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Liberty Leading the People;Eugene Delacroix, 1830 Culture wars 

Idiocy and intimidation in Britain’s culture war

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The culture war now openly raging in Britain continues to plumb ever deeper levels of idiocy and intimidation. The BBC was convulsed last week when Carrie Gracie, its China Editor, resigned over her claim that she was not being paid the same as other BBC foreign affairs editors who happened to be men.

Her protest was on behalf of all BBC women employees who weren’t being paid the same as men doing the same jobs. An admirable resignation, then, on a point of principle? Well, not exactly.

For she hadn’t resigned from the BBC, merely from her post as China Editor. And since the row exploded into the rest of the media on the very day when she happened to be doing a trial stint as presenter of BBC radio’s flagship Today programme, it looked as if she was choosing to audition for an even more stellar BBC job by trashing the BBC.

If this was strange, her stint on Today was farcical. For BBC rules of, ahem, objectivity stipulate that a journalist cannot interview someone, or be interviewed, on an issue in which they are themselves the story. So while at the microphone in the Today studio Gracie sat silently while other journalists, including her co-presenter John Humphrys, interviewed others about her.

Yet even that was as nothing compared to what then followed. For in the Today studio Humphrys, who is paid far more than other BBC journalists, indulged in some jokey off-air banter with the BBC’s north America editor Jon Sopel (whose own salary level had helped trigger Gracie’s protest).

Humphrys asked Sopel how much of his salary he would be prepared to “hand over” to keep Gracie. He was heard saying: “And I could save you the trouble because I could volunteer that I’ve handed over already more than you f***ing earn, but I’m still left with more than anybody else, and that seems to me to be entirely just. Something like that would do it, do you think?” He added: “Dear God. She’s actually suggested that you should lose money. You know that, don’t you? You’ve read the thing properly, have you?”

This was an example of typical joshing banter between journalists. Yet the BBC po-facedly said it was “an ill-advised off-air conversation which the presenter regrets”. Why should Humphrys regret it? Why didn’t the BBC regret that Humphrys’s privacy had been invaded by another member of its staff? Are journalists now to avoid normal teasing exchanges with colleagues in case some nasty person with an ideological agenda invades their privacy and makes it public?

What’s more, Gracie’s claim was itself questionable. In an open letter, she said she had left her post to “speak out publicly on a crisis of trust at the BBC”, adding she simply wanted the corporation to “abide by the law and value men and women equally”.

What crisis of trust? What law-breaking? She may have legitimate cause to complain about any specific undertakings the BBC may have made to her and then broken. But her general point is untenable. It confuses equality with identical outcomes.

The idea that everyone should be paid the same for doing a job with similar title and rank is absurd. Legitimate value judgments may be and are routinely made about the relative importance of the particular foreign affairs brief, the correspondent’s seniority, length of service, risk involved to life and limb and so forth. Plus some correspondents are simply considered more valuable than others because they have a greater audience following. Carrie Gracie herself, who is well regarded, may be more valuable to the BBC than certain other male or female foreign affairs editors. Is she really saying she should not be paid more than them?

And as for John Humphrys, he is entitled to earn more as he is considered the doyen of radio interviewers and presenters. Some may contest that judgement; but it is the BBC’s right to make it.

The row, however, then escalated. According to reports, a number of BBC women threatened to walk out unless Humphrys was sacked. Sacked! For off-air private banter! And still the BBC bigwigs sucked their cheeks – over Humphrys.

Of course the utterly pc BBC would automatically take the side of such bullying and intimidation by women, because the BBC subscribes to the (highly tendentious) orthodoxy that there is an unconscionable gender pay gap and women are always the victims of men. Which would make the claim by these women that the BBC is guilty of the crime of sexist pay discrimination deeply amusing, were the whole thing not utterly chilling.

This all came hard on the heels off the immolation of Toby Young, the free-schools pioneer who was forced to resign his membership of the new universities regulatory body after numerous offensive comments he had tweeted came to light. Those comments were indeed odious and his fulsome apology for them was not good enough.

But the wholesale character assassination that then engulfed him was not just disproportionate but, by his own account, malevolently unjust. For he was accused not just of lewd offensiveness but also of being a eugenicist and a Nazi on the basis on a conference he attended – which he says he did in order to research a lecture he was about to give – and an article he wrote – which he says was selectively misquoted and misrepresented.

People must make of his record what they will. What is notable, however, is the hypocrisy of his tormentors. Compare and contrast their muted or non-existent reaction to the behaviour of Labour MP Jared O’Mara, who has merely been suspended from the Labour party for making lewd and horrible remarks about fat people and gays.

As for eugenics, some if not most of those attacking Toby Young themselves support selective abortion or the screening of IVF foetuses on the grounds of breeding out genetic abnormalities. That is eugenics. Such people don’t consider it to be so because it involves getting rid of human life which they don’t think should be part of the human family – and their values and criteria, of course, represent unchallengeable goodness of heart while eugenicists are beyond the pale.

Or to put it another way their credo seems to be: “If people like me support eugenics we call it human rights; if people we don’t like support it we call them Nazis”.

Our society seems to to be consumed at present by a kind of selective Puritanism, or coerced partisan virtue. As I wrote back in 2010 in my book The World Turned Upside Down, morality has been supplanted by ideology; as a result, in the ostensible interests of producing a nicer, kinder, more rational and compassionate society some of us have become intolerant, repressive, unreasonable and cruel.

Hypocrisy is no longer the tribute vice may pay to virtue. It has become the weapon deployed by vice in order to control others. In this raging culture war, the establishment and intelligentsia are almost entirely united in stamping their boots onto others’ faces. But ordinary people are watching, horrified; and one day there will be a reckoning.

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