Chris patten

My letter from Chris Packham

I do not know Chris Packham, the BBC nature broadcaster, personally, but he wrote me a letter last month, enclosing a book called Manifesto, The Battle for Green Britain by Dale Vince which, he tells me, ‘has something very important to say at this most important time’. In his letter, Chris says that ‘irrespective of any party politics’, ‘The coming election will be the most important of our lifetimes’ because we are ‘halfway through the last decade’ left to avoid ‘the worst of climate breakdown’. So ‘we must help young voters navigate the new voting rules’. Politics has ‘become the final frontier for a real greener Britain’. What Chris does

The best children’s books: a Spectator Christmas survey

J.K. Rowling Poignant, funny and genuinely scary, The Hundred and One Dalmatians was one of my favourite books as a child and the story has lingered in my imagination ever since. Blue iced cakes always put me in mind of Cruella de Vil’s experimental food colourings, and whenever our dogs whine to get out at dusk I imagine them joining the canine news network, the twilight barking. There’s simply no resisting a book containing the lines ‘There are some people who always find beauty makes them feel sadder, which is a very mysterious thing’, and ‘Mr Dearly was a highly skilled dog-puncher’. Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall There are countless children’s

Don’t blame the students. They’re a product of a Britain that’s losing its love of free speech

In the past 12 months a curious thing has happened: student politics, for decades the most irrelevant, cut-off sphere of public life, has become headline news. The explosion of campus censorship – the primary means through which twentysomething politicos vent their political passions today – is followed, reported on and critiqued by greying commentators on a daily basis. The shock-horror headlines about the rise of ‘no platforming’ and the sclerotic growth of speech-policing ‘safe spaces’ seem a little strange. Not least because the No Platform policy – introduced by the National Union of Students in 1974 – is about as old as some of the commentators currently filling column inches with

An adult has finally intervened in the childish Cecil Rhodes debate

I’ve never had much time for Chris Patten, generally disliking the Tory Europhile and late Roy Jenkins impersonator.  But the whirligig of time brings in strange revenges and none is odder than Chris Patten emerging as the only adult in the room.  In the great Cecil Rhodes debate at Oxford – a debate which like all such ‘safe-space’ debates has been crying out for the intervention of an adult – Chancellor of the University of Oxford Chris Patten has intervened. For anyone fortunate enough not to know about this embarrassing episode, it relates to a campaign by certain ‘Rhodes scholars’ at Oxford who will not rest until all memorials to

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

Jonathan Dimbleby’s notebook: In defence of Chris Patten

I usually spend most of the week at home in South Devon in front of my computer. But for the past five days I have been on the rampage. Or to be precise, I’ve been in London. It is an easy journey by train when the track at Dawlish doesn’t fall into the sea. Some of my fellow travellers wonder why High Speed 2 warrants £50 billion when the whole of the West Country can be cut off so easily. They are unimpressed by the line that this investment won’t stop Network Rail giving Devonians and the newly free Cornish the best rail service in the world. But then they weren’t

My application to be chairman of the BBC

To: Karen Moran, HR Director, BBC Dear Ms Moran, I have decided to give up on the gardening this year, after a number of dispiriting setbacks. Last year I invested a fairly large amount of money, and about four hours per week, in trying to grow vegetables. But despite the fence and the pellets and the presence of a large plastic falcon called ‘Mr Roberts’, almost all of my crop was eaten by wild things. Woodpigeons, rabbits, caterpillars, slugs etc. I once saw a woodpigeon eating some of my kale while perched on Mr Roberts’s head, a terrible indignity for such a proud and fierce bird. In the end I

A toast to Le Roi Jen Quinze

There ought to be a new literary award: the antisocial book of the year. A dozen years ago, Claire Tomalin’s Pepys would have won the laurels by a country mile. That Christmas, everyone seemed to have been given a copy, and normally healthy eaters would arise from the lunch table after only three hours, desperate to return to Pepys. It was impossible to raise a four for bridge. Although John Campbell’s biography of Roy Jenkins is not quite so compulsive, it would take this year’s prize. Inter alia, Mr Campbell solves one of the small historical mysteries of our time. Denis Healey has always insisted that Roy was a closet

The millions in EU funding the BBC tried to hide

Over the last three years the BBC has secretly obtained millions of pounds in grants from the European Union. Licence fee payers might assume that the Corporation would have been compelled to disclose the source of this money in its annual reports, but they bear no trace of it specifically. In the latest set of accounts, for example, these funds are simply referred to as ‘other grant income’. Instead of making an open declaration, the BBC’s successful lobbying for this money had to be prised out of it using a Freedom of Information (FoI) request lodged for The Spectator, proving that there was never any danger of the state broadcaster’s bosses volunteering

The Pollard penny drops for Lord Patten

When the Pollard Report into the BBC Jimmy Savile abuse affair was published in December 2012, BBC Trust Chairman Lord Patten confidently told a press conference: ‘As far as we’re concerned the report is an excellent account of what happened. We’re totally in support of the recommendations, and that as far as I am concerned is that.’  But that has not been that. Readers will recall that Helen Boaden’s testimony, relating to a conversation that she had with Mark Thompson about the Newsnight investigation into Jimmy Savile, was omitted from the report. It should be noted that Mr Thompson has ‘slightly different recollections’ of this conversation than does Ms. Boaden, and that

James Harding’s right: the BBC must do some ‘accountability journalism’, but on the Savile scandal report

Director of BBC News James Harding made a fascinating speech on Wednesday, setting out his mission statement for the Corporation’s newsroom: ‘Let’s start with holding people to account. In the offices of our local radio stations and regional TV operations – the places where the BBC does so much of its best work – we should play to that particular strength: accountability journalism.’ Mr S lives and breathes ‘accountability journalism’; it’s his eau-de-vie. But Harding seems to have a different understanding of the term than your humble correspondent. You would never know it from BBC News (or, for that matter, Auntie’s in-house journal The Guardian); but Nick Pollard, who was paid the tidy

A mysterious Patten emerging

Lord Patten, the Chairman of the BBC Trust, rarely looks thrilled when being scrutinised, but he was particularly grumpy in front of the Culture Media and Sport Select Committee today. He said sullenly that Rob Wilson, the tenacious Tory MP, has written to the BBC some 64 times in the past year with Savile-related questions. Wilson is famed in Westminster for his Watsonian commitment to letter-writing and truth-seeking, so Patten’s jibe fell flat. Meanwhile, Patten was unable to answer questions regarding the continuing mystery over why key evidence about ex-BBC Director General Mark Thompson was excluded from Nick Pollard’s £3 million review of the BBC’s handling of the Savile affair. (Readers

Ken Clarke the pragmatist suspends his pugilism over EU

It’s said that Ken Clarke would cross a motorway to pick a fight with a political opponent. His aggression is one reason why he thrived (eventually) under Mrs Thatcher: ambulance drivers, teaching unions and local government were all given a bunch of fives when Clarke reached Cabinet in the late ‘80s. Chris Patten (in the course of saying that he would go into the jungle with Clarke) told the late Hugo Young that ‘the key to Clarke is that he is anti-establishment – any establishment’. Yet pugilism is but one side of Clarke. He is not, by temperament or conviction, an ideologue. What matters is what works. And it worked

Tony Hall appointed Director General of the BBC

It seems that Lord Patten has been reading the Spectator: Lord Hall, the BBC’s former director of news and the man who revolutionised the Royal Opera House, has been appointed Director General of the BBC, an appointment recommended by Tom Bower in last week’s Spectator Diary. The BBC Trust states that Lord Hall will take over in March. Hall is a hugely respected figure. Here’s what Tom Bower wrote about him last week: ‘To avoid chaos, Patten cannot be fired without the government naming his successor. Step forward Tony Hall, the Royal Opera House’s chief executive. Hall was a respected editor of flagship broadcasting who resigned as the director of BBC News in

Oxford students: Chris Patten needs to devote time to being our Chancellor

As students at Oxford University, we are told repeatedly by tutors, proctors, and the Chancellor himself that we’re not allowed to do much outside our degree. We cannot do more than eight hours of paid work a week, and extracurricular activities are monitored carefully by colleges, who can revoke your right to do them at any time. Any major positions at the student union or Oxford Union require you to take a year out. And, as we can vouch for, taking on an editorship of a student newspaper isn’t exactly welcomed by teaching staff. We’ve handed (nearly) all our essays in on time; but Lord Patten has arguably spread himself

The BBC saga distracts from Abu Qatada deportation and bail decision

The decision to award George Entwistle a £1.3 million payoff appears, as my colleague Rod Liddle notes, to have misjudged the public mood (and indeed the mood of the majority of hard working and underpaid BBC staff). It is the sort of development about which the government feels it ought to comment, to provide a source of moral leadership. There is an added complication because the government must do so without infringing the BBC’s independence. There is even more danger in this case because the Chairman of the BBC has launched a very spirited assault on the corporation’s detractors in the Murdoch press and elsewhere; this is a possible culture war in the making. Naturally, the

Rod Liddle

George Entwistle’s parting gift

Have to say, I wish I’d got a year’s salary plus pension when I made an, er, dignified resignation from the BBC. The outgoing DG, George Entwistle, will receive an entire year’s salary plus various other stipends, amounting to more than a million quid. He’s had a horrible time of it recently, for sure – but this is another example of the BBC, and in particular Fatty Pang Patten, neither understanding what happens in commercial organisations nor indeed understanding the mood of the public. Nor, still further, understanding the BBC’s vast majority of employees. They are for the most part underpaid and have no secure tenure, working on short term

Chaos at the BBC

The BBC crisis continues to dominate the airwaves. George Entwistle’s £1.3 million payoff has set outraged tongues wagging. Tim Montgomerie has collected the furious comments made by several Tory MPs. Much of the rest of the press pack has followed suit, saying that the severance deal is yet another self-inflicted wound by BBC management. Meanwhile, Helen Boaden and Stephen Mitchell, who are respectively the director and deputy director of BBC News, have stepped aside pending the results of the Pollard inquiry. David Dimbleby told the Today programme that he couldn’t understand why George Enwistle resigned, adding that the continuing fallout from the Savile scandal is not the greatest disaster to befall the BBC. He also

A crisis, yes. But let’s not all shoot the BBC.

I have just returned from two hours of broadcasting on the BBC World Service. It is an odd time to be inside the BBC, not least because reporters from the organisation itself, as well as its rivals, are standing outside the studio doing pieces to camera about what is going on inside. Anyhow – having dealt with some web and print-press troubles in my last post, I wanted to jot down a few thoughts on the BBC’s troubles. 1) The first is that the Newsnight McAlpine story is devastating. How any news organisation, let alone the publicly-funded (and compared to its commercial rivals extremely well-funded) BBC could have run such

Chris Patten claims he has a ‘grip’ on the BBC’s crisis

Chris Patten has just appeared on the Andrew Marr Show to discuss the resignation of George Entwistle and to evaluate its fallout. Patten conceded that the BBC is mired in a mess of its own making and that it was inevitably under pressure as a result. He opened a media war while defending the BBC’s independence, saying that the corporation was ‘bound to be under fire from Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers’ and sceptical (Tory) MPs, adding later in the interview that Murdoch’s papers would be happy to see the BBC diminished. (There is no love lost between Murdoch and Patten, after the Murdoch-owned publisher Harper Collins decided against producing Patten’s account