Would you have Rod Liddle in your house?

The Independent was once the most high-minded of papers

Would you have Rod Liddle, the ubiquitous columnist and former editor of Radio 4's Today, in your house? Would you leave him alone with your daughters? We may have to address such questions if, as predicted, Alexander Lebedev, owner of the London Evening Standard, buys the Independent and appoints Liddle as editor.

The Independent was once the most high-minded of papers, notorious for its lack of much in the way of laughs. With Liddle, it's laughter all the way. "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," he wrote on his Spectator blog last month.

"Islamophobia? Count me in," he stated on another occasion. Dawn Primarolo is "a shovel-faced termagant", Caroline Flint is "as fit as a butcher's dog", and he once asked if you would, er, do it with Harriet Harman ("after a few beers obviously, not while you were sober"). This is cutting-edge satire and you are no doubt splitting your sides. Oh, and when Liddle married the mother of his two children, he scarpered in the middle of the honeymoon for an assignation with a bird he'd met in the office. Which was very witty indeed.

But recently in the Sunday Times, he argued in a boring, liberal way that Anjem Choudary, whose Islam4UK faces a ban, is entitled to free speech. I hope that, as the responsibilities of office beckon, he isn't losing his sense of fun.

 

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Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

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Jeremy Corbyn fares well in his toughest interview yet

Labour will be relieved that Corbyn's encounter with Andrew Neil was less painful than Theresa May's. 

Jeremy Corbyn's half-hour BBC1 interview with Andrew Neil was the toughest grilling he has faced since becoming Labour leader. Neil sought to cause Corbyn maximum discomfort by confronting him with his past views on the IRA, NATO and Trident (which he never anticipated having to defend from his current position). 

"I didn't support the IRA, I don't support the IRA," Corbyn said in response to the first. After Neil countered that Corbyn "invited convicted IRA terrorists to tea in the Commons a few weeks after the Brighton bomb," the Labour leader replied: "I never met the IRA. I obviously did meet people from Sinn Fein" (a distinction without a difference, some will say). But after the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, Corbyn is aided by the reduced toxicity of the subject (New Labour dealt with terrorists) and the fact that for some voters, the young most of all, "the troubles" are a distant memory.

NATO, Neil recalled, had been described by Corbyn as "'a very dangerous Frankenstein of an organisation', 'a danger to world peace'. Two years ago you said it should be 'wound up'." It is to Corbyn's credit, in some respects, that he struggles to disguise his sincere views, and he did on this occasion. "NATO exists," he observed at one point, eventually conceding after much prodding: "I will be a committed member of that alliance in order to promote peace, justice, human rights and democracy". But nearly 30 years after the end of the Cold War, the subject will seem esoteric to many voters.

Trident, however, is another matter. "My views on nuclear weapons are well-known," Corbyn correctly noted, making it clear that the Labour manifesto committed to full renewal against his wishes. "I voted against the renewal," he said. "Everybody knows that because I wanted to go in a different direction." That the opposition is divided on such a profound issue - and that Corbyn's stance is at odd with the electorate's - is undoubtedly a drag on Labour's support.

But under forensic examination, Corbyn emerged stronger than many predicted. There were few moments of intemperance and no disastrous gaffes. Corbyn successfully dodged a question on whether Labour would cut immigration by replying that the numbers would "obviously reduce" if more workers were trained. Indeed, compared with Theresa May's painful encounter with Neil last Monday, Corbyn's team will be relieved by his performance. Though the Labour leader cannot escape his past, he avoided being trapped by it tonight. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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