Stephan Shakespeare is CIO of the YouGov polling organisation and founder of 18 Doughty Street Talk TV.
A recent exchange on this site demonstrated the acute need for better communication between Conservatives on either side of the Atlantic.
On Friday, Tim posted on BBC bias against America. The subsequent exchange of comments demonstrated that even here, where the context is a desire to improve British-American relations, we were talking at cross-purposes.
Scott Green argued that BBC bias didn’t matter much: “Get the policy right and perception issues will resolve themselves…” He added: “Successful policies don't need aggressive advocacy. They sell themselves…. Give me a policy I can sell, and I'll sell it. Simple as that.”
And Atheling2 commented: "The only Americans who take the BBC for its word in disseminating the news are the EU-loving, Leftist leaning types because the BBC reflects their values and mindset. In light of that, now why in the world would Conservatives (i.e. GOP supporters) pay attention to that?"
Scott and Atheling2 make good points which I wouldn’t argue with on their own terms, but they have completely missed the reason why we, on this side of the Atlantic, are so concerned about this. And the fact that they have missed it underlines the deeper problem of British-American misunderstanding.
First Scott: of course good policy comes before good communication strategies. But this discussion is not about Iraq, it’s about the future media context for British-American relations. The next time you want to sell a policy here, you will find ears have been deafened by the BBC.
Secondly Atheling2: it's not American reaction to the BBC that matters to us - it’s the action of BBC bias on the British mindset. And that should matter to you.
So Scott and Atheling2, I have no disagreement with your views, they’re just not the ones that answer this particular problem.
For whatever reason, whether fairly or unfairly, the reputation of America has fallen heavily in Europe over the last five years. You need to understand why that’s important to you (and to us pro-Americans).
Two days after 9/11, a former US Ambassador was a guest on the BBC’s flagship discussion programme, Question Time. He was reduced to tears when he found sections of the audience jeering at him and - even as the bodies were still being pulled from the rubble - saying that America had got what it deserved.
Five years later, we find debates in school about whether the attack on whether 9/11 was caused by the American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Yes, that’s right: in modern history, time can go backwards, cause and effect is a river that runs uphill, and justification for mass murder can be retro-fitted.
In this climate of opinion, can you imagine how easy it is to distort American motives and American policies? Please don’t think that next year, or five years from now, when you need support, you’ll be able to rely on another Tony Blair.
We pro-American Brits are not pro-American because we happen to like you. We’re pro-American because we need each other. We face problems together. We can solve them better together. And if the BBC (which you must understand is incredibly powerful at setting the agenda, and at setting the context for political discourse) is allowed to take an active role in promoting anti-Americanism, in driving a wedge between us, then it will be much harder to work together in the future.
America has been significantly weakened over the last five years. It needs to make every possible effort to build itself up again. That includes making sure friends and supporters remain friends and supporters.