We will soon find out whether the coalition meant what it said about empowering parliament. The BIS select committee has rejected the government’s preferred candidate for the post of the head of the Office of Fair Access. The committee concluded that it was ‘unable to endorse the appointment of Professor Ebdon as the Director of OFFA and we recommend that the Department conduct a new recruitment exercise.’
But Vince Cable, the business secretary, is said to be keen to override the committee’s verdict. Number 10, which has never been keen on Ebdon, is opposed.
As I said on Sunday, the circumstances behind Ebdon’s name going forward are straight from The Thick Of It. Cable and Willetts sent a note to Cameron saying they wanted Ebdon to be the government’s preferred candidate. But when Number 10 questioned this idea on the grounds that Ebdon is a critic of much of the government’s education agenda, they were apparently told that they had to go along with it because the headhunters had already contacted him. Or, at least that is the explanation for how someone with views like Ebdon’s ended up as the government’s nominee.
The question now is how Cable and Cameron resolve this dispute. It has the potential to turn into a real coalition trial of strength especially given as it was the Tory MPs on the committee who ensured he was rejected.