Aaronovitch and me

The Stiperstone's most famous resident on his love of good music and dislike of David Aaronovitch. P

This raging at the radio must stop. It is time to systematise my prejudices. Hand me down that encyclopaedia.

Aardvarks: I have nothing against these stalwart members of the Orycteropodidae. As they say in KwaZulu-Natal, aardvark never killed anyone.

Aaronovitch, David: He is a different matter.

Do you remember his Guardian column from 29 April 2003? It was the one about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction:

"If nothing is eventually found, I - as a supporter of the war - will never believe another thing I am told by our government or that of the US, ever again. And more to the point, neither will anyone else."

Aaronovitch had certainly forgotten it by 2007 when he acted as executive producer for the BBC’s The Blair Years. More than that, he decided he was just the person to interview the former prime minister for the series. He did so at great length and turned Not Mentioning the War into an art form.

But that is not what annoys me about Aaronovitch. At least those pro-war columns for the Guardian had a point. They annoyed his readers and challenged the pieties of the writers around him.

Because everyone should challenge the Guardian's pieties. When I was at a loose end in London I used to hide in the bushes outside the newspaper's offices. As the journalists walked passed I would whisper things like "Bright working-class kids did better when their were grammar schools" or "Polly Toynbee supported David Owen's Continuing SDP".

It was great fun. I made Simon Hoggart cry once.

And I am not that worried by Aaronovitch’s political past. He was the son of a North London Marxist academic - if he had been born a few years later he could have swapped Top Trumps with the young Miliband brothers. "I'll give you Harry Pollitt and György Lukács for Rosa Luxemburg."

He went to Balliol College, Oxford but was sent down (don't get excited: he failed some exams) and completed his education at Manchester. He was a Communist himself and became president of the National Union of Students in 1980 on a Broad Left ticket.

As I recall, this grouping of Communist, Labour and Liberal politicos shared one important principle: we all hated the Trots.

But there is one thing I cannot forgive. University Challenge. 1975.

Aaronovitch was a member of the Manchester team that decided to use the programme to stage a protest. Whatever the question put to them, they answered with the name of a revolutionary. Lenin, Karl Marx, Che Guevara.

If someone tried it with Jeremy Paxman, he would vault his desk and chin them. But this was in the days when the quiz was in charge of the sweet-natured Bamber Gascoigne.

Taking advantage of him was bad enough. But what really grates is the cause that moved them to such anger.

It wasn’t American imperialism. It wasn’t world hunger or repressive regimes in the Third World. Instead, they were protesting against Oxbridge colleges being allowed to enter separate teams
even though they were not universities in their own right.

What a scandal! They must have expected the dockers to come out in support.

To the modern reader, the whole episode is reminiscent of Student Grant. He was a character who appeared regularly in Viz in the days when students received grants:

"That's discrimination."

"It's wacist, actually."

So that is why I have never warmed to Aaranovitch. Let’s move on to something more palatable.

Abba: I like Abba. I have always liked Abba. Everyone has always liked Abba.
It's just that for years you were not allowed to say so.

Jonathan Calder has been a district councillor and contributed to speeches by Paddy Ashdown and Charles Kennedy. These days he prefers to poke gentle fun from the sidelines. He blogs at Liberal England