Magazine article The Spectator

Remote Control

Magazine article The Spectator

Remote Control

Article excerpt

There you are, sitting in BBC Millbank or White City, gazing in a stupor at some government press release, when your telephone rings. `It's the Downing Street switchboard here,' she says. `I've got the Prime Minister on the line.' One after the other, distinguished members of the BBC's political staff have heard those thrilling tones. First there was Lance Price, the political correspondent, snared within weeks of the Labour victory, who now serves as the cup-bearer to Alastair Campbell. Then there was Martin Sixsmith, who went from giving deathless accounts of Kremlin turmoil to giving the media the spin about cuts in incapacity benefit; and Lorraine Davidson, who went off to work for the Scottish Labour party.

Even John Kampfner, a hardened political correspondent, felt his resistance melt like wax in the heat of Blair's charm; though that appointment, for some reason, never came about. We now discover that Bill Bush, until March the head of the BBC's `Political Research Unit', a man charged with supplying the data on which programme-makers depend, has emerged in his true colours.

Listeners will be familiar with Mr Bush as a kind of deus ex machina of political programmes, called down to arbitrate on points of detail, like the exact size of the Conservative party's membership. Now we learn that he was an aide to Ken Livingstone in the 1980s - when Ken was becoming friendly with Gerry Adams. Not only is Bush moving to No. 10, and taking with him all the secrets of the BBC's plans to hold the government to account. He is also taking with him the deputy head of the BBC's political research unit, one Catherine Rimmer. In fact, you could say that the BBC's political research unit has turned out to be an invisible branch of the Labour party.

That is not necessarily to cast aspersions on either Mr Bush or Catherine Rimmer. No doubt they have carried out their duties with perfect impartiality, or at least the appearance of impartiality, and the appearance of things is important in media organisations. It is also true that among the 22,000 souls who wander the Orwellian corridors of the BBC, one would expect, statistically, to find at least some people interested in working for a Labour government. Except, of course, that anyone with any experience of the BBC will not be quite satisfied with that explanation.

The Corporation supplies the Blair government with so many apparatchiks for exactly the same reason as the Mirror has been a training ground for Campbell's stooges (David Bradshaw in No. …

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