Magazine article The Spectator

It Looks as If This Blairite Will Get the BBC, but He Can Still Be Stopped

Magazine article The Spectator

It Looks as If This Blairite Will Get the BBC, but He Can Still Be Stopped

Article excerpt

On 20 March I wrote about the next Director-General of the BBC. I said that whoever he was (it was bound to be a he) he would be a Blairite. That was in the nature of the times, and none of us should complain too much. Just as the Tories pushed their own people into top positions throughout 18 years of Conservative rule, we should hardly be surprised if New Labour does the same.

Then about two weeks ago the Times produced a bit of a bombshell. It revealed that Greg Dyke, one of the leading candidates to succeed Sir John Birt as DirectorGeneral, had contributed some f50,000 to Labour party coffers since 1994. It was always known that Mr Dyke was a Blairite - indeed, some claimed to have known that he was a considerable benefactor but the scale of his munificence certainly came as a surprise to me.

Mr Dyke's friends, and one or two newspapers, have suggested that Mr Rupert Murdoch, proprietor of the Times, has a vendetta against Mr Dyke. The allegation is that Mr Murdoch roused the Times from its slumbers to mount an attack on his enemy. The media tycoon, so it is said, was trying to get his own back on Mr Dyke who, as a director of Manchester United, had opposed the bid for the club by BSkyB, controlled by Mr Murdoch.

Conceivably there is a grain of truth in these convoluted theories. But it is always dangerous, as I think I have said before, to challenge an argument on the basis of the presumed motives of those who put it forward. The Times may have had its own agenda, but its point was a fair one. It is one thing for the new DG to be of a Blairite persuasion - that much is to be expected. It is another for him to be a paidup supporter of the government. In the few days following the Times's disclosure, many people said as much: Tories, Lib Dems, former BBC governors and former BBC executive grandees all argued that Mr Dyke should not be appointed.

It seemed for a moment that his candidature might be stopped in its tracks. My impression now is that it has not been. I say 'impression' because the decision is that of the BBC governors who are at present considering various applications. Divining their intentions is a bit like second-guessing the College of Cardinals. But senior executives at the BBC certainly think that things are going Mr Dyke's way. They point out that he is the strongest candidate; indeed, apart from Richard Eyre of TV, he is the only outside candidate set against a number of internal BBC grey men.

Not only that. The governors boast of their independence but one wonders how much pressure they can resist. Sir Christopher Bland, chairman of the governors, has been rooting for Mr Dyke. Though allegedly a Tory, Sir Christopher is an old pal of Mr Dyke from their days coining money together at London Weekend Television, and holds him in high esteem. Chris Smith, the Culture Secretary, as well as Tony Blair, have let it be known that Mr Dyke is their man. This is, of course, improper: though Downing Street appoints the Chairman of the BBC, it is supposed to have no role in choosing the Director-General, who is Editor-in-Chief of the Corporation.

So quite soon we may hear that Mr Dyke is the next Director-General. Does it matter? I think it does. Of course, it would suit the Tories if Mr Dyke were appointed, for they would be able to bang on about porkbarrel politics, jobs for the boys, and so forth. But while one does not wish to deprive them of a much-needed chance to bash the Blairites, the future of the BBC is more important. …

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