Rod Liddle

An ex-fascist or two isn't the BBC's problem. Its boss class is

Duncan Weldon's past - as a Labour adviser and elsewhere - doesn't affect his ability to do the job

29 March 2014

9:00 AM

29 March 2014

9:00 AM

We live in a recriminatory age, one in which we are only ever a step away from the cringing, self-abnegating apology. Take the case of BBC Newsnight’s latest appointee, as economics editor, a chap called Duncan Weldon. Duncan is doing the tail between the legs thing right now, desperately attempting to excise part of his past in case it puts paid to his promising career in a fusillade of political accusations and an appalled reaction from the general public. The problem is, in his younger days, it seems Duncan worked as an adviser for the deputy leader of the Labour party, Harriet Harperson. ‘It is embarrassing. I was young and naive and didn’t properly understand what a mendacious and potentially dangerous bint she was. It was a youthful dalliance, no more, a mere flirtation of which, obviously, I am now deeply ashamed. I hope people will allow me to put this dark side of my past where it properly belongs, i.e. behind me, or at least to one side, either way, not in front,’ he said, via the medium of his blog.

Well OK, he didn’t — I made that up. Or most of it, anyway. It is true that he did work for Harperson and indeed the TUC, and this provoked in some Conservative quarters a certain outrage. It’s the BBC at it again, was the gist, appointing well-known lefties to important and influential posts. For example, Newsnight’s former economics editor was Paul Mason, who had been a rabid Trot in his earlier days. Its recently appointed editor is Ian Katz, a charming, clever and perfect embodiment of north London bien-pensant liberal opinion, honed by long years working at the Guardian. As the Tory MP Angie Bray put it, there is a ‘one-way street between the left-wing and the BBC’.

I’m not sure that metaphor is quite right, if I’m honest. The ‘one-way street’ thing seems to bemoan the fact that there aren’t people coming out of the BBC to the left-wing, wherever that is, which probably isn’t what she meant. Another Tory MP, Andrew Bridgen, announced that the appointment of Weldon was a stitch-up and that a former economic advisor to Labour was an unsuitable candidate for the post. Frankly, I don’t think it is any of Andrew or Angie’s business whom Newsnight appoints to any post and they should keep their noses out of it. It is one thing to identify, largely correctly, a limp-wristed, whining liberal bias within the BBC’s output — only a faux-lefty organisation could have poured so much money into, for example, David Hare’s tedious, clunking and predictable production Turks & Caicos, which you may have had the misfortune to have watched last week. But it is another thing entirely to start vetting BBC appointments and telling Newsnight who is suitable for employment and who is not.

But the story does not end there, because as a rather brilliant counter-bluff or something, the unfortunate Weldon has since revealed that in his much younger days he was an avid supporter of Oswald Mosley and had been a card-carrying fascist, if fascists carry cards. It was of course this ‘flirtation’ which provoked from Duncan the cringing and self-abnegating apology, full of shame and wretchedness and hand-wringing. Weldon stated that he had thought it possible to hold extreme right-wing views without being racist or homophobic — which shows you where we are now; fascism acceptable, racism not. This rather pulled the rug from beneath the feet of Weldon’s Tory persecutors, although to give him credit, Andrew Bridgen said it made the appointment even more unacceptable. No it doesn’t, Andrew. It makes no difference as to whether or not he can do the job properly now. But the delight within the BBC press department was tangible. Thank Christ! He was a neo-Nazi or something! That should get the right off our backs for a bit. They quite like neo-Nazis, don’t they?

Oddly enough, the BBC’s business and economics coverage is the one area where the corporation seems less prone to bien-pensant bias. The former director-general Greg Dyke effected a sort of revolution at the beginning of this century, particularly in business coverage. Hitherto, if a firm cut 1,000 jobs and outsourced to Malaysia, the traditional mode of coverage was to rant at the managing director and interview some dispirited single mum who had just been kicked out of work. Then Dyke came in and suddenly the mode of coverage was to praise the managing director for making his firm fitter and leaner, share price up etc, and tell the single mum to start looking through the jobs columns, you lazy slattern. The excellent Jeff Randall, further to the right than a fish-knife, was appointed as the corporation’s first business editor, and there were no complaints then that his obvious political disposition made him unsuitable for the job.

It is the other areas where the BBC has a long-standing problem — social affairs, foreign affairs, community affairs and especially the environment, where the coverage is often little more than a stream of tendentious propaganda. But it is the boss class where the problem really resides; a complacent consensus of liberal opinion which they do not consider political at all, simply ‘civilised’. The occasional ex-fascist bag carrier for Harperson is not remotely the point.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10

Show comments
  • It was reported that Newsnight editor Ian Katz defended his decision to hire Weldon.
    Mr Katz said Mr Weldon’s ‘specialist expertise’ in economics was more important than his training as a reporter. He said: ‘Duncan was one of several candidates we considered who came from an economics rather than a conventional journalistic background…we believed a deep knowledge of economics was more important than journalistic experience for this role.’

    He added: ‘It will certainly not be the first time that an individual’s communications skills and specialist expertise have made him or her the right choice despite a comparative lack of formal journalistic experience.’

    ‘Communication skills’? ‘Specialist expertise’?

    More like when the Mail revealed he has penned hundreds of left-wing articles on his economics blog in which he consistently attacks Conservative economic policy.
    That’ll do it.

  • Baron

    Mr. Weldon is an admirer of Adam Posen, a member of MPC, who’s toyed with a radical idea for financing SMEs, if Baron’s memory serves well: The BoE QE’s money loaned to these aspiring enterprises, the loans securitised, sold on to investors.

    This is brilliance of the radical kind if one wants to create another tsunami of toxic assets. After the recent near financial meltdown tens of thousands of SMEs went bankrupt.

    Mr.Weldon backing for such SME funding suggests he will fit well the BBC, an organisation that also applauded the dour Scot’s radical doctrine of ‘no boom, no bust’, never questioned the funding of the Northern Rock outfit.

  • The Masked Marvel

    Right, hands up all those who thought the BBC couldn’t possibly find someone who was even more idiotically left-wing than Paul Mason to be the economics editor for Newsnight. The position does really move from strength to strength. Katz’s remark seems to be a tacit admission that Mason had no expertise and was a mere ‘conventional journalist’.

  • transponder

    and especially the environment, where the coverage is often little more than a stream of tendentious propaganda.
    Rod: you do understatement!!!! Let those that peg you as a hammer of the Gods take note.

    As for ‘Turks & Caicos’, living in America as I do, I couldn’t see it — but if it’s anything like the BBC’s other natural-world programs there would have been a lot of sentimental humans with irrational views that could snow young Ladybird-readers and the like, and the real world would have to fight its way in through the gaps (not to be disrespectful to Ladybirds, which were rigorous enough for the beginner in a subject circa 1965-70).

    • gerontius

      Well said T

      • transponder

        Congratulations G on making sense of it: if it weren’t a product of my own brain I’m not so sure I could fathom it myself. ;^ )

        • gerontius

          Well….. To be absolutely honest, I only skimmed the article and just assumed you knew what you were talking about. The “Well said” was really for fighting spirit – I like that.

          • transponder

            I like absolute honesty — and you assumed right! I do know what I’m talking about. Being understood is sometimes another matter….

          • gerontius

            Well quite.

            The clocks went forward yesterday so spring is really here- hurrah!
            Early in the morning, by way of celebration, a young muntjac deer came down my garden path eating my flowers as she went, until she came nose to nose with my tom cat. They just stared at each other for a while, no more than six inches apart, before she moved on still eating my flowers. I don’t know what they were thinking, but I was thinking “Must get bigger cat”.
            This is not pertinent to anything in particular.

          • transponder

            Ha ha ha! Lovely story. Sorry about your flowers, but in general I’ll take the presence of bullfinches (and my dog, who enjoyed hibiscus as a pup) and accept fewer blossoms. The stamping down of the impatiens during dog play was a bit sad, but at least they grow back!

          • mightymark

            Except perhaps that its more about “natural history” than our poor misled American friend above seems to think “Turks and Caicos” is!

  • Lungfish66

    It sounds like Weldon is suffering some sort of multiple personality disorder, he should get along fine at the BBC.

    • anyfool

      And every personality is left wing even the supposed Nazi one.
      Just another mediocrity to add to the crew of this sinking ship.

  • *Innocent Face*

    It doesnt matter who the newsnight economics editor is. Its a rather peripheral job in an organisation who still thinks that a benefit cut, for those with bedrooms to spare, is actually a tax.

    BBC News unit is only interested in Banker’s bonuses, house prices and doom-mongering. I predict that Weldon will excel in reporting in these areas.

    • goatmince

      You are not interested in house prices and boni? What are you, a character out of Coronation Street?

  • misomiso

    Very disappointed Rod!
    This was one the worst appointments made by the BBC in recent history. Newsnight is the RollsRoyce of British political News, and to appoint Duncun, a man with almost no journalistic experience or crediblity, as its economics editor in the year leading up to what will most likely be a very close general election is completely unacceptable.

    Licence Fee money should not be used as a subsidy for politcal news. The BBC is playing a dangerous game and is likely to pay the price in the next Charter review if the Tories win. Subscription service here we come.

  • Morris Ox

    Sorry. Rod, but the BBC’s “business and economics” coverage IS a problem.

    The bien-pensant bias is not so much in the content but in the lack of any meaningful business coverage outside the realm of the Westminster-London prism. Truth be told, the BBC doesn’t really cover business in the conventional sense at all, focusing only on those bits of it which politicians sound off about – banking especially and corporate Britain generally, with technology given an occasional look-in because it’s fashionable.

    But family businesses, owner-managed businesses, SMEs, micro-businesses, serial entrepreneurs – you know, the ones who’ll actually deliver most of the economic growth – are invisible outside the manufactured comedy of Dragons Den and The Apprentice. At regional level, the BBC appears stuck in the 1970s, to this day reporting on the activities of “bosses” and “workers” as if Fred Kite has only just retired. This is where that institutional bias is most obvious – the BBC in the regions gets the public sector in a big way but simply cannot fathom the private sector outside a political definition.

    Robert Peston was rightly feted for his coverage of the crash and his demystification of finance. But neither he nor Stephanie Flanders ever reported on business in the wider sense. It was always about the political-economic prism. Most businesses do not inhabit that universe.

    The BBC has a long way to go before it wakes up to that and on that basis Duncan Weldon’s appointment – whatever his personal attributes – is a pretty depressing one.

    • br14

      You should listen to more BBC radio.

      Far more balanced than TV.

    • rtj1211

      I guess the solution to your gripes is to hire people with expertise in working in small businesses. Stephanie Flanders was and is an economist, so it’s hardly surprising she covered her forte.

      • davidshort10

        She is and was just another silly middle class woman of the type the BBC loves. I listened to about four hours of uninterrupted posh women voices on R4 yesterday.

  • Terry Field

    I despair of the BBC representing the economic reality of the many millions who do not fit its metropolitan dreamscape.
    It is as twisted and absurd as anything Goebbels manage to create, but at least he was honest and actually called it propaganda.

  • post_x_it

    “Jeff Randall, further to the right than a fish-knife” – this made me laugh rather a lot.

  • mightymark

    Trouble is Rod that there will always be some nutter here who will try and show how “nazis” are actually left wing.

    • transponder

      What goes around comes around, baby.

      • mightymark

        I don’t need anything as you have implicitly accepted that there is a non tyrannical (non far) left. In Western democracies the usual purpose of the “nazis are left wing” argument in my experience, is to smear the moderate rather than the far left – so thanks. Of course I don’t disagree for a moment that far left and far right have tyranny in common and my critique of the moderate right does not include its being tyrannical or anti freedom – though I do think it is sometimes a bit selective about what constitutes and faciltates freedom.

        • La Fold

          Have you ever even read Mein Kampf? I have and in fact one of the few people who was able to batter on through it. Hitler was so right wing he talked of destroying capitalism and the bourgeois classes through violent revolution led by the workers? The right wing bast’rd!

          • mightymark

            Mussolini was even more forthright! But did he or Hitler actually do any of that? I don’t think either “Aryan” capitalism or the “bourgeoisie” suffered any more from Nazism than other “Aryans”.

            Back on earth – my references were to the “moderate left” most, if not all, of which has given up any opposition to “capitalism” as such.

  • davidshort10

    The best way to deal with women who leave the house, which babies hate, then proceed to feed them in public, which babies hate, is to sit next to them and look away.