Lord McAlpine on the BBC: the most unsettling interview of the year

As the frail-sounding Conservative peer spoke, the scale of the wrongs against him became clear.

Lord McAlpine's interview with BBC Radio 4′s World at One made for profoundly unsettling listening. As the frail-sounding Conservative peer spoke ("I've got a very dicky heart," he said), the scale of the wrongs against him became clear. Asked whether Boris Johnson was right to say that to call someone a paedophile is to "consign them to the lowest circle of hell - and while they're still alive", McAlpine replied:

Absolutely. I think it describes pretty much what happened to me in the first few days of this event...it gets in to your bones. It gets into, it makes you angry. And that's extremely bad for you to be angry. And it gets into your soul. You just think there's something wrong with the world.

Paedophiles are "quite rightly figures of public hatred", he said, adding that "to find yourself a figure of public hatred, unjustifiably, is terrifying."

He said that he was seeking compensation from the BBC but that his claim would be tempered by the fact that "this is the licence payer who's going to pay this - not the people who made the programme, not the people who authorised the programme, not the people who told the lie in the first place."

In an interview with the same programme, McAlpine's solicitor Andrew Reid urged those who had named the peer Twitter to come forward in order to avoid prolonged legal action. He said: "What we're basically saying to people is, look, we know - in inverted commas - who you are, we know exactly the extent of what you've done. It's easier to come forward and see us and apologise and arrange to settle with us because, in the long run, this is the cheapest and best way to bring this matter to an end."

He revealed that he had received two apologies from Guardian columnist George Monbiot (whose "abject apology" to McAlpine can be read here) but had yet to hear from Speaker's wife Sally Bercow, who tweeted: "Why is Lord McAlpine trending? *Innocent face*". He added that legal proceedings would be initiated against her. "She has left us with no choice."

Conservative peer Alistair McAlpine, who was falsely accused of involvement in the north Wales child abuse scandal.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The economics of outrage: Why you haven't seen the end of Katie Hopkins

Her distasteful tweet may have cost her a job at LBC, but this isn't the last we've seen of Britain's biggest troll. 

Another atrocity, other surge of grief and fear, and there like clockwork was the UK’s biggest troll. Hours after the explosion at the Manchester Arena that killed 22 mostly young and female concert goers, Katie Hopkins weighed in with a very on-brand tweet calling for a “final solution” to the complex issue of terrorism.

She quickly deleted it, replacing the offending phrase with the words “true solution”, but did not tone down the essentially fascist message. Few thought it had been an innocent mistake on the part of someone unaware of the historical connotations of those two words.  And no matter how many urged their fellow web users not to give Hopkins the attention she craved, it still sparked angry tweets, condemnatory news articles and even reports to the police.

Hopkins has lost her presenting job at LBC radio, but she is yet to lose her column at Mail Online, and it’s quite likely she won’t.

Mail Online and its print counterpart The Daily Mail have regularly shown they are prepared to go down the deliberately divisive path Hopkins was signposting. But even if the site's managing editor Martin Clarke was secretly a liberal sandal-wearer, there are also very good economic reasons for Mail Online to stick with her. The extreme and outrageous is great at gaining attention, and attention is what makes money for Mail Online.

It is ironic that Hopkins’s career was initially helped by TV’s attempts to provide balance. Producers could rely on her to provide a counterweight to even the most committed and rational bleeding-heart liberal.

As Patrick Smith, a former media specialist who is currently a senior reporter at BuzzFeed News points out: “It’s very difficult for producers who are legally bound to be balanced, they will sometimes literally have lawyers in the room.”

“That in a way is why some people who are skirting very close or beyond the bounds of taste and decency get on air.”

But while TV may have made Hopkins, it is online where her extreme views perform best.  As digital publishers have learned, the best way to get the shares, clicks and page views that make them money is to provoke an emotional response. And there are few things as good at provoking an emotional response as extreme and outrageous political views.

And in many ways it doesn’t matter whether that response is negative or positive. Those who complain about what Hopkins says are also the ones who draw attention to it – many will read what she writes in order to know exactly why they should hate her.

Of course using outrageous views as a sales tactic is not confined to the web – The Daily Mail prints columns by Sarah Vine for a reason - but the risks of pushing the boundaries of taste and decency are greater in a linear, analogue world. Cancelling a newspaper subscription or changing radio station is a simpler and often longer-lasting act than pledging to never click on a tempting link on Twitter or Facebook. LBC may have had far more to lose from sticking with Hopkins than Mail Online does, and much less to gain. Someone prepared to say what Hopkins says will not be out of work for long. 

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