The decision to award George Entwistle a £1.3 million payoff appears, as my colleague Rod Liddle notes, to have misjudged the public mood (and indeed the mood of the majority of hard working and underpaid BBC staff). It is the sort of development about which the government feels it ought to comment, to provide a source of moral leadership. There is an added complication because the government must do so without infringing the BBC’s independence. There is even more danger in this case because the Chairman of the BBC has launched a very spirited assault on the corporation’s detractors in the Murdoch press and elsewhere; this is a possible culture war in the making. Naturally, the opposition wants its slice of media coverage and has forced the government to make a statement to the House on Entwistle’s severance package and its circumstances.
Maria Miller and David Cameron took a careful step in this political dance by releasing statements this morning questioning the deal’s justification. The BBC itself reports that Cameron is believed to see Enwistle’s acceptance of the cash as a matter of ‘conscience’, while Miller took a slightly different line by arguing that the BBC Trust must justify the deal. Meanwhile, Lord Patten, Chairman of the BBC Trust, has written to John Whittingdale, Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, defending the decision. The government has professed its confidence in Lord Patten to see this crisis through, which is unsurprising given both Patten’s pedigree and his proximity to the Cameroons.
This developing media storm has distracted much of the press pack from the news that the Special Immigration Appeals Committee has upheld Abu Qatada’s appeal against deportation to Jordan on grounds that he would not receive a fair trial. The controversial Muslim cleric is understood to be preparing a bail application.
Needless to say, this is a blow to the government, which is determined to deport Qatada, so soon after its success in finally removing Abu Hamza. The government will appeal the decision.
UPDATE: Sky’s Mark White reports that the court has granted Qatada bail. Qatada will be released and placed under a 16 hour curfew.