We have not heard what James Purnell thinks about the matter that is exercising the nation. By the time you read this, heaven knows how many millions will have signed the petition demanding Jeremy Clarkson’s reinstatement by the BBC, but Purnell, a ubiquitous and voluble character when serving as Tony Blair’s Culture Secretary, has been strangely mute on the subject.
As the BBC’s head of strategy, we the public pay him the not inconsiderable sum of £295,000 a year, and I’d have thought that where the Clarkson affair ends up is, strategically speaking, rather important for him, the corporation, and the public at large.
I am assuming Purnell is not the “senior BBC executive” who briefed a Sunday newspaper, suggesting that supporters of Clarkson’s are akin to those who turned a blind eye to the criminal activities of Jimmy Savile. A clever and urbane man like Purnell would surely not make such a crass, distasteful and obviously wrong comparison. Purnell would probably say that, in keeping his own counsel, he is ensuring that the proper process is being followed for an internal investigation. But if this is essentially an internal matter, why did we have to know about it in the first place? The BBC’s biggest star throws a wobbly when he can’t get a steak at the end of a long day, and has an altercation with a producer. So deal with it, as any mature, talent-centric organisation would do. As head of strategy, Purnell’s only strategic objective must be to give the public what they want, and not only what is good for them. And what they want, as well as the Today programme, The Archers, the Proms and Strictly, is – most definitely – Top Gear.
In this, the BBC have failed us, the people who have paid their wages. What right do they have to deprive viewers of their favourite programme on a Sunday evening? I bow to no one in my support of the BBC. The corporation makes me feel proud to be British, and I will defend it against accusations of being a left-leaning, politically correct, bureaucracy-ridden organisation (even though there is some validity in these charges). But if they thought that by being open about the Clarkson (pictured) incident they’d be spared the attention of the Daily Mail and the Murdoch press, they were mistaken. They’ve ended up doing the very thing that makes them the target of these traditional, commercially motivated critics.
Ever since Greg Dyke and Gavyn Davies lost their battle with Tony Blair’s government over Iraq, the BBC has been shorn of self-confidence, and lacking the moral courage to take the fight to its enemies. The Savile affair obviously didn’t help, and while Tony Hall has steadied nerves, the Clarkson “fracas” (incidentally, who uses the word fracas these days?) reveals a corporation cowed by enmity and lacking professional purpose.
It’s probably all over for Clarkson at the BBC, and be prepared for a lot more briefing from anonymous BBC chiefs. So, James Purnell, I have a strategy for you. Get Clarkson back, because that’s the way you’ll be serving the public. When all is said and done, this is little more than a storm in a T-bone.