So, foul-mouthed , right-wing, racist TV presenter Jeremy Clarkson has threatened to sue the BBC if they try and sack him for hitting a BBC producer.
Not only that, a million people have supposedly signed a petition insisting the BBC keep him on screen. This is pretty baffling stuff; an inordinately rich and powerful man calls a subordinate, “a lazy Irish c*nt”, and throws a punch at him because the rich and powerful man’s dinner wasn’t ready, and a million British people perceive the rich and powerful man as the victim!? It beggars belief. Surely this is a classic example of what Karl Marx refereed to as ‘false consciousness’?
A significant element of this narrative is similar to the appeal of Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson. People perceive these figures as anti-establishment; as free-thinking eccentrics who stand up to the managerialist, bureaucratic, politically-correct, urban, metro-sexual, lefty/liberal wankers who supposedly run institutions like the BBC. Indeed, according to this way of thinking the BBC is the absolute epitome of everything that is awful about this politically correct class of bureaucratic managers who so torment us. Indeed, to many ‘business’ is the pragmatic, down-to-earth antidote to this oppressive statism and the seemingly irrational and arbitrary power of institutions like the NHS, The EU and the BBC.
This Clarksonist view of the world is correct to this extent; the BBC has indeed become a bloated, micro-managing, managerialist nightmare corporation. But not because, as Clarkson would argue, it is a state monopoly run by urban, metro-sexual, lefty/liberal wankers. On the contrary it has become so because of its adoption of the dominant, neoliberal ‘business’ agenda that regards executive managers as the only ones worthy of respect; a world view that regards everyone in ‘production’, including highly paid presenters, simply as human resources to be exploited at the whim of the true ‘talent’, which lies with these highly paid executive managers.
I graduated from University in June ’79, a month after the post-war consensus ended with the election of Margaret Thatcher. My first job at the BBC was as an actor a year later in 1980.
At this time ‘the suits’ were the wankers who everyone laughed at. We all knew someone had to run the bureaucracy but no one, and I mean no one, went into TV actually wanting to become a fucking manager! At this time the BBC was indeed almost a state-monopoly and was still being run according to Reithian values of public service. And at this time of supposed Stalinist staist control it was programme makers who were admired and many of them really were eccentric, not to say foul-mouthed alcoholics. But it was these mavericks, oddballs and eccentrics who were admired and who were given creative power and authority by the grey men in suits.
In the ensuing 35 years I have worked regularly at the BBC as an actor, writer, director and producer, and over those 35 years I have observed the next generation, the ’60’s generation of execs deliberately and determinedly set out to appropriate the status and creative authority of producers, writers and directors. And they have almost entirely succeeded. Today ‘creative control’ entirely rests at the executive level. Today the final cut of all productions is in the hand of ‘Executive Producers’, with Channel Controllers often having significant and micro-managing influence – and we’re not talking broad-stroke, strategic overview here, we are talking about very senior executives making changes to edits at the level of individual shots. And this isn’t because of bureaucratic ‘state control’ or ‘inefficient’ public service management. On the contrary it’s because of the dominance of a form of bureaucratic corporate commercialism that has imposed incoherent ‘business’ values upon institutions not designed to make profit but rather to provide a public service.
This form of commercial, corporate, managerialism is rampant everywhere in the UK, it’s most obviously rampant in the corporate private sector where we have seen the pay of senior execs and CEO’s rocket while the pay of ‘ordinary’ workers has stagnated for nearly 15 years. But this form of commercial managerialism isn’t limited to the private sector, it is also mirrored across the public sector with the resulting massive expansion in managers, and the resulting ‘overhead’ they impose on the organisation. This is all too visible in Higher Education, the Arts, the NHS, local government… almost everywhere in fact.
The justification for this shift in power, prestige and remuneration from, ‘those who do’, to ‘those who manage’, is almost always justified on pragmatic grounds – if these managers ‘add value’ or ‘reach targets’, they are surely entitled to a share of the ‘profits’? (which is interestingly a basically left wing idea, which has been appropriated by corporate managers to justify their ludicrous renumeration packages).
However, managerialism in the UK is not simply fed by a pragmatic obsession with the bottom line, which while being a morally questionable position is at least coherent. No, in the UK managerialism conflates a number of unpleasant elitist political and social values that actually refer back to the 19th Century and beyond. These include; (i) a historical militaristic, aristocratic conceptions of top down hierarchy as being the ‘only’ way to organise anything – ‘someone has to be in charge’ and some are ‘born to rule’.(ii) capitalist reductionism that conceives the purpose of all human endeavour to be the making of profit. And, especially in the UK, (iii) the re-assertion of bourgeoise values of social order over values of freedom and equality, which is in part driven by (i) above.
Part of the way this form of 21st century ‘managerialism’ has been asserted since 1979 is by the media’s constant depiction of the working class as a ‘mob’ of uneducated, feckless scroungers (Shameless, Benefit St, Jeremy Kyle etc) and of ‘business people’ as uniquely wise (Dragons Den, The Apprentice. The X Factor etc).
And of course Jeremy Clarkson himself has personally been a significant conduit for that sneering narrative of middle class moral and intellectual superiority. His racism is often commented upon but his classism is just as obvious and I would argue, equally offensive.
Clarkson is the living embodiment of a Daily Mail reader. Someone who believes in the superiority of their own class and in their entitlement to lord it over the lazy, scrounging plebs who are obviously responsible for their own poverty and oppression.
These Daily Mail readers are always hit very, very badly when the system reveals to them their true place in the hierarchy, which is as employees and structurally no different from any other employee. Arthur Millers, Death Of A Salesman, dealt with this very issue way back in 1949, when law-abiding, Mr Nice Guy, Willie Loman, spirals into a breakdown when he is thrown on the labour scrapheap after ‘working hard’ and ‘playing by the rules’, all his life.
And in the UK today whole swathes of our professions are going through the same thing. Doctors, teachers, lecturers, social workers and lawyers, to name but a few, are all struggling to deal with it right now, as their employment status, pay and conditions are relentlessly undermined by managers who are being extravagantly rewarded to reduce costs by breaking the power of professional ‘vested interest’, on behalf of the 1% who own 55% of everything.
So despite his wealth and his fame; despite his friendship with the Prime Minister and the rest of the Chipping Norton set; despite it all, Clarkson is, just like the rest of us, only a cog in the machine of bureaucratic managerialism, a machine he himself has played a significant part in promoting.
Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy!