20 June 2019

Britain must rebalance its cultural landscape. Here’s how

By Tim Dawson

In my recent piece for CapX, I argued it was time for the Conservative Party to enter the fray and start fighting its corner in the immense culture war which is raging in the UK at the moment. I identified key battlegrounds where the Tories need to shape a policy response: particularly the BBC (which disgraced itself again on Tuesday night, with its execrable “leadership debate”), the university sector, and the wider arts-driven “diversity industry”.

The key will be to rebalance away from left-wing identitarian thinking reliant on state financing towards a truly representative, diverse cultural landscape, responsive to the market and catering to consumers. Ultimately, this reorientation will relieve pressure on the taxpayer and encourage all to flourish, released from the need to appease the apparatchiks of powerful state interests.

Universities

For many students — particularly those concentrated in the less-illustrious institutions — attending university is little more than 3 years of busywork which keeps them neatly out of the unemployment statistics. The illusion for these undergraduates — and the taxpayer — is that they are in fact paying for their education through their loans. The reality is that the repayments are such that they will never repay the loans which are due as their incomes will never become large enough to pay back the full amount.

For the universities, this set up is perfect: they expand, charge high fees and make enough money to pay their vice-chancellors hundreds of thousands a year, whilst sustaining legions of “academics” in employment. The current set-up therefore encourages universities to sell courses which don’t benefit the students, and young people to go to university who shouldn’t be.

The solution is to acknowledge at every stage that prospective students are making a free-market choice. Publish — as part of the university application information — what graduates of every course from every university are earning, on average, 10 years from graduation. This should focus applicants’ minds on whether their degree is “worth it”. Over the medium term, you would expect to see successful courses and institutions becoming more popular, with the rest being driven out of the market. Once this data was established, the government could then remove subsidy to institutions which aren’t sustaining themselves, i.e. where graduates are not repaying their loans, and the taxpayer is bearing the burden of the costs. This combination of measures should organically reduce the prevalence of low-quality degrees and institutions which are great for the academics “teaching” in them, but of little benefit to the student consumers.

 The BBC

The BBC has never been less popular. As the fallout from Tuesday evening’s leadership debate has shown — with revelations that the BBC news team knowingly chose dubious left-wing activists to question the candidates — patience with the Corporation is reaching breaking point. Combined with the BBC’s decision to force the over-75s to pay their license fees, in direct contradiction to previous assurances, it’s clear the public are ready for the public broadcaster’s revenue settlement to be reassessed. Ending the license fee would be a popular policy amongst Conservative voters, and voters in general. It would force the BBC to become competitive and start creating programmes which appeal to normal viewers, rather than left-wing managers. The BBC would most likely continue to exist, but as a commercial entity, instead of a fiefdom where people can indulge there personal agenda

There is a case for keeping a much slimmed-down license fee: say £25-a-year to cover impartial news coverage and some “high-brow” cultural programming. But that would bring with it further questions: for example, about their news-site. What is the BBC’s mandate for running one of the biggest free news websites in the world? It skews the market for local radio and local papers — and gives the Corporation an unfair advantage over privately-owned websites which need to charge. Why is the BBC allowed to do this?

Ultimately, it seems ridiculous that in 2019 you are forced by the state to pay money to a Corporation simply because you own a television. Severing that link will be an important first step in the deocialising of our media landscape.

 The ‘diversity’ industry

To end ‘diversity’ — which simply means the imposition of an agenda — all forms of discrimination and favouritism on any ground should be made illegal in public and private sectors. This will also end quotas — completely. It would no longer be possible, for example, for the BBC to advertise for interns based on their racial characteristics. This would also apply to identitarian arts groups: you could not make a special case for funding based on “labels”, such as sexuality.

Whilst this may sound draconian, an effective Conservative leader should be able to sell this well: it is about promoting genuine equality and meritocracy. We are country where everybody is equal; not a country where one group of people is favoured above another because of unalterable personal characteristics.

The Conservative Party can expect vocal opposition to these measures. But Conservatives have shied away from this debate for too long. Let’s reinvent our cultural institutions as modern organs of social mobility and change. This is about genuine equality of opportunity. For the many, not the few.

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Tim Dawson is a writer and journalist.