The authority wielded by hosts of the various shows in TV’s politics strand comes from a variety of factors: journalistic and presenting experience, background knowledge in Political Economy, national and world affairs, understanding of history, some ability to figure out technology, all are important in this regard. So when an otherwise well-regarded figure shows a weakness in any of those areas, it is potentially not good for them.
Yet more for The Great Man to chew over
All of which brings us to former newspaper editor and lead presenter for the BBC’s Daily and Sunday Politics Andrew Neil, who is regarded by many on the left as being right-leaning, but is well versed in giving anyone and everyone from across the political spectrum an equally hard time. Neil also has a presence on social media, where he is more than happy to be as combative as he is in the studio.
It is not giving away any secrets to say that Neil is highly sceptical of his native Scotland’s case for rejoining the EU after Britain leaves. So it was no surprise to see him Tweet “An independent Scotland would start life outside EU for indeterminate period and have to join queue for membership -- European Commission”. But here a problem entered.
Michael Gray was on to Neil’s slip: “That is simply not true. Jacqueline Minor: 'indy Scotland could progress faster to membership due to meeting existing rules’”. He then upped the ante considerably by following up with “No ‘queue’ exists. Turkey … applied in the 80s. 16 countries joined the EU since they applied. You're a BBC presenter. Stop lying”. Well, The Great Man was not going to take that lying down.
And so he did not: “I'm quoting a senior Commission official. Just because you don't like it doesn't make it a lie. Do that again and your blocked”. The problem here is whether that was “quoting” or “paraphrasing”. And the problem for Neil is that Gray is right, whether or not he has been maybe too upfront about it. Also, others were now on Neil’s case.
Jon Worth, a Brit who lives in and works out of Berlin, observed “One of Britain’s best known political journalists doesn’t know how the EU accession process works” before reminding all concerned “Scotland implements the whole acquis communautaire already. Notion that it’d be behind Serbia or Bosnia to join EU is laughable”.
What was that about Serbia and Bosnia? Well, Neil had had something to say about that, too: in responding to yet more adverse comment, he has Tweeted “It's ‘queue’. And there are four already in it – Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia, Herzegovina”. Whoops! That’s a bit like the bloke who didn’t know his IT companies slipping a comma between Hewlett and Packard. Steve Peers, another of those pesky knowledgeable pundits, was on to it.
“Err … Bosnia and Herzegovina is one country, not two. And that country has not yet started EU accession talks”, he noted. There is no set “queue” for EU accession. And threatening to block someone for pointing out that reality is not a good look for anyone who wants to be taken seriously when debating the EU. Say sorry, Andrew.