Andy Burnham slips up on the BBC

Labour leadership candidate puts his foot in it as he condemns the BBC for being too “London-centric

Andy Burnham has long been a staunch supporter of Top of the Pops, so when he was asked at a Labour leadership campaign event in Nottingham this week whether he still planned to lobby for the programme to be returned to the BBC, his answer was a foregone conclusion, according to today's diary in the Independent.

But as well as praising the show, he went on to complain that the BBC was too "London-centric", perhaps referring to the ongoing controversy over the reluctance of certain BBC bosses to relocate to new premises in Salford. According to Burnham, the Beeb has also lost touch with "ordinary people" -- and he went on to rachet up the rhetoric, saying that "they'd never hire someone like John Peel now".

Unfortunately for Burnham, the BBC hired someone very like John Peel just a few months ago -- his son Tom Ravenscroft, in fact. Tom has a weekly show championing new music on the recently resurgent BBC 6 Music.

However, as a colleague of mine here at the NS has just pointed out to me, the son of John Peel isn't exactly an "ordinary person", as the Independent seems to imply -- in fact, he's a quasi-celebrity who surely had a rather extraordinary upbringing. But the slip-up is something of a blow to a candidate who has campaigned relentlessly on his "ordinary" credentials, going out of his way to demonstrate the "elitist" qualities of his opponents and seizing every opportunity to present himself as the choice for "ordinary people".

"Ordinary" or otherwise, looking out of touch on an issue that he's campaigned on for several years isn't going to provide the last-minute boost his campaign so sorely needs.

Read the recent NS interview with Andy Burnham here.

Caroline Crampton is web editor of the New Statesman.

Grant Shapps on the campaign trail. Photo: Getty
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Grant Shapps resigns over Tory youth wing bullying scandal

The minister, formerly party chairman, has resigned over allegations of bullying and blackmail made against a Tory activist. 

Grant Shapps, who was a key figure in the Tory general election campaign, has resigned following allegations about a bullying scandal among Conservative activists.

Shapps was formerly party chairman, but was demoted to international development minister after May. His formal statement is expected shortly.

The resignation follows lurid claims about bullying and blackmail among Tory activists. One, Mark Clarke, has been accused of putting pressure on a fellow activist who complained about his behaviour to withdraw the allegation. The complainant, Elliot Johnson, later killed himself.

The junior Treasury minister Robert Halfon also revealed that he had an affair with a young activist after being warned that Clarke planned to blackmail him over the relationship. Former Tory chair Sayeedi Warsi says that she was targeted by Clarke on Twitter, where he tried to portray her as an anti-semite. 

Shapps appointed Mark Clarke to run RoadTrip 2015, where young Tory activists toured key marginals on a bus before the general election. 

Today, the Guardian published an emotional interview with the parents of 21-year-old Elliot Johnson, the activist who killed himself, in which they called for Shapps to consider his position. Ray Johnson also spoke to BBC's Newsnight:


The Johnson family claimed that Shapps and co-chair Andrew Feldman had failed to act on complaints made against Clarke. Feldman says he did not hear of the bullying claims until August. 

Asked about the case at a conference in Malta, David Cameron pointedly refused to offer Shapps his full backing, saying a statement would be released. “I think it is important that on the tragic case that took place that the coroner’s inquiry is allowed to proceed properly," he added. “I feel deeply for his parents, It is an appalling loss to suffer and that is why it is so important there is a proper coroner’s inquiry. In terms of what the Conservative party should do, there should be and there is a proper inquiry that asks all the questions as people come forward. That will take place. It is a tragic loss of a talented young life and it is not something any parent should go through and I feel for them deeply.” 

Mark Clarke denies any wrongdoing.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.