By Harry Mottram: There are certain sections of British society that politicians should be cautious about criticising. Nurses, dog walkers, pregnant and birthing mothers, Dr Who, small children and national treasures like David Attenborough or Sarah Lancaster. And yet Government minister Suella Braverman and fellow Conservative MPs have rounded on Match of the Day presenter and ‘national treasure’ Gary Lineker over his Twitter comments about the UK’s immigration policy.

He wrote on Twitter on March 7th, 2023, “There is no huge influx. We take far fewer refugees than other major European countries. This is just an immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s, and I’m out of order?”

If you check the words against those used by the Nazis in the period he refers to, then there are similarities. But there is little similarity between our Government’s policies today and those of Germany as Hitler rose to power. But that’s not the point. Lineker’s analogy may not stack up historically but it’s the principle of whether he can express his opinion as a private individual that matters.

It is not about whether you agree or disagree with him, it’s about freedom of speech and whether it’s OK for a sports presenter to write about his political views. If you check the BBC’s guidelines on such matters then its open to interpretation. Former BBC boss Greg Dyke more or less said it was within the rules for Lineker to say what he wants as he’s not a political news reporter.

Journalists don’t like being told what they cannot say or write – so it is no surprise his colleagues have come out in support. Especially since the likes of Alan Sugar who has worked for the broadcaster have voiced strong political opinions and have not been sanctioned. The question was asked of the BBC’s Director General Tim Davie by BBC journalist Nomia Iqbal if Lineker had praised the Government’s immigration policy would he equally be asked to step back from Match of the Day. He dodged the question. And that’s the nub – it depends which side of the political divide you Tweet about it would appear. Sugar in favour of the Conservative policies, Lineker against.

The story has quickly moved from what was on Twitter to why should Conservative MPs and the Daily Mail etc decide on the BBC’s Human Resources policy. PM Rishi Sunak has said it’s up to the BBC to decide on such matters but the evidence suggests otherwise. MP Penny Mordaunt, MP Suella Braverman, MP Peter Bone, former Tory leader Sir Ian Duncan Smith all lined up to criticise the former England football captain and TV personality while the Daily Mail and Telegraph ran negative headlines about him. It is hard not to disagree that they wanted the BBC to sack Lineker. Their case is not helped by two key figures at the top of the Beeb. One time Conservative councillor candidate Director General Tim Davie and Tory money man and BBC chairman Richard Sharp who helped Boris Johnson get an £800,000 loan but failed to mention this at his appointment. They both have a lack of credibility over the affair due to their links to Conservative politicians – despite their denials.

The upshot of all of this is the BBC and its relationship with the Government is in crisis. And it is all self-inflicted by poor judgement and appalling public relations that have seen the top brass alienate their sports presenters and fans of Match of the Day and other football shows on the Beeb. Lineker is not backing down while Tim Davie looked less than secure in his interview with Nomia Iqbal saying he wanted the former Leicester footballer back on TV. That suggests the BBC’s management realise they’ve made a big mistake but are trying not to lose face. They are clearly on the back foot.

It looks like to many outsiders that the Conservative minded top brass caved in to Government pressure to sack or suspend Lineker. If that’s the case then the independence of the BBC is in danger from politicians and if even you have no interest in Match of the Day then this is a major concern.

Rapscallion Magazine is an online publication edited by Harry Mottram

Harry is a freelance journalist. Follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube etc

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