Tony's cronies: How patronage has swept New Labour

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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, 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 tries to root out sleaze among MPs, and the Intelligence and Security Commission, should not be made by the Prime Minister but by an independent body. US-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 groups that have influence over their lives.

Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes, said: "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."Before Labour came to office, Tory cronyism was a favourite theme of attack for the Labour front bench. Labour MPs criticised appointments by Margaret Thatcher and John Major of leading Conservatives to quangos. But Mr Blair's powers of patronage have rewarded his own supporters and friends since he Labour took power in 1997.

Labour donors such as Lord Haskins, the Government's rural adviser, have been given peerages and a string of roles on Whitehall task forces and advisory bodies. Lord Birt, a friend of Mr Blair and a former director general of the BBC, was given a job in Downing Street as a strategist and "blue-skies thinker". His job as director general of the BBC went to Mr Dyke, who has given substantial sums of money to the Labour Party.

Even sensitive posts designed to increase scrutiny and accountability in Government have gone to Labour cronies.

Lord Stevenson of Coddenham, a former Labour member who introduced Mr Blair to prominent industrialists before the 1997 election, was made chairman of the House of Lords Appointments Commission. The commission was given the job of appointing new "people's peers", ostensibly to remove that power from the Prime Minister and make the process more egalitarian and transparent.

But his judgement was ridiculed after an extraordinary decision to give the peerages to several grandees who already had titles, including Sir David Hannay, the Foreign Office mandarin and former ambassador to the UN.

Even the wives of generous supporters have benefited from the handouts of influential posts. The Prime Minister made the wife ofMr Blair's mentor, Lord Irvine, who recently stood down as Lord Chancellor, an unpaid trustee of the world-famous Wallace Collection of art.

Labour donors such as Alan McGee, founder of Creation Records, who gave more than £20,000 to Labour, were rewarded with posts on the Government's Creative Industries Task Force, with another Labour donor, Robert Devereux and Lord Alli, the Labour peer.

Some of the most sensitive and secretive posts in Whitehall are within the gift of the Prime Minister. Mr Blair handpicks the members of the Security Services Tribunal, the Interception of Communications Commissioner, all the Surveillance Commissioners and members of the Intelligence and Security Commission.

He also personally chooses the watchdog that oversees M15 and M16 ­ the Intelligence Services Commissioner, who has access to highly sensitive information and has the power to reprimand Britain's spies if they fail to observe protocol.

Mr Blair chooses which MPs will become the House of Commons' guardians against sleaze as members of the Committee on Standards in Public Life.

A list of appointments made by Mr Blair, seen by The Independent, shows also how the Prime Minister's reach extends across England and Wales from ecclesiastical appointments such as the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and England's 32 diocesan bishops, to royal appointments including the Poet Laureate and the Astronomer General. He appoints Forestry Commissioners, the Verderer of the New Forest and the Lord Great Chamberlain. Other responsibilities include appointing the constables of the Tower of London and other castles including Flint and Harlech, Crown Canories at six cathedrals, two Royal Peculiars and honorary royal physicians.