I thought you might be interested in my submission to the BBC Review, dealing with their question of how well they serve national audiences.
BBC Charter Review Consultation
Department for Culture, Media & Sport
100 Parliament Street
London SW1A 2BQ
25 August 2015
I write to submit my views as part of the Public Consultation on the BBC Charter Review. Please accept this letter as a formal submission on the question of how well the BBC serves its national audiences.
The need for a BBC England
I met with BBC Radio Berkshire and BBC South on 18 August 2015 at their request following my submission that the review of the BBC considers BBC services to England.
I did not, of course, meet with BBC England. After much prodding there is now a webpage on England, but there is still no BBC England with England’s news and other programmes in the way there is a BBC Scotland or BBC Wales. The BBC still seeks to implement a regionalisation agenda for England, breaking us up into regions that encourage little loyalty or even recognition.
Why does the BBC insist on trying to balkanise England when it does not do the same for Scotland? The Highlands and islands are very different from the lowlands, the borders are different from the central belt, yet they allow Scotland to be a single entity. Why is my part of England called the South of England? Why is Wokingham lumped with Dorset and the Isle of Wight, but not with neighbouring Surrey or west London?
Why are the BBC so embarrassed by England? The answer appears on their short profile of England which they have now published on the BBC website. In a revealing passage the BBC states:
“Scottish and Welsh nationalist movements have long been part of the political mainstream, and are seen as champions of legitimate historical identities. English nationalism…has often been portrayed as a reaction to non-white immigration and is seen as largely the province of the far right. But there is a constitutional nationalist movement that focuses on the English Parliament issue”.
So England cannot have a BBC England because a few nasty people have pursued extreme nationalism, whereas in the case of other nationalist movements we look at the majority law abiding membership of those movements and not the criminal fringes. It is interesting that they seem to equate proper national coverage for the nations of the UK with nationalisms. Why can’t they just give sensible national coverage for England within the UK? Many English people want their country recognised and loved without wanting to break up the UK.
They are also hung up on devolution. Apparently you cannot have national feelings without a government. Their dismissive attitude to England is unpleasant. “The kingdom of England had a distinct identity until it was subsumed into the UK in 1707″ – not you note 1603 and the union of crowns. “The establishment of devolved parliaments in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales after 1997 gave those constituent parts of the UK their own political identity, leaving England the only part directly run by the British government”.
England is a country with no England government. It has officially recognised symbols including its flag which is flown from Churches, sports stadia, and official buildings as appropriate. You are allowed to have the English flag on your number plates. Yet the BBC claims that “Markers of specific identity such as the flag of St George tend to be unofficial, while similar signs of Scottish and Welsh nationhood are sanctioned by the separate institutions of those countries.”
I would like the BBC to stop denying England’s flag and national feelings, stop trying to break England up, and stop judging England by the minority tendency of its criminal extremists.
As England gains her own voice and votes over English laws, Statutory Instruments, tax rates and spending patterns paralleling the work of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, the BBC will need to offer England only coverage of the English political nation. It also needs a better forum for English culture, sport and leisure activities.
The best way forward would be to use the committee of heads of regional broadcasting in England to construct an all-England news, culture and sport offer which is screened at times when Scotland and Wales screen their own equivalents in their BBC franchise areas. This could be compiled by teams from within the regional structures and be from time which would otherwise have regional programming. The website on England should be rewritten in a less dismissive and offensive way, with more historical accuracy.
I trust the Charter Review will take seriously the question of England. Who speaks for England? How will the BBC offer a mirror to the English nation? When will England gain parity with Scotland at the BBC?
The Rt Hon John Redwood MP
Member of Parliament for Wokingham