Some in the media diaspora have thought it sad that the BBC is axing This Week, the late night politics vehicle for Andrew Neil and his favoured panellists, concluding that the Corporation should have sought to find a way to accommodate both him and Question Time, which airs just beforehand. Others shrug and point out that Brillo turns 70 this year, and that there comes a time when even the Beeb has to trust in youth.
Those others have also been given ammunition not only by Owen Jones’ recent ambushing of The Great Man on his own show, but also yesterday’s attempt by Neil, Michael Portillo and Alan Johnson to rubbish the efforts of historian Rutger Bregman, who had just seen off Mark Littlewood of the IEA on the Jeremy Vine Show. One hopes there was no element of payback in Brillo’s treatment of him.
Bregman observed “When you arrive at the studio, you quickly find out that nobody has actually read your book. The producer, the presenter - they all couldn’t care less. They don’t even have a copy … The show starts. They play the badly edited video, after which three right-wing dinosaurs - two of them politicians from the Stone Age - start teaming up on you. Clearly, not one of them has read a page of your book”.
There was more. “They make up facts about inequality (‘hasn’t grown’) and the economy (‘never been better’). They change the subject every 10 seconds. They hardly let you finish a sentence. Then it’s over”. Sounds like a blatant attempt to frame the debate, rather than ask questions, discover information, and then debate it.
But Bregman did find someone in the UK media who wanted to actually find out what he thought - and had read his book. “The good news: there are new media in the UK filling the gap. Smartest questions (and best criticisms) I got this week were from Aaron Bastani of @novaramedia … And to clarify - I think my politics are quite different from those of @novaramedia. I'm not a fan of Corbyn … But they actually read the book”.
Brillo, on reading this exculpation, went postal. “You think it ‘brilliant’ to dismiss legitimate questions because they’re from ‘old’ people. Try ‘black’ or ‘gay’ in the same context. And to call us dinosaurs when he’s the one dredging up polices from Eisenhower’s 1950s and Friedman in the 1960s?!”. And, as Jon Stewart might have said, two things here.
, Bregman said “dinosaur”, which refers typically to a mode of thought, rather than age. And two, his dismissal of “policies from … Friedman” seems so dismissive of his earlier steadfast backing for Margaret Thatcher - “her struggle was our struggle” - whose adherence, at least at first, to Friedman’s ideas is well known. Moreover, when Neil talks of “Eisenhower’s” policies, what does he mean? Does he mean a Keynesian approach, as enacted by the Eisenhower administration? Was Ike a secret economist?
Kicking off like that and justifying his behaviour by Retweeting sympathetic voices from the right - David Jack and Iain Martin, for instance - is not going to help either the BBC, or those wanting the Corporation to somehow accommodate Brillo, rather than just bin his late night show. And it won’t help The Great Man himself.
The age of Andrew Neil at the BBC was for a time, but not for all time.
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