What is the condition of Britain today? The facts suggest a country doing well. Economic growth is robust and employment is at record levels. Socially, Britain is perhaps the most harmonious and diverse nation in the developed world, largely untouched by the xenophobia and bigotry that stalk the politics of other nations. Politically, we have a popular government enacting a policy of Brexit that was endorsed by 17 million voters, the biggest democratic mandate for anything in our history.
Yet anyone regarding Britain through the prism of its national broadcaster would see a nation in crisis, racked by doubt and division. The BBC never neglects any opportunity to highlight the challenges that might face Britain during and after its departure from the European Union. Far from describing the opportunities that await the country outside the EU – or merely describing the positive vision of Brexit that Theresa May has offered – the Corporation inevitably presents Brexit as a problem.
No doubt much of this is a result of what is fashionably called “unconscious bias”. Most BBC journalists are young, university-educated city-dwellers, the group most likely to have voted Remain. Try as they might to be objective, they will always struggle to understand the case for “the other side”. Some are said to feel a bizarre sense of guilt about Brexit, fretting that by trying to make their pre-referendum coverage more balanced, they failed to warn voters about the risks of leaving.
Of course, the BBC is not the only media outlet in Britain, but it is, thanks to the vast resources it extracts from the public, the biggest and most dominant. For better or worse, the BBC’s worldview helps shape Britain’s idea of itself – and the idea others have of us. That is why Conservative MPs are right to confront the Corporation about its slanted Brexit coverage, which could easily have real and negative consequences. The UK economy relies on the confidence of consumers and international investors: what if they succumb to the BBC’s gloom? And as Mrs May prepares to invoke Article 50, consider the diplomatic risks: EU leaders might be persuaded by the BBC to mistakenly overestimate Britain’s regrets about Brexit, holding out hope we will change our minds, instead of seeking a mutually beneficial exit deal.
The Corporation is used to brushing off Conservative complaints about its bias, but its chiefs must take this latest warning seriously. Brexit Britain deserves better from the BBC.