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Can Liddle abandon ‘claptrap’ if he joins Indy?

Never in the history of the British press can so many have expressed a view about who should edit a newspaper, writes Sunder Katwala.

Reports that Rod Liddle is likely to be appointed the editor of The Independent if Russian billionaire Alexander Lebedev completes his purchase of the newspaper in the next few weeks have seen thousands of people join a Facebook group threatening to boycott the paper, and a full-scale “staff revolt” inside the paper.

That, at least, is a tribute to just how much Liddle’s apparent “notoriety strategy” has kept him in the public eye since he left the editorship of the Today programme in 2002.

Perhaps only the mooted Independent editorship of Melanie Phillips, Jan Moir, Richard Littlejohn or Paul Dacre could create a similar furore. (Though one Independent staffer even suggested to me that Mail supremo Paul Dacre would be a more palatable prospect, being a newspaper professional with whom a rational engagement would be possible. By contrast, Liddle is thought by many as a maverick in his professional conduct too).

Sunder Katwala

Operation Black Vote welcomed Liddle’s half-apology when challenged by OBV director Simon Woolley over Liddle’s stereotyping the entire African-Caribbean community as having contributed nothing to Britain beyond murder, muggings, rap music and goat curry, and documented his sustained mockery of the idea of black history.

Liddle also apologised for one of his most misogynistic columns about women, though former Observer political editor Gaby Hinsliff has suggested his appointment could be a significant commercial risk in an age when all papers seek more women readers.

Liddle does have his supporters, though I was not sure that Toby Young helped his case with an extraordinary blog (and job application), seeming to suggest that Liddle’s credentials as a shagger made him the man for the Indy.

As Liddle lacks any senior newspaper experience, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief Simon Kelner is understood to be recommending him precisely because of his notoriety.

Certainly, several columnists are employed by newspapers to be the “voice of outrage” but it is a novel idea that these are credentials to be the editor of a liberal title.

There is a strange contrast with the new editorial direction of the Evening Standard under Lebedev, running posters declaring it was “Sorry” for the predictable miserabilist negativity which saw it lose touch with modern metropolitan London. Yet this looks rather like the idea of taking the Indy on the reverse journey.

Believing Liddle will be good for the Indy because he is controversial is strange when much of the controversy is over whether Liddle has written boorish sexist and borderline racist claptrap simply to bait liberals and generate outrage.

Yet the reader revolt and internet campaigns may even strengthen Simon Kelner’s apparent theory that “there is no such thing as bad publicity”. If those determined to campaign against Liddle’s appointment were to succeed, it may well depend on whether they can persuade advertisers to disagree.

Sunder Katwala is general-secretary of the Fabian Society

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One Response

  1. Anybody concerned about this should join the Facebook group to express their revulsion.

    http://www.facebook.com/search/?q=rod+liddle&init=quick#/group.php?gid=240719663718&ref=search&sid=560820644.3991833778..1

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