Richard Ingrams' Week: Give Gavyn Davies his old job back at the BBC

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One name not mentioned in the lists of possible successors to Michael Grade as chairman of the BBC is that of his predecessor Mr Gavyn Davies.

Mr Davies, along with the then director-general Greg Dyke, felt obliged to resign when Lord Hutton criticised the BBC in his report into the death of the government scientist Dr David Kelly. This story went all the way back to Andrew Gilligan's claim on the Today programme in May 2003 that the Government had sexed up the evidence of Saddam Hussein's WMD.

It is now generally accepted that this story was, in essence, correct: that pressure was indeed put on the Joint Intelligence Committee to sharpen up the case for war and that Alastair Campbell played an important role in the process.

It is also generally accepted that Lord Hutton's report was a disgraceful whitewash which by-passed a number of crucial points, absolved the Government and Campbell of any responsibility for Dr Kelly's death while putting the blame for what happened on the BBC. It would be only right and proper if the Government were now to acknowledge its dismal record and give Gavyn Davies his job back. But of course that is not going to happen in a month of Sundays.

My feeling is that the most likely person to be appointed to the chairmanship is Lord Birt. You and I might think that Birt has done more than anyone alive to discredit the BBC but that is not how the Government would see it. In its eyes he is an experienced broadcaster with inside knowledge of the BBC's workings, a man moreover until recently was working side by side with the Prime Minister as his "blue skies thinker". Who is there with better qualifications?

History is repeating itself

"I am very sorry for the delay to this train." They are familiar words to any commuter like myself. But the voice you hear - a nice-sounding lady in most cases - is not a living person. It may not even be a human voice at all but a substitute created by a sophisticated computer. No one is sorry for the train being late. Travellers are being conned.

Equally bogus are the apologies offered by Mr Blair for things that happened a long time ago and which he had no responsibility for - like the Irish famine.

This week Blair was expressing his regret for British involvement in the slave trade - though, possibly dimly aware of the absurdity of it all, he stopped short of making an apology.

Simultaneously, praise was lavished on the man most closely involved in the abolition of slavery - William Wilberforce, universally hailed as a crusader and a saint.

Now thought of as a Liberal, Wilberforce was in fact a die-hard Tory. A sanctimonious Christian of the worst type, he keenly supported all the repressions of civil liberties introduced by the Tory government of the day to crack down on the supposed threat from Jacobeans, as terrorists were known at the time.

Radicals quite rightly attacked Wilberforce for his concern with the welfare of people in far-distant lands while ignoring the hardships and poverty of his own countrymen - those condescendingly described as "the lower orders" many of whom were little better than slaves.

Tory, sanctimoniously religious, keen to set the world to rights while turning a blind eye to troubles at home. Who does he remind you of?

* Any woman working in the City who sues her bosses for sexual harassment or wrongful dismissal is traditionally referred to by the press as a "high flyer". In the same way a retired High Court judge will invariably be dubbed "distinguished". One such is Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, left, who has come out of retirement to preside over a long-delayed inquest into the death of Princess Diana in 1997.

In fact there is nothing all that distinguished about the Dame. The sister of the former Tory attorney general Michael Havers, she is best known for conducting an inquiry into the infamous Cleveland child abuse scandal when 123 children were taken into care on the say-so of paediatrician Dr Marietta Higgs. The inquiry left most of the major questions unanswered.

It will be more difficult to do this in the case of Diana when all the facts about the accident have been known for some time. Even so, Mohamed al-Fayed has managed very successfully to keep the conspiracy theories on the boil, so drawing attention away from his own role and in particular that of his employee, the drink driver Henri Paul.

The appointment of Dame Elizabeth will help him further as he can convincingly deride her as an establishment figure. The Dame herself has given him more ammunition by announcing that her preliminary hearings will be in private - a sure sign, he says, that there is a cover-up.

theoldie@theoldie.co.uk

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