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Get ready for the first influencer General Election

Lee Anderson
William Sitwell: 'Loons like Anderson will probably find a home at the Reform Party' - Jeff Gilbert

A filthy row is brewing in the common rooms and canteens of Lincoln University. Since 2007, anyone studying there, but especially those enrolled in film, media, journalism and creative arts courses, has had access to a community radio station, Siren FM.

It’s no mere poky internet streaming outfit but a grown-up, bells-and-whistles radio station with an Ofcom licence and at least 13 hours a day of live broadcasting. Presenters include those who teach, others who study and some who simply live in Lincoln.

Its guests feature students and locals but it also pitches in nationally, covering the gamut of news you might expect from a local station. Unlike most local, non-BBC stations, it has intelligent programming with a certain amount of music.

But suddenly the station has been axed; chopped, churned and tossed into the garbage pile by the pro vice chancellor, one Professor Neal Juster. As he sees it, this is no cost-cutting move – rather, it’s a great leap forward in the modern world of media where live linear radio broadcasting is old hat and thus training people for it is money wasted.

And so as BBC Radio 2 removed Steve Wright from his afternoon show – its greatest living radio presenter – Lincoln rubs out the has-been DJs and the folk who day-in, day-out, practise the art of living by your wits at the live mic.

For the Lincoln VC the future is podcasts, digital streaming and pre-recorded media, and he is – he insisted in an email to Siren radio – delivering on his “responsibility to train students for a future world”.

That’s right: a world of preening, self-loving communicators keen to gen up on the best way of imparting to their followers via that very non-Ofcom media tool known as a mobile phone.

But Juster will have noticed that it’s not just the kids who are all over this. The grown-ups are also having a go. And none, more famously this week, than one Lee Anderson.

The former deputy chairman of the Conservative Party who used, as he put it, ‘clumbsy’ words to claim that the London mayor was under the control of Islamists. This wild and leftie-baiting generalisation did the trick of thrusting Anderson onto the front pages leaving his enemies outraged and his supporters gleefully gnawing on the fleshy bones he had lobbed at them.

He won’t say sorry, he’s not sorry, he doesn’t care what the BBC says, or the media (or ‘mainstream media’ as the UFO-spotting-5G-COVID-vaccine-matrix-wired-into-your-brain-by-lizards-and-Bill-Gates conspiracists call it) says. He’s only interested in his followers; that’s 46,000 on Facebook and 131,000 on Twitter. He can pipe his unique brand of northern sewage directly to them, with a little help from YouTube and GB News.

And Anderson is delighted by it. “The amount of support coming through [Facebook, Instagram, whatever social media platform I’m on] is absolutely phenomenal,” he said. And thus it’s official.

Lee Anderson is a political influencer; it’s not about his party, it’s his brand. And the more the Today programme convenes sniffy interviews to denounce him, the more he feels his position is solidified and the more his followers ‘heart’ his outpourings.

And while the unconsciously left-wing biased BBC bleats about Anderson, they need to realise that they are part of the problem, indeed TV commissioners are wholly complicit in the elevation of influencers to household names.

They conceive them on trash, reality shows, after which the new stars nurture social media followers and when they have secured sufficient hundreds of thousands of pliant dunderheads, the broadcasters give them their own shows before asking them to join the panel on Question Time.

And political parties will be unable to ignore it. Take it from me, if it’s not happening already, candidates interviewing for parliamentary constituencies will be asked to brandish not just their political views but their social media stats.

So is Britain ready for the first influencer general election with politicians dodging the big interviews by greats such as Andrew Neil? Instead, taking a leaf out of the Putin/Meghan-and-Harry playbook (choose a patsy interlocutor), they get their message out unexpurgated.

But it’s a dangerous route to take for political parties keen to keep a firm hold on messaging in an election.

Which is why loons like Anderson will probably find a home at the Reform Party whose mantra is disruption and pipe-dream policy. And as it looks like Labour will take his constituency of Ashfield, he’ll be left like that other wandering, albeit charming and clubbable, right-wing zombie Nigel Farage.

No seat in the House of Commons but a guaranteed berth on I’m A Celebrity, Middle Age Love Island or Celebrity Darts on Everest.

Neal Juster, dodging the onslaught of outraged missives from Lincoln Uni graduates, students and teachers can now convene a conference of influencers. Lee Anderson can join Jamie Laing (former Made in Chelsea star now set to present drive time on BBC Radio One).

It’s a veritable confederacy of dunces, enabling Juster and his cohorts to fully equip students for a media world of preening egotists who, schooled in the arts of affiliate marketing, can drip with brand endorsements and corporate sponsorship.

Community radio stations teach individuals about teamwork, how to think on your feet, conduct incisive interviews, learn the art of communicating with a broad range of listeners while making an individual listener think a broadcast is an intimate chat with them.

It also encourages ideas that aren’t just about one’s own inward-looking worldview and fosters the holistic benefits of volunteer work.

All of which makes excellent preparation for a life of egotistical podcasts if that’s the route you wish to take.

I gather the Save Siren forces are mustering with some activists citing that the closure of the station is an assault on free speech. Meanwhile the VC and his radio cancelling sidekick Professor Abigail Woods are, apparently, refusing to meet with any of the station’s stakeholders.

They should remember that people who try to shut down radio stations never find themselves in a comfortable spot in history. The heroes of The Boat That Rocked were the people on the boat, not the authorities who wanted the vessel to sink to the bottom of the ocean. And the talent that started there went on to become broadcasting legends; the likes of Tony Blackburn, Simon Dee, Tony Prince, Johnnie Walker, Dave Lee Travis, Tommy Vance.

Professor Neal Juster still has time to secure his place on the right side of this story by making an honourable U-turn. Then, in addition to his acronyms BSc, PhD, CEng and FIMechE, he can be known as the only man to have made a virtue of ceding to the seducing call of the Siren.