Tim Montgomerie is the founder of ConservativeHome and is a contributor to Reaction.
‘Your beard needs a trim’ (it often does). ‘Are you wearing the same shirt as last week on Sky?’ (yeah, but I do wash it!). ‘Your glasses are a bit small for your head’ (fair comment, but they’re cheap from Poundland).
Normally, I get just one or two texts or WhatsApp messages after a media appearance and – as often as not – they are about my appearance rather than my, er, brilliant commentary. It helps keep me humble.
Last Wednesday, however, I ‘talked pints’ with Nigel Farage on his new prime time show for GB News. I had a lager whilst we discussed God and politics; the centrality of national defence to conservatism; disagreed about the foreign aid budget; worried about Boris Johnson’s increasing opportunism; and wondered whether or not I’m likely to be on the Prime Minister’s Christmas card list. Spoiler alert… I think it unlikely!
But even more interesting than our 15 minute chat (not typical of our soundbite TV age) was the scale of reaction. Over the next day or so, I received about 50 messages. Not only was this way in excess of my normal experience, but the messages were largely about what we actually discussed.
Notably, nearly every person who contacted me was a conservative. They were fellow pundits, a handful of MPs, a few think tank folk, readers of this wonderful site and assorted friends from home in Salisbury.
And this, I’m sure, is the importance and potential of GB News. Its audience may not yet be huge, and it definitely still needs to overcome some considerable teething problems, but there are clear signs that it is already building a considerable following within ‘our big and small ‘C’ conservative family’.
While it needs to become weightier and avoid being Farage-dominated TV (as good as he is at it), it is succeeding in its mission of addressing topics that other broadcasters ignore or marginalise.
So, yes, it is disappointing that Andrew Neil resigned as its Chairman on Monday, and that his 8pm show has been cancelled. But the channel’s many naysayers should put their expensive champagne back in their fridges.
Some shows are really beginning to work, new stars are in the making and the station’s YouTube videos are beginning to go gangbusters. More importantly, GB News’ CEO. Angelos Frangopoulos, is ready to overhaul individual programmes and schedules until he is as successful with this latest venture as he was with Sky News Australia. Like any good businessman, he doesn’t try to cover up failures, he corrects them.
Moreover, the channel’s funders aren’t quitters. I know a few of them well. They will succeed, and the Tory leadership should take note. Many of the Conservative Party’s core activists and voters are consuming GB News in reasonable numbers already. The Party will shape and heed this new kid on the media block, or it’ll become the home for opposition and disgruntlement.
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Talking of Farage and right-of-centre opposition to the government, I interviewed Richard Tice yesterday.
Tice is the leader of the Reform Party – the successor to the Brexit Party. In place of Europe as a defining issue, he is offering a menu of low taxes, NHS reform, lockdown-scepticism, market-orientated environmental policies and – to a much lesser extent than Farage – a tough approach to immigration.
On the face of it, Tice’s Reform is more of a Thatcherite party than a populist one. More orientated to the young than to the old. It’s far from clear to me that it yet has the recipe or personnel to help keep the Conservative Party honest and, well, a bit more Conservative! But Tice intends to field a candidate in every seat at the next general election and if Johnson keeps playing fast and loose with Conservative principles, he could yet make a difference in many marginal seats.