Not long after she took over as BBC political correspondent, Laura Kuenssberg suggested that what she was most excited about “was to allow the voices of people outside this weirdo Palace of Westminster to be heard. I thought the whole social media thing might be really positive.”
Six years on, as Kuennssberg appears to have come to the end of her tenure, she might have been careful what she wished for. The voices outside Westminster she has mostly been hearing are those toxic tones that have become the white noise of our fractured public life.
The old wisdom used to be that if you were getting stick from both sides equally as an “impartial” correspondent then you were doing most things right. Given the distracting levels of anger that Kuenssberg has attracted from right and left, Leave and Remain, I’m not sure that maxim still applies. The BBC’s director general, Tim Davie, has made the rebuilding of trust in BBC impartiality his chief priority, but he needs also to acknowledge that even-handedness within any single individual is always a goal, not an absolute. A headline-act correspondent, required to be both government insider and scourge, providing in-depth commentary and off-the-cuff tweeting, is no longer a viable role. Kuenssberg’s successor should embody those rare broadcasting traits: a total disinterest in his or her media profile, an antipathy to likes and follows; the duller the better.
On Friday, I queued up for the Beano exhibition at Somerset House in London behind a boy in a hooped Dennis the Menace jumper clutching his dad’s hand. The occasion for the show is Dennis’s impending 70th birthday, though age has not withered his love of catapult and whoopee cushion. For anyone who recalls the excitements of poring over the comic with a torch at bedtime, the exhibition is in part an exercise in nostalgia, though through adult eyes it is alarming to realise how little the social observation of the 1950s has had to be altered to reflect contemporary Britain: with full justification, the show includes a cease-and-desist letter to Jacob Rees-Mogg, pointedly requiring the MP to stop “infringing the intellectual property rights and masquerading as our character Walter ‘the softy’ Brown”.
The rest is just gravy
Before it was swiftly removed from the government’s website, I had read the 56-page report of the Behavioural Insights team (or “nudge” unit), entitled Net Zero: Principles for Successful Behaviour Change Initiatives, prepared in advance of the Glasgow climate change summit. The proposal in the document that apparently caused most alarm on the government benches is the belief that a meat-free future is a “desirable social norm”.
That disquiet points to an increasingly significant political dividing line: between diehard vegans and red-in-tooth-and-claw steak eaters, each refusing to give an inch at the dinner table. In those arguments, it might be useful to recognise a more viable option – rather than no meat, much, much less.
The best articulation of that principle I’ve read is in chef Dan Barber’s seminal book, The Third Plate, which argues for a change in what a standard plate of dinner might look like: away from a slab of protein with a side of vegetables and toward a plate of great-tasting vegetables with perhaps a meat sauce. Barber’s guiding principle lies in the soil, letting its health determine where the balance of livestock and crops should lie. It’s a reminder that in our all-or-nothing times, viable answers generally lie in the muddy middle ground.
• Tim Adams is an Observer columnist