What helped fuel political parties like UKIP, especially in the run-up to the EU referendum, was the access given to them by broadcasters. Newspaper columns and other print coverage were fine, but to inject the virus directly, you need to be on air. And that is what drove the message of Nigel “Thirsty” Farage and his pals. Now, post-referendum, UKIP is old hat, and the access has been given to the far-right instead.
Steve Bannon - given a platform
How that has come about is for those giving the access to explain, but the result these last few days has been the appearance of Steve Bannon, a white supremacist who supports the likes of the French Front Nationale and Geert Wilders’ party in the Netherlands. He supports the Identiarian movement, which is, let us not drive this one round the houses for too long, a bunch of actual Nazis, some of whom are now on trial in Austria.
He didn't know it was going on, honest
Yet Bannon was invited on to ITV’s Good Morning Britain last Friday, where former Screws and Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan, to his shame, was craven in his questioning, his co-host Susanna Reid left to put The Great Man on the spot. This contrasted with Morgan’s aggressive and dishonest attack on Ash Sarkar of Novara Media.
Susanna Reid - got the same insult as Theo Usherwood
And then came Bannon’s appearance with Farage on his Sunday morning LBC show. What might have been expected to be a softball session got an unexpected hard edge when the station’s political editor Theo Usherwood called Bannon out for his support of Stephen Yaxley Lennon, who styles himself Tommy Robinson.
Usherwood noted the reaction. “Bannon to me off-air: ‘Fuck you. Don't you fucking say you're calling me out. You fucking liberal elite. Tommy Robinson is the backbone of this country.’” Remember the “Liberal elite” part of that.
Bannon’s grovelling Mini-Me Raheem “call me Ray” Kassam was unhappy. “LBC’s @theousherwood introduced himself to Bannon before the interview as the ‘neutral’ political editor of the station. He then proceeded to attack him both on and off air, and then tweet a private conversation. @Ofcom”. Tough. Run along, Ray. Grown-up talk.
In any case, Usherwood put Kassam straight. “For the record, nothing was agreed beforehand … If he wanted the conversation to be off-the-record, he should have said”. Meanwhile, Owen Jones, who had taken an interest in Morgan’s inexcusable shouting down of Ash Sarkar, observed “Two leading British broadcasters - ITV and LBC - have given an uncritical platform to this fascist little thug Steve Bannon, in both cases interviews by personal friends of Donald Trump (Piers Morgan and Nigel Farage)”.
And then came an intervention from Ms Reid. “My approach to Steve Bannon on @gmb was entirely critical to the point where he accused me of insulting questioning and being part of the liberal elite”. Hey, it’s that “Liberal elite” rant again! Stock response to proper questioning. But Bannon being that Good Ol’ Gen-tle-man, he held the swearing.
That revelation was one thing; Morgan’s weaselling out of Owen Jones’ questioning was quite another. “Hi @piersmorgan. Can you please explain clearly why you conducted a hectoring, aggressive interview against a left-wing Muslim woman, but a respectful, unchallenging interview with the Mussolini-admiring far right extremist Steve Bannon?” he asked The Donald’s bestest buddy and softball interviewer.
Morgan’s answer was deflection at its less than finest. “Sure, Bannon answered every question we put to him - and we (very sexist of you to pretend @susannareid100 wasn't involved...) challenged him repeatedly. Your communist friend didn't so I had to keep repeating the questions. The fact she's a woman or a Muslim was irrelevant”. That Jones did not mention Ms Reid is irrelevant, but if that’s how he wanted it, fine.
Jones duly mentioned his co-host. “You aggressively shouted down Ash Sarkar and made up her opinions. Susanna didn't. When the Mussolini-admiring white nationalist Steve Bannon was on, you treated him as a respected guest. Susanna challenged him. You're the problem, you're the disgrace, not Susanna”. Ouch!
And, in case we had forgotten, the Tweeter known as Briefcase Mike let everyone know what Bannon had been defending before Usherwood called him out. “Steve Bannon says it's a disgrace that Tommy Robinson is in prison and calls for his release saying he broke the law ‘only in a technical sense’. In UK you've either broken the law or you haven't. And in any case Robinson pleaded guilty. #LBC”.
Steve Bannon called someone with a string of criminal convictions “the backbone of this country”. He tried to reinvent the law. His sole response to being held to account is to whine about the “Liberal elite”. He supports actual Nazis.
Small wonder that when Piers Morgan once again invented attributes for someone he was trying to shout down - this time Owen Jones and inventing a connection to the Trump “baby balloon” - Jones dismissed the Trump toady with “I have nothing to do with the Trump balloon, but at least it will go down in history for something other than being a disgraced newspaper editor who sucked up to a grotesque Nazi praising sexual predator”.
The enabling of Steve Bannon needs some explaining. And my Occam’s Razor tells me that the one who needs to do the most of that explaining is Piers Morgan. Giving the far-right a legitimacy they do not merit is worrying. And it’s bang out of order.