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Chris Patten: a big disappointment all round

27 September 2011

12:08 PM

27 September 2011

12:08 PM

Chris Patten has held almost every great and good job the great and the good can offer:
Governor of Hong Kong, Companion of Honour, European Commissioner, Chancellor of the University of Oxford and Chairman of the BBC Trust. Only his parents’ decision to send him to a Catholic
church will prevent him becoming Archbishop of Canterbury and winning the game of establishment bingo with a full house.

Patten features in Peter Oborne and Frances Weaver’s strange polemic against British supporters of the Euro.
(Strange because Gordon Brown and the Labour Party stopped Britain joining the Euro so the authors have no crime to accuse the “guilty men” of – other than being wrong.) Their
dissection of the folly of the BBC and Chris Patten, the man now charged with regulating it, however, is a palpable hit because it raises wider questions about corporate governance.

BBC bias in favour of the Euro or any other obsession buzzing in the minds of the liberal upper-middle class is hard to study because those who perpetuate it are unmanly journalists. Instead of
leaving the corporation to propagate their views openly as a politician, author or opinionated writer in the press, they insinuate and manipulate. They subvert BBC neutrality, while pretending to
remain inside it, by rigging interviews, asking tough questions of their opponents and soft ones of their friends. BBC bias is a sly and slippery phenomenon, more of a badge of social allegiance
than a political affiliation, which is hidden from view for most of the time.

Oborne and Weaver find an empirical way to nail it down by counting the number of time the Today programme invited speakers to debate the Euro at the height of the controversy about joining in the
summer of 2000. Supporters of the Euro outnumbered opponents by some measure, of course. As tellingly, they find that the BBC led:

“its news coverage on scare stories that failure to join the euro would lead to economic or industrial disaster. When those reports turned out to be false, it failed to correct them. In
fact Britain was enjoying record levels of foreign investment: but when the Office for National Statistics figures showed this, the BBC made very little of it
.”

[Alt-Text]


A man like Patten will not tackle BBC bias because its bias is his bias. Nor will he understand the damage it does to what is, despite everything, an institution worth defending.
But at least one might expect that his loyalty to the institution would compel him to stand up for good BBC journalism. A story from Patten’s time at Oxford, which deserves a wider circulation
than it has received, suggests that he will not. 

The University produces a magazine for alumni called Oxford Today. The nearest equivalents in the national media are Prospect, Standpoint or Intelligent Life. Oxford Today publishes serious
features with an Oxford connection about the arts, history, economics and science in an attempt to persuade graduates to give to the alma mater. The front section begins with a roundup of news
about the university. It is uncontroversial … almost bland. But its straight reporting was too much for the university’s directorate of public affairs. The bureaucrats began to object
to the smallest deviations from the party line. I cannot over-emphasise how piddling and paranoid the objections were. The PR men said Oxford Today should not run a short article about how the
university’s proctors (police officers) were logging on to Facebook to find pictures of students getting drunk after their exams, even though the story had been all over the national press
and could be found via Google with one click of a mouse. When the magazine proposed publishing an unexceptional, indeed flattering, profile of a donor, the directorate insisted that she have copy
approval. They wanted a propaganda sheet, in short, even though alumni of Oxford do not need to be spoon fed propaganda because they are intelligent men and women (Well, most of them are).

The editor, a fine journalist called Greg Neale, protested and his editorial board backed him. Patten behaved in a manner worthy of a liberal grandee who aspired to chair the BBC trust. At an open
forum for Oxford alumni in September 2008, he said that "the last thing we want is some sort of North
Korea Times." Oxford Today would not read as if control freaks were in charge.

That seemed to be the end of the matter. Patten was Chancellor and he had spoken up for freedom of thought, a freedom that all Oxford academics rely on. But his bureaucrats wanted Neale out. They
switched printers, and said that Neale had to reapply for his job. When he did, his new employers told him that his services were no longer required. Gillian Reynolds of the Telegraph and other
members of the editorial board protested, but Patten, who had announced his devotion to intellectual freedom and detestation of censorship, did nothing to protect Neale.

You do not get to hold so many plum jobs if you develop a reputation for making a scene and standing up for the little guy.

The BBC looks as if it has the least qualified man for the job. He will not condemn the shabby Radio 4 presenter, who sneaks in views he lacks the courage to admit to owning, but will not uphold
editorial independence and defend investigative journalists or even honest reporters who just want to tell it straight.


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Show comments
  • rndtechnologies786

    Your thought is nice.

  • Baron

    Run it by Baron again, RCE, you have Patten for farther-in-law, you haven’t strangled him yet? What’s wrong with you? Cannot you see the blessings of Patten-less life, the massive plus for you, if he were to reside above, more likely deep down where it’s bloody hot and unpleasant, an even massiver one for us. Arghhh.

  • RCE

    The only job that Patten is fit for is being my father-in-law.

  • Nicholas

    “oh and as for Standpoint! don’t make me laugh, I’d sooner read a magazine of propaganda about Oxford University than a magazine of universally anti-lefty propaganda – which, incidentally, nobody in the country reads.”

    Well, you made me laugh! If nobody in the country reads it, which presumably includes you, how do you know it is “universally anti-lefty propaganda”?

    But moving on. If you were to read it and put aside for a few minutes the lefty propaganda that has evidently made you who you are, you might see that Standpoint is a counter to lefty propaganda rather than “anti-lefty propaganda”. A subtle distinction that you might understand were you not such a lefty propaganda victim yourself.

    Your guys have dished it out for years, so you can hardly complain about the fightback.

  • Baron

    organic cheeseboard @ 12.28:

    organic you may be, tasty you ain’t.

    Can a publication be bad if it features amongst its regular contributors Douglas Murray, Joshua Rozenberg, Daniel Hannan, to name just three?

    Get a grip, cheesy, one may disagree with some of the points made there, but to provoke thought, tackle issues others chicken out from even mentioning, examine angles the MSM lot ignores, the stuff’s priceless. Baron not only reads it, is tempted to switch from the Spectator.

    Have a look at the latest issue: http://standpointmag.co.uk/magazine

  • Andrew Douglas

    When Chris Patten lost his Bath seat in 1992 the cry went around the country (including Conservative HQ, where he was Chairman):
    “Tory win!”

  • organic cheeseboard

    “The University produces a magazine for alumni called Oxford Today. The nearest equivalents in the national media are Prospect, Standpoint or Intelligent Life.” sorry but this is nonsense. Alumni magazines are propaganda pure and simple, from start to finish. What the hell did the editor think he was joining when he applied for the job? It’s a bit like expecting an in-huse magazine of, I dunno, Trafigura to focus on all their evil doings. A ridiculous point to make Nick.

    oh and as for Standpoint! don’t make me laugh, I’d sooner read a magazine of propaganda about Oxford University than a magazine of universally anti-lefty propaganda – which, incidentally, nobody in the country reads.

  • Cassandrina

    Patten has been hiding under a rock since his appointment to the Bring Back Communism organization.
    All the comments shown are valid especially related to obvious loony left wing bias in the Toady Programme, World at One, and the so called News Quiz under Toxic Tocksvig.

  • Maddy1

    Let him ‘ave it! Finding suitable candidates from the old boys network from all parties is getting more and more difficult to find and breed! Greg Kilroy Dyke will here one day.

  • Nicholas

    “Most sattire (sic) programmes say very little about the opposition and spend all the time joking about the latest policy of the governing party.”

    No, quite wrong. During the period 1997-2010 the anti-Tory references from all “the usual suspects” became wearying, especially as there was so much genuine concern about the anti-liberty and authoritarian tendencies of New Labour in government. I never once heard Brigstocke or any other BBC “comedy” lefty openly criticise those tendencies. As with the crimes of the Soviet Union everything suddenly went quiet. The arch tosser Izzard continued to openly and proudly declare his Labour party allegiance.

    The Tory opposition was diminished as a target but the surrogate became instead that old Leftist bogeywoman Thatcher (the One True Source of All Ills) or, latterly, George Bush, a global cartoon token for the consolidated evil of the right.

    Those BBC celebrities not only undermined impartiality at every available opportunity but managed to perpetuate a dated and incredible style of comedy that can best be described as “Grumpy Old Student Marxists”. Hilariously funny were it not so sad.

    They are the ones who should, please, grow up.

  • Baron

    HamsteadOwl, canonalberic,Tron, Yam Yam, Matt and commentator have it.

    a man for hire to do the dirty job for the pseudo-liberal tossers, Patten.

  • francisexavier

    Oh please grow up
    Chris Patten obtained the job on merit, with a wealth of experience almost unmatched by anybody else and a status befitting the chair of the BBC.
    Most sattire programmes say very little about the opposition and spend all the time joking about the latest policy of the governing party.
    In the last week I have heard andrew landsley given a very easy ride on the Today programme evb though he could not answer half of the questions.

  • Matt

    “They subvert BBC neutrality, while pretending to remain inside it, by rigging interviews, asking tough questions of their opponents and soft ones of their friends.” Well said Nick. What irritates me is that underlying this attitude is a nauseating combination of pride and a lack of intellectual curiosity. They also know that they can continue to thumb their noses at any accusation of bias and get away with it so those who disagree with them have no remedy other than to rail about it pointlessly on blogs like this.

  • Simon Stephenson.

    HampsteadOwl : 1.34pm

    “Yes Brown was against joining [the Euro] , but not for any noble or principled reason. He wanted to do two things: to frustrate Blair at any and every opportunity, and to retain his own personal monopoly over screwing up the economy.”

    Yes, both these, but also because he thought he could trade supporting Blair on the Euro for some more political power for G Brown in Downing Street. I doubt that Brown ever committed himself to anything without milking his acquiescence for everything it was worth.

    A pretty straight sort of guy, I reckon, in the same vein as his predecessor (and, if I am not very much mistaken, his successor and his successor plus one, assuming that Balls takes over from little Ed)

  • Oxford University publications and web office

    The role of the Chancellor of Oxford University is a formal one and has no involvement in Oxford Today. In fact, almost everything else about the magazine in the blog post is also either misleading or factually incorrect.

  • Simon Stephenson.

    “A man like Patten will not tackle BBC bias because its bias is his bias”

    Like Patten in what way, Nick? A politician? A Conservative? A Companion of Honour? An Ex-European Commissioner? An avid acquirer of plum jobs?

    What are you implying here? That there is a class of people who put self-interest and personal axe-grinding above balance and reality? Wow! There’s a surprise. Who else in an influential position do you think falls into this category? Do you think that Gavyn Davies, as a Labour supporter, would have been similarly incapable of separating his personal beliefs from his professional judgement? What criteria would you set to determine who is capable of this separation and who isn’t?

  • Biggles

    Oh how interesting to read about the minutiae of Greg Neal’s bickering with his former employers – did his mate write this for him?

  • commentator

    The oleaginous Patten sums up all that is worst about the Tory left. During the Blair years, he openly touted his services to the Labour Party as Tony’s Tethered Tory. Post-1992, his career can be summed up in four words: wants sinecure will travel.

  • Yam Yam

    Chris Patten is very much a ‘guilty man’ because it’s a terrifying thought that it is only thanks to the obstinacy of a certain misanthropic chancellor-of-the-exchequer-turned-prime minister that we are not in the Euro today – no other reason.

    Instead, had Patten and his Establishment luvvies had their way we would have today been skulking in the European Central Bank’s naughty corner, along with Greece, Ireland and Portugal.

  • Tron

    Chris Patten is perfect for the BBC. His Lefty-Liberal politically correct bias is exactly the same as theirs. I bet I could predict his opinion on almost any subject as I can with the BBC.
    Now, this is the brilliant bit, he is an ex-Tory MP who worked for Margaret Thather so the BBC and the Left can point to him as proof that the BBC is not anti-Tory.
    The next time you listen to Andrew Marr, Today, Newsnight, The News Quiz, Marcus Brigstock, Jeremy Hardy, Mock the Week, Richard Bacon, etc. etc. treat the Conservatives like posh baby killers who should apologize for sending little boys up chimneys and only ever see Labour as fair, compassionate, nice guys who made a few mistakes but their hearts were in the right place, remember they have a Tory at the top.

  • canonalberic

    Its very depressing. They need a dose of Hussey and Birt. I have watched in disbelief as the BBCs obvious bias has become not only more blatant but also more outlandish. The naked exercise in its own way of political power.

    It is, for example, quite remarkable that anything as sectarian, unfunny and unbalanced as The News Quiz could be broadcast by the “impartial” State Broadcaster of a democracy.

    This week Today has broadcast a non-stop party political for Labour. For example: allowing Yvette Cooper the shadow Home Secretary an uninterrupted slot this morning in which she was allowed nonsensically to seek to link the BAE job losses to the evil coalition cuts.

    The contrast with the scathing contemptuous scepticism with which any government representative is treated is so obvious that only the blindly prejudiced could fail to see it.

    Then there is the ascientific global warming scaremongering; the disturbingly false representation of multiculturalism and its benefits; the shockingly anti-Israeli coverage of “middle eastern” matters; the incredibly stupid crude mass entertainments; the absurd fawning over Obama….the endless 1970’s student politics.

    It is all so obviously a crisis of leadership and really unsuprising that highly motivated people will take advantage of this weak, decadent and lavishly remunerated regime so perfectly illustrated by they current DG and Patten. It will end in tears.

  • HampsteadOwl

    It’s a bit sly saying that “Gordon Brown and the Labour Party stopped Britain joining the Euro”. The only conceivable way in which we might have done so would have been if Tony Blair, leader of the self-same Labour Party, had had the courage to go with his conviction, and taken us there. The credit belongs to John Major and the Conservative Government which insisted that Britain kept the freedom to decide for itself whether or not to join.

    Yes Brown was against joining, but not for any noble or principled reason. He wanted to do two things: to frustrate Blair at any and every opportunity, and to retain his own personal monopoly over screwing up the economy. History will judge that he was reasonably successful against the first objective, and completely so on the second.

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