I love the BBC. It’s a vital institution: not just a beloved entertainer, but one of our stalwart defences against the hegemony of the media barons. Being publicly funded, it holds a unique moral high ground, from where it should be able to resist the corrupting influence of money and hold to account those who haven’t – such as the once august Telegraph, which is apparently rotten to the core. So it was heart-breaking to read Nick Cohen’s report on how the organisation has forced out the whistleblowers who broke the Jimmy Saville story, and promoted the managers who tried to cover it up.
The BBC’s enemies – that is, every private media company – will no doubt use this as ammunition in their ongoing campaign to destroy the world’s greatest public broadcaster. Yet the problem here is not one of public funding or structure, but of private sector ethos. The BBC has become infected with the same malaise as the rest of the economy: a parasitic class of executives with soaring, apparently uncapped remuneration, but no evidence of any real leadership worth paying for.
The BBC needs less private sector thinking, not more. The actions of its whitewashing managers give the lie to the idea that you have to pay the “market rate” of hundreds of thousands of pounds to get “great leadership”. All you get is a clique of overpaid climbers whose main effort is to protect their own positions and obscene salaries.
You could pull any random Army officers out of Staff College and put them in charge of the BBC – or the Telegraph, HSBC, or any other organisation – and you’d get better, more principled leadership than from any of these self-serving shits, for little more than £50,000 per annum.
Earlier this year, I read The Machine That Changed The World, by Womack, Jones and Roos. It’s the ground-breaking book which introduced the Western world to lean production, the industrial management philosophy which was pioneered by Toyota, and is now well on the way to replacing the previous paradigm, Fordist mass production, in all kinds of businesses and organisations around the world. For an academic tract about factory management, it was a surprisingly gripping read, and got me thinking about the parallels between lean and my experience in the British Army.
In the 1960s, Harvard sociologist Daniel Bell declared the ‘end of ideology’. The nineteenth and early twentieth centuries had been a time of big, competing ideas about how to organise human society, but these were exhausted; centrist free-market democracy had won.
The concept took a few decades to come to fruition. The world was still divided by the Cold War, a real and dangerous instantiation of competing ideologies. Even within UK politics, ideology was still alive in the 1980s, when Thatcherite free-market economics faced off against a diverse but identifiable left wing, comprising a mixture of militant Trotskyists, restless unions and mainstream social democrats.
In the 1990s, Bell’s prediction was proven correct by global events, with the USSR swept away and replaced by free market democracy. It was further vindicated within British politics later in the decade, with Tony Blair’s reform of the Labour party. By dropping Clause IV from the party’s constitution, its commitment to an ideology of nationalisation was removed, and the party was rebranded as ‘New Labour’, a centrist free-market party occupying roughly the same political territory as moderate Conservatives.