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As Entwistle falls on his sword, I wonder what Chris Patten’s next big Establishment job will be

Posted on 11 November 2012 | 9:11am

Chris Patten, the son of a jazzman, and a Catholic, is not a traditional Establishment figure. But one of the powers of our Establishment is its ability to allow in certain outsiders, provided they then follow the rules of the game.

Baron Patten of Barnes, CH PC, former Tory MP and Cabinet minister, former Governor of Hong Kong, former European Commissioner, current Chancellor of Oxford University, and current chairman of the BBC Trust, is one such figure.

I remember Labour MP Eric Heffer telling me that one of the reasons he intended to serve as long as he could in Parliament was because ‘there is nothing more ex than an ex MP.’ Not if you are Chris Patten, who has gone from Establishment post to Establishment post with ease, and fairly gentle scrutiny considering the importance of all the positions he has held.

Yet even before the current fiasco, his role was being called into question. I doubt David Mellor will mind if I divulge that when I bumped into him at the height of the Jimmy Savile furore, he was asking ‘what on earth has happened to the competence of Chris Patten,’ his former colleague in government?

Patten is staring out from the front pages today, with the same look we saw on the night he lost his Parliamentary seat and, even more so, the day the UK handed over Hong Kong to the Chinese. As I recorded in my diary ‘he rather overdid the emotion bit,’ and what with crying daughters, jibes about the democratic credentials of the Chinese, and a deep sense of Patten’s personal loss hanging over the whole affair, ‘TB looked rather embarrassed.’ It felt at times as though the Pattens were burying a beloved old dog, not playing an official role in presiding over a long planned diplomatic event.

Last night he stood alongside BBC Director General George Entwistle and said it was ‘one of the saddest evenings of my public life’ to see his appointee fall on his sword. Yet it was his appointee, and assuming he is still in place to oversee the succession, he will have to do a better job this time.

George Entwistle is a very nice man, and had his career as DG started off in different circumstances he might have grown to become a good DG at a time that is what the BBC needs. But it is hard to escape the conclusion that the same weaknesses some commentators and insiders saw in him when he was appointed lay behind the appointment in the first place: it would not be the first time the board of an important organisation appointed as chief exec someone they felt was unlikely to threaten or overshadow them.

In any event, Lord Patten’s role surely has to come under proper examination now, not just in relation to the appointment process, but also in relation to the uncomfortable position that makes him both cheerleader and regulator. It is unsustainable.

On a personal level, it is nice to see that my own battles with the BBC now appear to have been relegated, and that the current crisis has the label ‘the worst in BBC history’ attached to it, rather than the fallout from the Hutton Inquiry. You may remember that one led to the loss of both DG and chairman. It still might happen, though something about Baron Patten’s Establishment survival skills lead me to think it won’t; and if he does eventually go, I suspect there will be another Establishment position waiting around the corner for him.

  • Your analysis, as usual, would appear to be spot on. Currently watching the most sycophantic interview possible of him by Andrew Marr. Sounds like deals have been done overnight, and the BBC is likely to go the way of the Police force – in terms of coming under greater direct political control. This is undoubtedly a step in exactly the wrong direction!

  • Perhaps worth pointing out the Jeremy Paxman believes that there is some link between the Hutton fallout and the current perilous state of the BBC. He said:

    “The real problem here is the BBC’s decision, in the wake of the Hutton Inquiry, to play safe by appointing biddable people.”

  • David Kent

    “Nice” for you, maybe, Alistair, but while gloating, please bear in mind what it has taken – the suffering of “small people” to get the BBC to where it is now.

  • By the way, during last night’s review of the Sunday papers on Sky News, there was a mea culpa of sorts from our old chum Gilligan, confessing that not all the allegations broadcast during his infamous ‘sexed-up’ report on the Today programme stood up to scrutiny. What took him so long?

  • I find this BBC meltdown very disturbing for a number of reasons. From what I can observe, George Entwistle appears to be a decent and capable man whose main fault was a reluctance to be as rude and aggressive to his interrogators as they were to him.

    It is the easiest thing in the world to criticize someone while they are in the midst of coping with difficult and complex issues. All the more so, if the person in question is new to their role and still finding their feet. Demand instant answers, don’t wait for a full reply before interrupting with another aggressive or sneering comment. As they struggle to collect their thoughts, add the inevitable, haughty ‘it just isn’t good enough’ type comment and Bob’s your uncle. The interrogator looks to have triumphed and the target of abuse appears weak.

    This happened to Entwistle at the Select Committee and in his ‘Today’ interview with Humphrys. The unreasonably critical atmosphere in which public servants, including politicians, have to operate is becoming very destructive of our institutions and the people who serve in them. Brash, tabloid style, uninformed, egotistical journalists have increased in number and asserted their warped view of what constitutes good journalism on the public. Their preferred impatient, aggressive questioning techniques have also infected the Select Committee arena of late, as similarly egotistical, low level MPs, attempt to get themselves noticed.

    When things go wrong, the sensible approach is to calm down, gather key people and details together, carefully analyse the problem and causes, then establish an appropriate way forward. This is what Entwistle did with the first furore over the cancellation of the Newsnight piece on Saville. What an irony if the inquiry he set up, now supports the original cautious action of Newsnight’s suspended editor.

    It seems to me to be a tragedy if a previous ‘excellent editor’ of Newsnight, who himself demanded good quality journalism, is ousted from the BBC at a time when its news coverage has lost its way.

    Patten’s role in this and his comments today don’t inspire confidence at all. He appointed the man he described as ‘cerebral, decent and honourable’ but didn’t try to dissuade him from resigning, over what could well be a transient, out of control, media storm. He committed himself to finding a replacement within weeks, appointed a previous manager of Pepsi Cola as acting DG, and worst of all, described John Humphrys as a ‘great journalist’.

    Humphrys’ well known attack-dog style merely disguises his reluctance or inability to put respectful but informed and penetrating points to his guests, in order to elicit fact, information and insight for the listener. If the Chair of the BBC Trust thinks his aggressive, sneering, insulting style is great journalism, the future looks extremely grim.

  • Gerard McShera

    Powerful Tory individual is victim of rogue report; immediate rectification. Senior Labour figures and David Kelly as victims?. No outcry regarding failure to do independent verification of false report, no intensive interview by Mr Humphries of Gilligan, no proper journalism by Telegraph/Mail/Guardian/Independent on latter.

  • Olli Issakainen

    Establishment figure.
    Chris Patten is a co-chair of International Crisis Group financed by George Soros, Carnegie, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank, McKinsey and Shell.
    Chris Patten is a member of the Bilderberg Group run by Rothschilds and Rockefellers.
    Chris Patten is a member of David Rockefeller´s Trilateral Commission.
    Chris Patten is a member of Rothschilds´ globalist thinktank Chatham House.
    Chris Patten is on the membership list of the Committee of 300 together with bankers and royalty.
    Chris Patten is a honorary governor of bankers´ Ditchley Foundation together with David Cameron, Lord Carrington, Michael Howard, Lord Brittan, Lord Howe, Lord Hurd, Sir John Major, Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw.
    Chris Patten is the BBC Trust chairman.
    Marcus Agius of Barclays (Rothschilds) sits on the executive board of BBC.
    He also sits on the steering committee of Bilderberg Group.
    BBC is in the pockets of globalist bankers.
    Ps. Rothschilds own Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank and Shell.

  • Anonymous

    Daily Mail today has been making out that there has been “history” between Patten and that certain Lord, but the DM could be just trying to stir things up to sell copies.

    But the sackings do seen to be moving up the ladder – first that Newsnight editor fella, now Entwistle, so now I suppose we can expect Patten to be doing a spot of gardening soon too, if we follow DM’s logic, maybe..

  • Anonymous

    Strange conclusion that is. Beeb has always had problems with themselves – their internal comfortable culture is the main cause. They don’t live and breath the living world as the rest of us mortals.

    Makes me sick is the commercial arm of the beeb, with their beeb choice channel in the US for instance, paid by UK tax payers, and they have adverts in it. And as well as their interests in the UK TV channels. They are two-faced.

    They are run like a multi-national company, but grab tax off us UK mugs with the extortionate licence fee instead of paying their due share of taxes.

    The beeb is a warped institution, quite schizophrenic.

  • Fiona

    Whilst all this internal mess is taking up so much of the BBC’s creative mental energy, I believe that one of the biggist changes to Britain’s democracy is taking place with very little analysis by our most important public watchdog. By this I mean the employment of police comissioners. Under the banner of ‘being tough on crime’ (as if the police had never thought of that one) people who mostly have no idea about the problems of dealing with crime, or how to finance it, have put their names forward to take control of one of the most important public services. It is frankly frightening to see who has put themselves forward in the area where I live – Cornwall. I don’t believe this is the answer to fighting crime and would rather the money was put towards the professionls who work in the area. Most of the arguements for Police Comissioners seem to come from understandabley passionate victims or their family or people who want to be associated with the change – i.e. earning directly or indirectly from it. I am not against change, this just seems to the wrong one.
    I am seriously worried about the affect this could have on democracy – for one – I am hearing on radio that if only 15% vote that is not something to worry about, for another the police has been independent till now for good reason.
    I apologise for high-jacking this part of your blog for this – it is worrying me and I don’t know as an ordinary ‘burger’ what I should do about it.

  • L’Arse

    I’ve tried to point out a variation on this theme at CiF. You won’t be surprised to learn that the adjudicators at The Guardian have deleted the post.

  • Gilliebc

    Interesting post Fiona. I only wish I could offer some sort of rational explanation for this push for Police Commissioners and also the drive for Mayors all over the place. Some say it’s to do with getting organised for the NWO/OWG.
    Perhaps AC has some thoughts on the subject of Police Commissioners, he may like to share with us?

  • Anonymous

    Don’t worry about The Guardian/Observer my friend. I was their token welshman there for a while, until they realised I wasn’t a provincial simpleton, and then they totally banned me. Same happened at the New Statesman of all places, so don’t worry about it. Lefty to sell sell they were.are.

    They are all a bunch of comfortable Islington and Hampstead Teethers, and the beeb too, with my mole in there, generally known as Alastair Campbell. : )

    No, only joking Alastair – how about a London song from my youtube friend Jackie Lee, first the London one sung, and then her Barbarella with Jane Fonda’s 1960’s titties, as I have to do, both sung by Jackie. 78 now she is, lives and is well in Canada,

    mmmm next, lock the wifey away…