The Sketch: Watching television is overrated (even for the man at the top)

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Chris Patten – Tory peer, ex-Tory party chairman, ex-Tory cabinet minister – has already been anointed and is now waiting to be appointed chairman of the BBC. These characters are usually smooth stooges whose final ambition is to schmooze a hostile government without giving offence to the 20,000 leftish metrosexuals who work for the organisation (or the 4,098 others).

Mr Patten made a civilised case for high Reithian practices, but his opening remarks were marvellously pugnacious. He said BBC employees got paid too much and had lost the public service ethic, that the current chairman didn't put in the hours, that the BBC conducted itself with "a sort of swagger that didn't make it the easiest partner", and that it suffered from a compliance culture that was damaging its standards.

Anything else?

He called Jonathan Ross (I suppose it was he) "alleged talent". And when was the last time he'd watched EastEnders? After a pause he said: "It was before I ate my last McDonald's." Before, we inferred, he gave up junk altogether.

He had taken the precaution of watching four programmes the evening before the hearing. But did he listen to Radio 1? "Only when I'm looking for Radio 3 or 4."

Labour's David Cairns summed up the only possible objection to this admirable candidate by saying: "You don't really watch television, you listen to radio that no one else does, and you've no experience in or interest in media."

Certainly he doesn't live up to the New Labour value of "the many not the few". He said: "My children define 'a celebrity' as someone I've never heard of."

But with his Tory baggage, could he be impartial? "Everyone has baggage," he said.

Good point, and amplified by Tory Philip Davies. Did Patten think the BBC was biased in its coverage of the EU, Palestine and climate change. "No," Patten replied. "But I am party-pris." Too true, he'd been an EU commissioner, the Minister of Energy, and belonged to a Palestinian aid organisation.

The answer surprised Davies. "But the BBC themselves have accepted they've been biased in their coverage of these matters," he complained.

You can't have everything. Patten looked like a very decent sort of Tory, and sufficiently old school to be able to put the more obvious politics to one side.

And he's not, for instance, Peter Mandelson. He is not one to project a sense of menace down through the organisation. Mind you, it's a dangerous precedent: Peter will be young enough for the job come 2020 and the next Labour government.

PS Patten said he worked with Mrs Thatcher, the Pope and Deng Xiaoping – "at least two of them didn't spit".