Now I’m not one for watching EastEnders (it’s enough to put you off living as, quite honestly, if that’s a reflection of real life who would want to live?). But does this fantasy of an East End in which the ethnic diversity bears more of a resemblance to Havering than to Tower Hamlets really need Boris Johnson having a cameo role to provide authenticity?

It’s certainly a coup for Boris, being portrayed as a pretty straight guy on such a popular show. But since when has it been in the BBC’s remit to influence the public’s perception in this way? As the Labour group on the London Assembly has pointed out, the guidelines on political impartiality that apply to the BBC’s current affairs programmes should also apply to a mass entertainment programme like EastEnders.

The BBC claims the Mayor’s office is “politically neutral”, which ignores the fact that the London mayoralty has become one of the most hotly contested elections in the UK. Perhaps the BBC’s drama department needs to check with the politics department for confirmation!

The fact that EastEnders previously refused publicity for a genuinely non-political GLA recycling initiative under Ken Livingstone, on the grounds that the material featured the Mayor of London logo and was therefore too political, underlines the absurdity of the Beeb’s argument. The Beeb should always be even-handed and consistent when dealing with political figures, not turning down some and promoting others.

The Beeb claims Boris’s presence is based on the recent narrative of the pub owner Peggy Mitchell contesting some local election. If that’s the case, then why not give the local election commissioner a walk-on part?

Of course, that wouldn’t generate the same level of attention as a high profile figure like Boris, which was certainly one motive for the decision to feature him on the show. Nor do the Beeb want to stand in the way of actor power, as it appears the offer of a role to Boris was the result of a personal approach from Barbara Windsor. More fundamentally, perhaps, the BBC are probably anticipating a Cameron victory in the next general election, fear a possible Tory attack on the licence fee, and want to curry favour with their future political masters.

Whatever the explanation, when you add this latest scandal to the BBC’s evident willingness to give free publicity to fascists, you can only say that it knocks one more nail in the coffin of the right-wing myth about the BBC’s supposed “liberal left bias”.


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