politics

Andrew Marr ‘wants to be free of BBC rules so he can speak out on climate’


Andrew Marr’s decision to leave the BBC was prompted by his desire to speak freely on environmental issues, as well as politics, and escape the daily online attacks he faces, it is believed.

The high-profile journalist’s sudden move to LBC radio, announced on Friday, will allow him to drop BBC impartiality and so avoid some of the relentless criticism he receives across the political spectrum both on social media and from commentators. The former political editor of the BBC also plans to write newspaper pieces expressing his views.

Those close to Marr, 62, say that quitting after 21 years’ service will be a welcome release, despite his continued regard for the corporation. He is looking forward, they say, to shaking off the “almost unconscious self-censorship” that holds back BBC news presenters. Marr’s health, however, is not thought to be a factor in his decision. He suffered a serious stroke in 2013 and Covid-19 struck him down recently, despite his double-vaccinated status.

Laura Kuenssberg photographed attending an event
Laura Kuenssberg, who is expected to step down as political editor in a major BBC reshuffle in January, is a leading contender to take over Marr’s show. Photograph: PA Images/Alamy

Writing about the climate crisis in the i newspaper this summer, Marr urged “timid politicians” to leave “vacuous generalities” behind. His words are a taste of what is to come. “Public support on ripping out and replacing domestic boilers, even at a high cost to millions of families, can be won, just as support for mask-wearing and social distancing was,” he argued, adding: “As a lifelong political hack, I now feel we should spend less time on the distracting national puppet show.”

His departure leaves a hole in the BBC’s current affairs coverage, but one that is not likely to be filled swiftly. Marr is expected to carry on with the Sunday show he has presented for 16 years until Christmas or early in the new year, and insiders believe the name of his replacement has to be signed off by a new head of news, not yet appointed.

The BBC’s current news director, Fran Unsworth, leaves her job in January, at a point when several significant news and current affairs roles are also in flux. Laura Kuenssberg is expected to step down as political editor and so become a favourite to take on Marr’s televisionshow. Alternatively, Kuenssberg may be headed for the Today programme, Radio 4’s flagship morning news show. Jon Sopel, the North America editor, is also returning to Britain, while his old job goes to former Scotland editor Sarah Smith. “Kuenssberg’s position must be quite strong. The BBC will not want to lose her, and may have to shuffle everyone round,” said one former senior BBC news journalist.

Speaking this weekend, John Humphrys, the veteran former Today presenter, agreed that remaining impartial at the BBC was “a constraint”. “When I freed myself after 51 years, the limit on what I could say, which is rightly there, lifted. At the BBC, I did have a newspaper column for five years, as a few of us did. But all that changed after the punch-up over the coverage of the Iraq war.”

Humphrys, who presented Today for 32 years, now has a show on Classic FM, a station Marr is also to join. Marr’s show about politics and the environment will go out on LBC. The two stations are owned by Global. “I used to be shocked when I heard radio presenters expressing their opinions on LBC, but I have had a change of heart about that. It is a different role and is fine as long as it is clearly labelled,” said Humphrys.

Presenting alongside Humphrys and Marr at Classic FM are former news anchors John Suchet and Moira Stuart. Eddie Mair, once a prominent BBC radio voice, also presents on LBC.

Phil Harding, the former BBC news chief in charge of editorial policy, said this weekend he felt that Marr had been “straining at the leash”. The personal politics of his replacement will not matter though, Harding said. “I did not know what my colleagues’ politics were and often only found out later, if they went on to work with a parliamentary party.

“Andy will be a very hard act to follow on that programme. It is about a lot more than politics. He has brought not only his considerable political acumen but a big cultural hinterland as well. He is today’s renaissance man. A hard act to follow.”



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