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
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: Cleaner

£15000 - £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you've got first class custo...

Recruitment Genius: Mobile Applications Developer / Architect - iOS and Android

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a medium s...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Account Executive - £40K OTE

£11830 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working in a friendly, sales ta...

Recruitment Genius: Web Designer

£15000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life