Tories say Sugar must choose between government and TV

Opposition grows to tycoon's appointment as 'enterprise tsar'
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Indy Politics

The appointment of Sir Alan Sugar as the Government's "enterprise tsar" has spiralled into the sort of disarray that surrounds those hapless losing candidates on The Apprentice.

Having already earned the scorn of the feminist lobby, Sir Alan has now attracted the fire of the official opposition, which says his political and broadcasting roles are incompatible and that he must either give up his government job or his BBC contract.

The Conservatives' culture spokesman, Jeremy Hunt, has written to the chair of the BBC Trustees, Sir Michael Lyons, demanding that Sir Alan choose between his work for the BBC, as the star of The Apprentice, and his public work as an adviser to the Government.

Mr Hunt wrote that Sir Alan's two roles were "totally incompatible" and he was "extremely concerned about the impact this appointment will have on the BBC's political independence ... It is hard to see how a Labour peer and Government adviser cannot be considered as being actively involved in political activities. It is even more significant that Sir Alan will be advising the Government on exactly the same set of public policy issues which his programme, The Apprentice, is about."

However, Sir Alan said he had made it "perfectly clear" to Mr Brown that he would not compromise his position on The Apprentice and had spoken to the BBC in advance for guidelines on the issue. He also implied that, contrary to the popular impression, and possibly that gathered by Gordon Brown, he might not in fact serve as a Labour peer nor as a member of the Government, but was "politically neutral".

He said he would not rule out serving on a Conservative government but had yet to meet David Cameron and knew little about him.

Sir Alan told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show: "It's very simple – all I am is an adviser, I'm not a policy-maker ... I wouldn't join the Government. I don't see this as a political thing.

"As far as I'm concerned I've just got a passion to help out young people, to help out businesses and act as a kind of giant Dragon's Den if you like – although not with my money."

Many observers interpreted Sir Alan's appointment as an attempt to sprinkle some much needed stardust on to a rather turbulent reshuffle but Sir Alan was clear that he was not being used by his new team leader, Gordon Brown, as "window dressing", and that this was no publicity stunt.

"It's a shame it looks like that, but I'm sure that ... you know I'm not the type of person to be used. I have a passion and commitment to try to help small businesses and enterprise to see if we can get things moving again," he said. Sir Alan has written some embarrassing things about Gordon Brown in the past, remarking when Mr Brown was a shadow economics spokesman in the early 1990s that "whoever he is, he has not done his homework properly. The man doesn't know what he is talking about ... Labour offers no route out of recession". Once a favourite businessmen of Baroness Thatcher, Sir Alan has since become a substantial donor to New Labour and he now believes that Mr Brown is precisely the man to lead the nation out of recession.

The BBC Trust said it had received Mr Hunt's letter and would respond to the points raised "as soon as possible".

The director of the Fawcett Society, which campaigns for women's rights, has already said that Sir Alan's appointment gives "grave cause for concern".

Dr Katherine Rake OBE claims that Sir Alan "has made outspoken comments which have set the women's rights agenda back. He claims that maternity laws give women 'too much' entitlement and wants to break with equality practice by asking women whether they are planning to get married and have children at interview.

"Finding ways of effectively supporting women's enterprise should be a key part of the UK's exit from recession and there are questions as to whether Sugar is the man to do that."