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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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.