There was a time when most children learned the nursery rhyme about the Grand Old Duke of York marching his 10,000 men to the top of the hill and then marching them down.
It was supposed to convey a useless show of force: play hard and then do nothing. And that is exactly what Tim Davie, director general of the BBC, has done in his confrontation with Gary Lineker.
Davie has capitulated, there is no doubt about that, having given every sign last week of wanting to prevent the garrulous football pundit from sending out any more tweets that could undermine the impartiality of the BBC.
The director general even made a half-assed apology in his statement this morning, blaming “confusion” and “grey areas” in the BBC’s social media targeting. In other words, Gary was right after all.
As for Lineker, he has issued a series of tweets in which there is not the slightest hint of apology or regret. He even doubled down on his original outrageous tweet by saying, “as difficult as the last few days have been, they just don’t compare to having to flee persecution or war to seek refuge in a faraway land.”
STEPHEN GLOVER: There was a time when most children learned the nursery rhyme about the Grand Old Duke of York… It was supposed to convey a futile show of force: play hard and then do nothing. And that’s exactly what Tim Davie, BBC Director General (pictured), has done in his confrontation with Gary Lineker.
The director general even made a half-assed apology in his statement this morning, blaming “confusion” and “grey areas” in the BBC’s social media targeting. In other words, Gary (pictured) was right after all.
So Gary Lineker has won and he’s back on our screens this weekend. Having shown some degree of moral courage, though it took some time to do so, the BBC has raised the white flag.
Because? I suspect that Davie’s cowardice (and certainly that of his executive colleagues) stems from a misplaced sense of the importance of Match Of The Day, the Saturday night show hosted by Lineker, and the host himself.
Listening to some commentators talk over the last few days, one would think that the temporary suspension of a show normally watched by just over two million people was little short of a national disaster.
In fact, Saturday night’s non-expert edition of Match Of The Day drew nearly half a million more viewers than usual. Some people were apparently drawn to the novelty of watching football matches without commentary.
In many ways, it was a relief not to have to listen to Mr. Lineker, or listen to his cronies offer lukewarm jokes about their former glories as players. For once we didn’t have to put up with listening to pundits trash the English language.
Of course, I accept that there are some people who value feedback, regardless of its shortcomings, and the show probably couldn’t have gone on for many weeks without the experts offering their dime.
But there must be other experts in the world who could have been persuaded to temporarily or permanently replace Mr. Lineker and his colleagues, who are not indispensable.
There is also no evidence that rival broadcasters were lining up to offer work comparable to Lineker’s and meet or exceed his massive annual salary of £1.35m a year. Scott Young, a senior vice president at BT Sport, where the presenter once had a lucrative venue, told staff the channel is not interested in signing him.
In any case, what would it matter if they did? I repeat: Mr. Lineker has skills that are appreciated by a small part of the public, but there are others who could do an equally good job, or even better.
And unlike Mr Lineker, they would not think they have a divine right to produce divisive tweets that not only defy BBC guidelines, imprecise as they may be, but also alienate millions of license fee payers and damage the BBC. . precarious reputation for impartiality.
This is the crucial point. In the grand scheme of things, neither Gary Lineker nor Match Of The Day in its current form are irreplaceable, and they don’t matter one-hundredth as much as the good name of the BBC and the esteem held by the people who fund it. .
Lineker is by far the highest paid presenter in the Corporation. Although he does not work in the news department, where employees are supposedly bound by clear rules of impartiality, he is considered by many to be a voice for the BBC. The fact that he is technically autonomous is beside the point. He represents the Beeb.
Mr. Davie could have saved Match Of The Day and kept Gary Lineker in an absurdly lucrative job. But he has damaged the BBC far more than he or his colleagues can understand.
If an actor who appears regularly on the BBC were to compare the language of government ministers on illegal immigration to that used by the Nazis in the 1930s, there could have been no reasonable objection. Ignorant and tasteless, yes, but not a matter of great consequence.
However, Lineker is in a whole different category due to his prominence. In a misplaced state of alarm, Mr. Davie is terrified that not only the presenter, but also a group of virtue-pointing cronies may leave the Corporation. And that’s why he has given up.
He has forgotten the silent millions, those license fee payers who do not believe that the government’s policy on illegal immigrants can reasonably be compared to that of the Nazis, and who resent being allowed to say one of the BBC’s leading presenters such things.
Mr. Davie could have saved Match Of The Day and kept Gary Lineker in an absurdly lucrative job. But he has damaged the BBC far more than he or his colleagues can comprehend.