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UK Politics

Tories cry cronyism as minister's partner is tipped for quango job

Tony Blair is facing a fresh 'cronyism' row over the choice of the new head of the public-spending watchdog, the Audit Commission.

James Strachan, partner of the Culture Minister, Baroness Blackstone, is being lined up by the government as the new chairman of the influential body. He is being tipped as a frontrunner to take on the powerful post after he steps down as the Chief Executive of the Royal National Institute for the Deaf next month.

The Tories last night warned that the new head of the Audit Commission, which scrutinises public spending and has published a series of critical reports of PFI policy, should be completely independent of party politics. Earlier this year Lord Norman Warner's appointment was blocked by the Local Government Association as chairman because of his government links. Last night David Davis, the Shadow Secretary of State for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, said it would be 'singularly inappropriate for the partner of a government minister to be in charge of an organisation whose be all and end all is impartiality.'

Mr Strachan, 48, is understood to be one of two names put forward by Ministers for the selection process. Tony Travers, of the London School of Economics, said it would be 'wrong if people who are talented in their own right cannot get public appointments because of their close personal relationships.'