By Brendan O’neill
So, Gary Lineker might be making a comeback this week. Following a few days out in the cold after his BBC bosses took him to task over his Tory-bashing tweets, it is being reported that he could be back in the Match Of The Day chair on Saturday.
Perhaps an agreement has been reached. Perhaps Lineker and the BBC’s director-general Tim Davie have struck a deal on the presenter’s social-media antics – on what he can and cannot say online.
If so, then I’ll welcome the return of football but I really hope BBC bigwigs have not capitulated. I hope they haven’t caved in to the idea that Lineker must have the ‘right’ to spout his every opinion on the internet.
Because that would represent a serious blow to the BBC’s authority and to its constitutional commitment to impartiality.
If a tantrum-throwing celeb were to get the upper hand over the public broadcaster, we would all lose out.
So, Gary Lineker, pictured today walking his dog near his Barnes home, might be making a comeback this week
Let’s face it, the culture war over Lineker and the Beeb has been crazy. One of the most striking things has been the Twitterati’s sudden and belated discovery of the importance of free speech.
These people have spent the past few years cancelling everyone who disagrees with them, yet now it seems they have had a Damascene conversion to the cause of liberty.
Everywhere one looks, the right-on are running around like Poundshop Bravehearts screaming ‘Freedom!’ at anyone who will listen.
And what made them switch from being the unforgiving footsoldiers of cancel culture to being self-styled warriors for the liberty to speak?
Why, the fact that a multi-millionaire football pundit was politely asked by his bosses at the BBC to tone down his tweeting.
That, it seems, is the breaking point for the tweeting bourgeoisie: Gary Lineker being told to do a little less virtue-signalling.
I have seen some embarrassing things on social media over the past decade. But the chattering classes’ cynical, hypocritical and outright dishonest rallying behind the presenter of Match Of The Day is something else.
Lineker is being talked up as a mix of Che Guevara and Nelson Mandela, as a searingly brave critic of our ‘Nazi’ government.
His fellow BBC pundits who refused to cover for him on Match Of The Day following his temporary suspension have even been likened to the slaves who stood up and said ‘I’m Spartacus’ in solidarity with their leader in the 1960 epic film.
We urgently need to inject some common sense into this story. The truth is that Lineker’s clash with the Beeb and the boycott by presenters and pundits it spawned is nothing more than a revolt of the entitled. It is an uprising of egotistical celebs who arrogantly refuse to be bound by BBC rules.
It is a temper tantrum of the self-important, who are essentially saying: ‘We are bigger than the BBC.’
And the BBC had no choice but to stand firm against these self-serving toytown revolters.
Perhaps an agreement has been reached. Perhaps Lineker and the BBC’s director-general Tim Davie (pictured) have struck a deal on the presenter’s social-media antics – on what he can and cannot say online
For if it surrenders to their foot-stomping, it will lose its ability to set its own rules and to give Britons what they need and deserve – impartial public broadcasting.
The BBC has a charter committing it to impartiality. As the national broadcaster, funded by us, it is meant to represent Brits in the broadest sense, in all our political diversity, not be a platform for Guardianistas like Gary to spout slogans.
Lineker knows this. When he signed a new five-year deal with the BBC in September 2020, it was made clear to him that he would have to abide by impartiality rules.
Lineker ‘knows he has a responsibility to the BBC in terms of social media’, said Mr Davie back then. So when Lineker took to Twitter last week and made his historically illiterate comment about the Government’s illegal immigration policy being reminiscent of ‘Germany in the 30s’, he would have known full well he was reneging on his responsibilities.
And the BBC is well within its rights to reprimand him for his hysterical political posturing. He is their highest paid presenter on £1.35million a year.
An institution that has a constitutional dedication to impartiality cannot afford to have its best-known face making partisan statements – or in this case utterly unhinged claims – about the Government of the day.
Many of St Gary’s fawning acolytes have been equally unhinged. Take Alastair Campbell. Apart from accusing Tory MPs of ‘whipping up controversy’ and railing against ‘utterly craven’ BBC bosses taking Lineker off the air, he claimed the BBC’s decision to disband BBC Singers, the UK’s only full-time professional chamber choir, is ‘another resonance with 30s Germany – the assault on culture and the arts’.
So now even trying to save money is fascistic. These highly inappropriate comparisons with Nazi Germany are not only way over the top – they’re dangerous.
They minimise the crimes of the Nazi regime. Likening a modern-day immigration policy, or BBC cuts, to Nazi Germany waters down the evils that were committed in that darkest moment in human history. Gary Lineker presents a particular problem for the BBC, and you don’t need a PhD in media studies to see why.
Many Brits have come to see him as the embodiment of BBC prejudice and snobbery. His Brexit-bashing, his dinner-party disdain for everything Tory – he holds all the views that we fear too many at the BBC hold.
That even the Beeb’s Mr Football is a noisy, snooty member of the Remoaner club makes people even more wary of the public broadcaster.
We are witnessing an existential battle. A fight to the last between the unsuppressed ego of celebrity and the ideals of a 100-year-old public broadcaster.
The chattering classes’ cynical, hypocritical and outright dishonest rallying behind the presenter of Match Of The Day is something else. Pictured: Lineker, Alan Shearer and Ian Wright
There are many problems with the Beeb, we all know that. For one, it obsesses over racial and gender diversity while giving little thought to intellectual diversity, to bringing on more voices from outside the metropolitan bubble of received political opinion.
But what we are witnessing right now is an assault on the BBC by right-on culture warriors who are determined to turn it into an instrument of woke opinion, a megaphone for their views and their views only.
Their love for Lineker has nothing to do with defending free speech and everything to do with subjugating every corner of public life, even the public broadcaster itself, to their eccentric, illiberal agenda.
For that reason, I am Team BBC in this row. Let us hope Mr Davie has stood strong and not given Lineker everything he wants.
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