Peter Rippon is unlikely to be the only BBC casualty of the Savile scandal

The question director general George Entwistle must answer is why he still ran the Savile eulogy.

A former editor of Panorama said last week that it "beggars belief" that the person who put the eulogy of Jimmy Savile on BBC TV did not know about Newsnight’s investigation into the DJ’s paedophilia. That person was George Entwistle, the newly installed director general and a major reason why this affair has now spiralled into what the lugubrious John Simpson described as "the worst crisis" facing the Corporation in 50 years.

An inquiry into how Savile managed to escape BBC action over five decades is yet to begin, but the fall-out has already started. And it is ironic that the next step in this now apparently out-of-control scandal will be taken by Panorama itself in a special investigation at 10.30 tonight. This led to the first internal casualty from the affair this morning when the BBC announced that Newsnight editor Peter Rippon was “standing aside” during investigations into why he scrapped a report into Savile’s paedophilia. He could be “standing aside” for quite some time.

Even as Panorama’s grim conclusions were being leaked in advance to every newspaper in the land, the mad scramble by other BBC news programmes to distance themselves from any guilt by association continued apace. With Radio’s 4 and 5 feverishly competing with the news channel, BBC1 and BBC2, any attempt to get control of the situation failed as the story was swamped at every opportunity. Everybody who was anybody, and several who weren’t, were being booked and counter-booked to demonstrate the BBC’s impartiality over itself. And it is clear that the potential involvement of editor-in-chief Entwistle has paralysed other BBC bosses as they too manoeuvre to remain untainted by it.

It was Steve Hewlett, the former Panorama editor turned media pundit, who articulated the key question about the new DG’s involvement last week. We know from tonight’s programme that BBC Head of News Helen Boaden had a "10 second" conversation about the Newsnight Savile investigation with Entwistle before the programme was aired last year.

What we do not know is why Entwistle, a distinguished journalist in his own right, did nothing about it. His defence so far is that he was observing the traditional Chinese walls between news and other programmes to prevent interference. Which leads many to what they see as the killer question. Having been told that Newsnight had concerns about Jimmy Savile, why did he nonetheless run the eulogy without further inquiry? This, as Steve said, ”beggars belief.” And it is Entwistle's involvement in the whole affair that has led to the total confusion that now surrounds it. His first attempt to get a grip was to announce an independent investigation into the Newsnight decision by former Sky News chief Nick Pollard. But even before Pollard could dig out his notebook, Panorama, aided by the Newsnight team, whose original story was spiked, announced their own inquiry - and who in the BBC would dare say no.

With Pollad still not in the door, Entwistle, who refused to be interviewed by the BBC’s own programme, then contacted the House of Commons culture select committee and volunteered to meet them tomorrow. By the time he turns up at the committee, he will be faced with the very questions Panorama wanted to ask and answers will be expected.

The whole fiasco has come as welcome relief to the government, in the stocks for its own incompetence, and a welcome early Christmas present for the traditional BBC-bashers of Fleet Street. But the wider issues of the scandal also look bad for the Corporation whose new leader is self-hobbled in his attempts to get back in control. Rippon may not be the only casualty.

People walk near the entrance to BBC Broadcasting House on October 22, 2012 in London. Photograph: Getty Images.

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions

Photo: Getty Images
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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.