When the Joker pretends to be a party clown: Andrew Neil's 'war on woke' shows GB News plans to fight dirty

Yeah, yeah, they haven't broadcast anything yet. Surely we must give these naive ingenues the benefit of the doubt...

Imagine a Batman story in which the vigilante rich man who beats up street thugs and the seriously mentally-ill got word that The Joker, Penguin, Two-Face and Catwoman were plotting something.

Would he — knowing about their past dastardly deeds — assume they were up to no good? Or would he think that everyone needs a second/third/fourth/fiftieth chance and conclude they were probably going straight?

Batman has many flaws — putting on that silly voice among them — but it’s unlikely that the world’s greatest detective would ignore the super-criminals’ past behaviour and accept The Joker’s assurance that they definitely, definitely, definitely were up to some good this time.

I put forward this torturous Batman-based analogy because, once again, I’m obliged to write about GB News, the soon-to-be-launched and frequently discussed new news channel chaired by Andrew Neil. You might remember him from such hits as ‘The Spectator Doesn’t Publish Fascists!’ and ‘HIV/AIDS denialism is good actually’.

Enraged by a pre-emptive strike campaign by Stop Funding Hate to encourage advertisers not to support the new channel, Neil undertook a media round yesterday, following up on his exclusive for the Express this weekend.

On Good Morning Britain, Neil received an unsurprisingly gentle hearing from Piers Morgan, author of Wake Up — a book described as ‘railing against hysterically woke liberals’ — as he spoke from his house in France:

It’s bizarre to try to ban or boycott a channel which hasn’t yet broadcast a second of footage on air. And to be smear as to be a hateful channel, I mean I’ve been broadcasting for almost 40 years on and off, I have never indulged in hate. There will be no hate.

I found it rather hateful that they think we will go down the road of hate. You know, people should be free to say what they want and do what they want, but there’s a particular strand of opinion among this kind of ‘woke’ group that says it’s not enough to say I don’t agree with you, I need to stop what you’re doing — this is cancel culture!

It’s arguable that Stop Funding Hate might have been tactically unwise to begin a campaign against GB News before the channel has gone on air, but the receipts on Neil’s views and past behaviour as well as those about the channel’s first big hire, Dan Wootton, are extensive. It’s a spectacularly (but unsurprisingly) bad faith argument to suggest that there’s no way to predict the positions and approach that they and the new channel in general will take.

In The Guardian, Zoe Williams held out her wallet and begged GB News to steal it, with a column that raised Neil’s more than dodgy past then immediately dismissed it because he was occasionally bruising to Tory politicians during his time as a BBC interviewer:

I accept that there are some historical question marks over Neil’s judgment - it was under his editorship that the Sunday Times serialised a book by Michael Fumento, an American conservative, called The Myth of Heterosexual Aids. As late as 1996 he was questioning whether or not the “link between HIV and Aids is as clear as mainstream research believes”.

His record as a broadcaster has a different character. Neil’s self-fashioning is as an interviewer who derides and, moreover, tenaciously unearths mendacity, whatever its source. It is vital not to pre-cancel the mainstream right. When they start to flog fake news, they become a foe… while they are grounded in reality and committed to accuracy, they are not lesser foes but allies.

‘I accept that the Joker did blow up that hospital, but if he asks Two-Face a few tough questions then surely he’s an ally.’

There are more than historical question marks over Neil’s judgement. He has time and again shown that his ideology is more important to him than facts. Just this week he pushed out tweaked graphs to boast about The Spectator’s sales figures and that very magazine reiterated the HIV/AIDs denialism that Neil promoted as recently as 2009.

Williams also simply accepts that a) Neil and his chums are “the mainstream right” and b) that the Left are trying to “pre-cancel” them. One group does not consitute the entire Left. Many leftists are arguing that we should simply ignore GB News and allow it to wither in some barely remembered corner of the EPG. I don’t buy that argument either as the right-wing outrage machine will ensure that the channel gets plenty of coverage whether we talk about it or not.

Already, talkRADIO — despite being owned by Rupert Murdoch, who has his own new TV news project on the launch pad — is riding to the defence of GB News, sensing another ally in the culture war is about to enter the battle. And, of course, diddy Darren Grimes, the UK’s premiere Hovis delivery boy cosplay enthusiast, has positioned himself as a staunch defender of Andrew Neil and his put-upon international media conglomerate and hedge fund backers.

Speaking to mouthbreathing mask burner Mark Dolan, Grimes delivered his latest over-scripted, under-thought monologue, sounding like someone made a cut-up artwork using old Richard Littlejohn columns and a sprinkling of 4Chan posts:

There’s a campaign called Stop Funding Hate and they are so incensed by this channel, which hasn’t even been launched yet, that they are already suggesting that it be defunded, it’s advertisers pull out, because they’re saying this is going to be a ‘Fox News-style channel’.

How on earth could they possibly know that? for one, and secondly, it would be impossible to have a partisan channel to that degree in this country, because of Ofcom rules, the broadcaster that regulates channels like GB News. Although I daresay it’s a mystery to me how the likes of Channel 4 New get away with it, mind…

Well, I guess that’s fine then. As long as an expert like Darren — who described Ofcom as “the broadcaster that regulates channels like GB News” there — says that GB News definitely can’t be partisan, in the same way that a fox definitely isn’t going to get into the hen house, then it must be true.

Remember this is the same Darren Grimes who called the Irish political system “fucking confusing” one day then accepted an invite to comment on the Irish elections on the BBC the next. Dolan introduced Grimes as “Britain’s most-compelling commentator…” which suggests he needs to pick up a dictionary as much as Grimes needs to avail himself of some history books.

The argument that Ofcom will make sure GB News and whatever monstrosity News UK deliver play by the rules is spurious at best. LBC has already shown that to be considered ‘impartial’ and presenting ‘a plurality of views’ simply requires a few vaguely centrist presenters sprinkled through the schedule. GB News will likely follow that same game plan, with right-wing red meat ‘balanced’ out by a scattering of magic centrist beans that its viewers will simply push to the other side of the plate.

You need only to look at Neil’s own words for The Sunday Express to understand what GB News is trying to achieve and how it will go about doing that:

GB News is the new challenger to the established order, a disrupter and an upstart.

Just as Sky changed the broadcasting landscape all those years ago, the contrast between GB News and the incumbent news channels will be immediately obvious.

I’m proud to be the chairman of GB News and, as you may have read, I have left the BBC after 25 years to host a nightly programme on the channel.

I’m doing it because I believe the direction of news debate in Britain is increasingly woke and out of touch with the majority of its people.

I believe our national conversation has become too metropolitan, too southern and too middle-class.

Some journalists and commentators seem too confident that their liberal-left assumptions must surely be shared by every sensible person in the land.

But many of those same sensible people are fed up.

They feel left out and unheard. 

That’s Neil, a man who is currently conducting his interviews and presenting a Spectator show from his large house in France, having jumped from a huge salary at the BBC to a huge salary at GB News, raging that the national conversation is “too metropolitan”.

Like former commodities trader (and Dulwich College alumnus) Nigel Farage and the bumptious Old Etonian currently installed in Number 10, Neil is suiting up as a superhero for the downtrodden and left-behind. That would be more convincing if his excessively upholstered posterior didn’t keep bursting through the spandex.

When he writes…

We will not operate on the assumption that every problem demands a government solution. Or that every solution must necessarily involve more taxpayers’ money.

… does it sound like GB News will provide a ‘balanced’ perspective or is it more likely that it will be the televised arm of the IEA and the Taxpayers’ Alliance?

It’s pure gaslighting for Neil, Wootton, and the rest of GB News’ gang to shrug and say, “How can you claim you know what our channel is going to be like? We haven’t even broadcast a word yet!”

There is decades of evidence of what Neil believes and how he pushes those beliefs, and until recently Wootton was on talkRadio, spending hours every weekday spewing cowshit like a broken slurry tank. It’s not enough for GB News to piss on our legs and tell us that it’s raining, it wants to convince us that it is, in fact, building a beautiful fountain.