Editor Rod Liddle?

What the blogosphere makes of the prospect of Rod Liddle editing the Indie

It might be a return to the editorial big time for the columnist and controversialist Rod Liddle, if the papers are to be believed. Media Guardian reported on Friday that:

The Sunday Times and Spectator columnist is understood to be the favoured candidate [for the editorship of the Independent] of the Russian businessman and London Evening Standard owner Alexander Lebedev if he succeeds in buying the paper in the next few weeks.

There are lots of "ifs" involved, obviously -- Lebedev has yet to buy the beleaguered titles, and there's the small matter of the existing editor, Roger Alton.

But when has uncertainty ever stopped a good bit of debate, speculation and outrage?

A Facebook group, called "If Rod Liddle becomes editor of the Independent, I will not buy it again", already has 878 members at the time of posting, so I think it's safe to say it's not a hugely popular prospect among Indie readers.

Alex Higgins, who set up the group, writes:

Rod Liddle would be a disappointing choice for the Daily Telegraph or the Daily Mail. For the Independent, it represents a direct affront to the readership . . .

. . . Independent readers deserve some respect -- the appointment of Rod Liddle is a clear act of contempt. If we wanted to read aggressive, bigoted, sarcastic ignorance, we would buy the Daily Express.

In particular, he takes issue with Liddle's past comments on women (who could forget the Harriet Harman "would you?" incident?) and race (he defended himself on this count on our blog). Higgins also makes the valid point that a defining feature of the Independent is its extensive coverage of global warming and other environmental issues -- sometimes, in the past, in defiance of the mainstream news agenda. Liddle has denied the evidence for the anthropogenic global warming theory.

It's probably fair to point out that, as editor of BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Liddle increased the show's audience to roughly seven million and took criticism in his stride as part of the job. This is fortunate, as the signs are that those at the Indie are no happier than the Facebook vigilantes about the possibility of his rule. The Guardian report points out that the Independent on Sunday called Weekend, Liddle's short-lived political programme for the BBC, "the worst programme anywhere, ever, in the history of time".

Sunder Katwala points out that Liddle courts controversy in the eyes of the public, but even apart from staff opinion is the problem posed by his lack of experience in the newspaper world.

Guido Fawkes also weighs into the debate. He, too, opposes the idea, but (predictably) is not aligned with the Indie's core readership. Instead, he says, Lebedev should appoint Matthew d'Ancona and

. . . move the Indie from the Guardian-dominated liberal-left space to the market opportunity on the liberal right.

I'm not so sure about this -- that would leave just the Guardian representing centre-left opinion in the mainstream press, and it's important to maintain a balance. It does prompt the question, though: Is anyone in favour of Rod Liddle being editor? Are you listening, Mr Lebedev? What's going on in there?

In the proliferation of tweets on the matter, I haven't yet seen a single positive one, although this caught my eye: "On the plus side, he might have less time to churn out tedious and reactionary articles."

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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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Forget the progressive alliance - it was the voters wot won it in Richmond

The Labour candidate on how voters have acted tactically for decades.

The Richmond Park by-election is both a triumph and a setback for the concept of an anti-Tory progressive alliance. As the Labour candidate, I was bombarded with emails and tweets saying I ought to stand down to prevent Zac Goldsmith being re-elected long after it was technically impossible for me to do so even if I had wanted to. I was harangued at a meeting organised by Compass, at which I found myself the lonely voice defending Labour's decision to put up a candidate.

I was slightly taken aback by the anger of some of those proposing the idea, but I did not stand for office expecting an easy ride. I told the meeting that while I liked the concept of a progressive alliance, I did not think that should mean standing down in favour of a completely unknown and inexperienced Lib Dem candidate, who had been selected without any reference to other parties. 

The Greens, relative newbies to the political scene, had less to lose than Labour, which still wants to be a national political party. Consequently, they told people to support the Lib Dems. This all passed off smoothly for a while, but when Caroline Lucas, the co-leader of the Greens came to Richmond to actively support the Lib Dems, it was more than some of her local party members could stomach. 

They wrote to the Guardian expressing support for my campaign, pointing out that I had a far better, long-established reputation as an environmentalist than the Lib Dem candidate. While clearly that ultimately did little to boost my vote, this episode highlighted one of the key problems about creating a progressive alliance. Keeping the various wings of the Labour party together, especially given the undisciplined approach of the leader who, as a backbencher, voted 428 times during the 13 years of Labour government in the 1990s and 2000s, is hard enough. Then consider trying to unite the left of the Greens with the right of the Lib Dems. That is not to include various others in this rainbow coalition such as nationalists and ultra-left groups. Herding cats seems easy by contrast.

In the end, however, the irony was that the people decided all by themselves. They left Labour in droves to vote out Goldsmith and express their opposition to Brexit. It was very noticeable in the last few days on the doorstep that the Lib Dems' relentless campaign was paying dividends. All credit to them for playing a good hand well. But it will not be easy for them to repeat this trick in other constituencies. 

The Lib Dems, therefore, did not need the progressive alliance. Labour supporters in Richmond have been voting tactically for decades. I lost count of the number of people who said to me that their instincts and values were to support Labour, but "around here it is a wasted vote". The most revealing statistic is that in the mayoral campaign, Sadiq Khan received 24 per cent of first preferences while Caroline Pidgeon, the Lib Dem candidate got just 7 per cent. If one discounts the fact that Khan was higher profile and had some personal support, this does still suggest that Labour’s real support in the area is around 20 per cent, enough to give the party second place in a good year and certainly to get some councillors elected.

There is also a complicating factor in the election process. I campaigned strongly on opposing Brexit and attacked Goldsmith over his support for welfare cuts, the bedroom tax and his outrageous mayoral campaign. By raising those issues, I helped undermine his support. If I had not stood for election, then perhaps a few voters may have kept on supporting him. One of my concerns about the idea of a progressive alliance is that it involves treating voters with disdain. The implication is that they are not clever enough to make up their mind or to understand the restrictions of the first past the post system. They are given less choice and less information, in a way that seems patronising, and smacks of the worst aspects of old-fashioned Fabianism.

Supporters of the progressive alliance will, therefore, have to overcome all these objections - in addition to practical ones such as negotiating the agreement of all the parties - before being able to implement the concept. 

Christian Wolmar is an award winning writer and broadcaster specialising in transport. He was shortlisted as a Labour mayoral candidate in the 2016 London election, and stood as Labour's candidate in the Richmond Park by-election in December 2016.