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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Labour is launching a stealthy Scottish comeback - thanks to Jeremy Corbyn and the Daily Mail

The Scottish Labour strategy is paying off - and hard evidence that it works may be more plentiful come 8 June 2017

When I suggested to a senior Scottish Labour figure earlier this year that the party was a car crash, he rejected my assertion.

“We’re past that,” he said gloomily. “Now we’re the burnt-out wreck in a field that no-one even notices anymore.”

And yet, just as the election campaign has seen Jeremy Corbyn transformed from an outdated jalopy into Chitty Chitty Bang Bang magically soaring in the polls, Scottish Labour is beginning to look roadworthy again.

And it’s all down to two apparently contradictory forces – Corbyn and The Daily Mail.

Kezia Dugdale’s decision to hire Alan Roden, then the Scottish Daily Mail’s political editor, as her spin doctor in chief last summer was said to have lost her some party members. It may win her some new members of parliament just nine months later.

Roden’s undoubted nose for a story and nous in driving the news agenda, learned in his years at the Mail, has seen Nicola Sturgeon repeatedly forced to defend her government record on health and education in recent weeks, even though her Holyrood administration is not up for election next month.

On ITV’s leaders debate she confessed that, despite 10 years in power, the Scottish education system is in need of some attention. And a few days later she was taken to task during a BBC debate involving the Scottish leaders by a nurse who told her she had to visit a food bank to get by. The subsequent SNP attempt to smear that nurse was a pathetic mis-step by the party that suggested their media operation had gone awry.

It’s not the Tories putting Sturgeon on the defence. They, like the SNP, are happy to contend the general election on constitutional issues in the hope of corralling the unionist vote or even just the votes of those that don’t yet want a second independence referendum. It is Labour who are spotting the opportunities and maximising them.

However, that would not be enough alone. For although folk like Dugdale as a person – as evidenced in Lord Ashcroft’s latest polling - she lacks the policy chops to build on that. Witness her dopey proposal ahead of the last Holyrood election to raise income tax.

Dugdale may be a self-confessed Blairite but what’s powering Scottish Labour just now is Jeremy Corbyn’s more left-wing policy platform.

For as Brexit has dropped down the agenda at this election, and bread and butter stuff like health and education has moved centre stage, Scots are seeing that for all the SNP’s left wing rhetoric, after 10 years in power in Holyrood, there’s not a lot of progressive policy to show for it.

Corbyn’s manifesto, even though huge chunks of it won’t apply in Scotland, is progressive. The evidence is anecdotal at the moment, but it seems some Scots voters find it more attractive than the timid managerialism of the SNP. This is particularly the case with another independence referendum looking very unlikely before the 2020s, on either the nationalists' or the Conservatives' timetable.

Evidence that the Scottish Labour strategy has worked may be more plentiful come 8 June 2017. The polls, albeit with small sample sizes so best approached with caution, have Ian Murray streets ahead in the battle to defend Edinburgh South. There’s a lot of optimism in East Lothian where Labour won the council earlier in May and MSP Iain Gray increased his majority at the Scottish election last year. Labour have chosen their local candidate well in local teacher Martin Whitfield, and if the unionist vote swings behind him he could overhaul sitting MP George Kerevan’s 7,000 majority. (As we learned in 2015, apparently safe majorities mean nothing in the face of larger electoral forces). In East Renfrewshire, Labour's Blair McDougall, the man who led Better Together in 2014, can out-unionist the Tory candidate.

But, while in April, it was suggested that these three seats would be the sole focus of the Scottish Labour campaign, that attitude has changed after the local elections. Labour lost Glasgow but did not implode. In chunks of their former west of Scotland heartlands there was signs of life.

Mhairi Black’s a media darling, but her reputation as a local MP rather than a local celebrity is not great. Labour would love to unseat her, in what would be a huge upset, or perhaps more realistically go after Gavin Newlands in the neighbouring Paisley seat.

They are also sniffing Glasgow East. With Natalie McGarry’s stint as MP ending in tears – a police investigation, voting in her wedding dress and fainting in the chamber sums up her two years in Westminster – Labour ought to be in with a chance in the deprived neighbourhoods of Glasgow’s east end.

Labour in Scotland doesn’t feel like such a wreck anymore. Alan Roden’s Daily Mail-honed media nous has grabbed attention. Corbyn’s progressive policies have put fuel in the tank.

After polling day, the party will be able to fit all its Scottish MPs comfortably in a small hatchback, compared to the double decker bus necessary just a few years back.

But this general election could give the party the necessary shove to get on to the long road back.

James Millar is a political journalist and founder of the Political Yeti's Politics Podcast. He is co-author of The Gender Agenda, which will be published July 21 by Jessica Kingsley Publishing.

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