Soon Alan Rusbridger will be looking through this window from the other side. Photo: Muir Vidler/New Statesman
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Staff ballot for next editor is causing untold angst at the Guardian

The staff at the Guardian get a chance to vote on who they think the next editor should be. But how can they do that when they don't know who all the candidates are?

Word reaches the Mole of yesterday's NUJ chapel meeting at the Guardian to discuss the staff ballot on the next editor, due to take place later this month. The ballot is causing much angst in Kings Cross, due to the fact that democracy often produces inconvenient results - i.e. the Scott Trust is worried that the staff won't agree with their choice for an heir to Alan Rusbridger.

The word among the comrades was that headhunters approached the BBC's Robert Peston as an external candidate, although no one knows whether he showed any interest. 

Internally, the contest is between Janine Gibson, recently returned to London after winning a Pulitzer for the US web operation, and Katharine Viner, who replaced her in America after setting up a Guardian outpost Down Under. (Gibson was described by Michael Wolff in GQ as "rather a Fleet Street character - messy, crude, unread and gossipy to an invariably trouble-making end", although he declined to mention that she sacked him as a columnist, which may colour his judgement). Comment supremo Jonathan Freedland has not applied, although the architect of the Guardian website's redesign, Wolfgang Blau, may have thrown his hat into the ring.

The key point from yesterday's meeting was that the staff ballot will be open to regular freelancers - anyone who earns more than half their salary from Guardian commissions. That means a lot more votes from contributors to, say, Weekend Magazine, the Review pages and G2. And which of the candidates came up through features rather than news? Viner. 

The other great unspoken in the room yesterday was the King Across the Water - Newsnight's Ian Katz. "What if the editor of, say . . . Newsround applied?" said staff, hypothetically. Would he - OR SHE - be part of the ballot? No one knows if former Guardian lifer Katz has applied for the job, but it would certainly undermine his position at the BBC if word got out he wanted to jump ship.

When the ballot was held last time, there were four candidates, but all were from the Guardian. The voting system, aptly for the Guardian, is slightly confusing - it's single transferable vote, meaning the candidates with the lowest support in each round is knocked out and their voters' second choices are given to the remaining contenders. Last time - as many of the hacks present remembered - Rusbridger won by a landslide in the first round. 

The big problem this time is what to do if there is an external candidate who doesn't want to publicise their application. Is it fair if they're not on the ballot? What's the point of the staff voting if the Scott Trust could appoint someone who was never even put to a public vote? Such questions were left undecided, although there was talk of an emergency chapel meeting if the staff vote and board decision were not the same. 

After a few rousing renditions of the Red Flag and a hearty quinoa buffet, the meeting broke up. The hustings will take place at the end of the month - but who knows whether all the candidates will be there, or just the internal ones?

I'm a mole, innit.

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The biggest divide in politics is not left against right, but liberals against authoritarians

My week, including a Lib Dem membership rise, The Avalanches, and why I'm putting pressure on Theresa May over child refugees.

It is a boost for us that Nick Clegg has agreed to return to the front line and be our Brexit spokesperson. I hadn’t even had a chance at our meeting to make him the offer when he said: “Before we start, I’ve been thinking about this and want to take on the fight over Europe.”

With Labour apparently willing to give the Tories a free pass to take us out of Europe, the Liberal Democrats are the only UK-wide party that will go into the next election campaigning to maintain our membership of the EU. The stage is remarkably clear for us to remind Theresa May precisely what she would be risking if we abandon free trade, free movement, environmental protection, workers’ rights and cross-border security co-operation. More than a month on from the referendum, all we have heard from the Tories is that “Brexit means Brexit” – but they have given us no clue that they understand what that means.

 

Premature obituaries

Not long ago, the received wisdom was that all political parties were dying – but lately the supposed corpses have twitched into life. True, many who have joined Labour’s ranks are so hard left that they don’t see winning elections as a primary (or even a desirable) purpose of a party, and opening up Labour to those with a very different agenda could ultimately destroy it.

Our experience has been happier: 20,000 people joined the Liberal Democrat fightback in the wake of the 2015 general election result, and 17,000 more have joined since the referendum. We now have more members than at any time this century.

 

Breaking up is hard to do

Journalists have been asking repeatedly if I want to see the break-up of the Labour Party, with moderates defecting to the Liberal Democrats. I have been clear that I am not a home-wrecker and it is for Labour to determine its own future, just as I focus on advancing the Liberal Democrat cause. Yet I have also been clear that I am happy for my party to be a home for liberals of whatever hue. I enjoyed campaigning in the referendum with a variety of progressive figures, just as moderates from different parties shared platforms in 1975. It struck me that far more unites us than divides us.

That said, not all “moderate” Labour figures could be described as “liberal”, as John Reid demonstrated as Labour home secretary. The modern political divide is less left v right than authoritarian v liberal. Both left and right are looking increasingly authoritarian and outright nasty, with fewer voices prepared to stand up for liberal values.

 

What I did on my holidays

Time off has been virtually non-existent, but I am reading A Wilderness of Mirrors by Mark Meynell (about loss of trust in politics, the media and just about everything). I’m also obsessively listening to Wildflower by the Avalanches, their second album, 16 years after their first. It’s outstanding – almost 60 minutes of intelligently crafted dialogue, samples and epic production.

During the political maelstrom, I have been thinking back to the idyllic few days I spent over half-term on the Scottish island of Colonsay: swimming in the sea with the kids (very cold but strangely exhilarating ­after a decent jog), running and walking. An added bonus is that Colonsay is the smallest island in the world to have its own brewery. I can now heartily recommend it.

 

Preparing for the next fight

The odds are weirdly long on an early general election, but I refuse to be complacent – and not merely because the bookies were so wrong about Brexit. If we have learned one truth about Theresa May as Prime Minister so far, it is that she is utterly ruthless. After her savage cabinet sackings, this is, in effect, a new government. She has refused to go to the country, even though she lectured Gordon Brown on the need to gain the endorsement of the electorate when he replaced Tony Blair. Perhaps she doesn’t care much about legitimacy, but she cares about power.

You can be sure that she will be keeping half an eye on Labour’s leadership election. With Jeremy Corbyn potentially reconfirmed as leader in September against the wishes of three-quarters of his MPs, Mrs May might conclude that she will never have a better chance to increase her narrow majority. Throw in the possibility that the economy worsens next year as Brexit starts to bite, and I rule nothing out.

So, we are already selecting candidates. It is vital that they dig in early. As we are the only party prepared to make the positive case for Europe, such an election would present us with an amazing opportunity.

 

Sitting Priti

David Cameron pledged to take an unspecified number of unaccompanied children from camps across the Continent. I am putting pressure on Theresa May to turn that vague commitment into a proper plan. Having visited such camps, I have been fighting for Britain to give sanctuary to a minimum of 3,000 unaccompanied children, who are currently open to the worst kinds of exploitation. We have heard nothing but silence from the government, with underfunded councils reporting that they are not receiving the help they need from Whitehall.

Meanwhile, it remains government policy to send refugees to Turkey – whose increasingly authoritarian government has just suspended human rights protection.

As if all of this were not grim enough, we have a new Secretary of State for International Development, Priti Patel, who has said that she thinks aid should be used largely to promote trade. As someone who wants our country to be respected around the world, I find this plain embarrassing. Actually, it’s worse. It’s shaming. As with Europe, so with the world: the ­Conservative government is hauling up the drawbridge just when we need more than ever to engage with people beyond our shores.

Tim Farron is the leader of the Liberal Democrats. To join the party, visit: libdems.org.uk/join

Tim Farron is leader of the Liberal Democrats.

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue