Magazine article The Spectator

It's Only a Part-Time Job, So I've Got Just the Man to Replace Sir Christopher at the BBC

Magazine article The Spectator

It's Only a Part-Time Job, So I've Got Just the Man to Replace Sir Christopher at the BBC

Article excerpt

Sir it Christopher Bland is resigning as chairman of the BBC. Rosie Boycott is trying to raise money to launch a new London evening paper. How are these two things connected?

The betting is that Gavyn Davies, the BBC's deputy chairman, will replace Sir Christopher. He is the bearded economist who swapped his leftist economics for the free-market variety and went on to make a huge bundle at Goldman Sachs. Not surprisingly, he is a loyal Blairite - or perhaps Brownite, since his wife, Sue Nye, is the Chancellor's political secretary. So the government would be very happy to have Mr Davies as the next chairman of the BBC. On the other hand, his appointment would undoubtedly provoke shrieks of outrage from the Tories and the right-wing press. It would be correctly interpreted as another act of cronyism. After all, there is a convention that, politically speaking, the chairman and the director-general should not hail from the same neck of the woods. Since Greg Dyke, the present director-general, is an active supporter of New Labour, fair-minded people might think that the next chairman should be of a more independent stamp.

So the purpose of this column is to propose another candidate who might command the support of all parties. But before I mention his name, let me touch upon the activities of Rosie Boycott. The recently departed editor of the Daily Express has a City institution behind her, and hopes to launch a rival to the London Evening Standard. The last person who took on the panzer divisions of Associated Newspapers, which owns the Standard, was Robert Maxwell with his London Daily News. He failed. It failed. Ms Boycott, I gather, does not envisage a direct confrontation. She has in mind an upmarket paper which might be distributed in the City, West End, Chelsea and Notting Hill. The grubbier denizens of Croydon and Tulse Hill would never see it. The new paper would be heavy on listings, restaurant reviews and the arts.

Will it succeed? I don't know. My advice would be to creep into the market as surreptitiously as possible and pray that the boys at Associated Newspapers do not notice. But of course they would and, if such a paper were launched, they would be bound to take it seriously. The question would then arise as to what to do with Sir Max Hastings, editor of the Evening Standard. He has been in his present job for more than five years and some observers suspect that his heart is no longer fully in it. Sometimes on a grey afternoon he surveys the London skyline and yearns for the squelchy fields of Wiltshire. If Ms Boycott does launch her new paper, it would be a cruelty to make Max stay on and wear himself down in a fight that might last months, even years.

When Sir Christopher Bland announced his resignation at the BBC, and his appointment as chairman of British Telecom, the Evening Standard ran an encouraging leader. Its general message was that Sir Christopher had heroically taken on a task (and a 750,000 salary) by the side of which wrestling with a pride of hungry lions looked easy. As it happens, Sir Max is an old and close friend of Sir Christopher. He has stayed in the latter's house in France. The two men have probably shot together. So the thought occurred to me, as I read that sympathetic leader, that Sir Christopher is in an ideal position to put in a good word for his old mucker as his successor.

Yes, Sir Max Hastings is my candidate as next chairman of the BBC. …

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