Great Britain

Andrew Neil is better than his Rishi Sunak interview. GB News is either going to fold quickly or get very dark

The UK’s brand new news channel, GB News, is easier to find than you’d think. You just flick through all the news channels on your TV and stop when you get to the one that’s not showing the news.

The actual news is too woke for GB News. GB News viewers don’t want to hear the same tired old voices, like say, Joe Biden or Vladimir Putin, who on Wednesday evening were holding press conferences after their rather rare and not insignificant joint summit in Geneva, for the benefit, quite possibly, of every single rolling news channel on the planet.

But GB News viewers don’t care about that. What they care about is Dewbs and Co, hosted by former Apprentice winner Michelle Dewberry, with its hot discussion topic: “Liberals are less likely to be friends with people who disagree with them.”

Which they may well be, though, at time of writing, liberals have not had to run away from the BBC and set up their own news channel, to get away from all the liberals there. That honour falls to GB News impresario Andrew Neil, former flagship BBC news interviewer and now, one imagines, horrified gallery lurker, watching on as his grand new project sashays from one disaster to the next with all the grace of Ann Widdecombe on Strictly (who is, somewhat staggeringly, yet to appear.)

A short highlights reel might involve former national treasure Simon McCoy reduced to launching an impassioned plea, live on air, for people to stop emailing in comments for broadcast under the name Hugh Janus. Then there was Dan Wootton, reduced to a sparklingly veneered anthropomorphisation of the gnashing teeth emoji while one of his guests stubbornly and arguably gloriously began a defence of Jeffrey Epstein who was, actually, one of the more acceptable types of paedophile.

Neil is, of course, a fine interviewer, and his interview with Sunak was the least excruciating bit of GB News content to date, albeit with the obvious caveat that the only real competition so far has come via the ad breaks.

Other people may choose to ask why Neil is conducting these interviews inside a studio made entirely from the black ribbed polypropylene sheets that are usually placed around the ground floor perimeter of construction sites. But we shall stick with the substance. Neil’s first question to Rishi Sunak was about Boris Johnson’s pledge, at the end of the G7 summit, to ‘build back in a more feminine and gender neutral way.’

What did that mean? Sunak didn’t have much of an answer. Something about how women hadn’t done that well out of the pandemic, but actually it hadn’t been as bad for “them” as he’d feared. So it was really just a case of keeping up the good work.

I’ve watched many Neil interviews. I’ve written many sycophantic pieces about them. The man is the grand master and frankly he’s better than this. That he chose to begin his half an hour by pulling down as hard as he could on the biggest anti-woke lever he could find, tells you everything the channel is trying to achieve.

It’s there to wind up the right by caricaturing the left, to get a reaction. That it should launch the very day a BBC journalist was chased up Whitehall by a mob of conspiracy theorist cranks is, well, arguably bad timing.

Before the 2019 general election, Neil so mercilessly eviscerated Jeremy Corbyn that Boris Johnson didn’t bother turning up for his turn. On GB News, its purpose so clear to see, why would Corbyn, or anyone from the centre left, ever bother?

The late Roger Ailes, Fox News founder, knew, it was said at the time of his death, “How to push America’s buttons.” Of course, merely pushing America’s buttons turned out not to be enough to occupy some of the busiest hands America has ever known.

Fox News has been around for quite a while, and what it has found out, is that, if you’re in the business of getting a reaction, you’ve got to keep pushing those buttons ever harder. Quite possibly to the point where you’ve installed your very own conspiracy theorist nutjob in the White House, and now you’re aiding and abetting an actual insurrection turned coup attempt in which five people, including a police officer, have been killed.

Fox News has been around for 24 years. It certainly wasn’t like that at the start. The only reaction Neil and co have drummed up so far is laughter. Laughter, specifically, at the low-budget crapness of it all.

If this is to be the British Fox, it looks set to go the way of all the various attempts at the British version of the Daily Show, all of which failed not for any great cultural reason, but simply because it’s harder than it looks and they just weren’t good enough.

Trouble is, if you’re not getting the reaction you want, there’s only one thing you can do, and that’s try harder. Double down. On current evidence, GB News won’t last three weeks. If it’s still going in three years, it will have to have gone to a far darker place, darker even than Neil’s studio.

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