Coffee House

Chris Patten keeps failing upwards – now he’s advising the Pope. Poor Pope.

10 July 2014

8:24 AM

10 July 2014

8:24 AM

There is a wearying inevitability to the announcement that Pope Francis’s reforms of the Vatican media will be overseen by Lord Patten of Barnes. Of course it was going to be him. It always is.

The man defies the laws of political gravity. As Margaret Thatcher’s environment secretary he was responsible for the poll tax. He walked away from the disaster unscathed, explaining that it was nothing to do with him, guv, it was Thatch. As Tory chairman he presided over Major’s 1992 victory but lost his own seat. He was made governor of Hong Kong, where he stood up to China. But he went native with a vengeance as an EU commissioner: according to Denis MacShane, former Europe minister, Patten was so Europhile that he might have been France’s candidate for Commission president in 2004 if only he spoke French.

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In 2003 he was elected Chancellor of Oxford University (he read history at Balliol though I can find no reference to his class of degree: if he got a First he has been uncharacteristically modest about it). In 2010 he became chairman of the BBC Trust, in which troubled role he drew heavily on his blame-shifting skills. As Peter Oborne wrote in the Telegraph, ‘the hallmarks of Chris Patten’s chairmanship have been a lack of grip and repeated evasion of responsibility. The grotesque pay-offs made to executives; the incompetence of management; the mishandling of the Jimmy Savile scandal: none of this apparently has anything to do with Lord Patten.’

A risky choice to reinvent the Vatican media, you might think, but you need to remember that Chris Patten is – to use a phrase that even he could translate – impeccably bien pensant. He belongs to a group of well-upholstered ‘progressive’ Catholics, including high-ranking soldiers and diplomats, who would whisper in the ear of the convivial Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor as they passed him the port. Cardinal Cormac, now retired, is still a virtuoso buttonholer of Vatican officials and friendly with the Pope. I’d be amazed if this appointment had nothing to do with him. Cardinal Vincent Nichols will have supported it, too. He owes Chris Patten, big time, after the latter was parachuted in to sort out the incredible balls-up Nichols’s officials made of preparations for Pope Benedict’s visit to Britain.

As president of the committee on Vatican media, however, Patten will report to a cardinal in a very different mould: George Pell, Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, an Australian ass-kicker who is not only a mate of Tony Abbott but also a climate sceptic who admires the work of our own James Delingpole. Unsurprisingly, Pell is no fan of The Tablet, a magazine for geriatric Catholic lefties whose trustees have included Edward Stourton, Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws QC, the Rt Hon Baroness Williams of Crosby and, it goes without saying, the Rt Hon Lord Patten of Barnes CH. Although Cardinal Pell welcomed Patten’s appointment this week, I suspect he has his doubts. After all, Lord Patten has been close to the heart of the English Catholic Church for decades and has never, to my knowledge, criticised its stupid and wasteful media department or the hijacking of Catholic charities by public-sector lobbyists.

How the Pell-Patten dynamic will work in practice is hard to predict; his lordship is good at forging unlikely alliances. But, whatever happens, we can be sure of one thing: he will walk away from this post, as he has from all the others, sporting his cold and chubby smile and looking for his next sinecure.


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Show comments
  • edward teach

    old boys network networking. has done since 1066. down with the poor here here! expected to work ourselves to death for 70 years while these fat morons waddle about collecting envelopes stuffed with cash. your tax dollars at work. a form of government we try and inforce on others. you could not make it up. what mugs we all are

  • Suriani

    George Cardinal Pell! not a few traditionalists detect a murmur of modernism beneath the cappa magna.

  • Aberrant_Apostrophe

    Perhaps the Peter Principle ought to be named the Patten Principle?

  • CraigStrachan

    A cardinal’s hat is surely on the way.

  • Julie

    Men who do the job sine cura, tend not to be stretchered off; unlike Faustino Sainz Munoz who helped direct the excellent 2010 papal visit and website.

  • Q46

    Failing upwards, nearer my God to thee.

  • Benedict

    Sometimes it is difficult to practise charity.
    I must pray.

  • edithgrove

    I don’t believe the crackpot theories I read on the internet, or for that matter from Spectator journalists, but surely Patten has to be a lizard.

    • Jadissock

      I’m thinking something slightly less vertebrate

      • startledcod

        Surely even lowly invertebrates are too high a life-form to describe him. I find it hard to think of any establishment figure

    • startledcod

      Isn’t that being rather unkind to lizards …

  • dado_trunking

    I thought he was ‘injured’. Did he have German flue before his next match?

  • Mr Grumpy

    I’m no fan of his but there’s not a great deal of substance here really, and even you can’t fault his fixing of the papal visit. I suspect he may do a decent job so long as Pell keeps him on a tight leash.

    • Makroon

      Ha-ha, the bloke is a shuffling wreck, he can hardly keep his eyes open – just one more sinecure to add to his collection.
      Even Blair would be more effective.

      • Mr Grumpy

        Blair at the Vatican – a nightmarish thought, but fortunately he’s too expensive.

  • Geoff103

    Lord Patten is surely better known as Kenneth Widmerpool?

    • dmitri the impostor

      Geoff, I am active in the Anthony Powell Society, which formally bestows Widmerpool Awards on the great and the good.

      I have brought your informal nomination to the attention of the relevant authorities. Many thanks.

  • startledcod

    Very good post Damian although I think you have been far too kind about his HK Residency. I think it would be fair to say that what you have called ‘standing up to the Chinese’ could more accurately be described as grand-standing that arguably ended up securing a far worse deal for HK than a more measured negotiation might have done. I think you’ll find that the picture of Fatty Pang standing up to the Chinese was one painted by his own spinners.

    There are many, many reasons to loathe Chris Patten and his record in HK is surely one of them.

    • Colonel Mustard

      The time for ‘standing up to the Chinese’ was long past when Patten arrived in Hong Kong. Maggie made a brief sally but soon retreated under fire, the capitulation aided and abetted by the usual FO invertebrates. And so the thriving city state was meekly handed over to a communist regime with an appalling human rights record which only 8 years earlier had been murdering its own students.

      The invertebrates in London prefer hosing borrowed money to foreign powers in great quantity rather than cherishing and protecting anything of real value, especially something they were so ignorant of that its potential was exploited more by the USA than Britain.

      • Tim Baker

        The UK govt has no problem doing business with the likes of Saudi Arabia, so why would appalling human rights be a problem with any other country?

    • telemachus

      You have to remember that the only reason we were there in the first place was the immoral support of our “great” nation of the peddling of addictive drugs finally enforced at the treaty of Nanjing

    • Makroon

      Absolutely spot on.
      A once in an epoch chance to build a close and influential relationship with China, whilst strengthening HongKongers’ freedoms, irredeemably bungled by the posturing Patten.
      And to make it worse, the idiot even admits it now !

      • startledcod

        Whenever he appears on my screen he sends a shiver down my spine. I think I really do find him contemptible.

  • swatnan

    Is the Patten … a Catholic?
    Not a complete failure; Patten won Major the ’92 with his double whammy, only to be shafted in ’97. So, Ed, 2015 might be a good election to lose?

    • startledcod

      Whom was shafted in ’97?

  • Rhoda Klapp8

    I saw the headline and thought I’d need to come here to give my view of the fat one, but I find the tone of the article to be in no need of qualification, only congratulation.

  • telemachus

    So the reach of the Tories marches on
    He has instilled institutional Toryism at the centre of our biggest news organisation
    Now he will institute degenerate Toryism at the heart of the Worlds biggest church
    What happened to liberation theology supposed to be dear to the South American Pope

    • startledcod

      Chris ‘Fatty Pang’ Patten a Tory, don’t be ridiculous; he embodies the ‘Establishment’ and everything that any right-thinking (as opposed to Right thinking although that as well) person should and does despise. This appointment makes his resignation from the BBC with immediate effect on health grounds seem extremely convenient.

      Get this straight, Chris Patten has done nothing to advance the Tory cause.

      • telemachus

        You misunderstand
        His understated subtle Toryism is far more invasive than untrammelled Govism that produces abreaction

        • startledcod

          You misunderstand, Chris Patten doesn’t espouse or stand for Toryism, subtle or otherwise. If I had to ascribe an ‘ism’ to him it would be Establishmentism; characterised by holding himself, his views and his estimation of his ‘achievements’ in very high regard and certainly higher than anyone who might deign to judge him.

          • telemachus

            No
            We are in truth not talking about UKIP-style new racial toryism
            But the insidious form that has undermined a fair society for decades

            • startledcod

              You seem to believe that Chris Patten actually represents a brand of Toryism when I believe he stands for arrogant form of entryism that infiltrated the Conservative Party. However, I feel obliged to withdraw from any discussion when the term ‘fair society’ in introduced which belongs in the motherhood and apple pie political school. Those who espouse a fairer society invariably only want a society based upon their, quite often extremely skewed, definition of fairness. I suspect that includes you.

              • telemachus

                Fairness is an absolute
                It is what is equitable for the greatest number of people
                The only political creed that comes close is Socialism

                • startledcod

                  OK, so this really is the last thing I am going to say on the matter.

                  If ‘fairness is an absolute’ in your book, defined as ‘what is equitable for the greatest number of people’, then differential tax rates are inherently unfair because they are, by definition, not equitable (definition: fair and impartial, note impartial).

                  Which bring me back to my earlier point, fairness is a term used by those of a redistributive bent to camouflage their decision to take from some to give spray at others thereby making them feel good. It isn’t FAIR that I can’t run as fast as Usain Bolt – fix that Mr Fairness.

                  The world and life are inherently unfair, don’t pretend you, or anyone else, can fix that.

                  P.S. Hmm, Socialism tested to destruction elsewhere, killed many people, never worked. A, powerful, definition of stupidity is to keep doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome.

                • telemachus

                  Equitable is not the same as equal
                  On the tax question you have to look at society in the round

                • startledcod

                  I said it was my last comment, it was … well except this one obviously.

                • Colonel Mustard

                  He likes to have the last word.

                • startledcod

                  If only. Actually I value the precious few decades, years, months and days I have left to waste them arguing with someone who uses the cloak of ‘fairness’ to espouse things that are inherently unfair.

                • Inverted Meniscus

                  The most murderous doctrine of the 20th century and you think we should adopt it here. The doctrine of Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot etc responsible for the extermination of millions and you are its idiot advocate. With its hatred of free speech and democracy and its desire to regulate every aspect of the lives of the people of Britain, the Labour Party is a worthy successor to such scum.

    • ButcombeMan

      Very good. My morning chuckle.

      Fat Pang is utterly LOATHED by real Tories.

      He has risen regardless of being useless at almost everything he touches.

      His judgements, about almost anything, usually wrong.

      He is without merit. His stewardship of the BBC, particularly inept. Nothing seems to stick. He fools a lot of the people, a lot of the time, but not me.

      • telemachus

        Do not be deceived
        His BBC time say the BBC progressively touched by Tory notions

        • Owen_Morgan

          “His BBC time say the BBC progressively touched by Tory notions.”

          OK, I am being kind here; perhaps that piece of nonsense actually made sense in the original Nahuatl.

          • telemachus

            The sense was correct
            Thankyou for your comment, I have edited my post

            • startledcod

              Not sure, I’m still struggling.

              • telemachus

                Compare political analyses before and after Patten

                • startledcod

                  How does that explain your statement ‘His BBC time say the BBC progressively touched by Tory notions’?

                • telemachus

                  The creeping influence of establishment tory values into the BBC editorial process has been well documented

                • startledcod

                  Lunacy, lunacy! Ian Katz, he’s a right-winger and make on mistake. If you really believe in the ‘creeping influence of establishment tory values into the BBC editorial process’ then you, Telemachus, are like the soldier in the Bateman cartoon, the only one marching in step.

                • Inverted Meniscus

                  Yes it was leftist before him and even more leftist now. Patton is a first rate europhile socialist nutter.

          • The Laughing Cavalier

            I thought that the touching at the BBC was done by Jimmy Savile.

      • startledcod

        Hear, hear!

      • Sinceyouask

        I don’t know enough about his abilities to comment on the wisdom of this appointment, but to an outsider, his performance as Chairman of the BBC was woeful. However, far worse was his behaviour in front of the Select Committee, accusing one of the members, asking him for evidence from his diary of his workload at the BBC, of being “impertinent”. Public service, indeed.

        • ButcombeMan

          Indeed. Of course, that remark was almost certainly because his “workload” was not much at all. He was defensive and used attack to defend himself.

    • Colonel Mustard

      Did you actually read the penultimate paragraph before peddling your usual tiresome bilge like a one-trick pony?

      • telemachus

        he will walk away from this post, as he has from all the others, sporting his cold and chubby smile
        *
        This is his style
        But even more dangerous for all this

        • Colonel Mustard

          That’s a ‘no’ then.

          • telemachus

            You deliberately misunderstand
            The “establishment” is still alive and well and now exporting its tory bias beyond these shores
            These folks do not announce themselves
            The ferret quietly to do down those downtrodden folks who do not even know their rights
            And those who do not oppose them are in many ways worse than those who loudly support them

            • Colonel Mustard

              That’ll still be a ‘no’ then.

              • telemachus

                You described .telemachus as thick earlier
                So let us have a little self analysis

                • Colonel Mustard

                  Did I? Then I overrated you. You are more wilfully ignorant than thick. But your many transparent provocations reveal a level of malevolent guile too.

                • telemachus

                  Is there not one who will free me from this turbulent priest?

                • Colonel Mustard

                  You are the one doing relentless quasi-religion for Labour and I expect many here feel the same way about you. Although ‘tedious’ would serve as a better description than ‘turbulent’.

                • The Laughing Cavalier

                  In Catholic terms Mr T’s stance is called “vincible ignorance”.

    • Inverted Meniscus

      Better that than dishonest socialist nuttery lad.

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