Paul Dacre really isn’t the man for this job…


Paul Dacre

Worrying about who chairs Ofcom is a minority sport, although it does agitate obsessive people on Twitter, including the writer of this blog.

In its own words, Ofcom is “the regulator for the communications services that we use and rely on each day”. It’s a behind-the-scenes government-approved body with a wide remit, and the person in charge has influence over TV, radio, the internet, postal services and more.

That’s why Boris Johnson wants the former Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre, above, to be slipped into the role. It’s the usual stich-up: he thinks a member of the Tory tribe will do him favours.

Oliver Dowden, the former culture secretary, was tasked with making this happen last year, but fumbled the job. Dacre was rejected by the interview panel, who concluded that he didn’t know enough about the role, being an old-fashioned newspaper man with no wider experience.

This morning Dowden has been scuttling round the studios in his new role as the Conservative party co-chair. Sleaze and corruption were raised, and he brushed the muck off his trousers with the usual flick of complacency.

On the Today programme, Nick Robinson, more bolshie by the day, asked about the interview process for the Ofcom job. Instead of appointing someone else, Dowden did a typically Johnsonian thing and reopened applications.

The job specification was rewritten to be more favourable (“This job would ideally suit a right-wing despot type with experience of stirring up hatred while editing a national newspaper” – that sort of thing), allowing Dacre to apply again.

Robinson pointed out that the government didn’t appear to take standards seriously.

Dowden argued that this proved the process was working: “Well… you’re actually proving the point that it is a proper, independent process. Because had it not been a proper, independent process, if it was the case that Paul Dacre was our preferred candidate, he would currently be chair of Ofcom.”

Ahem, so it’s a stich-up but not yet stitched up. And, by that logic, if Dacre does get the job, then the process will be shown to have been rigged.

When Robinson pointed out that the government was changing the rules for its own convenience, Dowden replied: “There were various issues with that process…”

Not least that the man they wanted was found not to be remotely suitable. Dowden also said, “we had a very, very small field of people that were found eligible, a small number of people that applied for it”.

As Peter Riddell, the former public appointments commissioner, has pointed out, after the government briefed that Dacre was going to get the job, others felt there was no point in applying.

Worrying about this is, as I said, a minority sport, but we should be exercised by such dubious fixes.

Should you wish to trawl through the comments on Twitter, you will find the opposite view put, namely that ‘lefties’ run everything, so why shouldn’t someone right wing run Ofcom.

This is the rather peculiar view than the Conservative Party, which is usually in charge, is somehow the poor, whipped underdog cowering beneath the boot of those mighty liberals.

Of course, if those liberals were any good at controlling things, they’d be in charge.

Also in Twitter-land, you will find anti-Dacre types backing up their posts with a spread of shameful front pages from the Daily Express; same shame, wrong newspaper.

Jo Maugham, director of the Good Law Project – seemingly at times a better opposition than the Labour party ­­– has organised a petition arguing that Dacre should not win this rigged position.

I’ve signed it and so should you, unless you belong to the ‘lefties run everything’ school of thought, which seems unlikely considering the views usually to be seen from this ledge.




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