Why we’re talking about . . .

Who will replace Laura Kuenssberg as BBC political editor?

Vicki Young and Jon Sopel tipped as potential successors

Laura Kuenssberg is in talks to step down as BBC political editor after six years in one of the broadcaster’s most high-profile roles, it has emerged in recent weeks. 

Kuenssberg’s move is part of “a major reshuffle of senior on-air staff”, The Guardian said, and will see her vacate “one of the most powerful positions in British journalism”.

Her tenure has coincided with a “febrile period of politics”, including the EU referendum and two general elections, which brought “unprecedented scrutiny” of how the BBC shapes the national news agenda, the paper added.

Kuenssberg was the first woman to take the role when she replaced Nick Robinson in 2015. The then director-general, Tony Hall, said at the time that she was an “exceptional journalist” who would “bring something extra to the role – something of her own style”.

Kuenssberg’s successor, wrote Tim Adams in The Observer, “should embody those rare broadcasting traits: a total disinterest in his or her media profile, an antipathy to likes and follows; the duller the better”. 

According to The Guardian’s media editor Jim Waterson, Kuenssberg could move to become a presenter on the Today programme on Radio 4. Her departure has set tongues wagging over the runners and riders to replace her in the top political job. 

Vicki Young

The BBC’s deputy political editor has been given the best odds to replace Kuenssberg by the UK betting exchange company Smarkets, at 5/2 (a 28.57% chance of winning the race).  

She is “the sort of safe pair of hands that new BBC Director General Tim Davie is looking for, and won’t set off a culture war”, said Politico’s Alex Wickham. He added that there is “an appetite to appoint another woman” to succeed the first female political editor in the broadcaster’s history. 

Jon Sopel

Sopel’s return from the US after six years as the BBC’s North America editor has triggered rumours that he is a candidate for the political editor role.

With chief political correspondent and Politics Show presenter on his CV, he was “connected to the job back in 2015” when Kuenssberg was appointed, The Guardian said.

Wickham also touted Sopel, suggesting that he is “the name on the lips of BBC staff” as someone with “the gravitas” and “celebrity” to get people talking. His succession odds stand at 43/10, or 18.87%. 

Amol Rajan

Rajan became the BBC’s first media editor in 2016 and is a presenter on Radio 4’s flagship Today programme.

He is a “BBC poster boy” and has had an “inexorable rise” to success, said Wickham, adding that it is often suggested he “will end up in whatever role he wants at the Beeb, so highly rated is he by the top brass”. Smarkets is placing odds on Rajan at 39/5 or 11.36%. 

Faisal Islam

Manchester-born Islam joined the BBC as economics editor in 2019 having previously worked as Sky News’ political editor, as well as economics editor at Channel 4 News and The Observer. 

When announcing his appointment, Fran Unsworth, the BBC’s outgoing director of news and current affairs, described Islam as someone with “serious economic and political pedigree”. His odds of succeeding Kuenssberg are currently 21/2 or 8.7%. 

Alex Forsyth

BBC political correspondent Forsyth, who has been given the same odds as Islam, has worked as the BBC’s home affairs correspondent, education correspondent and Middle East correspondent, joining the broadcaster in 2010.

Forsyth is described by Wickham as “well-liked” and “a rising star” who has the potential to be a future political editor. 

The outsiders

Other names in the frame include James Landale, the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent, Any Questions anchor Chris Mason, and Beth Rigby and Sam Coates from Sky News.

Landale came close to taking the job in 2015, according to Politico. Wickham also said that the fact that Landale was once approached to be Theresa May’s director of communications at Downing Street may “provide some reassurance to any Tories who can’t wait to kick off about whoever the Beeb ends up choosing”.

From within the BBC, there is also Newsnight’s policy editor Lewis Goodall, the show’s political editor Nick Watt, host of the Newscast podcast Adam Fleming and BBC Scotland editor Sarah Smith.

But Goodall has had various run-ins with the government, which might damage his chances. Wickham joked that if Goodall got the role, “No. 10 would probably respond to his appointment by abolishing the licence fee and selling the Beeb to Rupert Murdoch”.

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