George Orwell’s dystopian future world of a sinister, mind-controlling dictatorship is often called upon as an analogy for political shenanigans in ‘the real world’. Usually, the comparison is overblown and inaccurate, and I’m not going to break with that tradition.
However, the UK government’s manipulation of the ‘independent’ appointment of the chair of the media regulator Ofcom, does have an Orwellian flavour. But, as in everything it does, this government is so cack-handed, so shameless in the way it tries to ‘fix’ things, that it is almost laughable to call it sinister. Almost.
To reprise. This government doesn’t like the BBC. It wants a chair of Ofcom who also dislikes – preferably hates – the BBC. It alighted upon Paul Dacre, the retired but previously (very) long-time editor of The Daily Mail. The Daily Mail is a cheerleader for all things British, if you think all things British should be a list topped by raging xenophobia, and a crippling nostalgia for the past; a past that is a Groundhog Day of Dunkirk Spirit and the sound of Spitfires being eulogised by generations who were all born years after the war.
To be even-handed, Dacre’s Daily Mail was also a world-leading exemplar of how a newspaper can make a huge commercial success from politically and culturally honing its content as both a banner for its readers to collect around, and a mirror of their own hopes, fears, and prejudices. And, in amongst all this, it also broke some great stories – Dacre’s Mail was the only paper with the guts to name Stephen Lawrence’s murderers, for instance.
Anyway, the government wants him at Ofcom. But to say he is a divisive figure is a bit like saying Henry VIII could be peckish. Ministers tried to fix it by appointing ‘friendlies’ to the appointment committee. You can imagine the coaching before the interview – ‘please Paul, just keep the head-banging under wraps’. But Dacre is a WYSWYG kind of a guy, and so even that rigged committee rejected him, putting forward instead other candidates including that always entertaining turn, Ed Vaizey, former Tory DCMS Minister.
But no, current DCMS Secretary Oliver Dowden, a minister who looks considerably above average in a cabinet where the average is dragged down by at least a dozen of the worst secretaries of state ever to enter Downing Street, said “No: Dacre, or no deal”.
And so, the whole business has started all over again. Except now, according to The Guardian, the process has so little credibility that the government can’t find anyone who could claim to have a scintilla of expertise or credibility willing to risk it by getting involved. It is not even clear if Dacre himself is willing to go through the charade again.
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