The end of a week to forget for Andrew Neil, host of the BBC’s Daily Politics and This Week, as well as chairman of Press Holdings, which oversees publications including the Spectator magazine and its Australian counterpart, came yesterday with yet another very public meltdown. It brought to an end an ignominious series of Twitter mis-steps and more or less guaranteed him a few paragraphs in the next edition of Private Eye.
For someone whose University degree was an MA in Political Economy and Political Science, Neil’s spat earlier in the week with both his former BBC colleague Stephanie Flanders, and Jonathan Portes of King’s College London, was mystifying. Ms Flanders had described the UK as a “small open economy”. The Wikipedia explainer is useful here.
This tells “A small open economy, abbreviated to SOE, is an economy that participates in international trade, but is small enough compared to its trading partners that its policies do not alter world prices, interest rates, or incomes. Thus, the countries with small open economies are price takers”. Neil had, for some reason, not grasped this concept.
“Define small, given UK 5/6th largest economy in world. What does that make 7th downwards?” he snapped. Portes observed “If @afneil knew any economics (or indeed could use wikipedia) then he'd know @MyStephanomics was using - correctly and appropriately - the standard definition of ‘small open economy’”. Ouch!
But then it got worse: Neil waded into the aftermath of the German elections, where the Free Democrats had walked out of coalition talks, calling it the country’s “biggest political crisis since late 1940s. Bigger even than UK’s current ongoing political crisis”. Jon Worth, a Brit in Berlin who knows his German politics, poured cold water on that idea. Neil tried to remain aloof. He did not succeed. And then came the Spectator Australia débàcle.
The magazine, which enjoys a circulation of just 8,000, has just been forced to settle a defamation case by paying out the equivalent of £327,000 in damages. With legal fees, this may well top £500,000. It has been asserted by a number (plural) of reliable media sources that the magazine may be in doubt as a result of this action.
So Zelo Street covered the story yesterday. This did not go down at all well with The Great Man, who quoted my Tweet but did not reply directly to it, thus demonstrating that he is of less than perfect courage. “Blocked for spreading not just fake news but downright lies. Spectator Australia just finished its most profitable year ever. Expansion plans for 2018. Bye, liar” he spluttered. But there are a few problems with this line.
One, my post cited a report in the Guardian which is still live, and which told that Spectator Australia would be “deeply wounded” by the payout - it’s not Fake News. Two, if Neil believes he’s been defamed, he knows what to do - and thus far, no threat of legal action has been received. And three, a magazine with an 8,000 circulation ain’t going to be profitable if it has to shell out those kinds of payments.
Anyone might form the impression that Andrew Neil was going through some kind of personal crisis right now. Or perhaps it’s just another in his long and less than illustrious line of getting things terribly wrong. Sad, really.