A piece in today’s Times:
Refined society clutches its dewlaps, the mandarinate is aghast and broadcasting executives empty their filing cabinets into fireplace grates, Vichy-French gendarmes before the liberation of Paris.
Can it be true? Is the government really going to make Charles Moore chairman of the BBC and Paul Dacre chairman of Ofcom? “Vite, Alphonse. De la benzine et des allumettes!” And in one respect you can understand the shock these mooted appointments have generated. Moore and Dacre are rightwingers who supported Brexit and have been trenchant critics of the BBC. Such barbarians do not normally even make it on to the shortlists for public positions. For Boris Johnson now to change that really would be rather astonishing — in a good way.
The kneejerk outcry, though predictable, has been glorious. Hugh Grant, actor, anti-press activist and Remainer, issued a tweet saying “Coffin. Nail. UK.” Alastair Campbell, he of Hutton inquiry infamy, raged about Dacre “poisoning public debate”. Alan Rusbridger, once editor of The Guardian and now, like several other centre-left journalists, master of an Oxbridge college, grumbled about prime ministerial patronage. “This is what an oligarchy looks like,” said dear Alan. He quite forgot to mention that he is a member of Facebook’s new, all-appointed oversight board, pay undisclosed but thought to be jammy.
I should declare my own interests: I have worked for both Moore (when he edited The Daily Telegraph) and Dacre (when he ran the Daily Mail). The two men may be comrades of the right but they are very different beasts and certainly not close to one another. Nor incidentally, is either of them nearly as deaf to alternative views as the left claim.
The 63-year-old Lord Moore, as he became recently, is bookish and has a slightly tippy-toed gait. He has an Etonian’s handwriting, enjoys practical jokes and is most at home in country churches or in the saddle. In moments of excitement, Charles becomes quite camp.
Mr Dacre, 71, smoulders. You would not call him camp. He is more at home in the back of a BMW seven-series than on a horse. He has a scalpel-sharp mind, a raw suspicion of elites, ardent belief in aspiration and, less well known, an enthusiasm for opera and theatre. He stomps down corridors with the tread of a second-row forward after a big match. He swears freely.
So far as one can gauge, there is nothing in those characteristics, or elsewhere in their personal or professional lives, that should discount them from chairing a major national institution; except, except, for this right-wing Brexiteer thing and their past criticism of the BBC.
A Mayfair hostess might exclaim that it is unfortunate that they are not more house-trained. But that is really the point. For is it so outrageous, in the year 2020, to be pro-Brexit, or of the right, or sceptical about the BBC? Although we now forget, there was a general election only nine months ago and it was won strongly by the Conservatives.
One of those scorning Mr Dacre’s possible involvement at Ofcom was Jo Stevens, shadow culture secretary, who suggested that the future of the BBC as “an independent, impartial broadcaster” could be in peril. You could more plausibly argue that it will be in peril unless it is chaired by someone whose political views are more in tune with the voters’ new government. Many of our fellow citizens long ago ceased to regard the BBC as impartial, particularly on culture and in terms of small-p politics. The squabble over the Last Night of the Proms showed that.
It is stressed, more by ministers than by Downing Street spokesmen, that the BBC and Ofcom jobs have yet to be properly advertised. There is still time for Alan Rusbridger to apply for either position, though he would have to give up those spondoolicks from Uncle Zuckerberg if successful.
Why have the names of Moore and Dacre been floated so early? It may be that Dominic Cummings is merely baiting the centre-left, as a cat will toy with a pink-eared mouse. No 10 may be hoping to keep the pressure on the BBC’s new director-general, Tim Davie. The prospect of Moore and Dacre in these two positions may have the effect on BBC executives that the sight of a police car in the rear-view mirror has on motorists.
But it is worth pointing out that the chairmanship of the BBC is nothing like as powerful a position as the director-generalship. Likewise, the day-to-day running of Ofcom is entrusted to its chief executive, Dame Melanie Dawes. She is not known for being a pushover.
If Labour’s Jo Stevens wishes to choose who chairs Ofcom, she and her party should have won the election. Ah, comes the cry, but these appointments should not be so politicised. That response is either touchingly naive or code for “it’s just not political when we do it”.
The departing Ofcom chairman, Lord Burns, reportedly “fought to ensure that the job went to a civil servant rather than someone political”. Lord Burns is the Sir Humphreys’ Sir Humphrey. Of course he wanted the job to go to a fellow member of the freemasonry of mandarins. That itself would be a political choice.
The BBC, by its casual and long-standing partiality, has made broadcasting governance necessarily political. The tiller needs a yank to bring the ship rightwards, back to a straighter course.
You can subscribe to The Times here.
Our last general election manifesto is here.
If everyone who read this gave us £5.00 – or even better, £5.00 or more, monthly – we could change the world. £5.00 monthly would entitle you to Bronze party membership, details here. Benefits include a dedicated and signed book by Mike Buchanan. Click below to make a difference. Thanks.