Voices: Language matters – the BBC should know that. Gary Lineker does

Beep Beep Beep Beeep... off goes the alarm and on comes BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, as it has done every day in my bedroom for about a quarter of a century, and instantly we discover that, yes, we are having a full second day’s coverage of Gary Lineker’s tweet.

It confirms that whoever makes such decisions over in the BBC newsroom really does consider Gary Lineker’s tweet about the Illegal Migration Bill (which was not even a fully fledged, full fat tweet, but a reply to a very normal member of the public with about 1,000 followers) to be of significantly more news value than the Illegal Migration Bill itself.

This was after said tweet was also the number one story on the News at Ten the night before. In the view of the people with the most finely tuned, most carefully honed news antenna in the land, this was, at 10pm last night and again this morning, the most important news event in the land.

Perhaps you can’t blame news editors for succumbing to the temptation to reflect the conversation that’s relentlessly going off inside their phones, even if they know, not especially deep down, that those conversations really don’t matter.

And so, naturally, there is an escalation. Given the whole story is about language, about what can and can’t be said, about when a line has or hasn’t been crossed, you would think the BBC, in yet another one of its histrionic fits of self-flagellation, would possess the required diligence to stick to what’s actually been said. They know, as well as anyone, that language matters.

They should, for example, be able to remember, at all times, what it is that Gary Lineker actually said. He described a short video by Suella Braverman, launching her illegal immigration bill, as using “language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s”.

Those words are carefully chosen. Certainly, they refer to the most appalling time in human history, but they are nevertheless carefully chosen, they are deliberately moderate.

And yet, off goes the alarm, and there’s the BBC’s Nick Robinson asking the former BBC head of editorial policy whether Lineker was right to “compare Suella Braverman to the Third Reich”. That’s the premise of the question, the established fact, apparently. Except Gary Lineker didn’t say these words, or anything even remotely as controversial as them. If he had done, the scale of the backlash against him might have been vaguely justified. But he didn’t – because, frankly, he’s not that stupid.

And what was said by the former head of editorial policy, a man called Richard Ayre? Well, if he does it again, he’s got to go. He also noted that the BBC’s chair, Richard Sharp, is rather in the drink himself over impartiality, what with the whole eight hundred grand loan to Boris Johnson’s business.

“It is quite likely that within the next few days or weeks, we’ll perhaps see two heads roll – one from the left and one from the right, the chairman and Gary Lineker, and then maybe once each side has scored a goal, we can get back to normal business.”

Full marks, of course, for the football analogy, they’re very popular at the minute. But are we allowed to wonder whether 1-1 would really be the correct score in that contest? A score draw? Gary Lineker has, in a reply to a tweet, criticised Suella Braverman’s use of language, comparing it to the 1930s, which, by the way, is exactly what an actual Holocaust survivor did to her two months ago.

Richard Sharp, meanwhile, allegedly got involved in connecting Boris Johnson, then the actual prime minister, with someone offering an £800,000 loan, and then failed to declare his involvement when, three weeks later, that same prime minister appointed him BBC chair.

Perhaps the BBC could seek guidance from their friends in the sports department as to whether these two things add up to much the same, to 1-1. A goal each.

That the BBC is equally vilified by every side of the political spectrum is by some margin its greatest strength. Deranged right-wing Tories think it’s too “woke”. Legacy Corbynistas like to claim that it follows the news agenda laid out by the newspapers which are, on balance, significantly more right wing than left, and so it creeps rightwards like a ratchet.

All of which leaves it in a slightly mad position. That its left-wing critics think it does what the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph tell it to do, while those papers simultaneously campaign to shut it down altogether.

The contradictions are so absurd that they can’t possibly hold true. Mainly, the BBC remains arguably the only world-class British organisation of any kind. The only way it could be improved is if it had the courage to just ignore the people determined to destroy it. Most of the rest of the country do already.