The radio came on at just before 7.00 this morning. I heard the end of the weather forecast, and knew that the Today programme was about to start. And a feeling of dread hit me in the pit of my stomach. I thought, if it’s John Humphrys leading on Labour and anti-semitism, I shall turn to another station, because I really can’t take any more.
Of course, the next words to emerge from the speaker were, “This is Today, with John Humphrys and Justin Webb.” And yes, it was headlining on Corbyn and anti-semitism.
As a rule I don’t comment on certain aspects of Middle Eastern politics. Anti-semitism, however, is another matter, and one far less to do with the Middle East than with long and dark currents in European culture. It is a particular and pernicious form of racism. There is much I could say about racism in its various forms, for it is a many headed problem which shows no signs of going away. But the relentless spotlight on the Labour Party at the moment has little to do with the Conservative desire to erase racism from the body politic, and everything to do with the politics of fear, at which they are particularly skilled.
Which brings me back to the Today programme. I’ve listened to it pretty much all my life. I first heard it when I started secondary school. I’d walk to school, stopping off at my friend Hazel’s house, where I’d get a cup of tea and a chance to listen to Today on their old wireless. We listened to Radio One at home, but I liked Today. It seemed clever and interesting. Hazel’s parents were old-fashioned autodidacts, politically committed, keen on high culture and foreign travel. It was aspirational stuff.
But I have long listened to today’s Today with a sense of deep unease and tension. It is as though someone has put the Murdoch press, the Mail, and the Telegraph into a blender, and extruded it directly into the ears via the miracle of the BBC. It is a way of starting the day by inducing hypertension. It is radio that hates me with a vengeance.
So this morning I did something which broke decades of habit. I switched from Today to the BBC World Service.
The World Service breakfast show was a delight. A presenter and two guests of the day, a British-Ugandan poet living in Germany, and a foreign correspondent with a specialism in Yemen, discussed serious news, as ranked by professional news values, not party political propaganda, and this was interspersed with items about culture, science, and social science. It informed me, told me things I didn’t know, and it spoke of a world, and a world view that treated me as an intelligent adult.
I want to emphasise that last point. The Today programme makes me feel paranoid, hated, despised, for believing that there’s nothing funny about peace, love and understanding. But the World Service made me feel like an engaged, well-informed citizen. I like that.
So if you are suffering from Today’s suburban sneering, Five Live’s blokey, sporty stuff, and LBC’s Fararri farago, then switch to the World Service at breakfast time. You’ll feel better for it.