Journalist Chris Mason, second figure to step down as BBC political editor
TWO of the leading candidates to replace Laura Kuenssberg as BBC political editor have now ruled themselves out, suggesting few prominent journalists want the role.
Chris Mason, 41, the popular presenter of Radio 4’s Any Questions, joined Kuenssberg’s deputy Vicki Young, 51, who was the frontrunner for the role, last week in publicly declaring that he did not want not from the post of £260,000 a year. .
According to reports released today, Young’s husband, public relations professional Rae Stewart, is undergoing treatment for cancer.
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We understand that Mason wants to focus on his role at Any Questions, which he would have to give up if he became a political editor, and on writing a book.
The job requires early starts for Radio 4’s Today programme, long days huddled in a coat on Westminster’s College Green and late arrivals for BBC1’s News at Ten.
Kuenssberg, 45, covered seven tumultuous years, with the EU referendum and its aftermath; the 2017 and 2019 general elections, and a pandemic. She is stepping down in April and will take up a presentation and senior reporting position. This can include becoming one of the presenters on Today.
The advent of social media has also made the role more difficult, with Kuenssberg suffering a wave of online abuse. In September 2017, she took a security guard to the Labor Party Conference.
“It’s a ferociously tough life in terms of hours and what’s expected of you, and to top it all off the expectation that you’re going to be public enemy #1 for all the keyboard warriors on Twitter in life’s most offensive and personal and nasty terms – it’s a very difficult thing to deal with,” said Andrew Marr, a former BBC political editor who is now a presenter on LBC and a commentator for the New Statesman to the Sunday Times “You need skin like a rhinoceros and a powerful constitution to go on.”
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Sarah Sands, the former editor of Today, told the paper: “This is the most important work at the BBC and the most exposed. You are also never on leave. Laura would be on the phone with me after 11 p.m. and back on the Today show first thing in the morning…I totally understand how those who have recently crossed paths to be presenters and probably have young families would be running a mile away .
When Kuenssberg and his predecessor, Today presenter Nick Robinson, were named, they were long considered the frontrunners. The fact that there is no such clear cut candidate this time around has sparked intense speculation.
“It was quite obvious who would get it: this time it’s not,” a BBC source said.
However, others point to Jon Sopel, 62, the former North American editor who was previously BBC News’ chief political correspondent and who was passed over for the job when Kuenssberg took over in 2015.
A BBC journalist said: “When you go to a job interview at the BBC, you always ask, ‘Who already has it?’ In this case, I believe it’s Sopel. A rumor within W1A is that Sopel wants to take over the role of Marr on the BBC’s Sunday morning political talk show in addition to being a political editor, and is therefore still locked in negotiations over his future role.
Marr said: “Now it’s up to Jon Sopel to lose – both because he’s done a really big job in Washington recently and because he has a long experience at Westminster. If they are looking for a safe and reliable pair of hands, he is the obvious person to go to.
Marr added that it would be “difficult to do both roles”, however, given the demands of being a political editor in particular.
The other BBC staff member whose name is starting to come up is political correspondent Alex Forsyth, who specializes in reporting outside the Westminster bubble and lives in Warwickshire.
She is considered a “dark horse” by BBC insiders and was described by an executive as having “the stance and stature that could easily lend itself to the job”.