STORM OVER TORY TV DEBATE
MPs accuse BBC of incompetence for failing to vet biased guests who grilled leadership rivals
THE BBC faced a furious backlash last night after a guest chosen to quiz Tory leadership hopefuls was accused of having made hate-filled rants. MPs said the broadcaster had slipped up badly by failing to properly vet people taking part in the televised debate on Tuesday night.
Some of the fiercest criticism came from leading Tory Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg, who said the programme had made the Corporation look “not only biased but incompetent”.
He followed up by saying witheringly this was “not a good look for a state broadcaster”.
The storm blew up after it emerged an imam who put Boris Johnson on the spot had allegedly posted antiSemitic remarks on social media along with inflammatory comments about women and rape.
After the historic posts emerged, Abdullah Patel was immediately suspended from his mosque along with his role as the deputy head teacher of a primary
school while an investigation is carried out.
And it was later revealed a solicitor who asked the final question of the debate was hired last year by Labour HQ as a legal assistant and stood as a candidate for the party in a London borough election.
Yesterday Aman Thakar was suspended by leading law firm Leigh Day over an alleged tweet about the legacy of Adolf Hitler.
Mr Patel – who has also praised Jeremy Corbyn – had been selected to appear on the debate to question candidates over Islamophobia, asking whether they agreed that “words have consequences”.
His input was one of the talking points and won praise before his own “careless language” emerged.
He allegedly posted tweets comparing the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz with Gaza.
In one message Mr Patel, from Gloucester, allegedly wrote: “How long are the Zionists going to hide behind the Holocaust cry? It was a tragedy, but Gaza today is a repeat of the oppression.”
In another he wrote: “Every political figure on the Zionist’s payroll is scaring the world about Corbyn. They don’t like him. He seems best suited to tackle them.”
He allegedly posted a graphic showing Israel being relocated in America as a solution to the Middle East conflict. Yesterday Home Secretary Sajid Javid, who asked candidates to back a review into Islamophobia, said he should “practise what he preaches”.
BBC presenter Nicky Campbell apologised over Mr Patel’s comments, which came to light after he appeared on his show yesterday.
He said: “I would like to apologise. His social media comments have been extremely disturbing.We should have checked. We didn’t.” Amanda Bowman of the Board of Deputies of British Jews said: “Nicky Campbell is correct in saying the BBC should have checked.”
Mr Rees-Mogg said: “It was an incompetently organised debate. They allowed people on they had made no proper effort to vet. The imam was there mainly to trip up Boris.” Fellow Tory MP Mark Francois said: “You would have thought the BBC could employ better researchers. It turns out that their ‘fully representative’ imam appears not to be representative of moderate Islam but has expressed views, including
allegedly antiSemitic views that most people would find unacceptable.”
The BBC later said Mr Patel would not have been selected for the programme if it had been aware of his previous comments.
His Twitter account had been deactivated ahead of his appearance, meaning the old tweets could not be read. It was only reactivated after the programme – before then being taken down again.
The BBC insisted: “We carried out background research into the online and social media profiles of all our questioners for last night’s debate.”
Mr Thakar, Labour candidate in Borough in the Southwark election last year, had made his Twitter account private. But screenshots showed he once said: “Hitler’s abuse of the term nationalism is, to me a nationalist, the most harmful part of his legacy.”
The BBC defended its decision for him to appear saying “a background in politics doesn’t disqualify anyone from taking part in a debate show”. But Leigh Day, where Mr Thakar is a solicitor, said he had been suspended.
Viewers criticised the BBC on social media. Stuart Fanning wrote: “Excuses for either poor research or a poor format for the ‘debate’.”
Twitter user Jonathan Jones said the BBC had “a long history of outrageous political bias”. Another critic accused the broadcaster of “manipulating programmes through audience selection”
Last night Mr Patel stood by his criticism of Israel but insisted he was not anti-Semitic. He said: “If you go through my tweets you’d see support for the Jewish community.”
Mr Thakar tweeted: “Context on my tweets regarding Hitler, my full and sincere apologies for any offence caused.”
MISTAKES happen and the BBC should immediately apologise for its Conservative leadership debate blunder. Two members of the public, who should not have been let on screen, were able to question the contenders to lead this country. Imam Abdullah Patel challenged the candidates on Islamophobia, asking whether they agreed “words have consequences”.
But it quickly emerged that a series of deeply offensive and partisan posts had been published on a Twitter account linked to Mr Patel. One advocated relocating Israel to the United States, while another claimed that every “political figure on the Zionist’s payroll is scaring the world about Corbyn”.
To make matters even more embarrassing, Aman Thakar, a former Labour council candidate who had worked for the party, asked the final question. He has since been suspended from his job at a law firm after it was revealed he published a bizarre tweet in which he argued that the “most harmful part” of Hitler’s legacy was his “abuse of the term nationalism”.
Radio 5 Live presenter Nicky Campbell was right to apologise for having the iman on the show and the corporation should follow his example.
The BBC makes many brilliant programmes but in this case it utterly failed to vet participants in a broadcast of national importance.
Imam Mr Patel appearing on the BBC Tory leadership debate
Scene from the TV debate, hosted by Emily Maitlis, with Mr Patel putting question to the leadership hopefuls