There has been much pearl-clutching out there on the right following a Guardian opinion piece by left-leaning pundit Owen Jones titled “If the BBC is politically neutral, how does it explain Andrew Neil?” with the sub-heading “He symbolises the rightwing domination of our media. Yet a politics presenter as aligned to the left would not be tolerated”.
Although Jones does not call for Neil to be removed from his role at the Beeb, or even suggest such a move, the hair-trigger response from The Great Man shows that he and his pals are scared witless that this is the real agenda behind the article. “I understand Owen Jones has written yet another attack. He's clearly campaigning to have me fired from the BBC” he has told his Twitter followers, in accordance with Olbermann’s Dictum.
He also claims “I don't intend to respond”, but he just did. Ah, but details, eh? In any case, he has the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog to cover his backside, dutifully echoing his framing of Jones’ article by telling “Owen Jones Tries To Get Andrew Neil Sacked From BBC”. And thus the problem for Neil: he is rather too close to those out there on the right-wing fringe like the Fawkes mob.
Worse, Neil’s most serious problems are those not covered by Jones: the case against him is therefore understated. So let us consider three specific areas where a broadcaster dedicated to maintaining political neutrality might have cause for concern.
, Jones mentions Neil’s attitude towards the science of climate change: here we find an example of the BBC being used to promote what is called the sceptical side of the argument. In an article which is still online, Neil made a serious mistake. He talked of the science being “settled” (note the further use of quotation marks). But the science is never settled; this is a favourite attack line of climate sceptics.
The same article took the views of just one scientist who was part of the scientific consensus, dismissed them by claiming he “works for a multi-billion dollar US environmental business”, and later that he was one of those taking “strongly partisan positions”, then introduced as mainstream views a number of those taking a sceptical stance, including one signatory to the Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming.
This proclamation holds, more or less, that although its signatories don’t think it’s really happening, if it really is happening, then their chosen deity will be along soon enough to intervene and make everything all right again. You read that right.
Two, Neil’s role in the now infamous Daily Politics live resignation affair needs to be taken into account. Thanks to an internal BBC blog on the event being made more widely available, we know rather more about the on-air resignation of Labour MP Stephen Doughty from Jeremy Corbyn’s team that might have been the case.
Doughty announced his resignation five minutes before the start of Prime Minister’s Questions, giving David Cameron a political advantage during his exchanges with Jezza, the Prime Minister being then able to deflect from discussing the floods.
That Doughty intended to resign that day was known by 0900 hours. Yet the story was held back for almost three hours. Had the news been broken earlier, no-one could have had cause for complaint. Nor would there have been a problem with holding the resignation until after PMQs. The problem for the BBC, and the source of so much disquiet, was the timing, as was the title of that internal BBC blog.
“Resignation! Making the news on the Daily Politics” was an awful giveaway. Is the BBC’s flagship politics offering there to actually make the news? And make news that gives an advantage to one political party over another? At the time, the focus of so much discontent was the Beeb’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg, but Neil was very much in there too.
And three, there is the small matter of the Addison Club. Sure, this exclusive private dining club, which Neil chairs, is not otherwise connected to the BBC, but its activities, exposed partly by the revelations of Brexit evangelist Arron Banks, are hardly going to inspire confidence in those defending the BBC’s political neutrality.
Neil invited Banksy to address the club in order to help the latter’s fundraising activities, according to Banks’ book The Bad Boys Of Brexit. Here’s his account: “Andrew Neil’s invited 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 fair few in our membership sympathetic to your case and even a few with chequebooks’”. BBC host helping out with anti-EU fundraising. R-i-i-ight.
On top of all that, there is Neil’s continuing role as chairman of the Spectator, a magazine which majors in climate change denial and increasingly virulent Islamophobia (and still employs the services of anti-Semite Taki Theodoracopulos).
So when those out there on the right get all righteous about Owen Jones’ comments about Andrew Neil, they need to stop and think. Jones hardly went beyond the opening page of the charge sheet. if the BBC cannot accommodate the likes of James O’Brien, and indeed others, like Paul Mason, then how it manages to retain Neil is at best questionable.
The time of Andrew Neil at the BBC may have been for a time, but not for all time.