Why the next BBC boss must be non-political

The BBC needs a visionary director general, not a political placeman.

"Our vision – to be the most creative organisation in the world".

That’s quite a bold and imaginative goal, I would venture. What sort of qualities would you look for in a potential leader of such an organisation?

May I suggest that such a leader would be a visionary. Like some modern day soothsayer, they would understand what we want before we know we want it – a Steve Jobs-type character. They would understand every aspect of how we experience creativity in a digital age, as Larry Page and Sergey Brin so clearly do. And they would deliver creativity for all from the cradle to the grave – perhaps a little like Bob Iger does at Disney.

Now if I was searching for some sort of human chimera that delivers all those qualities, I wouldn’t spend an inordinate amount of time searching for them in and around the Palace of Westminster.

Yet apparently there are a lot of folk who seem to think that’s exactly where the best head of the BBC – for it is the Beeb's official vision that kick-starts this piece - will be found.  And put in those terms, doesn’t that seem frankly ludicrous?

Stuck in the Westminster bubble, politicians on all sides expound the merits of appointing a new director general from one side of the political divide or the other, on the basis that unless a political appointee is made, the corporation will remain hopelessly biased in the opposite direction from that of whichever commentator happens to be writing at the time. I’ve even been told today that the less-than-diamond jubilee coverage is the result of political bias  - "only something run by a lefty could have covered Jubilee celebrations so badly". Oh, come on.

Of course, covering politics is an important cog in the workings of the BBC. And dealing with politicians, in terms of both the BBC Trust (current chairman an ex-chairman of the Conservative Party) and the ultimate arbiter on the licence fee (currently one Jeremy Hunt, at least as I type) is a key aspect of the role.

But is that really what we want in a leader of the BBC – someone who’s good at chewing the fat with the men and women in grey suits? That’s not who’s going to deliver me, as a licence fee payer, the most creative organisation in the world.

And apparently there are tens of thousands of folk who agree with me.

As Caitlin Moran rather neatly put it on Twitter this morning: "the BBC should be run by some sexy rogue pirate who's really the fuck into public remit broadcasting".

You are unlikely to find one of those in SW1.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference.

A general view of the BBC Television Centre in London. Photograph: Getty Images.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.