There is a general rule of thumb I follow in politics: if the Tories want to get rid of something, it’s almost certainly worth saving. That is certainly the case with the BBC. I love the BBC, and unlike my fellow candidates for Labour deputy leader, I am not ashamed to say so.
I didn’t expect the future of something as precious as the BBC to be a dividing line in this contest, but it clearly demonstrates the need for our party to change. Replacing the BBC licence fee with a Netflix-style subscription would be an unpardonable folly that will have wide-ranging consequences for our country.
It would force the BBC to sell most of its flagship radio stations and cut down its world-leading website content. In the era of fake news and conspiracy theory blogs, the BBC is respected around the world for its impartiality. Taking away people’s access to its coverage would be to the detriment of our society.
The fact that extremes in every political movement think the BBC is biased against them suggests that it is actually doing things right. The Tories, who are boycotting BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, think it is too liberal. Some in my own party think the BBC is part of the Conservative propaganda machine. The nationalists in Scotland blame it for their failure to convince people to break up the UK.
In the 2014 independence referendum, nationalist supporters even took to the streets to protest outside the BBC headquarters in Glasgow against its journalists, inflicting major damage on the Yes campaign by turning off most ordinary voters. Some of those who protested are now SNP MPs.
The labour movement cannot fall into these traps. We must fight tooth and nail to save the BBC, and defend its impartiality. It is a key arm of social justice in this country and goes to the very heart of who we are. There is a reason that extreme nationalists – whether in the SNP or the Tories – want to get rid of it.
Yes, sometimes we can be frustrated with its editorial choices, and it makes mistakes like any media organisation does. But imagine the alternative: a British equivalent of Fox News. That is what the Tories want. Dominic Cummings looks on enviously at the ludicrously impartial coverage that Donald Trump receives on the network, and he wants that for Boris Johnson. That is what is at stake here.
The Tories want to evade scrutiny. They already have an 80-seat majority and can do what they like in parliament. They don’t want pesky journalists asking them too many difficult questions while they take an axe to public services and push people deeper into poverty.
Not only are they boycotting the Today programme, they have even banned selected lobby journalists from briefings. This is straight from the Alex Salmond and Donald Trump playbook. It is not a playbook that the Labour Party should ever open.
There is an online 38 Degrees petition to save the BBC, which I have signed, and I encourage other Labour members to do likewise. The Tories’ attack on the BBC is an attack on our democracy. The broadcaster is the envy of the world and is the very essence of the kind of country we are. It’s the driver of our creative production ecosystem and makes us laugh, cry, get angry and educated all in one – whether it’s Strictly, The Archers or Panorama.
The BBC is an institution that we should be proud of, champion and cherish. As deputy leader of the Labour Party, that is what I will always do. Our country would be much diminished without it and we lose it at our peril.