His Marrster's Voice? Andrew Marr says he's itching to express his views and the right-wing press pounces
... but I suspect he left behind his left-wing positions long ago.
|Mic Wright||May 18||7|
Andrew Marr was asked this weekend if he has a “desperate urge to come out of the closet”. He wasn’t being quizzed about his sexuality — Marr has been married to Jackie Ashley since 1987 and doesn’t seem likely to do a Scofield any time soon — but his political views, which he and his interrogator seem to think are impenetrable thanks to BBC impartiality views.
He told the online audience at Aye Write, the Glasgow book festival, that he thinks the next ten to twenty years will be even more turbulent than the last ten, which will put his ‘neutral’ position on significant news events to the test. That’s when the interviewer, Ruth Wishart, asked if he feels “a desperate urge to come out of the closet” about his political views and Marr replied, “Yes, absolutely.”
The right-wing press, ever desperate to spy blood in the water from the ailing BBC, has obviously pounced on the comments. No matter how meltingly centrist the BBC commentator, the massed columnists of The Telegraph, The Times, and The Daily Mail will judge them to be far to the left of a Soviet commissar.
Charles Moore, Sam the Eagle from The Muppets if he was obsessed with Margaret Thatcher and whether local teenagers have been messing with his bins again, inevitably filed a piece headlined Andrew Marr can’t speak in his own voice on the BBC? Good, in which he invites the BBC man to join him in “the Wild West World of opinion”.
If Charles Moore was in a western, he’d be one of those guys on a rocking chair eyeing newcomers to the one-horse-town with suspicion but so old that their guns have rusted in their holsters. The Daily Telegraph is less Wild West and more West Hampstead, whatever the scenery chewers in its columnists’ cabin tell themselves
Moore’s colleague, Robert Aitken, who has made a second career out of bashing the BBC since he left the corporation, peered at the Rorschach blot of Marr’s past and present and declared Who is Andrew Marr kidding? We all know exactly what he thinks already.
Aitken comes straight of the gate with his contention that Marr, who has described his younger self as a “raving leftie” and handed out copies of Mao’s Little Red Book at Cambridge, picking up the nickname Red Andy, is still red in the middle all these years later:
… while Mr Marr strives hard to stay neutral in his interviews it has always been clear exactly where his sympathies lie. Andrew Marr, is, and always will be a man-of-the-left…
… At Cambridge University in the 1970s, he belonged to one of those groupuscules so beloved of the far-left, The Socialist Campaign for Labour Victory, and was known as Red Andy…
… Leaving university he went into journalism first at The Scotsman, then as the political editor of The Independent, and finally that newspaper’s editor in 1996. Throughout that time the tone of his journalism was always consistent; he was antagonistic to the Tory Party, sympathetic to the left generally, and particularly hostile to ‘Thatcherism’; his student days might have been long behind him but those early revolutionary enthusiasms left their mark.
But this is exactly what you’d expect Aitken, author of Can We Trust the BBC? (2007), to say. Here are the headlines of his last four pieces for The Telegraph:
… and the paper’s archives contain many more pieces from Aitken hammering the same line. If you pointed to the sky and told Aitken it had been produced by the BBC, he’d swear it was red.
The idea that a hack’s political affiliations at university are a locked on guide to how they’ll act decades later is belied by two other examples from the British media. Peter Hitchens, the Daily Mail columnist and Professor Yaffle cosplayer, was a teenage Trotskyist. Aitkens’ colleague Janet Daley, now a hard-right firebrand was once a leftist contributor to the radical paper Black Dwarf.
Watch Andrew Marr on a Sunday morning for more than a few minutes and it’s quite apparent that this is a man of the establishment who is happy to go with the lines that the establishment offers him. His £360,000+ BBC salary has not restoked the fires of student radicalism in his belly.
In fact, outside of the BBC, the other place that Marr’s words are most frequently aired is The Daily Mail, where recent contributions included an end of the year essay titled Thank God 2020's nearly over, get ready for the great uncorking of joy! and a piece plugging his book The New Elizabethans with the headline We CAN be a land of hope and glory once more!
I suspect that when Marr does finally leave the BBC, he will find a berth at The Daily Mail just as his former colleagues John Humphrys and Jenni Murry have. It pays well and it’s clear that he has no ideological issue with his thoughts jostling alongside The Daily Mail's latest dispatches maligning his current employer. The notion that but for the paper-thin covering of BBC impartiality Marr would snap back to his student politics is ridiculous.
In his piece, Aitken offers up an anecdote from 21 years ago when the BBC first hired Marr as political editor:
I once had a conversation with the great Guardian political columnist Hugo Young just after Marr was appointed to the role; he wanted to know what journalists inside the Corporation made of this appointment (I was a BBC reporter at the time). I told him the view, insofar as I knew it, was that he was a good fit because his views were aligned so completely with the BBC’s own political culture. But Young, as scrupulous a journalist as one was ever likely to meet, felt it was unwise of the BBC to choose Marr. He acknowledged that Marr was a very good journalist who was perfectly suited to the role of political editor – just, maybe, not at that precise moment.
Young has not been proved right. While Marr was clearly very comfortable with the Labour government, he’s been equally cosy and kind to ministers under the subsequent Coalition and Conservative governments. He’s never even remotely given a Tory minister the kind of verbal koshing that Jeremy Paxman delighted in dishing out on Newsnight. It was not surprising that Boris Johson chose Andrew Marr over Andrew Neil during the 2019 general election interview season.
Aitken concludes his column by pushing a familiar right-wing newspaper canard:
… the overwhelming majority of BBC journalists and programme-makers privately ‘dress left’ in their politics…
… Over his BBC career, Andrew Marr has striven, manfully, to achieve the gold-standard of impartiality, and has succeeded better than some of his BBC colleagues. But while the one-time Maoist student revolutionary might have moderated his views, as age and wisdom advanced, the years have clearly not quenched the fires of political enthusiasm.
Right-wing columnists love to insist that the BBC is a nest of commies, but the reality, if you listen to its output, is quite different. The running order of the Today programme, for example, is clearly driven by the obsessions of The Daily Mail far more than The Guardian, however often right-wingers FOI the corporation to find out how many copies of each it buys.
Marr has ascended to such heights in the British media not simply because he’s willing to abide by the BBC’s flimsy standards of impartiality — which in reality boil down to not being beastly to the Right — but because he knows what you can and cannot say.
Noam Chomsky had Marr’s number in 1996. Four years before Marr joined the corporation as political editor, he interviewed Chomsky for a BBC series called The Big Idea. Marr presented himself as the media’s defender and Chomsky as an enemy of it. The encounter did not go well for him and, as I’m proving right now, is still quoted frequently.
“How do you know that I’m self-censoring?” Marr asked Chomsky, who replied:
“I’m not saying you’re self-censoring; I’m sure you believe everything you’re saying. But what I’m saying is that if you believed something different, you wouldn’t be sitting where you’re sitting.”
In an earlier section of the interview, Chomsky talks about George Orwell’s Literary Censorship in England, an essay that was originally intended as the introduction to Animal Farm, but which columnists quote from rather less often.
In the essay, Orwell writes:
The sinister fact about literary censorship in England is that it is largely voluntary. Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban.
Anyone who has lived long in a foreign country will know of instances of sensational items of news—things which on their own merits would get the big headlines—being kept right out of the British press, not because the Government intervened but because of a general tacit agreement that ‘it wouldn’t do’ to mention that particular fact.
So far as the daily newspapers go, this is easy to understand. The British press is extremely centralised, and most of it is owned by wealthy men who have every motive to be dishonest on certain important topics.
Andrew Marr understands what “it wouldn’t do to mention” and unlike Aitken, I don’t believe that will change when he ‘comes out of the closet’. His political views will be palatable to Daily Mail readers, in part because that’s the place that will be most likely to keep him in the manner to which he’s become accustomed.
Britain is not a country where radicals get paid six-figure salaries.