Strip Blair of power to appoint his 'cronies' to top jobs, MPs demand

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair should be stripped of his power to appoint his friends and Labour "cronies" to influential public posts, a powerful committee of MPs will recommend this week.

After a year-long inquiry, the committee is to demand an end to the "closed shop" that gives Mr Blair and ministers the right to make personal appointments to some of the most powerful posts in the land, including governors of the BBC.

It will say that posts such as membership of the House of Commons Committee on Standards in Public Life, which roots out sleaze among MPs, and the Intelligence and Security Commission should not be made by the Prime Minister but by an independent body. American-style hearings should also be held to ensure that the jobs are filled by people who are independent minded.

The report by the House of Commons Public Administration Committee is likely to prove embarrassing for the Prime Minister. It follows controversy over the appointment of several Labour supporters to top jobs, including Greg Dyke as director general of the BBC and Trevor Phillips as chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality.

"The report will address the issue of cronyism," said one source close to the committee. "We want to see greater openness. There would seem to be a gap in accountability. If we accept the way the NHS appointments commission has been a success, it follows that such independent scrutiny would be a success for the rest of government."

Public bodies and quangos spend £16bn of taxpayers' money a year. But the MPs will criticise the Government for allowing the public "very little oversight over what they do".

The report is expected to attack the Government for failing to bring enough new blood into public life and will call for more women and people from ethnic minorities to be given positions of power. It will also call for local communities to be given a say, possibly through ballots, in appointing people to bodies which have influence over their lives.

Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes, said removing Mr Blair's powers of patronage was long overdue. "The Public Administration Committee has hit the nail on the head. The amount of patronage the Prime Minister has is obscene and totally inappropriate for a modern functioning democracy. Parliament should insist that these recommendations are followed through," he said.

The committee is planning to publish for the first time a full list of appointments within the personal gift of the Prime Minister. The list includes the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, the board of the Inland Revenue, senior members of the armed forces, the trustees of the British Museum and the Poet Laureate.

The committee is expected to suggest that candidates should face independent scrutiny. This could take the form of questioning by a Commons committee. "The whole thing is a closed shop," said one source close to the committee. "It is a government-controlled closed shop where power still lies with Tony Blair and at the top of Government."

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