I was reminded of presenting or contributing to European affairs programmes - which do not exist anymore and would never be commissioned again - in this very building as a fresh faced idealistic young journalist who thought (and still thinks) that the World Service is the closest thing she has to a religion and this country has to an empire of sorts.
But of course the dedicated, hard working, badly paid multilingual journalists who make up this institution are soon to leave this building, in the wake of a cynical government move to dump the cost of the whole operation (once paid for by the FCO) onto the BBC’s budget, and of subsequent inevitable cuts to many of its language sections.
BBC bosses will tell you this is progress: most BBC news operations are moving in the state-of-the-art, glass-and-steel complex which has been growing like a shiny tumour off the side of the old limestone building of Broadcasting House.
But at Bush House last week I felt ouse House we were blowing the last birthday candles of some distinguished war veteran about be tossed out of his nursing home, an expensive, embarrassing relic, whose glory and purpose belonged firmly to the past, to another era. Once ensconced in the glass and steel tumour the surviving World Service will paradoxically become more invisible and more expendable. Mark my word,we will not see a 100th anniversary.
This despondent feeling comes upon me a lot these days, as the apparently endless crisis lurches into yet another week, month and year. In fact, to be honest, I’m sick of eras ending.
Mild mannered intellectual husband notes that, surely, it depends on the era. The end of the Third Reich was no bad thing, for instance. (Despite his intellectual credentials mild mannered husband is a true Englishman in his instinctive invocation of Nazi Germany as the shorthand for all historical evil). So, ok, sure, the end of something horrible is no bad thing per se.
But still I’m sick of being reminded of all the things that are at an end (mainly, the subtext goes, because we cannot afford them anymore): jobs for life, the expectation of employment throughout one’s life, the ability to retire at some point and not starve, top quality, investigative journalism (or even average but neutral and informative reporting),good quality universal medical care free at the point of delivery, the idea that things like policing should be run by the state and not private contractors, like the stuff of some dark 1970s sci-fi dystopia, soon to come to a riot near you.
I’d like to start talking about the beginning of new eras. What are we going to have instead of what someone – but who?- has decided we cannot afford or is not relevant anymore? How are we going to organise our society in a way that still reflects the values most of us hold (if asked the question in the right way and not just as an appendix to the question of their cost)?
For all our ostentatious worshipping of ‘democracy’ for instance, we are witnessing the systematic overlooking of any mandate by those who are slashing and burning eras all over the place.
The NHS is being transformed, and some say destroyed, to its very core by a government who had not put this onto any manifesto and indeed had promised that it could be trusted not to harm it.
A welfare policy which turns benefit recepients into virtual slaves for the private sector at the time when millions are looking for work: who exactly voted for that? When Tesco is ashamed of doing business with a government that offers a slave labour force for fear of looking bad you know something has gone wrong. (Echos of the Third Reich anyone?)
The Leveson enquiry has destroyed any illusion that this country is any less corrupted to the core than your average Italy or Greece, with a journalistic conglomerate (instead of the mafia, the masons or the arms manufacturers) playing the puppet masters.
Plans to privatise “some police services” sound, in this light, almost movingly comical: why, Murdoch was already running his own private police/intelligence service with handsome payouts to several layers of the Met. News International, it now appears, got to spy on people and intimidate them with the active help and protection of a police force whose first allegiance clearly was not the state any longer. NI got to decide what was investigated and what should not be, and to threaten the body politics into line. Allegedly, bien sûr.
Meanwhile the average Sun reader got brainwashed into thinking that the EU was the real threat to British sovereignty. Oh, and that women are either big-titted young sluts or spiteful, hairy harridans too ugly to be photographed, and whose views should therefore be ignored. Telegraph readers got the message too, in a different way and to a different extent. As for Express readers, well, if you are prepared to believe that Lady Di was kidnapped by aliens or that Brussels is abolishing Christmas and ice-cream, congratulations: you are already living beyond reason, in what apparatchiks from the other Bush era called “the post-reality based community” and that is currently all the rage in the US.
Express readers are in fact the vanguard of the post-truth revolution, the canary in the mine of this experiment with not giving a shit about facts. You might think that flat-earthers and racist dim-witted bible bashers are a tiny sad minority and do not matter in the British political debate but you’d be wrong – they set the agenda at every level. Look how the BBC scurries around to lower its own corporate IQ and cater for them, their prejudices, their grotty aspirations.
Yes, the same BBC that in one incarnation has been the voice of truth (and thus the hand maiden of democracy and freedom in five continents in the past 80 years) is, in a different guise, on different platforms and channels, happy to chirp along with the Astroturf myth that the deficit was created by benefit scroungers, that the views of five hysterical and well funded climate change deniers are equivalent to the body of opinion of 95 per cent of the world scientific community. And while they are at it, you can see how the temptation to slash the budget for original drama and commission another series of “Young, dumb an living off Mum” or “Snog, Marry, Avoid” might be too strong to resist.
Cheap and dishonest relativism won’t give us a new Renaissance, won’t lead us to the discovery of a new America, a new moon-landing. Where are the new beginnings going to start from, where will they lead us? What does the brave new (cheaper) world we can afford in our reduced circumstances look like and for whose benefit are we forging it, who will run it, to what end? Enough with eras ending, let’s start re-building something, let’s start talking about it at least.
But let’s also remember that in a world without truth there is only power, as someone cleverer than me once said. Chances are that you, reader, like me, are an Average Joe, unlikely to be the one yielding that power. So you want to be careful with that. Just sayin’...