Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Thoughts And Musings On The Current Scene

Although George Entwistle has resigned as Director-General of the BBC over failures of management which led to Lord McAlpine being wrongly branded a paedophile, it has been very interesting to note just how much attention and scrutiny those failings have received when one also considers that the original story, that a senior member of Margaret Thatcher's government was a paedophile, seems to have died completely. 

If it is the case that that suggestion is now considered to be completely without foundation, someone at the BBC should be saying so. If it remains the case that that speculation is still deemed to be possibly based in fact, my view is that the BBC should be pursuing it with all rigour, albeit in an appropriately managed way. If it does not do so, it will give the impression of having lain down in front of its critics. Much of what they say has been justified, for sure: but the original story doesn't quite seem to have totally gone away. One might have thought that the BBC might consider investigating the speculation to its fullest extent, if only because any potential victims might now be even more unwilling to come forward than they ever were before, rather than watching itself being torn apart while trying to stroke the lions.

The criticism which has been levelled at Mr. Entwistle and the BBC Trust in relation to the size of his compensation package strikes me as being really rather unfair. The man has resigned from a very well-paid job with appropriate speed. Regardless of the rights or wrongs of the matter, as a professional manager his reputation as a manager will have suffered as a result of this. If the BBC was willing to offer him more than he might have been strictly entitled to, perhaps in order to ensure a speedy departure, Mr. Entwistle would have been a fool to turn it down. If the mere incantation of the phrase 'sanctity of contract' was all that it took to preserve the pension rights of Frederick Goodwin, a man whose actions have damaged and continue to damage far more people far more deeply than Mr. Entwistle's either have or ever will, then it's good enough to allow George Entwistle to receive his full severance package; and if the BBC Trust, notionally independent of state interference in their affairs as they are, have elected to enhance it for reasons of their own, that would seem to be entirely a matter between them and Mr. Entwistle. 

It has been fascinating to see just how much political opposition has been mounted to Mr. Entwistle's severance arrangements. There's so much bandwagon-jumping going on that I'm half expecting a Tory MP to turn up on Sky News singing 'King Of The Road'. Mr. Entwistle is quite a rare bird in British public life these days, a public figure willing to take responsibility for his actions. Compare his honourably prompt resignation with the greasy way Andrew Mitchell tried to hang on and hang on after behaving in what was, in my view, a far more grossly offensive manner than Mr. Entwistle ever has. Mitchell remains a member of the House of Commons, albeit a politically spent one with no hope of ever sitting on the front benches ever again - the blowback from the McAlpine situation might make it very difficult for Mr. Entwistle to work in a senior management role in broadcasting ever again, and only then in another country; it might not be too far beyond the mark to think that his career in the UK is over. It's hard not to wonder whether a lot of the Tory glee about this incident has been fuelled by the BBC's completely appropriate reporting of Mitchell's loutishness. One resignation I would like to see is that of John Whittingdale from the chairmanship of the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport committee. My reading of his comments is that he has slyly queried the propriety of Mr. Entwistle's severance arrangements, presumably without full knowledge of the precise terms of his contract nor of all other factors which might have influenced the BBC Trust towards the compensation they agreed. Given that this is a matter upon which the committee he chairs might have the power to call witnesses, it is hard to see how he has not compromised his impartiality by blurting out his blurt.

Going from the sublime to the ridiculous, the severance package has also been criticised by Harriet Harman, the very same Harriet Harman who, as David Lindsay has rightly pointed out, was a high officer at the National Council for Civil Liberties at the time it was associating with the Paedophile Information Exchange. There is no reasoning with such monumental hypocrisy. It absolutely beggars belief.

On what is really only a slighter lighter note, the treatment of Nadine Dorries by her party has been, in my view, atrocious. Even before she opened her mouth to criticise them, Ms. Dorries was a living, breathing rebuke to David Cameron and George Osborne  - although as a working class woman from Liverpool she would never have had anything in common with them socially, of the three she was the one who had done what the other two are always saying should be done but have never done themselves; she started a successful business and sold it for a very great deal of money. She might be more vocal than they're accustomed to, and single-minded, and speak with an accent they are accustomed to think comedic, but she is nobody's fool and all three of them know it. She would seem to be admirably qualified for any number of ministerial roles. Her background in nursing would seem to qualify her admirably to be a minister for health, while her business experience might just be what's required at the DTI. However, their own innocence of the real world and of what it takes to start a successful business there means that they just can't handle someone with the independence of mind that is needed to keep a business going; and for that reason, she will always possess far more independence than they can handle without getting a ministerial office she might grace. More power to her. 

While her decision to join the cast of 'I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here' might seem strange, to my mind it is, perhaps equally strangely, one with quite important constitutional implications. Whom does she serve? Does she serve electorate, party, or Parliament? My view is that as a Member of Parliament her first allegiance is to Parliament, a view from which Edmund Burke might not have demurred. If her absence from Parliament is permissible within Parliament's rules, I can't really see any normative difference between her participation in this show and the acquisition of multiple directorships by a certain of male Tory MP - he's where he is because he's an MP, she's where she is because she's an MP, and neither of them are in the House of Commons as a result. Sauce for the goose is quite literally sauce for the gander. There has been an awful lot of nonsense spouting from the demi-backward 'They Work For Us' brigade (they don't, you know) about how much she will be entitled to claim in salary while she's away, as if Members of Parliament were some kind of staff - they're not; they're the bosses. They're all our bosses. The sooner this is understood the better, for the widespread habit of thinking of MPs as being employees of some kind, like temp secretaries or contract cleaners, is wholly corrosive of public understanding of the nature and role of Parliament.

The Conservative Party doesn't seem to think so, however. She has had the whip withdrawn  - and if you think that Nadine Dorries had not understood that that would happen before she went to Australia, you are up a gum tree. They have thrown down the gauntlet of party discipline at her feet, and she has picked it up and thrown it right back at them, and fair bloody play to her as well. She is her own woman who has achieved her own success in life on her own terms, and that success in life means she owes the party far less than Cameron and Osborne owe it. Even without her independence of mind, or her opposition to their libertinism inherent in her desire to revisit the abortion laws, or even if she hadn't been a Scouser, that very success might have been enough to make some of them fear her and thus hate her. While some patronise her as 'Mad Nad', a disgustingly demeaning and ungallant nickname of the type that would have thrown Hazlitt into a rage, Ms. Dorries might just be the type of MP this country needs, and has been lacking for too long - one who might just be so determined to do something to promote public understanding of Parliament that she's willing to be humiliated at the whim of the public every day for weeks. If she emerges from this show as 'Queen Of The Jungle', which I rather hope she does, she will have earned a new, more fitting nickname - Dorriana!

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