BBC political editor Nick Robinson admits he would have stayed away from student politics if he’d realised he was to become a current affairs broadcaster.
“The truth is if I’d known I was going to do this job I would never have been involved in student politics,” said Robinson, who is a former president of the Oxford University Conservative Association.
“It is a constant issue in the sense that when people know they perfectly reasonably say ‘Well hold on a second, you can’t be impartial because you used to be involved in politics’.”
But while he agrees it’s not the ideal background for a BBC political broadcaster, Robinson was quick to point out that he is far from alone in having dabbled in politics in his youth.
“Many of my colleagues on air – I’m not going to do it but I can tell you what their political involvement was,” he said during a session to promote his new book, Live from Downing Street, at the Cheltenham Literature Festival.
“[BBC political commentator] Andy Marr very sweetly let me for the book… He got flack when he got this [BBC] job, from The Daily Mail, for being left wing and I said ‘Do you mind me writing about your views when you were a student?’
“He was a Maoist, who gave out copies of the Little Red Book!”
Marr, who returned to his Sunday-morning BBC1 political programme last month after suffering a stroke in January, has written in the past about the need to remain “studiously neutral” when delivering news reports but has also admitted that the BBC has a “cultural liberal bias”.
On the issue of impartiality, Robinson said: “In the end either you watch us and assume we’re going to tell you as best we can, or you think we’re on this side or that. I just do my best to tell it as I think it needs to be done.”