The public sector mustn’t be a sacred cow

You may think that all those heavy black lines that obliterate crucial bits of testimony in the Savile report are there to protect the reputations – and the livelihoods – of certain BBC executives. They aren’t. At least, that is not all that they are there to protect. It is not just individuals, you see, whose futures are at stake here. When the BBC made its decision to redact – to obliterate and remove from general view – the most lethal judgments about its own senior staff, it was obeying a higher calling. This was not a shabby exercise in shielding a handful of people from the kind of opprobrium and public shame that might put an end to their careers. Oh, no.

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The BBC rot starts at the top, with the elusive Lord Patten

The late Frank Johnson, my former Telegraph colleague and inventor of the political sketch, loved to regale me with his theory about why so many Left-wing Conservative politicians enjoyed such a warm public profile. They would go out to lunch with The Guardian and the BBC (or so Frank claimed), where they would convey the impression that they regarded the majority of their colleagues with horror and distaste. Their disloyalty would soon be rewarded with glowing profiles in which the treacherous lunch guest would find himself written up as a civilised and compassionate influence in an otherwise barbaric and heartless political party.

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For once, there is no ambiguity: the Today programme’s report on Gaza this morning was totally and utterly biased

I don’t have a balanced view of the current situation in Israel and Gaza. To me, the Israelis have been subjected to repeated attacks from Hamas, a proscribed terrorist organisation, and they are exercising their legitimate right to self-defence.

Others have a different perspective. They argue Israel is an illegal occupying power, that it is the Palestinians who are exercising their right of self-defence, and that, at the very least, the current Israeli response is disproportionate.

All of which is fair enough. I don’t agree with the latter view. But I respect people’s right to hold it.

That is unless they are producing the news on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. This morning, at the top of the 08.00 bulletin, I heard the following report:

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Clegg Vows to Deport Qatada

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph)

BREAKING NEWS: Nick Clegg has been doing the TV and radio rounds this morning ahead of his flexible working time announcement later today. The Deputy Prime Minister told ITV’s Daybreak: “What we want to do in government is give mums and dads more choice… Everybody should have the right to ask whether they can work flexibly.”

Mr Clegg also vowed the Coalition would not let the Abu Qatada case rest after his deportation was ruled out on human rights grounds. He said: “we are determined to deport Abu Qatada. He doesn’t belong here and he shouldn’t be in this country.”

BBC IN NEED OF RESTRUCTURING SAY PROMINENT TORIES

The BBC crisis is becoming increasingly political. Lord Patten remains under pressure, especially given our revelation this morning that Lord Entwistle was “paid double to go quietly”. Conservative MPs, who had largely held their tongues so far, tore into the corporation yesterday. John Whittingdale, head of the Commons culture committee, told the FT (£) that a reorganisation was needed in the corporation as George Entwistle “clearly demonstrated that he couldn’t fulfil both parts of the job, and maybe no one can do that”. Conor Burns also argued that the role should be split in future.

It isn’t just the Tories. Tessa Jowell writes in this morning’s Telegraph about the “culture of moral smugness” which detracted from the organisation’s internal management. She argues that only “radical public ownership” of the BBC will see it salvage itself. Our leader is equally damning, insisting that the BBC must do less, and do it better:

“In pursuit of the renewal of its charter and licence fee, the corporation has become obsessed with extending its ‘reach’, but in trying to appeal to every demographic it risks diluting the quality of its output and the values that it is there to represent. It has also become over-managed, inflexible and sclerotic.”

OSBORNE BACKS GAY MARRIAGE

Never let it be said the Chancellor is out-of-touch with his base. His op-ed in this morning’s Times (£) – where else – embraces gay marriage and rules out changes to the abortion time limit. It is an instructive insight into the thinking at CCHQ that after extolling the virtues of economic conservatism, Mr Osborne argues it must be paired with social liberalism:

“It is astonishing that Mr Romney won the election among men by a clear-cut margin of 7pc; but it was Mr Obama’s 11pc lead among women that won it for the President, even though many of those who voted Democrat thought Mr Romney would manage the economy better.”

Good job the Prime Minister doesn’t have a women problem, in that case. Even so, as I write in my Telegraph column, it might be time for the Chancellor to turn his attention to more prosaic matters. A 40pc tax rate is fast becoming the new normal thanks to fiscal drag. The proportion of the workforce paying will hit 15pc next year, having been 5pc in the late 1980’s. It’s time the higher rate returned to being a tax on the wealthy.

PM TO PUT GUNS AND MONEY AT HEART OF FOREIGN POLICY

The Prime Minister gave his annual speech on foreign policy at the Lord Mayor’s banquet last night, resplendent in his rented white tie and tails. Our report is here. Dave promised he would personally lead the promotion of Britain’s financial services and defence sectors around the world. The Prime Minister also warned against bank bashing, adding, “those who think the answer is just to trash the banks, would end up trashing Britain.”

ABU QATADA SET TO BE FREED

Theresa May’s new found status as banisher of public enemies has taken a beating after Abu Qatada’s deportation was blocked by the Special Immigration Appeals Committee on the grounds that he would not get a fair trial in Jordan. Mrs May blamed a “deeply unsatisfactory” original ruling from the European Court of Human Rights for the decision, rejecting Yvette Cooper’s accusation that the Home Office had pursued the wrong strategy, the Telegraph reports. Perhaps Mrs May needs Peter Bone as a legal consultant. His advice? “Just deport him and worry about the consequences after.”

LABOUR LOSES FUEL VOTE

Two birds in the bush proved more tempting for the Tory backbenchers than the one in Ed Balls’ hand. There was no revolt over the planned petrol duty rise, largely thanks to the Chancellor’s heavy hints that he would abandon it anyway come the Autumn Statement. Even if the backbench stayed loyal, the frontbench nearly didn’t. Philip Hammond, Grant Shapps and others wandered into the wrong lobby and only just managed to force their way out in time to avoid being counted against the Government (see Tweets and Twits).

BOUNDARY BLOCKING LEGAL

Fresh legal advice given to the House of Lords indicates that a delay on implementing boundary reforms until after the next election is lawful, the Guardian reports. Lord Strathclyde had attempted to block the Labour-Lib Dem amendment to the electoral administration bill on the grounds that it was out of order and irrelevant to the main bill. However, legal opinion commissioned by Labour and placed in the Lords library disputes this. With a majority of at least 50 for the amendment in the Lords, and no blocking majority in the Commons, any vote effectively ends Conservative hopes of implementing the review.

CLEGG LOSES BATTLE ON PATERNITY PAY

Nick Clegg will make his flexible working speech today (08:45, Putney). The Mail reveals that his initial proposals were watered down heavily after opposition from Conservative ministers. The Deputy PM had wanted to add six weeks of paid paternity leave to the list of new entitlements. He settled for two days off, unpaid, for fathers to attend ante-natal classes, instead.

WHITEHALL BRACED FOR FURTHER CUTS

An additional 20pc may be shaved from Whitehall budgets after the next election, according to the FT (£). The squeeze on the Civil Service is expected to last until 2017-18. Although civil servants are yet to receive word from the Treasury, the prognosis looks realistic given calculations by the Social Market Foundation showing that if the health, schools and overseas aid budgets remain cut free, a 23pc real terms budget fall will be required elsewhere.

HUNT TO PROMISE ONLINE REVOLUTION

The Independent reports that the Royal College of Nursing is warning that up to 61,000 NHS jobs may have to go amid a looming “workforce crisis”. Never mind, computers will pick up the slack. Jeremey Hunt will give speech this morning (11am, Richmond House) pledging an “online revolution” in the NHS, the Sun reports. Patients will be able to order prescriptions , book GP appointments and see test results over the internet by the time of the next election, he will promise. Sounds like just the sort of large and intricate IT project at which the state excels.

PCC RUNNERS AND RIDERS

For those confused by the upcoming PCC elections, Michael White of the Guardian has produced a guide to the runners and riders in the key seats. Prezza has a fight on his hands in Humberside, apparently. Most telling is the graphic which details the backgrounds of the candidates. In an election aimed to open up democracy to those from public protection backgrounds, one third of Labour’s nominees are…politicians. Plus ca change.

GAS MARKETS RIGGED?

The Guardian seems to think so, splashing this morning on allegations made by a former industry insider that the market was manipulated at key dates in the accounting calendar. The FSA are already investigating, but this has ‘independent inquiry’ written all over it. Surely we’ll run out of judges soon?

DORRIES LATEST

Nadine outperformed tabloid darling Helen Flanagan when the pair were locked in separate coffins which were then filled with bugs last night. Neither lasted the ten minutes necessary to win extra food, however, leading the Sun to sternly label them “bottler blondes”. A sympathetic public has put Mrs Dorries forward for another bushtucker trial tonight.

TWEETS AND TWITS

Barry Gardiner reports confusion among the Tory high command:

@BarryGardiner: “Hammond, Shapps & a dozen senior Tories flee the No Lobby as they realise they were just about to vote against the Prime Minister’s amendment”

TOP COMMENT

In the Telegraph

Benedict Brogan – Osborne needs to show a little love to the squeezed middle

Tessa Jowell – Let the public run our national broadcaster

Philip Johnston – There’s no such thing as a cure-all inquiry

Telegraph View – The BBC must do less, and do it better

Best of the rest

George Osborne in The Times (£) – Obama proves you can win in tough times

Polly Toynbee in The Guardian – If only soap operas didn’t wash their hands of politics

Domonic Lawson in The Independent – Elevated ideals are the only way ahead

Gideon Rachman in the FT (£) – Beijing and Washington navigate in risky waters

THE AGENDA

TODAY: Commons rises for recess. Foreign Secretary William Hague attending EU/Arab League meeting in Cairo. Prime Minister David Cameron visiting Netherlands and Italy. Mr Cameron will have talks with Dutch PM Mark Rutte in The Hague, followed by talks with Italian PM Mario Monti in Rome.

08:45 am: Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg speech on family-friendly measures for working women. The Third Door, 16 Point Pleasant, Putney.

09:30 am: Justine Greening gives evidence on aid for Rwanda to the Commons International Development Committee. Committee Room 15, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA.

10:00 am: Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg on BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour.

10:30 am: Defence minister Philip Dunne and chief of defence materiel Bernard Gray give evidence to Commons Defence Committee on acquisitions. Grimond Room, Portcullis House, London.

11:00 am: Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to set out mandate of NHS Commissioning Board. Mr Hunt will set out details about the first ever “contract” between the Government and the health service. Department of Health, Richmond House.

11:45 am: International Development Secretary Justine Greening speech at Open Up! conference on technology, innovation and open government. Jerwood Hall, LSO St Luke’s, Old Street.

12:30 pm: Press conference to launch Conservative parliamentarians’ inquiry into women in the boardroom. Room O, Portcullis House, London.

02:00 pm: Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards takes evidence from bankers, including Stephen Hester of RBS.Grimond Room, Portcullis House.

03:00 pm: Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt gives evidence to Commons Health Committee on spending. Committee Room 8, House of Commons.

06:00 pm: Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg speech on One Nation Education. Committee Room 10, House of Commons.

Patten Fights For Survival

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph)

Now that George Entwistle has gone, the big question remaining is whether his Chairman will follow him. Will it be a case of “toast man Patt”, as the Sun puts it, or will Lord Patten cling on? An assured performance on the Marr show yesterday was somewhat undermined by the discovery that he has authorised a huge payout of £450k to Mr Entwistle. The Telegraph leader column also points out that Lord Patten “getting on with” Mr Entwistle was a major factor in the latter’s appointment. Furthermore, as the Mail reports, Lord Patten and Lord McAlpine have previous, with Lord McAlpine apparently taking exception to Lord Patten’s method of eating oysters. Now that Lord McAlpine is likely to sue the BBC for defamation, Lord Patten’s personal judgement will continue to be at issue for the foreseeable future.

For the moment, Number 10 is steering clear of wreckage. Dave has let it be known that Lord Patten has his confidence and that there is no need for an existential crisis in the BBC, but is otherwise anxious not to politicise the issue. Existential crisis or no, there is no question that the BBC is doing some soul searching and reaching some uncomfortable conclusions. Writing in this morning’s Telegraph, John Simpson argues that “the worst thing is, the BBC’s injury is wholly self-inflicted”, while Boris Johnson writes that the onus is on the BBC to prove it was not acting maliciously towards Lord McAlpine:

“It was, as they say, a story that was too good to check… Newsnight taking up the cudgels against paedophiles, after the embarrassment of the axed Savile exposé. It went one better. It pushed all the buttons. It was like a dream come true for any vaguely resentful and Left-of-centre BBC producer. It was a chance to pour unlimited ordure on a man who – in their book – jolly well had it coming. He is rich, he is a toff, he is a Lord, he is a Tory, and – joy of joys – he is an EX-AIDE TO MRS THATCHER.”

FUEL DUTY RISE TO BE SCRAPPED

It now looks clear that the proposed 3p-per-litre rise in fuel duty will be scrapped in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement in exchange for the votes of would-be Tory rebels in today’s cost of living debate. Our report is here . Robert Halfon said he had found the Treasury “in strong listening mode” when it came to abandoning the rise, although the Treasury itself claims “no promises have been made”. More importantly in the short-term is that the Government has staved off a potentially embarrassing second rebellion in as many weeks. That happy situation may not last for long, the FT (£) is reporting that George Osborne is bering urged to swap a mansion tax for a council tax freeze with the Lib Dems, but the party hierarchy must feel relieved to see that their backbenchers don’t just dance to Ed Balls’ tune.

THE PATH TO A CONSERVATIVE FUTURE

Looks a lot like the one leading to a Democrat America, judging by this morning’s papers. A Baroness Warsi speech reported in the Sun will claim the party has a “brand problem” with ethnic minorities and will not win an election without them. Appealing to non-white voters “has gone from a moral imperative to electoral reality” she will tell Operation Black Vote, noting that by 2050, minorities will make up one fifth of the electorate. Rainbow coalition? Check. Next on the agenda, learning to love the big state, according to Tim Montgomerie writing in this morning’s Times (£). Voters do not yearn to be free from the state, he argues, they look to it for shelter:

“Conservative parties will start to revive when they stop thinking monomanically about cutting the size of the State and instead address the central question: which party best provides security to the large number of people who fear rather than revere the markets.”

TORIES BUILD BOUNDARY COALITION

A swifter path to a Conservative future, of course, would involve forcing the recommendations of the boundary commission through Parliament before the next election. The Guardian reports that the Tories are persisting with the idea, despite the opposition of the Lib Dems, and are attempting to form an alliance with the DUP in a bid to revive the reforms. Senior Plaid Cymru MPs have already indicated that they are ready to do a deal if the reduction in the number of Welsh MPs was tied to a return of powers to Cardiff. A potential deal with nationalists and unionists? Who says the Conservatives can’t do diplomacy?

SLEEPY THURSDAY LOOMS

While the Conservatives are searching for a new approach, Labour will view this week’s police and crime commissioner elections, and the Corby by-election as a test of their one nation credentials. Patrick Wintour in the Guardian argues that this week’s elections are an acid test for the Labour leadership:

“A convincing victory for the Labour candidate, Andy Sawford, in Corby, where Mensch stood down, is vital. It is a bellwether seat that Neil Kinnock failed to win in 1992, and Labour nearly lost in 2005. Labour victory this time would be taken as a sign that David Cameron is losing his grip on middle England.”

YOU DON’T HAVE TO A WEALTHY AMERICAN COLLEGE GRADUATE TO WORK HERE, BUT IT HELPS

Got £6,200 to burn? Getting bored of frat parties and Spring Break? Then come and work in Parliament as an intern for Barry Gardiner. American students paying firm Global Experiences for work experience in Britain have been awarded positions as unpaid interns in Mr Gardiner’s office, the Sun reports. Mr Gardiner accepted five students from the firm over the last two years and says he did not get a cut of the profits, nor did he realise interns paid for their places. He will stop using the firm.

FLEXI-TIME FOR EXTENDED FAMILIES

Nick Clegg will unveil plans which would allow all workers to demand flexible working hours in a speech tomorrow, the Telegraph reports. The plans will allow grandparents to take time off to help with childcare while also allowing mothers to return to work, he will claim.

DORRIES DEBUTS

Nadine Dorries made her reality TV debut over the weekend, performing stunts including fleeing a sinking ship, which some wags unkindly equated to her desertion of the Conservatives for the outback. While Mrs Dorries is in Australia, her parliamentary salary will go to charity, she revealed in an embargoed statement on ConservativeHome over the weekend, adding that she had told the whip’s office she was leaving town.

TWEETS AND TWITS

Having already noted that “lots of people are voting Conservative tonight”, Chris Heaton-Harris is clearly following Nadine Dorries’ progress in the jungle closely:

@chhcalling: “Tonight’s Bushtucker trial is all about politics. Poly (many) tics (blood sucking leeches). Oldest jokes are the best!”

TOP COMMENT

In the Telegraph

Boris Johnson – Smearing an innocent man’s name is the real tragedy here

John Simpson – How the BBC can salvage its reputation

Helen Newlove – As a victim of crime, I’m backing PCCs

Charles Moore – Churchill’s insight into what really mattered

Best of the rest

Tim Montgomerie in The Times (£) – Being anti-state is stupid for a Conservative

Simon Heffer in the Daily Mail – Patten vs McAlpine: a 40-year grudge match

Trevor Kavanagh in the Sun – Press can get it wrong ut we must be free to hold people to account

Geoffrey Wheatcroft in the Guardian – US politics today resembles Britain’s in the 18th century

THE AGENDA

09:00 am: Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards takes evidence from former HBOS executives.

12:00 pm: Union demonstration. Unions stage demonstration in Old Palace Yard, opposite Westminster, to protest against changes to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme.

02:30 pm: Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards takes evidence from Sir John Vickers. Thatcher Room, Portcullis House.

04:05 pm: Commons Transport Committee takes evidence from chair and chief executive of the Office of Rail Regulation and minister Simon Burns. Committee Room 15, House of Commons.

04:30 pm: Home Secretary to give evidence to MPs on the national security strategy. Joint Committee on National Security Strategy, Committee room 3, House of Commons.

06:00 pm: Prime Minister David Cameron speech to The Lord Mayor’s Banquet. The banquet is held in honour of the immediate past Lord Mayor and is the first to be hosted by the new Lord Mayor of the City of London. Guildhall.

John Humphrys has made me proud to be a journalist

The BBC is on its knees, and its reputation may never recover from its mishandling of not one but two child abuse scandals.

But for one glorious moment on Saturday morning, the Corporation was inspiring, awesome and peerless. It allowed a journalist (OK, a star journalist) on its staff to mercilessly humiliate his boss on air. John Humphrys’ interrogation of the then Director General George Entwistle had people tweeting, texting and ringing one another in amazement: how brave was that?

Humphrys was brilliant – going after his victim with a ferocious determination. Entwistle was his boss, the man who could sack him or at the very least ensure that the veteran broadcaster be put out to pasture in some regional outpost. But at no time did the listener feel the DG was spared, or the journalist scared. On the contrary, Humphrys reduced Entwistle to stammering, prevarications, and a painful slur.

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BBC crisis: head of news and deputy ordered to ‘step aside’

Helen Boaden, head of news, is reported to have “stepped aside” as the BBC is investigated over errors on their flagship programme Newsnight.

Her deputy, Steve Mitchell, has taken the same action.

BBC sources claim “stepping aside” is not the same as resigning or being sacked, with a spokeswoman saying there will be a formal announcement “within hours”.

Ms Boaden and Mr Mitchell have been asked to surrender their responsibilities pending the results of the Pollard inquiry.

Fran Unsworth, head of Newsgathering, and Ceri Thomas, editor of the Today Programme, will take up the temporary roles in the interim.

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