Yet for far too long, the corporation simply bottled it, preferring to leave any mention of the i-word to the BNP. As a result, the notion of the “unsayable” was perpetuated, an official omertà that let government policy proceed unchallenged – in a chaotic style that even Labour now admits was a mistake – while popular concern mounted.
There were other “unsayables”, too, although in fairness, the BBC tackled at least some. Under Blair, GCSE and A-level results rose annually – bumper exam crops of Stalinist proportions. To question the worth of this, ministers repeatedly suggested, was to malign the hard work of pupils and teachers alike.
But what’s this? David Frost, the director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said recently that businesses are employing immigrants because they require young people who can “read, write, communicate and have a strong work ethic” and in British-born youths, “too often that’s not the case”. Sir Terry Leahy, the former boss of Tesco, has said that “standards in too many schools are simply not good enough” to prepare children for the world of work. The routine ignoring of another “unsayable” – that paper qualifications are not translating into skills or employability – has let down a generation of children.
Not so long ago, to voice the opinion that there should be a re-examination of immigration policy, that qualifications were ebbing in value, or even that the ideal of the European Union was expensive and unworkable, would be to outrage several bien-pensant orthodoxies at once. Today, they all sound like simple common sense. As the BBC has now realised, difficult topics do not evaporate because one ignores them: the unsayable has a way of becoming the unavoidable.
Indeed they don't. But there's something the BBC - and Ms McCartney - are not mentioning.