Damian Thompson Damian Thompson

Chris Patten keeps failing upwards – now he’s advising the Pope. Poor Pope.

There is a wearying inevitability to the announcement that Pope Francis’s reforms of the Vatican media will be overseen by Lord Patten of Barnes. Of course it was going to be him. It always is.

The man defies the laws of political gravity. As Margaret Thatcher’s environment secretary he was responsible for the poll tax. He walked away from the disaster unscathed, explaining that it was nothing to do with him, guv, it was Thatch. As Tory chairman he presided over Major’s 1992 victory but lost his own seat. He was made governor of Hong Kong, where he stood up to China. But he went native with a vengeance as an EU commissioner: according to Denis MacShane, former Europe minister, Patten was so Europhile that he might have been France’s candidate for Commission president in 2004 if only he spoke French.

In 2003 he was elected Chancellor of Oxford University (he read history at Balliol though I can find no reference to his class of degree: if he got a First he has been uncharacteristically modest about it). In 2010 he became chairman of the BBC Trust, in which troubled role he drew heavily on his blame-shifting skills. As Peter Oborne wrote in the Telegraph, ‘the hallmarks of Chris Patten’s chairmanship have been a lack of grip and repeated evasion of responsibility. The grotesque pay-offs made to executives; the incompetence of management; the mishandling of the Jimmy Savile scandal: none of this apparently has anything to do with Lord Patten.’

A risky choice to reinvent the Vatican media, you might think, but you need to remember that Chris Patten is – to use a phrase that even he could translate – impeccably bien pensant.

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