The establishment is throwing its toys out of the pram, with old-guard political broadcasters struggling to cope with change writes Faiza Shaheen in The Guardian
BBC viewers used to the genteel, unflappable Andrew Marr might have had a shock on Sunday morning when the veteran broadcaster suddenly snapped. His guest, Shami Chakrabarti, explaining how Labour would follow through the Brexit referendum result, said: “I don’t know about you, Andrew, but I’m a democrat.” To which he barked, jabbing his crib notes in her face: “Don’t try and patronise me – I’m as much a democrat as you are!”
Change is hard to deal with – especially, it seems, for old-guard political broadcasters. Right now the number of women and people of colour coming forward and challenging the establishment is growing and the establishment is not taking it at all well. Yes, we can read their behaviour as bullying and obviously unacceptable, but Marr’s retort to Chakrabarti is just another sign that they have their knickers in a twist.
As well as Marr’s aggression, in recent weeks we’ve had Andrew Neil tweeting an outrageous insult about the award-winning journalist Carole Cadwalladr, Adam Boulton retweeting people who chastise me for sounding like I’m from east London, and Piers Morgan telling people of colour they should leave the country if they don’t take more pride in Britain.
The more I find myself in prestigious TV green rooms, traditionally not the spaces for women of colour from a working-class background, the more I see how establishment biases play out both on and off screen.
The first time I went on the Andrew Marr Show I was struck by the “in-crowd” cosiness of it all. In the green room the guests’ conversation consisted of showing off about who’d most recently had dinner with David Davis. On another occasion a Tory grandee completely ignored me. He said hello and goodbye to everyone else (all older, middle-class and white) on the panel and just looked straight past me as if I were invisible. This was particularly weird given that I directly addressed him while we were on air.
It’s no coincidence that before before last year’s election Diane Abbott, a black woman, received more online hate than any other politician
Sometimes the bias is more subtle. The organisation I run, Class, is often introduced on air as a leftwing or trade-union-supported thinktank. This doesn’t bother me – we’re transparent about where we get our money from and our political stance. However, it does irk me that my counterparts on the right are almost never introduced with their political bias upfront – and they are rarely transparent about where their funding comes from, which means that their vested interests are never called out.
And let’s consider why Marr might have had so much latent anger towards Chakrabarti: could it be that he no longer understands the world around him? He probably never imagined the rise of Jeremy Corbyn, whose shadow cabinet includes more working-class people, women and ethnic minorities than any before.
We cannot let the media dinosaurs – people who should be taking a long hard look at their prejudices – make us feel we’re the ones in the wrong. And this has real-world consequences: it’s no coincidence that before last year’s election Diane Abbott, a black woman, received more online hate than any other politician.
Nowadays I’ve taken to drawing satisfaction when seeing outbursts such as Marr’s: it’s the privileged white-male equivalent of throwing toys out of the pram, and shouting: “It isn’t fair!” We need to fight their attitudes and demand fairer representation, but we should also take pride in the fact that they’re finally being forced to acknowledge us.