Each weekday, this site publishes a list of public appointments vacancy highlights, in order to encourage conservatives to apply. This may just be worth mentioning in the context of the Sunday Times‘ claim today that Paul Dacre, the former Daily Mail Editor, and Charles Moore, the former Daily Telegraph Editor, are tipped to be the next Chairman of Ofcom and the BBC respectively.
We got the list up and running in the wake of the Taxpayers’ Alliance reporting, during the early years of the Coalition, that “in the last year, five times more Labour people were appointed to public bodies than Tories”.
Its findings were followed on ConservativeHome by an occasional back-and-forth between Matthew Elliott, then of the Alliance, and the Cabinet Office, where Francis Maude was in place. Elliott would write about the latest figures, suggesting that there was still an imbalance. The Cabinet Office would fight back, arguing that Elliott’s statistics didn’t show the whole picture: for example, many appointments were made on a local and not a national basis.
A number of points became clear over time. First, the Coalition gradually began to encourage its supporters to apply for posts, and some were appointed: William Shawcross at the Charities Commission, Peter Bazalgette at the Arts Council, David Prior to the Quality Care Commission.
Second, it became clear, as a Policy Exchange report said, that part of the reason there were fewer Conservatives on public bodies is that fewer of them applied in the first place, compared to Labour supporters. This remains an issue: a further one is the relative inability of those who apply to negotiate diversity requirements – or, rather, the nature of those requirements in the first place.
Third, the reporting criteria has changed. Candidates for posts now don’t have to declare if they belong to a political party – merely if they’ve been politically active during the past five years. That’s extremely convenient from a civil service controversy-smothering point of view.
Our sense is that holding office for the last ten years has altered the balance a bit and that the Conservative presence in Downing Street, despite the discontinuity of having three different Tory Prime Ministers in office over five years, is alert to the issues, some of which are beyond its remit. For example, it’s CCHQ’s job, not Number Ten’s, to take on the party political work of getting conservatives to apply for posts, and training them for interviews.
At any rate, if Boris Johnson wants Dacre at Ofcom and Moore at the BBC, it’s a sign that he himself understands the importance of appointments. On the one hand, we think the Sunday Times is correct, about Moore at any rate. On the other, it would be a mistake to think that Dacre would actually run Ofcom day-to-day if appointed, since it has a Chief Executive, Melanie Dawes, a former civil servant.
Moore would be a similar position at the BBC, where Tim Davie has recently taken over as Director-General. Furthermore, neither appointment is in the gift of the Prime Minister or of anyone else: there are appointments processes.
Nonetheless, change at the Corporation is coming. In a sense, it’s already arrived, because the BBC has lost Andrew Neil, its most formidable political interviewer and another former Fleet Street editor, to GB News, a new TV venture – and thus a challenger to the Corporation.
The appointment of either Dacre or Moore would horrify the BBC powers-that-be, but the former has said that he “would die in a ditch defending the BBC as a great civilising force”, while Moore thoroughly grasps the Corporation’s original Reithian mission – to “inform, educate and entertain” (in that order).
As for the Corporation itself, we repeat what we’ve written before: what’s required is fewer BBC TV stations, a reduced number of radio services, a scaled-back website, more spent on the World Service, a bigger presence for the Corporation outside London. In other words, less money plus the right reform – change that would leave a solid core of public service broadcasting with the BBC at its heart.