Rod Liddle answers blogosphere critics

Liddle blames the Guardian for the onslaught of criticism he has faced online

Rod Liddle hit back at his critics in the blogosphere on BBC Radio 5 Live this morning.

In the wake of controversies over alleged racism, sexism and climate change denial, the news that the Spectator columnist could be the next editor of the Independent has had a mixed reception.

His diplomatic yet enthusiastic comments on the editorship will no doubt fuel speculation that he is the heir apparent:

Any journalist would want to be editor of the Independent. It's a brilliant newspaper and the chance to edit a paper which was mischievous, which supported social justice, which gave voice to a wide variety of diverse opinions and did investigative journalism and breaking news stories -- I think that would be a wonderful thing to do. The Independent has got an editor at the moment, and he's a very good bloke, Roger Alton.

Stressing that he doesn't know what will happen, Liddle admitted that "I've talked to a couple of people". He said that the Independent should remain left-leaning, which "fits in with what my politics have always been".

Many would not agree. Liddle downplayed the strength of reaction against some of his comments, saying that it has come almost entirely from the Guardian (including the Facebook group protesting against the prospect of him editing the Indie, which, he said, mainly consists of Guardian readers. The group has 4,500 members).

On the allegations of racism, he said:

I loathe racism, I always have done. It's not nice to be called a racist. There are plenty of reasons to have a go at me without having to invent stuff.

But beyond this apparently upfront, blunt acceptance of criticism, Liddle was not pinned down. His interviewer, Radio 5's Kate Silverton, quoted the notorious blog where he said:

The overwhelming majority of street crime, knife crime, gun crime, robbery and crimes of sexual violence in London is carried out by young men from the African-Caribbean community. Of course, in return, we have rap music [and] goat curry.

Asked what point he was making here, Liddle oddly claimed it was not a racial one:

The point I was making was that there are certain crimes that can be described not by race, but by culture, age and gender.

He argued that we should be able to discuss multiculturalism without slinging the term "racist" around. This is valid, but it does not seem to apply here.

On the controversy over his comments on the Millwall Online fan site, he said that the Guardian news desk had intentionally taken his words out of context. He added that these forums were "sort of semi-private", a comment likely to puzzle the blogosphere.

If Silverton's tone was sometimes uncomfortably chummy (as pointed out by indignant Twitterers this morning), some balance was provided by the very angry weatherman who took Liddle to task for his comments about the Met Office.

He finished his attack by saying: "If the Independent falls into your hands, then you'll need to up your game before I switch my allegiance."

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Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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The big problem for the NHS? Local government cuts

Even a U-Turn on planned cuts to the service itself will still leave the NHS under heavy pressure. 

38Degrees has uncovered a series of grisly plans for the NHS over the coming years. Among the highlights: severe cuts to frontline services at the Midland Metropolitan Hospital, including but limited to the closure of its Accident and Emergency department. Elsewhere, one of three hospitals in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are to be shuttered, while there will be cuts to acute services in Suffolk and North East Essex.

These cuts come despite an additional £8bn annual cash injection into the NHS, characterised as the bare minimum needed by Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England.

The cuts are outlined in draft sustainability and transformation plans (STP) that will be approved in October before kicking off a period of wider consultation.

The problem for the NHS is twofold: although its funding remains ringfenced, healthcare inflation means that in reality, the health service requires above-inflation increases to stand still. But the second, bigger problem aren’t cuts to the NHS but to the rest of government spending, particularly local government cuts.

That has seen more pressure on hospital beds as outpatients who require further non-emergency care have nowhere to go, increasing lifestyle problems as cash-strapped councils either close or increase prices at subsidised local authority gyms, build on green space to make the best out of Britain’s booming property market, and cut other corners to manage the growing backlog of devolved cuts.

All of which means even a bigger supply of cash for the NHS than the £8bn promised at the last election – even the bonanza pledged by Vote Leave in the referendum, in fact – will still find itself disappearing down the cracks left by cuts elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.