Radio 4 is so lost in establishment liberalism it does not know how to break out of it. The BBC's managers accept that they must give a hearing to the currents in public life they habitually ignore. But like a teetotaller on his first binge or a vicar on his first visit to a brothel, they do not experiment cautiously but go wild at the first sniff of a novel experience and hand the airwaves over to the strangest group produced by the Seventies far Left: the Revolutionary Communist Party.
The best way to describe it is as a cult that followed the teachings of its great helmsman, one Frank Furedi. The best way to understand the paranoia of its politics is to add that Furedi spent years working under the assumed name of "Frank Richards" because, like Lenin and Trotsky before him, he wanted a nom de guerre to throw the spies of the imperialist state off his trail.
In the 1990s, the party's leaders decided to give up on socialism and move into the media. And like good Leninists, the rank and file obeyed their superiors' orders and abandoned their previous convictions on demand. The Moral Maze is now its base at the BBC and is on the radio as I write. Claire Fox of the Institute of Ideas, which the party's cadres founded when they decided that Trotsky was wrong after all, is on the panel and one of the witnesses is a contributor to Spiked, the institute's online journal. When I last appeared on the programme, one of the witnesses was Brendan O'Neill, the editor of Spiked, and half the panel — the author Kenan Malik and James Panton, an Oxford academic — were Spiked regulars. I waited for Michael Buerk, the presenter, to tell listeners that a fair proportion of his guests came from this cosy coterie. He never did.
Nor do his colleagues. If you come across a new voice on a Radio 4 talk show, talking with loudmouthed conviction, the odds are that he or she will be from the RCP/Institute of Ideas. Indeed, if you want to become a talking head on Radio 4, the best advice I can give you is to join the RCP crowd.
As an aspiring pundit you will need to subscribe to the following notions: that the British mollycoddle their children and foolishly protect them from the rough and tumble of childhood with anti-bullying campaigns; that human rights are a joke and humanitarian intervention a crime; that we live in a therapeutic culture, under whose yoke the State tells us how to live, love and grieve; that social workers are agents of oppression; that psychiatrists aren't much better; and that environmentalism is a reactionary attempt to stop human progress.
I find the RCP's denunciations of humanitarianism thoughtless and its condemnations of teachers' campaigns against the bullying of children repellent. Furedi and O'Neill do not strike me as men who could look after themselves in a fight. If a couple of guys were to ask them to step outside, I doubt if they would describe the violence they suffered as character building and condemn police attempts to prosecute their assailants as political correctness gone mad.
However, in fairness, I must accept that not everything the faction says is pernicious and that the oddest milieus can nurture good writers. Although most of its thinkers are doctrinaire and shallow, the RCP/Institute of Ideas deserves credit for producing an intellectual of stature in Kenan Malik, whose description of the rise of Islamist censorship in his book From Fatwa to Jihad (Atlantic, 2009) took some guts to write. Moreover, I understand that conservative readers will be pleased that the former RCP now offers them what they used to find in the Tory press or hear from the lips of saloon-bar philosophers at the 19th hole.
If you want to become a BBC pundit, join the ex-RCP crowd