Life is full of little ironies. I am just off to the BBC’s Millbank studios to do some recording for The Week in Westminster. Meanwhile, I have spent much of the afternoon having acrimonious conversations with senior BBC management. The cause? The Corporation has decided to withdraw permission from Emily Maitlis, star Newsnight and News 24 presenter, to be a Contributing Editor at The Spectator. Readers of the magazine will know what a gifted writer Emily is – see last week’s Diary – and I was thrilled when she agreed to become a Contributing Editor and pleasantly surprised when Peter Horrocks, the head off BBC TV news, gave her permission to join our stellar team (other Contributing Editors, as you know, include Rachel Johnson, Anne Applebaum, Peter Oborne, Jemima Lewis, Clemency Burton-Hill and Hywel Williams). So I was more than a little annoyed to be told today, after an overnight leak to The Times, that Mr Horrocks had been over-ruled by Helen Boaden, the director of BBC News, and that Emily could not, after all, hold such a title – deemed to contravene the post-Hutton guidelines. What a yawn, say I.
The position seems to be that Emily can write for the magazine but not hold a title. The Corporation has now apologised officially and privately to The Spectator, and quite right, too. Some have suggested to me that the U-turn reflected internal hostility at the BBC to a right-of-centre publication: they scent an anti-Tory conspiracy. I wish it were that organised. What I see is a fiasco, a prehistoric bureaucracy where the left hand does not talk to the right, and the Beeb is run by graduates of the Vicky Pollard school of management: “Yeah, but no, but yeah, but no”.
And, in all honesty, does it really imperil the impartiality of the Corporation if a newsreader holds a title such as Contributing Editor – one that carries with it no suggestion of political affiliation or support for our editorial position? There was never any suggestion that Emily was going to involve herself in our political coverage, and it was perfectly obvious that she could not do so. Well, Coffee House users, you pay the licence fee. Do you think to-ing and fro-ing and sending memos to one another about such bans is a sensible way for BBC managers to spend their time? Let us know.Tags: The week that was