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Ipswich MP Tom Hunt: Racial and political arguments need to be backed up, not sensationalised

PUBLISHED: 09:49 04 September 2020 | UPDATED: 11:58 04 September 2020

Tim Davie, the new director-general of the BBC has promised to crackdown on tweets sent by high-profile BBC employees. Picture: ANDREW MILLIGAN/PA

Tim Davie, the new director-general of the BBC has promised to crackdown on tweets sent by high-profile BBC employees. Picture: ANDREW MILLIGAN/PA

Last week I took the decision to call for the abolition of the BBC licence fee. This wasn’t a decision I took lightly, not least because of the valued role played in our local democracy by the BBC journalists behind services like Radio Suffolk and Look East.

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt is backing calls for the BBC licence fee to be abolished. Picture: PAUL GEATERIpswich MP Tom Hunt is backing calls for the BBC licence fee to be abolished. Picture: PAUL GEATER

But I have become accustomed to certain journalists in this paper denouncing my views on these sorts of issues. It was predictable that in response to my decision an EADT columnist would write a piece opposing it, calling my position a ‘broadside’ against the BBC and dismissing it as a disproportionate response to one or two editorial decisions.

In my opinion, anyone who reduces the deep concerns people had over the singing of Rule Britannia! and Land of Hope and Glory at the Last Night of the Proms to a satirical episode of Yes Minister is on the Left. And attempts to label others with different views on these sorts of issues as right-wing populists will not change that.

A poll run by the Daily Mail found nearly 60% thought the BBC was wrong to leave out the singing, and even more were in favour of scrapping the licence fee altogether. The feedback I’ve received from constituents also suggests this is an increasingly mainstream view.

While I appreciate calling for the abolition of the licence fee is a serious step, what this columnist can’t see from his political point of view is that the real broadside has been made by the national BBC against its local journalists and vast swathes of its fee-paying audience. He displays all the hallmarks of being as out of touch with public opinion as the national leadership of the BBC he is defending.

This is a leadership which has presided over an increasing pattern of news reporting laced with bias, entertainment being censored, and the important symbols of our national identity being rejected. Unsurprisingly this has caused more and more people to switch off.

Yes, we will have to think very carefully about how we can support BBC functions which we would like to keep, but the universal licence fee is no longer justified by a supposedly universal service which only actually caters for an ever-smaller section of our society.

It’s good that the decision has been taken to now sing the words to Rule, Britannia! and Land of Hope and Glory. The BBC’s change of course is a victory for public pressure and patriotic values.

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But under the surface of this U-turn, the problems which led to the initial attack on these important symbols of our cultural heritage remain. It will take much more fundamental reform over a concerted period before I consider changing my position on the licence fee.

The underlying problems at the BBC were typified in the shocking tweets by Songs of Praise producer, Cat Lewis, who likened the singing of Rule, Britannia! and Britons ‘never shall be slaves’ to neo-Nazis singing about how they will never go to the gas chambers.

These tweets have rankled everyone who knows that the Royal Navy and the Holocaust bear no comparison and who don’t deserve to be shamed in such a disgraceful and disingenuous way for wanting to hear the words to one of our country’s most iconic songs.

By all measures, Lewis’s tweets were a flagrant breach of the impartiality expected of her. They’ll not be so easily forgotten by the licence fee payers who pay Lewis’s salary to produce Songs of Praise, not to be judged by her in the crudest possible terms.

It’s been reported that the new director-general of the BBC, Tim Davie, is prepared to start reigning in the social media activity of high-profile employees. One of Davie’s first acts should be to recognise that Lewis’s tweets crossed the line and can’t go without consequence. He should call on her to delete the tweets in question and be very clear that she’ll be shown the door if she doesn’t.

When I responded to Lewis earlier this week, I pointed out that the Royal Navy had been instrumental in abolishing the terrible Atlantic slave trade and this was something worth singing about with Rule, Britannia!. This prompted Clive Lewis, the Labour MP for Norwich South, to tell me to “guess what the RN was doing in the preceding 200 years”.

I make no bones about that fact that Britain’s prior involvement in the slave trade was one of the most regrettable aspects of our history. But slavery had been a feature of almost every civilisation up to the point where we abolished it, and we can be proud today that our country did more than any other to help turn the pages of history on this barbaric practice.

The incessant need felt in the Labour Party to apologise for our history lacks all nuance and betrays their intention to talk down this country at every opportunity.

The fact that Land of Hope and Glory got caught up in the same debate as Rule, Britannia!, despite its lyrics being written almost a century after the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act, is emblematic of how woke activists are more interested in chipping away at the fabric of our society, particularly when it comes to race relations, than they are in making principled arguments.

We must marshal our arguments and be prepared to fight back.


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