Rod Liddle, my old boss at the Today programme, must be enjoying himself this week. Rod’s great mission in life is epater la bourgeoisie – to provoke the middle-classes – and over the last few days, without so much as lifting a nicotine-stained finger, he has done brilliantly. The news that Rod could be the next editor of the Independent, if, as seems likely, it is taken over by Alexander Lebedev, has provoked what must have been a hugely satisfying wave of anger among some of Britain’s bien-pensant liberals.
I love the Facebook group, “If Rod Liddle becomes editor of The Independent, I will not buy it again” (translation – “I don’t actually buy The Independent now, but I sometimes read it online”). The sentiments expressed there show those fine liberal qualities – open-mindedness, judgment on the basis of all the facts rather than prejudice – at their best.
Lebedev himself, or someone claiming to be him, has posted the following Delphic comment:
“Exited by the discussion about the fate of Indy – meticulously monitoring every comment which deserves it.
Just finished reading Rod Liddle’s book of stories “Too Beautiful for You”. Controversial? Yes. Talanted?. Yes.
Looking forward to more advice.”
I think the Indy’s current capo, Roger Alton, is a great editor – and also very well liked by his staff. If Lebedev takes over the paper, he should keep Alton. But if Lebedev does want a change, he could do a lot worse than Rod.
I had dinner with one of my ex-Today colleagues, a senior editor on the programme, last night. We are both, I suppose, liberals, but we both agreed that Rod was a great editor of Today. He could be rough with some of the younger staff, but he was full of ideas. Working for him was exciting and rigorous, and so was his programme. He got noticed and he made waves (and no, not those waves – Hutton was after he left.) That’s the kind of thing the Independent arguably needs if it is not to slip from view.
I’m not sure what Rod’s politics really are, if any – he certainly never struck me as particularly right-wing when I worked for him. For every rather unpleasant reactionary piece he’s written you can find a progressive one too. Lefty tribalists shouldn’t forget, either, that he used to write speeches for Labour MPs, and lost his Today job for attacking the Tory party in his then Guardian column. His main political aim is simply to wind people up.
Rather like the Observer, another threatened title, the Indy sits on the fault-line between “liberal” and “left-wing.” Not all left-wingers are liberals, and not all liberals are left-wing. The Indy can’t survive as a copy of the Guardian; it needs to be what it was at the beginning, a genuinely independent, liberal paper. Rod might make it that.
PS: This is not an application for a job, by the way. Look at the top of the column – I’ve got a job.
PPS: Late update: the Rod-hating Mail on Sunday columnist, Suzanne Moore, is claiming on Twitter that she has got the gig. Is this, too, a wind-up?