Only a couple of days ago Newsnight’s Duncan Weldon was being denounced by the Conservatives as another leftie in the ranks of BBC News - but tonight he was outing himself as an adolescent Mosleyite.
The new economics correspondent for the flagship BBC2 show confessed the dark secrets of his youthful political leanings in an outpouring on his website “Duncan’s Economic Blog”, a platform usually dedicated to such issues as credit easing and the Eurozone.
In a post titled “My Teenage Secrets”, Weldon revealed that “as an unusually geeky, politically-interested 16-year-old” he had developed an unhealthy fascination with the history of Sir Oswald Mosley and his infamous Blackshirts.
Weldon’s reason for placing this information in the public domain at this juncture appears to be the interest of a Sunday newspaper and the realisation that his teenage hobby had the potential to embarrass a programme which has suffered more than its share of reputational damage in the past two years.
Aware that he had once authored a student article – in the Oxford University paper Cherwell, no less – under the unequivocal heading “I was a Fascist”, he no doubt realised that his “teenage flirtation” and “far-right adventure” would be brought back into the spotlight soon enough.
For the Conservatives who had so recently seized on Weldon’s union activities – he is a former senior economist at the Trades Union Congress – as a “grade A BBC stitch up” by liberal elements in the Corporation’s news division, the blog must have made baffling reading.
Among surprised Tory MPs might be Andrew Bridgen who had written to the BBC’s Head of News James Harding to complain that “Mr Weldon follows in a long line of economics correspondents who have had clear links either to the Labour party or left-wing politics.”
Labour’s Deputy Leader Harriet Harman, for whom Weldon later worked as an advisor, may have looked on his plight with some sympathy, given that she has recently been the subject of newspaper censure over the archive records of her early career at the National Council for Civil Liberties.
But the BBC correspondent – whom Newsnight editor Ian Katz has described as “one of the most exciting and original economic thinkers around” – did not do himself many favours by seeking to contextualise his teenage sympathies for the “early Mosley” and his policies for tackling unemployment.
“There has been much academic debate over the years over whether this early incarnation of Mosley’s ‘New Party’ – which attracted interest from the likes of Harold Macmillan and Nye Bevan – can be separated from the later blackshirted British Union of Fascists,” he blogged, adding that by the age of 18 he had joined the Labour Party after being “horrified by the racism, homophobia and antisemitism” he had found in his right-wing reading material.
Weldon will know that other BBC journalists - including political editor Nick Robinson, who was a national chair of the Young Conservatives – have had to fight hard to demonstrate political neutrality in the face of their student pasts.
As for Newsnight, this latest affair is but a minor episode in comparison to its calamitous handling of its investigations into Jimmy Savile and Lord McAlpine, which almost caused the programme to be closed down.
Since starting as editor in September, Katz has been introducing different characters to the programme’s on-camera team. Weldon has certainly shown himself to be that. “Reflecting on the last week it’s hard to escape the irony that I have been accused of being a dangerous leftie and also a fascist within 48 hours,” he said. “I hope I’m neither.”