I must confess that I enjoy eating meat. Having said that, I also openly acknowledge that there is a powerful argument for eating substantially less meat. If we are going to not only achieve net zero-carbon emissions, but actually reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere to the levels required to prevent us reaching a climate tipping point, we may well need to seriously consider a predominantly vegetarian diet. According to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization, meat and dairy accounts for around 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and many scientists argue that if the world is to meet its target of limiting global warming to well below 2C, some degree of diet shift will be necessary. My point here is not to argue the case for a vegetarian, or even vegan diet, but to simply suggest that, at the very minimum, there is a good case for at least considering such a diet. Why then have you, as my MP, been so offended by the long-running BBC children’s programme, Blue Peter, and its Green Badge initiative that includes the challenge to try a vegetarian diet for two weeks?
I think that one reason is that it helps to build your image of being a farmer’s son and champion of rural life. Apparently, farm leaders across the country have accused the BBC of adopting an anti-meat agenda by allowing the initiative. However, by asking why the BBC was allowing the programme to “demand children not to eat meat in order to get their Blue Peter Green Badge” you grossly distorted the nature of the challenge. As a BBC spokesperson pointed out, not only are other options than avoiding meat available to choose from to gain the badge, but the challenge is to simply not eat it for two weeks. They are not asking the children to stop eating meat for ever, and using the word ‘demand’ invokes an degree authoritarianism that is just not there! If, after just two weeks of abstinence, the young person taking the challenge decides that they would like to continue with the diet their attachment to meat could not have been that strong in the first place. And I see no harm in having a debate about our diet, a debate that can only be informed by having some experience of alternatives. But, perhaps even more importantly, it just may be the case that the nature of farming needs to change – that how we use our land for agriculture needs to acknowledge the fast approaching climate crisis and adapt accordingly.
I think that another reason is the belief amongst certain people on the right of politics that the BBC has a left-wing bias. Your tirade against the broadcaster included the accusation that they have a “woke agenda”. Okay, it’s time for a second confession. I am getting increasingly annoyed, and not a little perplexed, by the derogatory way the term ‘woke’ is being used by many Conservatives and their supporters. The term originated in the African-American culture as an expression of being awake to social injustice. And what is wrong with that? Surely we should all be trying to be awake, to being aware and conscious of social injustices? I would really like someone who uses the term as a pejorative, as a way of dismissing an opinion they do not like, to explain exactly what they mean by the term. And if the BBC does have an agenda of being awake to social injustice then perhaps they deserve our support rather than criticism. The mission of the BBC, as set out in its charter, is “to act in the public interest, serving all audiences through the provision of impartial, high-quality and distinctive output and services which inform, educate and entertain.” Social injustice, by its very nature, is not in the public interest and is not impartial.
But this accusation of left-wing bias from the right is mirrored by accusations of right-wing bias from many on the left. I know many people who regard themselves as being on the left of the political spectrum and who think that our favourite auntie is biased in the other direction – though in fairness this is often aimed at their news coverage (and a particular political editor in particular). It seems to me that many of us are all too prone to finding a quick way to dismiss an argument that we either do not like or find inconvenient to us; we seem to prefer ridicule and insult the messenger than critically engage with the message. We would rather label an opinion or action as ‘woke’ or ‘biased’ than properly listen to the argument, explain why we think differently, and be open to amending our position in the light of evidence. I am fast coming to the conclusion that collectively we need to find a way to open our minds to a much higher degree of critical thinking.