Silence speaks volumes

Lee Anderson speaks out — or, at least, gets someone else to do it for him

“BREAKING,” the banner at the bottom of the GB News screen shouted. “LEE ANDERSON SPEAKS OUT.” Confusingly, the person on the screen wasn’t the combative MP for Ashfield, last seen explaining that famously right-on London Mayor Sadiq Khan was a secret agent of Islamic extremism. Instead it was the genial, almost cuddly Christopher “Chopper” Hope, the channel’s political editor. Anderson, it transpired, had written a statement, but was not going to deliver it himself. Instead it was going to be read out “in full” by Hope, like the Angel Gabriel announcing a surprise pregnancy, or a BBC newsreader explaining that the IRA had used a known codename to claim responsibility for a bomb.

Some have dismissed GB News as a home for cranks and racists, but this is unfair. It’s also a full-service news provider. Many channels talk about making the news, but only one has taken the entire job in-house. On Friday Anderson, a GB News employee, gave an interview to Hope, another GB News employee, over which he has been suspended from the Conservative Party. Now Hope was reading out Anderson’s statement in response. Presumably the £100,000 a year that the channel was paying Anderson wasn’t enough for him to read it out himself. Nice work if you can get it.

Later we would learn that Anderson had also given an interview to Hope, but that this too could only be transmitted to us second-hand. From Anderson himself there was no word. Is he ill? Does he not understand how television works? People who have seen his GB News show suggest this may well be the explanation. 

In the meantime we had to make do with Hope, who was doing his best. As he read out Anderson’s statement, he began adding parenthetical explanations of the more incoherent bits. Like a New Testament apostle, he was both delivering the message and explaining it. And what was the Gospel according to Lee? “The vast majority of Muslims are not Islamists in the same way the vast majority of Christians are not conservatives or socialists,” it said. “The vast majority of our Muslim friends in the UK are decent, hardworking citizens who make an amazing contribution to our society.” Did that include the London mayor? This was answered by the line that followed: “We’ve got to get Khan out.”

Still, Anderson wasn’t the only Tory uncertain about the exact position. Actually appearing on camera himself was Rishi Sunak, who spent the day giving interviews from Yorkshire, where he’d summoned the Cabinet to discuss public transport (the Mirror would later reveal that Grant Shapps had travelled there by RAF helicopter, which does in a way fit the definition). The prime minister was very clear that Anderson’s words were “wrong” and “unacceptable”, but suddenly vague whenever the question turned to the exact nature of their wrongness and unacceptability. 

“It’s important that people are careful with the words they use, particularly elected politicians,” Sunak told Channel 5 News, carefully. Were they directed at Khan because he is a Muslim, though? “Any form of prejudice or racism is completely and utterly unacceptable,” Sunak squirmed, not really addressing the question of what form of completely and utterly unacceptable prejudice or racism Anderson was guilty of, and why so many of his fellow Tory MPs seemed to feel that they might in fact be able to accept it quite easily.

we were supposed to accept that the message was both unsayable and quite clear

As with so many things the Tories have said about one of Britain’s most prominent Muslim politicians over the years, we were supposed to accept that the message was both unsayable and quite clear. Which, to be fair, it was.

There was more squirming going on back in the Commons. Lindsay Hoyle, the embattled Speaker, was preparing to face the SNP. He looked shattered, as though he had barely slept in a week. At the other end of the chamber, the Nat benches were full. Ever since last Wednesday, when they were denied their chance to put Keir Starmer on the spot over Gaza, they have been filling the airwaves with their outrage, and here they were, ready for righteous vengeance on behalf of the wronged people of Scotland. It was a good thing they’d told us how furious they were, because, perhaps due to a trick of the light, they all looked absolutely chuffed at how things had turned out. In the front row their leader, Stephen Flynn, sat absolutely rigid with excitement, as if it was requiring all his strength to keep him from leaping to his feet and declaring independence right there. 

Finally he got his moment. “We brought forward a motion seeking to ensure that this House spoke with one voice,” he began, a reading of history so selective that someone on the Labour benches laughed quite loudly. Their motion had been scuppered, and Hoyle had promised him a compensatory debate. When would it be? 

Ah. Hoyle rose to reply with the air of a parent who did indeed promise his children ice cream, but who has since had it explained by another parent that this won’t be happening. It turned out that the motion the SNP wanted would be out of order. Having got into trouble bending the rules once, he wasn’t going to make the same mistake again. 

It is terribly unfortunate for the SNP that they keep drafting motions that other people can’t accept. From any group of people less obviously sincere, it would look deliberate. They had to comfort themselves by stamping out of the chamber to tell the television crews how unhappy they were. And unlike Anderson, they didn’t need anyone to do it on their behalf.

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