How the Beeb marked May Day


Theresa May is now Prime Minister, and the coverage was predictably nauseating. Bereft of internet a few days into life at new digs, I sat and watched it on News 24.

Neutrality means offering as broad a range of viewpoints as possible, and not favouring any of them. The BBC always claims it’s neutral, but that’s not what it does at all. Instead, for decades, it’s consistently done something very different: portray anyone or anything conforming to the neoliberal-authoritarian post-Thatcherite consensus in a favourable light (being mildly critical at very best, fawningly biased at worst), and relentlessly undermine anyone who deviates from it. Being pro-establishment and anti-dissident, after all, is basically the default setting of British public life.

Theresa May has clearly decided to try and paint herself as being more left-wing than Cameron and Osborne.She filled her first speech outside Number Ten with egalitarian-populist references to struggling provincial Britain, and liberally bashed ‘the privileged few’.

Considering the Conservative Party is basically the parliamentary wing of the ‘privileged few’, it’s obviously staggeringly unlikely she’ll come good on any of that leftish rhetoric. Theresa May’s just spent six years inside the most right-wing, socially divisive government since Thatcher’s. In the same speech she banged on about wanting to champion working-class people against ‘the mighty’, she praised David Cameron, a man who oversaw the richest thousand people doubling their wealth and terminal cancer patients being told to get a job or lose their benefits, for his legacy of ‘social justice’.

But when Laura Kuennsberg and friends commented on her first Prime Ministerial sermon to the press, it was with a total lack of cynicism. They duly noted it was an unsurprising un-Tory-like speech to have given, but at no stage did they state the blazingly obvious – that it was almost certainly just cynical political posturing, designed to compound Labour’s woes, win over floating progressive voters, and distinguish herself from her widely-hated predecessors.

Realistically, that was a lot to expect from the professional news drones – but they didn’t cut to anyone else who might offer a more critical perspective, either. There were plenty of people to choose from – they ignored it as much as they could, until Kuennsberg briefly mentioned it at the very end in relation to the ‘difficulties’ the incoming PM faced, but May was constantly having to contend with bellowing protestors just outside the Downing Street gates.

Basically, whatever Theresa May wanted to say, no matter how outlandish or lie-filled, they’d unquestioningly broadcast without the slightest bit of critical commentary. They might as well have just sent the cameraman and had the afternoon off.

But as ever on these ‘grand’ occasions, you got the sense they were actually quite enjoying themselves. They wheeled out Huw Edwards and taxpayer-funded feudalism fetishist Nicholas Witchell, usually reserved for Royal love-ins, to commentate over tedious images of May’s car trundling to and from Buckingham Palace to visit Mrs Windsor. They had great fun speculating about who would and wouldn’t be in the new cabinet.

And, when it was all over, they cut to a stomach-churning montage of ‘the greatest scenes of the day’. Over West Wing-esque stately orchestral music, images of Cameron being applauded by Tory MPs, Cameron’s kooky it’s-my-last-day jokes in parliament, Cameron thanking his children and ‘the love of his life’, rounded off with another propagandising blast of May’s ‘not a privileged few’ soundbite.

If you knew nothing about politics, and watched all that for half an hour or so before tea, you’d come away with the impression that David Cameron did a fairly good job in tough circumstances, that he’s a nice, decent, family guy, and probably feel a bit sad that he was leaving – but ultimately relieved he was being replaced by someone as experienced and fair-minded as Mrs May. In other words, exactly what Conservative Central Office would want you to think.

Objective reality – that Cameron led one of the most brutally divisive governments in modern history, systematically scapegoated and abused the weakest, most vulnerable people in society, used a financial meltdown caused by superrich criminals and myths about how economies work to further a fanatical three-decades-old project to destroy what’s left of the welfare state and irreversibly shift the balance of power in favour of a big business-backed oligarchy, etc – didn’t get a look-in.

At very least, though, it left us with quite a good metaphor for modern Britain – elite politics talking at elite media in a fortified enclave of central London (with both ignoring the angry representatives of the country’s politically conscious minority protesting outside), millions passively watching it at home on telly, and millions more who just couldn’t give a damn.