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
News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Sport
Gabriel Agbonlahor, Alexis Sanchez, Alan Pardew and Graziano Pelle
footballAfter QPR draw, follow Villa vs Arsenal, Newcastle vs Hull and Swansea vs Southampton
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... with this review
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
New Articles
i100
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
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

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam