MPs demand BBC apologise for allowing ex-Labour staff member to question Tory leadership contenders

Harry Yorke
Aman Thakar, one of the participants selected for the event, previously worked for Labour’s complaints department - PA

Tory MPs have demanded that the BBC apologise after it knowingly allowed an ex-Labour staff member to question the leadership candidates in Tuesday’s television debate.

The broadcaster was last night facing a widespread backlash after it emerged that Aman Thakar, one of the participants selected for the event, previously worked for Labour’s complaints department.

Compounding matters, Mr Thakar, a self-declared “democratic socialist”, was last night suspended from his current job as a solicitor at Leigh Day, with the law firm confirming it had launched an investigation into a “tweet which we are taking very seriously”.

It is understood that the offending post, published in February this year, said: “Hitler’s abuse of the term nationalism is, to me a nationalist, the most harmful part of his legacy.”

However, Mr Thakar has told The Telegraph that he was in fact satirising a right-wing US activist who was widely criticised last year over her comments about Hitler and nationalism.   

Aman Thakar with Sadiq Khan Credit: Facebook

Despite knowing that Mr Thakar had worked for Labour, the BBC allowed him to question the five Tory leadership hopefuls without disclosing his political background.

Introduced by presenter Emily Maitlis, Mr Thakar told the candidates they would have “no mandate from the people” and should “do the right thing and call a general election”.

His question is one frequently asked in the House of Commons by Jeremy Corbyn, who considers forcing a general election to be Labour Party’s main priority.

Approached for comment, a BBC source admitted they had been aware of Mr Thakar’s past employment but insisted that “past political affiliations” were not a “barrier” to taking part.

Pressed on why the candidates and viewers were not told about his background, they added that the BBC had chosen not to declare background information on any of the participants.

Speaking to The Daily Telegraph last night, former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith accused the corporation of allowing Mr Thakar to act as a mouthpiece for Mr Corbyn.

“I am shocked yet again by the BBC’s failure to get balance or to do due diligence on those who took part in the show asking questions,” he added.

“Bearing in mind this election is aimed at Conservative members, its astonishing that they allowed members of the Labour Party to take part.

“This smacks of a deliberate attempt to give the Labour Party an opportunity to damage the leadership process. I think the BBC should explain why they were so sloppy or why they deliberately did this.”

His comments were echoed by Michael Fabricant MP, who said: “This is appalling. The BBC should apologise."

Aman Thakar with Emily Thornberry Credit: Facebook

A senior aide to one of the leadership contenders added that the BBC had made a "big strategic error" and would now pay the price by missing out on the "jewel in the crown" - a televised debate between the final two candidates.

Mr Thakar previously worked as a legal assistant to Labour’s general secretary and in May 2018 stood as a council candidate for the party in Southwark during the local elections.

According to documents published on the Law Society website, he joined Leigh Day as an assistant in September.

A BBC Spokesperson said: “Last night’s debate saw, for the first time, all the remaining prime ministerial candidates put on the spot, answering a range of public questions. A background in politics doesn’t disqualify anyone from taking part in a debate show. Last night’s questioners held a range of political views and we did not specify these views nor their backgrounds although some chose to do so themselves.

“The last questioner on the debate is a solicitor who was seconded by his law firm to the Labour Party in the past, rather than being a Labour ‘staffer’. He is a Labour supporter and once stood as a councillor.”