The behaviour of some Government ministers in recent times has been nothing short of a disgrace and has impacted upon the reputation of all politicians, however unfair that may be. It is currently the most despised profession of all.
Many on the Government benches have been stressing how important it is to follow formal processes before they can comment on, for example, the bullying claims (some 24) against Justice Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab or the £800,000 loan allegedly arranged by the BBC Chairman Richard Sharpfor Boris Johnson or the tax affairs of Nadhim Zahawiand the HMRC fine imposed. Not to mention the £37 billion scandal around the ill-fated Covid test and trace system where we still don’t know where the money went.
Rather than chastise Boris Johnson over his Partygate behaviour, the same MPs now suggest that because Sue Gray has taken up a role with the Labour Party that in some way her report must be discounted and based on political bias, which of course is nonsense as the huge number of fines issued by the Police in relation to Partygate demonstrate.
Despite the fact so many MPs cannot possibly comment on all of these issues, they have had no problem in piling into Gary Lineker in the past 7 days for a tweet he put out. The substance of his post was that the offensive language used around migrants was synonymous with the language used in Germany in the 1930s.
An unlikely voice of support for Lineker has come from former Tory Chancellor George Osborne, who has backed Lineker, criticising the rhetoric around asylum policy by some in his party. "Personally, I think some of the language used on immigration by some Conservatives - not all - is not acceptable," he told Channel 4's Andrew Neil Show. And that in a nutshell was Lineker’s point. You can argue against the comparison Lineker used but not to his right to free speech. How many times do you hear politicians berating Russian and China for denying freedom of speech and lauding our own freedoms. You can’t pick and choose on free speech.
As for the BBC, they had no problem in refusing to show the opening ceremony of the Qatar World Cup and to getting Lineker to call out the human rights record of the Qatari regime. Additionally, the BBC have zero enthusiasm to suspend their own chairman in the way they have Lineker. This is why so many presenters and pundits have walked out in solidarity with him.
This whole episode is riddled with double standards and hypocrisy. Politicians argue that the impartiality of the BBC is the most important issue here, but everybody recognises these are Lineker’s views and not the BBC’s views and as Greg Dyke (a former BBC Chairman) has pointed out, the supposed requirements that politicians and the BBC are referring to have not previously been applied against freelance sports presenters.
Free speech is the foundation of our democracy, and we seek to stifle it at our peril.