Gary Lineker and the BBC Singers

Gary Lineker

It was difficult to ignore the media furore surrounding Gary Lineker’s comments made in response to Suella Braverman’s new immigration policy. Gary tweeted: 

“This is just an immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the ’30s, and I’m out of order?”

Personally, I find his tweet problematic and distasteful but yesterday morning Labour frontbencher Lisa Nandy defended Lineker and claimed that he was not referring to the Nazis. She argued, ‘what he was referring to was a chilling comparison with an environment in which people aren’t free to be able to challenge this sort of language and behaviour’. This seems like a rather disingenuous defence. Leaving semantics aside, Gary, a man of immense power and influence, was clearly drawing his 8.9 million twitter followers to compare the government’s policy to those of the Nazis. The suggestion that his comment was purely intended to reference the sort of rhetoric utilised by the Conservative party seems far-fetched. Gary is a bright man and I do not believe that it is credible to conclude that he had no idea how his words would be interpreted. 

Having worked for the Holocaust Educational Trust for many years, I am sensitive to such facile and clumsy comparisons. Time and again, those in positions of influence invoke the Holocaust and associated horrors with a carelessness which denigrates the tragedy of genocide whilst diminishing the potency of the argument(s) that they are attempting to advance. When will they ever learn? 

For what it is worth, I like Gary Lineker. He is a relatable, affable and a highly accomplished broadcaster. He does a great job on MOTD and his familiar presence on our screens is reassuring – even for those of us not that bothered by the waning fortunes of West Bromwich Albion. Gary strikes me as a compassionate and caring man and I think that his support for the plight of refugees is sincere and heartfelt. However, there are occasions when we all say things which we regret and/or our tone is misinterpreted. A reflective soul might have chosen to qualify the unfortunate comment but Gary doubled-down and one detects a sense of hubris in the events that unfolded ten days ago. Notwithstanding this, many of us were left a little bemused by the extraordinary amount of airtime given to the row. Conservative MPs railed against a left-wing agenda and urged the BBC to take a strong stand. Meanwhile, support coalesced around the beleaguered presenter and every Tom, Dick and Harry tweeted that they would not be presenting MOTD that Saturday; regardless of whether or not they had been booked to appear. As it happened, in the absence of any presenters or commentators, an additional 400,000 people tuned in to watch MOTD.

Of course, at the heart of this debate, is a concern with editorial guidelines and impartiality. The BBC website states that, ‘Due impartiality usually involves more than a simple matter of ‘balance’ between opposing viewpoints. We must be inclusive, considering the broad perspective and ensuring that the existence of a range of views is appropriately reflected. It does not require absolute neutrality on every issue or detachment from fundamental democratic principles, such as the right to vote, freedom of expression and the rule of law.’ 

I would argue that absolute impartiality is almost impossible to achieve. After all, the promotion of Fundamental British Values in School does not constitute an impartial non-partisan take on the world. The social, political and cultural frameworks within which we operate tend to determine the value that we place upon concepts such as democracy, freedom of expression and the rule of law. Many of us have grown up in liberal progressive democracies that promote values that we might hope are universal but tend to be anything but. 

Hypersensitivity to microaggressions and the toxic role of social media has meant that a single clumsy comment can create an alarming storm. I might think that Gary was being a bit misguided (in terms of the tweet) but the ensuing storm that erupted seems like a self-indulgent first world masterclass in the extreme sport of navel-gazing. 

My point is that in reality impartiality, in its purest sense, is as elusive as the end of a rainbow because we do not start from an entirely neutral stance. However, as teachers, we are conscious of our responsibility to keep personal political affiliations out of the classroom. For example, I would be aghast if any pupil knew, with any sense of certainty, which way I might vote in an election. However, I must be prepared to speak out on policies that potentially impact upon our children’s education and I believe that I have a duty to do so. Similarly, it is our responsibility to ensure that our children become confident and principled citizens equipped with the intellectual acumen to discern between that which is true and that which is phoney. Inspiring young people to care about the world around them constitutes one of our most vital roles. Our role is to provide a moral framework for young people and to help them develop the skills necessary to debate issues effectively. 

The announcement that the BBC Singers are to be disbanded is a huge disappointment for all those who value the arts in this country. The move will save the BBC about £1.3 million pounds which, incidentally, is about the same as the amount they pay one of their presenters. Given the incredible work that the BBC Singers have done to broaden the reach of classical music, this move seems incredibly short-sighted and symptomatic of a progressive sidelining of all cultural activity that cannot be considered populist. Rather than fussing about Gary Lineker’s tweet, the BBC should listen to those voices that are shocked by the dismantling of a choir that is respected throughout the world. If countries the size of Latvia and Ireland can maintain similar choral ensembles, then it is difficult to understand why the BBC is unwilling to do so. It does nothing to strengthen the case for maintaining the licence fee and is a damning indictment of a cultural malaise that places little value on the arts. Our generation are custodians of the nation’s orchestras and ensembles and it is sad to think that what we bestow upon them will be an increasingly impoverished offering. 

Jeremy Quartermain
Headmaster of Rossall School