BY QUENTIN PIGG
How often do we see those overworked words ‘brilliant’ and ‘brave’ used to describe speeches that are neither of the two? Social media – where one is encouraged to make the searingly banal sound sensational – has degraded these sacred epithets into cheap expressions of partisan approval.
So, it was with some suspicion that I saw them attached to Emily Maitlis’ James MacTaggart lecture. When listening to it, all I heard was the small talk of North London dinner parties made grand: Brexit is a tragedy, the Conservative Party is tyrannical, BBC bias swerves to the Right – you get the unhinged picture.
True, she delivered it with panache and suitably dramatic solemnity – one doesn’t have to believe in the woman’s politics to recognise her talent – but it doesn’t strike me as particularly brave to lay bare views which were only ever scantily veiled. We all saw their swollen, anti-democratic shape on the BBC:
Well, it’s an argument, and one with which Chairman Mao would have no doubt agreed.
I can think of no easier way to get a cheap cheer than by appealing to the bigotries and credulities of any remaining remainers. How readily they swallowed the conspiracies of dark Russian money; how wide-eyed and trustful they looked to those who fed it to them. Maitlis’ talk of a ‘Tory agent’ within the BBC merely gives a new formulation to that old conspiratorial toxin.
It is now a cliché to say remainers think Brexit voters are thick, but it’s one that Maitlis ministers to well when she snarls about the BBC’s ‘both sides journalism’ (AKA impartial) approach to Brexit coverage. The impression being that Brexit was too dangerous an idea to be exposed to working-class minds unshaped by the civilising effects of higher education. Strange how those who say Brexit voters were fooled by ‘lies on a bus’ so readily accepted and repeated the government’s line of ‘follow the science’.
The swirl of drooling praise that surrounds her lecture is taken by Maitlis to be something that is both unpartisan and no more than her due. I happen to think that she’s a gifted broadcast journalist, but most of this praise seems to be motivated by the confirmation bias of people who are irrevocably attached to the EU. She rails against populism while unwittingly appealing to it. Are her conspiracies about the ‘both sides journalism of Brexit’, or the BBC ‘Tory agent’ so different from those of Donald Trump and his claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him?
In their ecstasy of hyperbole and hype, liberals have elevated Maitlis to a figure of almost mystic significance. She summons that image that so many in her profession try to capture: that of the underdog taking on some unreproachable elite. The itch to expose a Watergate-type scandal is vivid in her. But instead, she’s left with Robbie Gibb; a non-story told by remainers still grieving a referendum now 6 years lost.
Maitlis’s lecture reinforced her role as the guardian of liberal consensus. It’s one she plays well, I’m just glad that taxpayers no longer have to pay for the performance.