Andrew Grice: Patten should defy his Tory foes and stay as chairman despite

Inside Westminster: Lord McAlpine, like some Tory MPs, is gunning for his old foe to be ousted from the BBC

This is the moment we have been waiting for," the Conservative MP smiled with relish. What was he so excited about? Defeating David Cameron in the Commons (again)? Discovering a Labour policy on anything? Finding someone certain to vote in the police commissioner elections?

No, like many of his Tory backbench colleagues, he was celebrating the turmoil engulfing the BBC. Of course, the BBC has given its Tory critics plenty to crow about. The mistakes by its Newsnight programme over Jimmy Savile and Lord McAlpine, right, were inexcusable.

The £450,000 severance pay for George Entwistle, who resigned as BBC director-general after just 54 days, exposed Beeb bosses with heads in the clouds rather than the real world. Surely, Mr Entwistle should give back half of his pay-off.

Despite all that, the gleeful reaction among Conservatives was over the top.

It exposed their obsession that the BBC is a left-wing conspiracy, and their long-standing determination to dismantle the public service broadcaster and abolish the licence fee.

In the Commons on Monday, David Nuttall, MP for Bury North, hoped for what many fellow Tories wish privately: "This latest debacle will bring forward the day when the British public will have the freedom to decide whether to pay to watch the BBC, rather than being forced to pay for it by the criminal law." (For me, the licence fee is good value at £2.80 a week.)

One Tory claim was that Lord McAlpine's treatment would never have been meted out to a senior Labour figure.

This conveniently ignores the fact that the last major BBC crisis blew up when it stood up to Tony Blair over allegations that a dossier on Iraq's weapons was "sexed up".

To make matters worse for the BBC, the Tory attacks are personal. It might have been an asset to have a former Conservative Cabinet minister as chairman of the BBC Trust at such a difficult time, but Chris Patten has many enemies in his own party. Tory folklore has him as the architect of Margaret Thatcher's downfall in 1990, which is unfair.

The then-prime minister, fatally wounded in a leadership challenge by Michael Heseltine, asked her Cabinet ministers individually whether she should soldier on.

Like most, Lord Patten advised her to stand down. Under her successor, John Major, Lord Patten became Tory chairman. As a liberal, pro-European he was hated by the Thatcherites, who accused him of leading the new PM astray on the EU.

One member of the Thatcher praetorian guard who walked away was Lord McAlpine, the Tory treasurer. At a party at his Westminster home on election night in 1992, there were cheers when Lord Patten lost his Bath seat.

Lord McAlpine, now 70 and who has had two major heart operations, has every right to feel aggrieved with the BBC for the disastrous Newsnight report falsely pointing a finger at him as a paedophile. He handled a BBC interview on Thursday with great dignity.

But, given the history of his relationship with Lord Patten, it is no surprise that, like some Tory MPs, he is gunning for his old foe to be ousted from the BBC.

Lord Patten hasn't covered himself with glory in the crisis. "He has looked a bit off the pace," one of his remaining friends at Westminster told me.

But after the loss of the director-general, David Cameron's instincts that he should remain at the BBC helm are surely right.

Lord Patten was a good minister and European Commissioner. He now needs to be a good BBC Trust chairman; ministers are said to detect signs that he knows what needs to be done.

Mr Cameron may not relish another battle with his backbenchers, already on the rampage over Europe and wind farms.

But, as someone who worked in commercial television for seven years at Carlton Communications, the PM should realise better than most politicians the value of the BBC, whatever ITV's grievances about its protected status.

Mr Cameron will also know that the BBC remains a trusted global brand, a jewel in Britain's crown.

Trust now needs to be restored at home, and soon. But there are some hopeful signs. Ironically, the BBC has been at its independent best in the way it has reported its own worst mistakes. Newsnight beat itself up on live TV a week ago, its presenter Eddie Mair asking a commentator whether the programme was "toast."

Mr Entwistle's brief spell in the top job was ended by a John Humphrys interview on BBC Radio 4's Today programme. I have heard several BBC programmes declare: "We asked the BBC for an interview but no one was available."

It's the equivalent of a newspaper splashing a grovelling apology all over the front page rather than burying it inside.

Like those Tory MPs, some newspapers are relishing the BBC turmoil, a useful diversion from the imminent threat from the Leveson report into phone hacking. The papers could learn something from the BBC's exemplary coverage of its own troubles.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
News
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'