state aid discussions. The UK agreed in the Political Declaration to commit to standards in place at the end of 2020, that is perhaps to adopt some regulations which are similar to those currently in place, presumably involving establishing a regulatory body to enforce the rules – evidently such body cannot be the EU Commission as that would fly in the face of UK independence! On this topic there is of course a problem, caused by the CV pandemic. Given the economic destruction wreaked on EU and the UK economies by lockdowns and other responses to CV, all the state aid and subsidy restrictions have been necessarily ignored : in the EU the 750 billion Euro recovery fund is itself state aid. Each EU country is subsidising left right and centre its key industries. For example, Germany has committed billions to assist its car industry, companies such as Volkswagen. The UK too is is acting similarly . So today and in the coming years, for the sake of realigning economies and nurturing them back to health, government financial help will be critical. State aid subsidy restrictions need a rethink and this should not get in the way of a trade agreement. Evidently though both the EU and the UK need to commit to sensible policies to prevent unfair competition. The UK should certainly make clear what state aid subsidy rules it may propose: for example, if it wants freedom to support technology, and businesses in the North of England as part of levelling up, it should say so, as that seems perfectly reasonable.
If there is to be an agreement, December may be the time for it, even though the accepted latest time is mid-October to allow for independent country by country ratification in the EU by the end of the year. Maybe to achieve something, the spirit of the Political Declaration should be re-embraced, if, even though it was expressly spelt out in the declaration, the parties ever really embraced it. Sadly, probably, the aspirational cooperation sentiments contained in it may always remain just that, and not even the pandemic can bring the two sides to sensible compromise. Maybe the politically driven EU desire to punish the UK for daring to leave the EU will need to be satisfied. Presumably, UKGOV will not agree anything which cedes the independence of the UK which is paramount.
However, UKGOV has announced its Internal Market Bill which includes proposed powers for UKGOV unilaterally to decide certain matters which technically may breach the Withdrawal Agreement. EU reaction is angry. Is this tactics? If the UK were deliberately to breach that international agreement, there needs to be a very good reason.
In his opening match at the U.S. Tennis Open, Andy Murray won, defeating the world number 49. Although he was knocked out in round 2, his victory needs to be especially appreciated. He won in 5 sets recovering from 2 sets down. So what? He has undergone hip-resurfacing surgery, in effect an artificial hip is installed: while recovery to lead a normal life after such an operation is fairly usual, including playing sports, it is a quite different matter to play tennis at the highest level, requiring not just extreme talent and fitness, but total confidence in the artificial bits. To endure 4 hours and 39 minutes of top tennis in these circumstances is a lesson in self-belief, resilience and determination which is inspirational to ordinary people and, judging by the crowd of top tennis players who watched in admiration, also to his peers.
British Medical Research
“Second steroid drug proven to save lives” was a headline on page 11, yes page 11, of the Times of 3 September. British researchers led by Anthony Gordon, Professor at Imperial College , London, have found only the second drug proven to save the lives of people seriously ill with CV. This finding that hydrocortisone can cut the risk of death from CV by about 20% is another impressive credit for British research, which previously discovered that dexamethasone also increased survival rates. As more mitigants against CV are found, so its deadly effects are being reduced and the risk of health services being overwhelmed also comes down. Clearly these steroids are not a cure as Anthony Gordon has made clear, but the discovery will save lives across the world and should be lauded by the British public.
The Electric Urban Lorry
In the same Times edition, a headline on page 18 seems significant “Electric lorry promises to deliver the goods on cleaner city air”. This is about the world’s first purpose built electric lorry designed specifically for urban traffic. It is the British built Volta-Zero: one of these can replace 4 traditional vans making cleaner freight deliveries. It is expected to be in full production by a UK-Swedish manufacturer by 2022. Cause to praise more British inventiveness in vehicle manufacture.
British Universities in World Top 200
29 British Universities are ranked in the top 200 universities in the world by the Times Higher Education Rankings for 2021 published recently. Oxford has been rated number one in the world for the fifth year running. 29 is one more than for 2020, but about 15 have slipped down the table. Cambridge is 6th and 4 London colleges are in the top 50. The UK is the second best performing country after the U.S.
There is some concern that the UK has been slipping steadily in recent years, but it is still rated as a higher education world powerhouse (China for example has 7 Universities in the 200). Clearly with the CV pandemic and effects of Brexit coming through, there are threats, including financial funding. But perhaps if UKGOV and universities work positively together, the UK can enhance its reputation in the future. Does the UK do enough to capitalise on this leadership position? It is necessary to keep the flow of foreign students running, not just for funding reasons but also diversity. Again perhaps this success should be celebrated more fully and recalled when the critics attack our education system.