IT was Lord Tebbit who, when Tory Party chairman, accused the BBC of being 'insufferable, smug, sanctimonious . . . wet, pink'. He missed out phrases such as 'Trojan horse', 'reds under the bed', the 'enemy within' and so, in Tebbit terms, was arguably pulling his punches. Tebbit's comments were from a different era though, when the Tories were doing well; it was a triumphant attack against one of the bastions of free-thinking liberalism in the country, a corporation Margaret Thatcher was inherently distrustful of. This week the chief secretary to the Treasury Jonathan Aitken plunged into the melee again attacking the 'Blair broadcasting corporation' and accusing it of 'open partisanship'. John Major is said to be 'entirely comfortable' with such an attack. Mr Aitken stirred up the hornets' nest by claiming that Chancellor Kenneth Clarke was interrupted 32 times during a particularly lively interview with veteran broadcaster John Humphrys. Mr Clarke has not complained, he described the interview as 'good fun' and recognises that in a real democracy, politicians have to be given a sound grilling if they are to sound sincere and genuine. What the Tories are griping about is not so much one particular programme but the fact that ministers are perceived as getting an increasingly hard ride from interviewers. Tory politicians claim they are tripped up, not allowed to reply and subjected to the sort of questioning which reveals more about the nature of the interviewer than the politician. Come to that even Chris Patten, when chairman of the party himself, took the opportunity to attack the corporation for its alleged bias. When the attacks come, it is a sure sign not of the alleged bias but that some politician is getting jittery or an election is around the corner. Sometimes it looks like politicians expect people to just listen to them day after day on a level little more advanced than that of a party political broadcast. The public deserves better and the BBC tries to ensure that they get it. Everyone has had a grievance against the BBC, even Labour has complained of bias in the past. Ironically, Labour and the Liberal Democrats probably have some justification for their claims - a leaked memo from the producers of the prestigious Panorama programme this week stressed the need to keep an interview with the prime minister secret until next Monday, the day it will be screened - and to come up with a good excuse for why the opposition parties were not invited to participate. But when a ruling party, in an awful mess at the polls, calls bias, it tells us more about its state of panic than anything else. Politicians should constantly be forced to make a robust defence of their policies, be hauled down off their pedestals and be made to answer. A separate issue is the extent of coverage of politics in Britain. It is vast, which may be a good or bad thing. Arguably, if the nation's premier radio show, the Today programme (the Tories' principal target), spends a high proportion of its time discussing politics then it can give an impression of constant crisis. THERE is no bias against the Tories per se. There is a bias against politicians though, and those who have been in power for the past 16 years can expect to get their fare share of it. The BBC has a duty to be impartial but definitions of impartiality vary with the political climate; one man's balance being another's bias. Nonetheless, if we are going through a malaise in power in Britain, of which there can be little doubt, the media, both broadcast and written, rush to fill the gap. But the way for politicians to act is not with insinuations of bias. Often the best way to react is to be refreshingly honest. Hence Mr Clarke's lack of willingness to join in the attacks. It is he after all, who admitted not so long ago that 'the government is in a hole' about the long haul back from recession. If politicians make a habit of griping about an institution, the public will hear their cries not as signals of truth, but as the gasps of drowning men.