I think I need a new radio station to listen to first thing in the morning. On the days when I leap out of bed like the lark it’s not so bad, because I only get to hear the weather forecast, which is all I really need. But on the days when it takes me a little longer to emerge, blinking, from under the duvet, the Today programme is capable of rousing me to a state of apoplexy that isn’t healthy before breakfast.
I have always been bemused by the programme’s apparent remit to challenge everything their guests say, no matter how apparently uncontroversial. Fighting for the sake of a fight seems an unlikely position for a magazine show to take, although some presenters (I’m looking at you, Humphreys and Naughtie) are worse than others.
But a couple of times in the last week or two this stance seems to have tipped over into something a bit more disturbing. After the imprisonment of Metropolitan Police Commander Ali Dizaei earlier this month for misconduct in a public office and perverting the course of justice, John Humphrys interviewed Alfred John, current chairman of the Metropolitan Black Police Association, of which Dizaei was once president. Fair enough, except that a disproportionate amount of time was devoted to whether and to what extent the MBPA had been “discredited” by Dizaei’s conviction.
If a former police officer breaks the law, it’s the police service itself which is discredited (if anyone but the offender is), and not an association his membership of which had nothing to do with the crime for which he was convicted. What was really happening here was that Dizaei had rubbed a lot of people up the wrong way while at the helm of the MBPA, leading to a distrust of the association in some quarters, and this was a chance to smear it by insinuating that Dizaei’s criminal activity was somehow related to his insistence that the Metropolitan Police is still institutionally racist, when the two things are quite seperate. Just because he’s a criminal doesn’t mean he’s wrong about everything. Both Alfred John and the other guest, Brian Paddick, agreed that there is still racism within the police service, and that the MBPA has a legitimate and important job to do.
“Given that you have tried and failed by your own admission”, responded Humphrys, “there must surely be a better way of dealing with this.”
This was a novel twist. The MBPA should be disbanded not because there isn’t racism in the police, but because there is. Alfred John dealt with this silly challenge quickly and easily, but he shouldn’t have had to. I’m not sure that emphasising Dizaei’s relationship with the MBPA was the way to go at all in this feature, but the suggestion that there’s a problem with the existence of the association itself because of the actions of one officer, no matter how high-profile, makes me uncomfortable and I think reflects very badly on the programme and its editors.
Then a few days later the Church of England got into another one of its wrangles about gay members of the clergy. “It’s a moral question, isn’t it?”, opined James Naughtie. Well, Jim, not really. Not unless you actually think there’s still a question to be answered about whether it’s OK to be gay. If there isn’t, it’s if anything a legal question about whether the church is breaking employment law by discriminating against a particular group of people. You ridiculous man.
Which made me wonder, incidentally, why we don’t prosecute religious organisations which don’t allow certain groups to do particular jobs, or religious figures who incite hatred by speaking out against certain groups or individuals. Why can’t we ban the Pope from the UK unless he stops attacking equality legislation, or take him to court if he comes? I am fervently hoping Peter Tatchell will rise to the occasion, but he shouldn’t have to. We should oppose discrimination wherever we find it and not avoid confrontation at the risk of offending someone. The Pope is just a man.
So as you can see, I need something calming to wake up to. Birdsong, possibly, or classical music. If you have any suggestions, please let me know before I burst a blood vessel.