IF Sir Alex Ferguson was running the BBC, how would he have dealt with Gary Lineker?
Well, history tells us his ethos would be that no one is bigger than the institution that, without its long-held brand of impartiality being upheld, is dead in the water.
Look at how he handled his star player David Beckham when his level of fame threatened Fergie’s managerial power at the club.
It was a one-way ticket to the Bernabeu in Madrid, and the arrival of a cocky youngster called Cristiano Ronaldo to fill his boots.
Take that, Goldenballs.
But times were different in 2003, not least because there were no social media pile-ons to warp debate and encourage public virtue-signalling.
So let’s imagine for a moment that the rest of the Manchester United team had walked out in solidarity with their team-mate and Ronaldo had refused to don the No 7 shirt?
Would the Man United board have supported Fergie’s power play against Beckham if it meant matches were cancelled, millions lost and the club’s faithful fans let down?
“The boss” — as Beckham still refers to him — might have been told to apologise and bring Becks back, or lose his own job.
And while we can only speculate, one suspects that he would have resigned on principle.
After all, if a manager has no power over his main players, the role is worthless.
So where does this leave BBC Director-General Tim Davie, whose power play against Lineker has backfired so spectacularly?
Well, first of all, be in no doubt Lineker was saved solely by the “solidarity” exodus of Match Of The Day pundits Ian Wright and Alan Shearer and the refusal of other well-known BBC faces to front the show.
If another perfectly competent presenter had willingly occupied the anchor chair — as has happened many times in the past when Lineker’s been absent for other reasons — then the fuss would have died down quickly and one of the BBC’s highest-paid stars would have had a tough decision to make.
Apologise, agree to remain impartial in the future, and return to MOTD.
Or find a job in the commercial sector, where you can spout any political views with impunity.
But, emboldened or cowed (take your pick) by the social media pile-on that surrounded the decision to suspend Lineker for his “1930s Germany” tweet on the Government’s proposed migrant policy, the action of his colleagues saw what could have been a damp squib escalate into a full-blown crisis for the BBC.
And now we have the extraordinary sight of the DG effectively apologising for his actions while Lineker drills down with yet another tweet about migrants shortly before returning to the MOTD chair this week.
History, one suspects, will tell us this debacle marked the beginning of the end for the BBC licence fee, which lives or dies on the institution’ impartiality as our “state broadcaster”.
Fly in the ointment
Without that unique status, it is just another channel vying for our attention and should compete commercially like all the others.
This was never about Gary Lineker’s freedom of speech.
It was about a potential breach of the BBC contract and its supposedly sacred impartiality clause for on-screen talent.
The fly in the ointment is that if Lineker was a BBC employee, he could have been sacked on the spot.
But as he’s freelance, do the same rules apply?
No doubt Davie’s announce-ment of an upcoming review of the BBC’s social media policy will attempt to make such matters clearer.
But in the meantime, it’s potentially a win-win for Lineker in the middle of his ongoing IR35 tax battle with HMRC, where one of the central tenets of whether you are a “disguised employee” or not is the level of control the “end client” (in this case, the BBC) has over you.
Right now, it’s looking like Lineker has kicked that particular argument into touch.
Fiona is mob victim
FIONA Bruce has been an ambassador of the domestic abuse charity Refuge for 25 years.
Yet she has felt compelled to stand down following a Twitter storm (yawn) over comments made on BBC Question Time about former PM Boris Johnson’s father Stanley.
Panellist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown mentioned that his alleged history of violence was “on record” and claimed he was a “wife beater”.
Ms Bruce replied: “Stanley Johnson has not commented publicly on that. Friends of his have said it did happen, it was a one-off.”
Cue an online furore including Labour MP Kate Osbourne, who accused her of down-playing domestic abuse.
No she wasn’t.
As she later explained, any impartial anchor of a show is “required to legally contextualise”, and the response she gave was not her own opinion.
Yes, it was a little clumsily put.
But working on live television (or “as live” in the case of QT) is a fast-paced, perilous business these days, as Fiona points out.
She said: “I have faced a social media storm, much of which mischaracterised what I said and took the form of personal abuse directed at me.
“The only people that matter in all this are the survivors, they are my priority.”
And she has proved that with her support for them over the past 25 years.
So what a shame she’s been hectored into standing down by a Twitter mob – the majority of whom, what’s the betting, have done little or nothing to help the victims of domestic abuse?
Strike from home
APPARENTLY, 100,000 civil servants will “walk out” today.
From where . . . their own homes?
Jen is in zen zone
JENNIFER Saunders reckons we should think of happiness as a treat rather than a constant state of being.
She says people need to “plough on with their lives and not put so much pressure on being happy all the time”.
She adds: “Everything is copeable with, isn’t it? But also, people aren’t always happy . . . I think we all have to learn that.”
While the swing towards a better understanding of our mental health can only be a good thing, we must be careful not to let the pendulum swing too far the other way by encouraging a permanent state of victimhood that paralyses potential personal progress.
In other words, while we should all support people when they’re going through a tough time, it’s also important to say that it’s normal to experience the occasional bad day too.
‘Rape ruling right’
WHEN 22-year-old fantasist Eleanor Williams claimed to be the victim of rapists and a grooming gang, three of the men she falsely accused tried to take their own lives.
One said his business has been ruined and his family targeted, while another said the word “rapist” had been spray-painted across his house.
Williams, of Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, was yesterday jailed for eight and a half years for perverting the course of justice.
Convicted rapists rightly go to prison, and so should those whose blatantly false allegations ruin lives too.
No to getting involved
NEW West End show Scouts! The Musical will feature a trigger warning that it involves audience participation.
Tongue in cheek, perhaps.
But warmly received by someone like me whose hate of compulsory joining in started when, age five, I refused the extended hand of clown Charlie Cairoli at Blackpool Tower and was ticked off by my mother for “missing a great opportunity”.
Hugh not rude
WHILE I hold no candle for Hugh Grant, I don’t share the mindset that his bemused, rather clipped replies to Oscars interviewer Ashley Graham were rude.
Her questions were daft and got the response they deserved.
Heidi’s a tweet to behold
WHILE most attendees got the fashionista, “sheer champagne” memo for this year’s Oscars, Heidi Klum went gloriously off message with a frock seemingly styled on Sesame Street’s Big Bird.
Nice to know that even supermodels can occasionally get it wrong.
Or, considering that she pulled focus from her more “vanilla” counter-parts in a town where attention is the oxygen that breathes life into your career, perhaps she is the one who got it right?