Diary: Who will haul Beeb out of post-Hutton abyss?
Monday 13 December 2010
Against all odds (and we'll come to the betting below), the race to chair the BBC Trust is shaping into a belter. This is not, despite its occupancy by nebbish quangocrat Sir Michael Whatshisname, a trivial post. The winner will be instrumental, for one thing, in deciding who succeeds Mark Thompson as director general, and is faced with hauling the Beeb out of the post-Hutton abyss of cringing cowardice. Paradox attends the two most distinguished candidates. Chris Patten, although a Tory peer, has the confidence and cussedness to resist a Tory-led government. Jonathan Powell, although ineffably New Labour as Mr Tony Blair's long-serving chief of staff, is an archetypal apparatchik whose mission is to speak emollience to power.
Their approaches to the attritional war waged against the Beeb by Rupert Murdoch would differ. Patten, whose book on China Rupert of course refused to publish on purest commercial grounds, will appreciate the extreme danger of allowing a man with such contempt for free speech to foxify Sky News. Powell, a central player in the administration that gifted Davros power of veto over government policy on Europe, might prefer to keep schtum while Downing Street indulged Rupert's every desire in the cause of re-election. What an incredibly tough call for David Cameron, as the ensuing odds suggest.
So then, Jonathan Powell is hereby installed as the 4-5 favourite. YouGov chairman Roger Parry is on 6-1 while bracketed on 13-2 are Dame Patricia Hodgson, and investment banker Anthony Fry. Strictly Come Dancing head judge Len Goodman is next on sevens – that's sev-unnnnnns! – with former Ofcom supremo Richard Hooper at 12-1. Chris Patten is a 18-1 chance, with Lemmy from Motorhead and the late Dame Isobel Barnet, and it's 33-1 bar those. BetFred offers 18-1 against egomaniacal sports events bidster Lord Coe "with a run".
* I am shocked to the verge of a Bacofoil-wrapped ambulance dash to casualty by words in Alan Sugar's autobiography, The Thinnest-Skinned Warthog In The World (Caliban Press, £14.99). Reflecting on the press coverage of his ownership of Spurs, Lord S describes your diarist – those averse to Naughtian ruderies over their breakfast egg, please look away now – as a "thick prick". The rhyme is excellent, but the sentiment hurts – not least because the entry accorded his platform-shoed little lordship in my new book, subtitled The 101 Most Infuriating Things In Sport, is so flattering. Vulgar abuse does no credit to the Fauntleroy of commerce, nor to the red benches on which his booster seat is such an uplifting democratic presence.
* How disturbing to hear Nick Clegg defending the student fees U-turn on the grounds that it was "the right thing to do". The use of that phrase as a catch-all justification for needless acts of aggression rings a vague bell. Cleggy's definitely beginning to remind me of someone (fortysomething public schoolboy, raven haired wife, monosyllabic surname, plausible charlatan ...). I just can't quite make out who.
* The News of the World boldly unearths what would be the most startling showbiz-sport coital alliance since Sven and Ulrika, if it is true. Liz Hurley has been getting jiggy with Shane Warne, the paper claims, and until one understands the self-sacrifice it does look bizarre. Middle-aged people seldom stray from their preferred romantic type, after all, and the chasm between Hugh Grant and the portly larrikin text machine isn't a small one.
The true explanation, assuming for the moment that the paper's claims are proved accurate, is that Liz was driven by the patriotic instinct to keep Warne in London, and prevent him returning to Australia to revive that ailing Ashes side. She did what nicely bred gels routinely did in the age of Empire. She lay back, gawd bless her, and thought of England.
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