The next BBC Chairman? Send for Charles Moore.

25 Aug

The BBC’s pusillanimous decision to have not only Rule Britannia!, but Land of Hope and Glory, played rather than sung during Last Night of the Proms is the worst of both worlds.

It won’t do enough to appease a tiny woke minority, but is more than sufficient to anger a lot of people.  The best summary of the decision to date is in today’s Times: “white guys in a panic”.

The decision comes as Boris Johnson broods over the coming decision about the BBC’s next Chairman.  Lots of names are being floated as runners-and-riders. Most look very speculative.

Almost certainly, those writing won’t have much hard information, if any – given the Prime Minister’s propensity to play his cards not so much close to his chest as stuffed up his vest.

All that said, two intriguing names stand out from those punted.  Put them together, and an old rivalry is newly re-ignited.

The first is Andrew Neil – Chairman of Press Holdings Group (which owns the Spectator), founding Chairman of Sky TV, former Editor of the Sunday Times…and the BBC’s most effective political interviewer.

The second is Charles Moore – Former editor of the Spectator, the Sunday Telegraph and the Daily Telegraph, Margaret Thatcher’s biographer…and a committed critic not only of the Corporation but of the licence fee itself.

The two men have something of a history: Neil edited the Sunday Times at the same time as Moore did the Sunday Telegraph, the best part of 25 years ago.

Both are right of centre in politics, but of a chalk-and-cheese difference in flavour.  Moore is a high Tory, who can’t see an institution without wanting to shore it up.  Neil is a low one, who can’t see one without itching to tear it down.

It is part of the binding genius of Thatcherism that both men rose with it and were at home with it.  Of the two, the first may be unavailable and the second judged unsuitable.

Neil would know more than a bit about the corporation from the inside, and his energy, intelligence and swagger would shake it up.  But he is reported to be involved in a new centre-right TV enterprise to rival Sky News.

Moore was once fined for refusing to pay the licence fee.  If a Neil appointment would have senior BBC managers heading for the doors, a Moore one would see them running for the hills.

(On the advice of Dominic Cummings and others, the Prime Minister swerved a TV interview with the Neil during last December’s election campaign.

Cummings argued that though the Twitter class might foam itself into a lather, most voters wouldn’t even notice the row.  The election result suggests that he was right.)

ConservativeHome is not in favour of making of making the licence fee voluntary, but believes that the Corporation is losing its way, and urgently needs to re-connect with its Reithian vocation.

As the Last Night of the Proms fiasco shows, the BBC’s problems are not confined to, or even demonstrated by, its news coverage.

Rather, it is of orientating it towards the nation as a whole, including the majority that voted Leave in 2016, and Britain outside central London, where much of the Corporation’s senior management is based.

Like him or not, Moore understands Reith’s inheritance, and would be more than capable of applying its ideals to (especially) education, drama, the regions, and programming as whole.

Finally, being Chairman of the Corporation is not to be confused with being its Director-General. Moore, Neil or whoever would be operating at one remove.

Johnson left the Spectator under Neil but flourished at the Telegraph titles under Moore.  This bit of personal history will of course have no bearing whatsoever on any decision that he will take.

Neave. Berry. Gow. Three Conservative MPs whose murders a new peer believes were justified.

2 Aug

When next the Prime Minister takes to the despatch box, he may if he has a few moments cast his eyes around the edge of the House of Commons. If he does, he may note that some of the decorative shields around walls have been painted in.

These are tributes to Members of Parliament who have been killed whilst serving in that role. With pre-emptive apologies for butchering the proper heraldic terminology, three of them in particular should weigh on his conscience.

Of these, one sports a black cross and five golden fleurs-de-lys on a white field, topped with a crown. This represents Airey Neave, Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary and Conservative MP for Abingdon. Murdered by the IRA in 1979.

The next has a field of red and gold stripes, on which is displayed a white triangle containing three black birds. This represents Sir Anthony Berry, Conservative MP for Enfield Southgate. Murdered by the IRA in 1984.

Finally, the third features a simple blue field, on which is displayed a golden monogram of the letters IREG, in a laurel wreath. This represents Ian Gow, PPS to the Prime Minister and Conservative MP for Eastbourne. Murdered by the IRA in 1990.

(Depending on how you assess the relationship between the parties at the time of his assassination, we might also count the shield of Robert Bradford, Unionist MP for South Belfast. Murdered by the IRA in 1981.)

These memorials invite us to reflect. On the individuals the commemorate. On the causes they served. On why their careers ended with a painted shield in the House of Commons, rather than retirement. Especially today, when a Conservative Government has elevated to the peerage a woman who believes that the people who killed Neave, Berry, and Gow were right.

Claire Fox is no stranger to this controversy, which Sunder Katwala has thoughtfully outlined on Twitter. It already received plenty of coverage when she stood to become a Brexit Party MEP for Warrington, despite her defence of the 1993 IRA bombing in the town which killed two people – one of them the 12-year-old son of a fellow Brexit Party activist.

The arguments are the same. Fox does not support republican terrorism post-1998. But she believes it was justified before 1998. That these MPs, and the IRA’s many other victims, were legitimate targets.

She believes this belongs in the past. And to an extent, that’s right. It is a nasty but inescapable reality of any peace process that it involves a certain amount of letting go. Fox is an engaging speaker, energetic activist, and a popular figure on the libertarian right. She runs a successful think-tank, was returned to the European Parliament, and enjoys a high media profile.

But there ought, surely, to be some limits, if not to Fox’s ambitions for public life then at least to a Conservative Prime Minister’s willingness to facilitate it. The limits of justifiable rapprochement do not extend to a seat in the House of Lords.

There is a strange symmetry to the fact that the only other ‘Non-affiliated’ political peerage has gone to Charles Moore, Thatcher’s great biographer and one of the most anti-IRA journalists in Britain. How he feels about this pairing is anyone’s guess, but it symbolises – in a more visceral way than Boris Johnson’s u-turn over the Irish Backstop – just how much of a gulf there really is between today’s Party, or at least its leadership, and that which fought the IRA to the table between 1979 and 1997.

Airey Neave. Anthony Berry. Ian Gow. Three elected Conservatives who paid the ultimate price for our Party’s commitment to defending the United Kingdom, and Northern Ireland’s place in it, from republican terrorism. If there is any good to come from this appointment, let it be that it prompts us to remember their sacrifice and their cause.

If the Prime Minister looks a smaller man today than before, it is because he stands in the shadows of giants.

Lords 2) Hammond, Stuart, Davidson, Hoey. Johnson, Fox… but no Bercow. The new peerages.

1 Aug

Dissolution Peerages

Conservative:

  • Sir Henry Bellingham
  • Kenneth Clarke
  • Ruth Davidson
  • Philip Hammond
  • Nick Herbert
  • Jo Johnson
  • Mark Lancaster
  • Sir Patrick McLoughlin
  • Aamer Sarfraz
  • Ed Vaizey

Labour:

  • Kathryn Clark
  • Brinley Davies

Democratic Unionist:

  • Nigel Dodds

Non-affiliated:

  • Frank Field
  • Kate Hoey
  • Ian Austen
  • Gisela Stuart
  • John Woodcock

Political Peerages

Conservative:

  • Lorraine Fullbrook
  • Ed Udny-Lister
  • Daniel Moylan
  • Andrew Sharpe
  • Michael Spencer
  • Veronica Wadley
  • James Wharton
  • Dame Helena Morrissey
  • Neil Mendoza

Labour:

  • Susan Hayman
  • Prem Sikka
  • Anthony Woodley

Non-affiliated:

  • Claire Fox
  • Charles Moore