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Britons never, never, never shall be free of the culture wars


An inconsequential however handy combat for the authorities

“SURRENDER!” thundered the Every day Mail, outraged by the resolution of the BBC to drop two patriotic songs, “Rule, Britannia!” and “Land of Hope and Glory”, from the working order of the Final Evening of the Proms, the September 12th finale of an annual sequence of broadcast live shows. Orchestral variations will be performed, and the BBC, which was stated to have deemed the anthems racist, maintains that the phrases are being dropped solely as a result of covid-19 means there’ll be no viewers to belt the numbers out. But a choir will sing some of the different items, and there’s a sure wokeness elsewhere in the programme. “Jerusalem” is to have a brand new association referencing different international locations of the Commonwealth; its composer, Errollyn Wallen, has devoted it to the “Windrush technology” of Caribbean migrants caught in a bureaucratic foul-up.

The BBC, which subsequent week will get a brand new director-general, Tim Davie, desires to draw youthful, extra various audiences. The common BBC1 viewer is over 60. Youthful individuals, who spend extra time watching YouTube than tv, balk at paying the £157.50 ($208) annual TV licence price. However the Proms is an odd place to woo them. Solely 8% of individuals suppose the songs in query ought to be dropped, and 9% that they need to be carried out with out lyrics, based on YouGov. These individuals will most likely not tune in.

There are misunderstandings on each side of the argument. Traditionalists exaggerate the Proms’ pedigree. Although the live shows started in 1895, the occasion environment of the Final Evening, with its boisterous crowds and Union Jacks, started solely after it was repeatedly televised in the 1950s. Reformers have some issues unsuitable too. “Rule, Britannia!”, which feels like 19th-century triumphalism, dates from 1740. “The track was an exhortation to naval greatness, reasonably than a celebration of it,” writes Sir David Cannadine, a historian (therefore Britannia “rule”, not “guidelines”, the waves).

This skirmish, which has distracted from the authorities’s varied covid-19-related foul-ups, is the neatest thing that has occurred to Boris Johnson for some months. With the economic system battered by the virus and going through a no-deal Brexit in January, it is sensible to deal with culture. Mr Johnson, who had a profession writing liberal-baiting Telegraph columns earlier than he was prime minister, is especially good at it.

However Labour underneath Sir Keir Starmer is just not the sitting duck that it was when led by Jeremy Corbyn, who appeared uncomfortable even singing the nationwide anthem. This week the occasion affirmed that “the pomp and pageantry of the Final Evening of the Proms is a staple of British summer season”. The memo didn’t, apparently, attain Neil Coyle, one of the occasion’s MPs. “These fats outdated racists gained’t cease blaming the EU when their sh*t hits the fan. Right here they arrive blaming others,” he tweeted of the BBC’s critics.

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