Some broadcast media presenters and pundits are wary of speaking too freely outside the studio, and especially on social media platforms like Twitter. Not so Andrew Neil, still fronting the BBC’s Daily Politics and This Week, still overseeing the Spectator magazine for the Barclay brothers, and still passing adverse comment on anything that might make the various referendum Leave campaigns look other than pure as the driven snow.
And it is this candour, especially Neil’s constant carping at the Observer’s Carole Cadwalladr, which has caused the finger of suspicion to move in his general direction once again. Zelo Street regulars will recall how she unearthed a passage from Arron Banks’ book The Bad Boys Of Brexit (actually written by mercenary hack Isabel Oakeshott) where Banksy recalled an invitation to the private dining society the Addison Club.
Banks had told “Andrew Neil’s asked me to speak at an event for the Addison Club, his very elite private dining society, on 3 November. He seems to have forgotten our Twitter spat. He’s emailed saying he thinks I’ll ‘find a few in our membership sympathetic to your case and even a few with chequebooks’”. Hold that thought for a few paragraphs.
Neil has of late taken a highly sceptical view of what Ms Cadwalladr has unearthed, as I told previously. This week has been no different: “Except nothing new of substance was revealed. As a journalist I’d love for Russian collusion/financing to be revealed because it would such a wonderful feat of investigative journalism. I must await the facts. You don’t have to”. Chris Wylie took a dim view of Neil’s sitting-and-waiting idea.
“The job of journalists is to ask questions and find facts, not sit and ‘await’ them. But here's some while you wait. Fact: LeaveEU donors met w Russian embassy about Brexit. Fact: LeaveEU donor took one of the diamond deals. Fact: LeaveEU donor emailled Russian embassy FBI docs”. This stung The Great Man into action, well, sort of.
“Fact one proves nothing Fact two as yet proves nothing Fact three - interesting. Pray tell more”. More had already been told. But he wasn’t finished. “So when you lecture me on journalism being about asking questions - thanks for that, I’ve only been doing it for over 45 years - and I ask you a question about fact 3, you go all silent”. Patronising, much?
And an appeal to authority, just to be on the safe side. But, as Ms Cadwalladr had to remind him once more apropos those facts, “Well, I keep responding to it, Andrew. And you keep ignoring it … Ok, look, I'll post it AGAIN”. Then she hit him with another.
“Just spotted that @lordashcroft is a founding member of your super-secret Addison club. You know, the one you told @arron_banks was ‘sympathetic’ to his cause. Why not question him? He knows all about this non-Brexit-Russia story”. All of a sudden, Banksy’s story, along with the previous account that told of “a dinner at the Addison Club … Founding members Michael Spicer … Lord Ashcroft and … Lorna Tilbian” fell into place.
Did Banks meet Ashcroft via the Addison Club? And, more to the point, as Neil is on record talking about “a few in our membership sympathetic to your case and even a few with chequebooks”, did a BBC presenter assist in soliciting donations to the Leave campaign?
Just how elastic are those conflict of interest rules, BBC people? More on this later.