A former Downing Street adviser is behind a secret new project to set up an ‘impartial’ television news channel to rival the crisis-hit BBC, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.
Sir Robbie Gibb – who was a senior BBC executive before becoming Theresa May’s director of communications at No 10 – is spearheading a drive to raise funds for GB News.
The 24-hour station, due to launch early next year, aims to capitalise on growing discontent over the BBC, with sources describing it as an antidote to the ‘woke, wet’ Corporation.
The BBC has been rocked by a series of controversies over what’s seen as its politically correct agenda, culminating in public outrage over its decision last week to perform Land Of Hope And Glory and Rule Britannia without their patriotic lyrics at the Last Night Of The Proms.
Sir Robbie Gibb – who was a senior BBC executive before becoming Theresa May’s director of communications at No 10 – is spearheading a drive to raise funds for GB News
A poll published yesterday found that 59 per cent of people believe that the BBC decision was wrong, and two-thirds of voters wanted the licence fee scrapped.
Pressure on the BBC will further increase with the development of a second rival news channel from Rupert Murdoch’s News UK company, likely to be streamed online in a similar way to Netflix.
Sir Robbie’s channel will use standard digital platforms such as Freeview, and has already been given a licence by broadcasting regulator Ofcom.
The rival projects are likely to ensure a turbulent start to the tenure of the BBC’s new director-general Tim Davie, who takes up his position on Tuesday.
Pressure on the BBC will further increase with the development of a second rival news channel from Rupert Murdoch’s News UK company, likely to be streamed online in a similar way to Netflix
The only pro-Brexit Tory at the BBC now wants to bring them down
Before Sir Robbie Gibb switched careers to become Theresa May’s No 10 director of communications, he was that most elusive of creatures: a pro-Conservative, pro-Brexit BBC executive.
He bookended his two decades at the Corporation, where he rose to become the head of BBC Westminster, with stints in the thick of Eurosceptic Tory politics.
During the 1990s, Gibb, below, was a die-hard Brexiteer long before it became fashionable, networking with the Maastricht rebels as John Major’s Premiership limped to a close and socialising with free-marketeers at the Thatcherite Adam Smith Institute.
In 2001 he joined Michael Portillo’s abortive leadership campaign, regarding him as the Tory Party’s ‘great Eurosceptic hope’.
A fellow member of the campaign once recalled: ‘Robbie’s bald and middle-aged now, but then he had the glint in his eye. He really cared. It wasn’t just political games’.
Gibb made his jump to Downing Street in the wake of Mrs May’s disastrous 2017 Election because he feared the loss of her Commons majority would jeopardise the Brexit project; he wanted to ‘get it across the line’.
Gibb, now 56, whose brother Nick is the Schools Minister at the centre of the A-level debacle, was so dedicated to the cause that he spent his evenings touring Tory associations trying to persuade them to back the deal. Colleagues recall his ‘exasperation’ at what he regarded as the BBC’s institutionalised pro-Brussels metropolitan bias.
The Wakefield-raised Leeds United supporter, who read economics and public administration at the University of London, has two grown-up daughters with wife Liz, a teacher.
He now works as ‘a global strategic communications adviser’ and is leading a consortium to rescue the The Jewish Chronicle from liquidation.
He is socially liberal and his brother, who is gay, is said to have asked him to tell their elderly mother about his sexuality in case she said something ‘she might regret’.
Mrs May knighted Gibb in 2019 for his efforts to keep Brexit – and her Premiership – on the road.
Sir Robbie has remained close to BBC presenter Andrew Neil, holidaying at his house in the south of France. Mr Neil, whose rottweiler interviewing style has fallen out of favour at the BBC, now tops Sir Robbie’s wishlist for the new channel.
On Friday, his predecessor, Lord Hall of Birkenhead, insisted the BBC was not a ‘woke corporation’.
He said the lyrics had been dropped from the patriotic songs at Last Night Of The Proms because it would not be possible to do them justice without an audience at the Royal Albert Hall.
Lord Hall added that he and Mr Davie had jointly approved the move to play orchestral versions, which he insisted was ‘the right creative decision’.
Sir Robbie’s venture comes amid growing tensions between No 10 and the BBC, with Downing Street saying the Corporation speaks only to a ‘pro-Remain metropolitan bubble’ and Boris Johnson accusing the BBC of ‘cringing embarrassment about our history’.
The Government periodically boycotts flagship news programmes such as Radio 4’s Today, while Downing Street is also considering accelerating its plans to decriminalise non-payment of the £157.50-a-year licence fee
Last night a source close to GB News said: ‘The channel will be a truly impartial source of news, unlike the woke, wet BBC. It will deliver the facts, not opinion dressed up as news.
‘Everyone who works for GB News will have total commitment to quality journalism, to factual reporting and to impartiality.’
Broadcasters including Andrew Neil – whose show was axed by the BBC last month – and Julia Hartley-Brewer are understood to have been approached about working for both channels.
A TV insider said: ‘Andrew is due to resume talks with the BBC next week. They need to realise he is not short of options.
‘He is in talks with other broadcasters including GB News and News UK. Andrew would prefer to stay with the BBC.
‘But the BBC needs to come up with the right offer and the right schedule slot. It is all about respect. I don’t think it’s a surprise that he feels that he’s being treated with disrespect.’
David Rhodes, a former executive for Murdoch’s US-based Fox News, is running the News UK project from its London base, under the auspices of chief executive Rebekah Brooks.
Sources close to the project are at pains to deny that it is intended to be a British version of the right-wing Fox News, instead likening it a ‘TV version of TalkRadio, TalkSport and Times Radio’ – all of which are already part of the News UK stable.
Sources close to GB News are also keen to distance themselves from Fox News and from claims that Nigel Farage would be involved.
Sir Robbie, 56, who is understood to have helped raise ‘tens of millions of pounds’ for his new venture, believes that anger over the BBC has created a gap in the market for ‘quality journalism’.
Earlier this month, Sir Robbie, whose brother Nick is a schools Minister, criticised BBC Newsnight’s policy editor Lewis Goodall for writing an article for the New Statesman headlined: ‘Failed. How the Government’s ineptitude created a lost generation’.
Broadcasters including Andrew Neil – whose show was axed by the BBC last month – and Julia Hartley-Brewer are understood to have been approached about working for both channels
Sir Robbie said: ‘Is there anyone more damaging to the BBC’s reputation for impartiality than Lewis Goodall?’
GB News will be run by All Perspectives, linked to US billionaire John Malone, chairman of Virgin Media owner Liberty Global.
Andrew Cole, who is on the board of Liberty Global and is one of the co-founders of GB News, has described the BBC as ‘possibly the most biased propaganda machine in the world’.
Sir Robbie and News UK both declined to comment.
Revealed: BBC Symphony Orchestra held a panicked meeting over fears it was ‘institutionally racist’ just weeks before the Last Night of the Proms row
By Scarlet Howes for the Mail on Sunday
The BBC Symphony Orchestra held a panicked meeting over fears it was ‘institutionally racist’ just weeks before the Last Night Of The Proms row, it emerged last night.
The allegation – employing the same phrase used to describe Scotland Yard following its failures in the Stephen Lawrence murder case – left some members ‘astonished and disturbed’.
After the Zoom summit, an emergency action plan was brought in to tackle so-called ‘unconscious bias’ within the world-renowned orchestra, which plays at the Last Night Of The Proms every year.
Classical music website Slipped Disc reported that at the meeting, which took place after the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, the orchestra decided to forge close links with Chineke! – the first professional orchestra in Europe to be made up mainly of black and minority ethnic musicians.
The BBC Symphony Orchestra held a panicked meeting over fears it was ‘institutionally racist’ just weeks before the Last Night Of The Proms row, it emerged last night. Pictured: Last year’s Last Night of the Proms
They also vowed to bring in guest speakers to ‘elucidate the problems of under-representation and… unconscious bias’. One insider described the move as a ‘tedious exercise in virtue signalling’.
A BBC source last night told The Mail on Sunday that there was a ‘culture war’ at the national broadcaster that had come to the fore with the row over Rule, Britannia and Land Of Hope And Glory
The source said: ‘The new director general, Tim Davie, will have his work cut out to deal with the opposing factions.
‘There is a feeling in some quarters that the rush to back the Black Lives Matter movement has led to some questionable decisions.
‘There is a concern that the majority of licence payers, while opposing racism, are nonetheless dumbfounded by some of the decisions being taken’.
A BBC spokesman said the patriotic songs will be sung next year assuming audiences will be allowed back in the Royal Albert Hall, adding: ‘Given we’re in a global pandemic, we’re very lucky that we can stage the Proms at all.’
DAVID BLUNKETT: Angst-ridden and middle-class, the BBC ignores the values of those who pay their salaries
On Radio Four last Tuesday night, a heavily-promoted programme tackled yet another phrase in the lexicon of today’s grievance culture.
It was called ‘Code-Switching’ – a term used by some ethnic minority citizens to explain why they feel oppressed on the basis of how they speak, how they present themselves and how they behave.
Code-switching originally comes from linguistics and refers to the practice of alternating between two or more languages during conversation.
The programme’s presenter, Lucrece Grehoua, explained that pressure for minorities to conform in language, tone, dress and body language means suppressing their true identity.
But to claim that conformity in language and presentation is a means of oppression of black and ethnic minority people is ridiculous, David Blunkett (pictured with his mother Doris) says
She said code-switching is ‘common among a lot of black and ethnically diverse people. We do it to be accepted and to progress in white-majority spaces’.
As a British-African, she has told of being taught to become ‘a palatable black girl with a soft voice and unceasing smile’. There is of course an important issue about respect for difference and the avoidance of preconceptions based on either prejudice or a misunderstanding of different cultures.
Diversity is a positive, not a negative, and, as the Black Lives Matters campaign has shown, a failure to understand this is extremely dangerous.
But to extend this into a claim that conformity in language and presentation is a means of oppression of black and ethnic minority people, is, to my mind, ridiculous. Sadly, this programme was another example of how out of touch the BBC has become with many – indeed, I would say the majority – of its loyal licence fee-payers.
Increasingly, the Corporation seems to be striving to appeal to a narrow, metropolitan base which could prove fatal at a time when other media groups are hatching plans for a rival national broadcaster. Playing into the hands of competitors would be a very unfortunate own goal.
Language, of course, is important. As Home Secretary, in 2003, I brought in new requirements for the learning of English and an understanding of British society for those seeking citizenship. For me, the naturalisation ceremony was like welcoming somebody into your family.
You don’t choose your relatives but you do choose your partner or spouse, and they make a commitment in return; to embrace that sense of belonging, which provides the glue that holds any society together.
Crucially, language is important because if you cannot communicate and are not understood, it is impossible to relate to others, share your own diversity and appreciate both the practicality and the culture of the world you have embraced.
And if you can’t be understood – whether you are born here or naturalised – I believe that you inevitably reinforce whatever perceived disadvantage you may have.
As a result, people will see you in a different light. It might be extremely annoying, it might require a conformity you don’t find comfortable, yet to expect the world to adjust to you, is not only fanciful but futile.
As I listened to the Radio Four programme, I contrasted some of the examples of ‘oppressive’ demands involved in code-switching with the language I use in my home city of Sheffield. Us Yorkshire folk have no problem in doing so.
The Radio Four programme bewailed the fact that the language described as MLE (short for Multicultural London English and spoken by black Londoners) leads to discrimination
‘Ey up’ equals ‘hello, it’s good to see you’. The word ‘sithee’ loosely translates as ‘see you’. And of course we use the term ‘love’ in a way that is often misunderstood by southerners.
But the Radio Four programme bewailed the fact that the language described as MLE (pronounced Emily and short for Multicultural London English and spoken by black Londoners) leads to discrimination and exclusion from opportunity in the professions and the world of communications.
I’d heard of ‘estuary English’ – with the former Tory Chancellor George Osborne trying to be matey and ‘right on’ by using the glottal stop and dropping Ts – but MLE was new to me.
Apparently, MLE is now spreading to other cities across Britain. (Incidentally, there is no sense of irony there, in relation to what might be described as linguistic imperialism!).
One contributor to the programme explained people moving to Britain or growing up with a mixed ethnic environment or peer group didn’t necessarily have access to other traditional types of the English language.
To me, this exposed precisely the problem with the whole nonsensical basis of the theory that your background and colour has anything whatsoever to do with your ability to communicate effectively.
Some years ago, I was with my wife in Barbados. On one day we had an interesting chat with a guy on the beach who spoke with a very pronounced Essex accent.
Later, I was chatting away with a Bajan speaking with a very distinct local accent. As a blind person, I’ve always found the concept of discrimination on the grounds of the colour of someone’s skin to be beneath contempt.
And, indeed, the absurdity of those who espouse hate and prejudice was proved when it was pointed out that the guy with the Essex accent was black, and the Bajan man was white.
Of course, the language of rap music is now part of British culture, providing entertainment and creativity. However, it is a risible idea that to avoid people feeling pressurised to ‘code-switch’ we should all be able to join in by speaking the language of rap and MLE.
As part of her argument, the Radio Four presenter – a young journalist who has been described as a ‘freelance multimedia producer passionate and unafraid of asserting her intersectionality within the corporate media world’ – interviewed a successful criminal barrister called Leon-Nathan Lynch. The 31-year-old is from ‘a West Indian family’ and grew up in East London.
She explained how it was vital in his work to be able to code-switch between the language of clients such as rap artists and the language of a judge in court. I would just call this presenting yourself in a professional manner, and being understood.
The lesson I drew from Radio Four’s programme was more about the angst going on inside the BBC. It is clear middle-class programme-makers are desperate to prove they are ‘in tune’
To his credit, the barrister acknowledged that changing his language to suit the circumstances was necessary, rather than an imposition.
He said: ‘My overall ambition was to make sure I was in a position to represent young black men and I was willing to make a sacrifice in order to get there. I was willing to speak in a particular way. I was willing to dress a particular way.’
I’ve made such adjustments all my life. I’ve endeavoured to be the voice of the community that I represented both on Sheffield City Council and in Parliament. But I haven’t lost my accent and I’ve done everything possible not to lose my roots.
Admittedly, I’m not from an ethnic minority but I am from a deprived background. Yet I don’t feel a victim and don’t consider that I’ve ever ‘code-switched’.
What I have done, though, is to ensure that I presented the best possible advocacy, professionalism and clear communication. I understood from my early days that patronising the people I grew up with was never going to work. They always wanted me to look smart, to be confident and to be true to myself.
The lesson I drew from Radio Four’s programme was more about the angst going on inside the BBC. It is clear middle-class programme-makers are desperate to prove they are ‘in tune’.
The consequence is very simple. They are ignoring the working class – such as the people who I very rarely hear on radio or television: those from Yorkshire, the people I grew up with.
It just might, just might, occur to those running the BBC that the most recent statistics about the different socio-economic groups who tune into the Corporation’s radio and television programmes, show an unequivocal bias in terms of the middle class.
Programmes such as Code-Switching will only antagonise many and make social cohesion more difficult.
DAVID MELLOR: As a Minister, I defended the BBC against Margaret Thatcher – now I’d abolish the licence fee
The BBC is one of the world’s most over-managed organisations. So at times of crisis, the cry goes up from the upper echelons of Broadcasting House, ‘Assistant Heads must roll!’ That surely won’t be enough this time.
The row over the Last Night Of The Proms calls in to question the BBC’s ability to make political, patriotic and even musical decisions. And this time, they have been wrong on every count.
It seems the BBC employs executives who have total contempt for the public they serve because they so readily confuse internet huff and puff with the will of the British people.
For ordinary Brits, patriotism matters, and Land Of Hope And Glory and Rule, Britannia are a core part of our national musical history. The BBC really do need to ask themselves a hard question: why couldn’t they find within their ranks anyone who really understands licence fee-payers values?
Patriotism matters, and Land Of Hope And Glory and Rule, Britannia are a core part of our national musical history. Pictured, audience enjoying BBC’s Last Night of the Proms in 2014
In a poll published on Friday, only five per cent agreed with the decision to scrap the words and to play only an orchestral version of the songs.
Sadly though, that five per cent seems to include every senior BBC figure who played a part in this fiasco.
As things stand, it’s not just Tories queuing up to denounce the BBC, but Labour as well, led by Sir Keir Starmer. Quite a coup for Proms Director David Pickard and Radio 3 chief Alan Davey to unite Boris Johnson and Sir Keir against them.
What price the licence fee now, anxious people at Broadcasting House must be asking? Nice one, boys.
I was the Minister responsible for broadcasting on four separate occasions and each time I was a stout defender of the BBC. When Margaret Thatcher privately denounced the Corporation, as she regularly did, I spoke up for the Beeb which, at its best, has been a tremendous force for civilisation and unity.
Today my view is very different. And were I still a Minister, I’m sorry to say I could no longer support the licence fee, so deaf has the Corporation become to the true wishes and needs of its audience.
And I welcome the news that other media groups are planning to launch a television news service to rival the BBC and Sky.
The competition is badly needed, as even a cursory look at the past decade of BBC blunders and betrayals makes clear.
Take the case of Tory peer Lord McAlpine, falsely implicated in child abuse by BBC2’s Newsnight. In 2012, the BBC was forced to settle his subsequent libel claim.
Two years later the BBC saw fit to fly a helicopter over the home of Sir Cliff Richard and broadcast live footage during a police raid as part of an investigation into historical child sex allegations.
Sir Cliff was never even arrested, let alone charged. Like Lord McAlpine, he was entirely innocent and was eventually awarded damages totalling £2 million.
In 2016, a review by Dame Janet Smith concluded that the BBC missed opportunities to stop ‘monstrous’ abuse by Jimmy Savile and presenter Stuart Hall. BBC culture ‘was deeply deferential’, she said.
The BBC really do need to ask themselves a hard question: why couldn’t they find within their ranks anyone who really understands licence fee-payers values? (file photo)
But perhaps most significant was the blindness, not to an individual, but to a whole population. This was an organisation that failed to understand or reflect the fact that millions of its core viewers were Brexit supporters, a stance clearly seen as undesirable by the BBC’s generally metropolitan – and Remain supporting – executives.
So I’m not alone in thinking that the Corporation – cumbersome, deferential, institutionally stupid – has completely lost its way.
Farcical as it might seem, the Proms debacle tells you much of what you need to know about the BBC today, where incompetence is blended with presumption and a near-obsessive wish to placate the twin gods of Yoof and Inclusion.
This isn’t the first time the patriotic content of the Last Night has been challenged by politically-motivated agitators. A previous Proms head, John Drummond, was put under enormous pressure to change the Last Night music because the conductor didn’t want to play ‘jingoistic’ music at the time of the Gulf War.
Drummond refused, commenting he ‘had work to do’ and sacked the conductor. He was well aware what huge disruption an unnecessary row would have caused.
That’s called the smack of firm government. Something that was needed in abundance these last few weeks, but was not forthcoming.
If the BBC is to re-establish its relationship with the British people – as opposed to internet agitators – the axe must surely fall on the Proms Director, David Pickard, and the head of Radio 3 (who has particular responsibility for the Promenade Concerts).
Pickard used to head up Glyndebourne and was woefully under-qualified for running the Proms. He just blundered on into the biggest, and most richly deserved, public humiliation for the BBC in years. A well-placed colleague describes him as a ‘reed shaken by the wind’ – increasingly like the Corporation itself.
The only one at the BBC who seems to understand the viewers is the incoming Director-General Tim Davie. But he has arrived too late to help.
So much for the politics and the patriotism. But I believe the musical judgments the BBC have made are totally wrong, too.
Conducting the Last Night Of The Proms is an honour generally only afforded to distinguished conductors. And some never get asked.
Conducting the Last Night Of The Proms is an honour only generally afforded to distinguished conductors. So who is Dalia Stasevska (above), this year’s conductor?
So who is Dalia Stasevska, this year’s conductor? In truth, the 36-year-old Finn is a mere beginner, almost totally unknown in this country. She was Davey’s tokenistic choice – based on only one previous concert with the orchestra – to become the BBC Symphony’s Principal Guest Conductor.
Talk about being thrown in at the deep end. So she miscalculated by uttering a lot of woke nonsense about Black Lives Matter, when she should have kept her mouth shut, and merely waved her baton at the appropriate time.
Now she’s deeply upset about the reaction she got and blames the BBC. Well, since everyone else blames the BBC for this sorry farce, I guess that at least is understandable.
They should take a leaf out of John Drummond’s book and release her. Because one thing is certain: if this sorry shambles continues, it can only get worse for her.
The person I feel most sorry for is Edward Elgar, who set the music to Land Of Hope And Glory. Because his life suggests that he could be called a trailblazer for the Black Lives Matter campaign.
Elgar mentored another composer, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, who was the son of a British mother and a black doctor from Sierra Leone. Elgar did his best to promote his exceptional talent.
As it happens, Elgar much preferred the orchestral version of the big tune in Land Of Hope And Glory – formally, his Pomp And Circumstance March No 1 – to the choral version. But the BBC can’t even get that right.
They are not planning to play Elgar’s brilliantly orchestrated March (without the words) but, in another piece of tiresome tokenism, they have asked an obscure woman composer to re-orchestrate it. What a mess.
As for this shoddy behind-closed-doors performance of the Last Night, it should surely be dumped right now before more damage is done to the BBC’s flagging reputation.
PETER HITCHENS: We rant about the BBC Proms… yet make ourselves slaves
Why are arguments about the love of country always held between BBC-type Britain-hating pinkoes, embarrassed by their own nation, and shouty jingoes, who never think about what patriotism really means?
Here we all are in a state of rage about whether the words of Rule, Britannia should be sung at the Last Night Of The Proms.
Yet the same people who claim to be exercised about this meekly submit to compulsory masks, house arrest, the suppression of Parliament, compulsory family separation and a catalogue of outrages against our liberty that only a slavish mind would accept.
For months, jingoes put up with being treated like cattle or serfs. Then they get cross because of a song? What is wrong with them?
A proper patriot knows that what makes us great above all is centuries of liberty, and a state that is beneath our feet, not over our heads.
All they needed to do was to say ‘We’re not putting up with this’ as our ancestors so frequently did. But they gave in without a whimper.
When Britain actually did rule the waves, my late father helped it to do so. In peacetime this involved years of rigorous training, harsh discomfort and long months of separation from home.
Revellers wave flags during the last night of the BBC Proms festival of classical music at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 2015
In wartime, well, you probably know what it involved if you think about it.
That’s why we did not become the slaves of Hitler in the 1940s – because we still controlled the seas that surround us.
By my guess, 40 well-handled destroyers, commanded and crewed by serious, well-trained fighting men, probably made the crucial difference when it mattered.
But my father, like most of those who actually do the hard work which defends the freedoms of both pinkoes and jingoes, was not much given to bombast.
The Russian convoys he took part in were grisly, exhausting, sleepless slog, not glorious. He’d lost too many friends in war.
He preferred sad sea songs like Tom Bowling to any amount of Rule, Britannia.
Around 1960, not long after an ungrateful government had dumped my father on the beach in post-Suez defence cuts, I first heard Rule, Britannia, sung in a wonderful old-fashioned way by the contralto Constance Shacklock.
It was a few years before the BBC fell under the spell of the cultural revolutionaries, who have been trying to get rid of such things since 1969.
So she was still able to get as far as the verse containing the words ‘Thee haughty tyrants ne’er shall tame’.
I suspect everyone listening, from my eight-year-old self to the most ancient retired Admiral nodding over his grog, pictured those haughty tyrants as foreigners in strange uniforms or silly hats, Bonaparte, Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin.
We never thought that – when it came to it – our painfully acquired freedoms would be strangled by a jolly, obese, blond Etonian.
Or that a people once famed for their fierceness and independence would be tamed into muzzled, mumbling submissives by a little well-orchestrated fear propaganda.
Never shall be slaves, indeed. What right do we now have to sing it at all, whether the BBC lets us or not?