Sunday, 17 January 2021

Why do we think what we think?

 Wikipedia tells me that Think-Tanks were introduced in the US in the late 19th and early 20th centuries but  my memory is that they came into my consciousness in the UK around the time Edward Heath was Prime Minister (1970 - 74).  I'm sure there are exceptions but until then I think  we felt that most thinking about matters great and small was done in universities who at least tried to explore knowledge impartially  rather than push a particular point of view.

 Not so Think-Tanks, which by and large do seem to want to push a particular point of view.  Some of the most powerful are endowed by very rich individuals or groups and tend to be right-wing because rich and powerful individuals and groups tend to be rich and powerful though the persistence of right-wing ideas, particularly in relation to free-market economic philosophies. (In fairness I suppose some of them think that their prosperity trickles down to the lower orders.  It doesn't)

 In their frightening book "The War Against the BBC" Patrick Barwise  and Peter York helpfully list some of the most prominent on  page 104.  They are the:

  •  Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA);
  • Adam Smith Institute;
  • Taxpayers' Alliance;
  • New Culture Forum;
  • Centre for Policy Studies.

According to Barwise and York "Each . . . has its own emphasis, but they tend to have several points in common, including being opaquely funded, an aversion to being described as a right-wing think tanks, scepticism about government regulations, the scientific arguments about man-made climate change and the EU - and hostility to the BBC."

Although we tend to assume each Think-Tank works independently  Barwise and York point out that  53 Tufton Street, (near Westminster and Whitehall), calling itself "Right wing Policy Central," houses several of them, and others are a stones-throw away on Tufton Street itself,  Lord North Street, Great George Street, and Great Smith Street.  Co-ordination of campaigns is not difficult.

 Barwise and York are particularly concerned by their orchestrated attacks on the BBC, via the licence fee (to open up space for their profit maximising supporters, Fox News et al) and to propagate  right-wing views  as opposed to the BBC's attempts at "balance."

So far vis a vis funding the Think-Tanks have been very successful.  Since 2020, when David Cameron's government came to power the BBC's funding has been reduced in real terms by 30%.  (page 26).  

The newly appointed  Chairman of the BBC, Richard Sharp, is a former banker who has donated £400 000 to the Conservative Party in the past 20 years and is a founder and former board member of the Centre for Policy Studies Think-Tank (see list above). 

Is the BBC in safe hands as far as the right-wing are concerned or as we the public are concerned?  It can't be both.  

When asked to which news source they would turn to for impartial news almost  half the UK adult population (44%) chose the BBC.(p233)  That's more than four times as many as its nearest rival, TV (10%)  A mere 3% chose my main choice, the  Guardian.  But, before you crow that's three times as many as the 1% each who chose The Times, Mail, Independent or Sun.

 The BBC is a precious asset, both here and abroad, and essential to the health of our democracy.

 We should defend it.

 Maybe Mr Sharp, now he's in charge, will change his spots.  He's already agreed that the licence fee is "the least worst option" and  "good value." That should endear it to his right-wing heart.


  1. I have complained to the BBC a couple of times about the fact that "Politics Live" doesn't introduce right-wing groups (e.g. Legatum) as such, but always does so for "left wing" organisations (e.g. The New Economic Foundation). Perhaps it should think about "pro-Licence" and/or "anti-BBC" instead.
    Re; Ted Heath, I remember that his ministerial colleague Peter Walker unkindly referred to the group as "The Grocer's W*nk Tank".

    1. Dear Severn Boar: thanks for the laugh in your final sentence.

      I hadn't noticed that aspect of the BBC's partiality towards the right, but I'll look out for it and complain if I spot it. the last time I tied to complain (about a minister making a totally incorrect statement and the interviewer not taking him up on it) I found the complaints line on the telephone discontinued for the lockdown.

    2. the last time I tied to complain (about a minister making a totally incorrect statement and the interviewer not taking him up on it)

      Was the incorrect statement that people are required to exercise only from their front doors?

      (I have seen it complained that the BBC always introduces people from right-wing organisations as 'right-wing' while people from left-wing organisations are not so qualified; I haven't bothered to check myself because frankly who has the time to be that pedantic?)

    3. No that's not being pedantic:that's alerting us to bias on one side but not the other. I shall keep a look-out for it.

    4. Well, if you do have that much spare time on your hands, do remember to also keep a count of how many times a political activist making political points is introduced just as, say, 'a nurse' with no mention that they have also stood as a Labour councillor (for example).

  2. How shall I know if she's keeping her party affiliation a secret?

    1. How shall I know if she's keeping her party affiliation a secret?

      That's the point — the BBC should be telling you as otherwise you won't know.

      (By the way, who said 'she'?)

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