The BBC walks into another political row as it hands Entwistle £450,000

The corporation has exposed itself to the charge of "rewarding failure".

Update: Downing Street has now responded, saying that Entwistle's payoff is "hard to justify" but is a matter for his "conscience". As I said below, it is hard to see Entwistle prevailing at a time when the BBC's reputation has already been so damaged.

If the BBC wants to restore public confidence, it's hard to think of a worse move than handing George Entwistle, who resigned as director general after just 53 days in the job, a payoff of £450,000, the equivalent of a year's salary and double the contractually required amount. In her capacity as shadow media secretary, Harriet Harman has criticised the payout as "a reward for failure" and has urged Entwistle to "decline to accept any more than is required under his contract".

The government, wary of being seen to compromise the BBC's independence, has not commented, but Conservative MP John Whittingdale, who chairs the commons media committee, said that "people would be very surprised that somebody who was in the job for such a short period of time and then had to leave in these circumstances should be walking away with £450,000 of licence fee-payers' money." He also rejected the BBC's argument that the payout was justified since Entwistle would "continue to help on BBC business, most specifically the two ongoing inquiries." He said: "I wouldn't have thought that just because you have to help any inquiry into the Savile allegations you necessarily need to be paid such a large amount of money."

Some have defended the payout on the grounds that Entwistle did not bear primary responsibility for the scandal (and so deserves our sympathy) and that the frequency with which director generals are forced to resign - half of those appointed since 1982 have had to resign over BBC output - means the corporation must offer generous terms to its managers. But whether or not the payout is justified in principle, as a tactical move it's disastrous, a gift to the BBC's many enemies. Having previously forced RBS chief executive Stephen Hester to renounce his bonus, the politicians will fancy their chances of success. In the current climate, it is hard to see Entwistle prevailing.

A journalist is seen presenting in front of camera, outside the BBC's new Broadcasting House in central London. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Theresa May enjoys the honeymoon bounce Jeremy Corbyn can only dream of

It's back to October 2009 in the polls. 

Back in October 2009, The Telegraph reported that backbench MPs were planning a coup against their unpopular leader, Gordon Brown. 

The simmering discontent was attributed not to ideological angst but management, specifically the anger at Brown's insistence that MPs pay back their expenses.

Days earlier, The Sun had switched allegiance with a front page declaring: "Labour's Lost It."

That was the last time Labour's poll rating was as low as it is now, according to pollsters ICM. 

The latest poll surveyed voters between 22 and 24 July 2016. The findings are stark. Of those intending to vote, 43 per cent would choose Theresa May and the Tories, while just 27 per cent would go for Labour.

The Tories now enjoy a 16 point lead, and for this party too, the last time such a figure was recorded was October 2009. 

Of course, the new prime minister may be enjoying a honeymoon bounce. When John Major replaced Margaret Thatcher mid term, the Conservatives overtook Labour in the polls. Brown’s ascension to Labour leadership in June earned him a double-digit lead by September, but after that his popularity rapidly crumbled. 

Theresa May could experience something similar. YouGov pollster Anthony Wells noted: “The current polls look wonderful for her, but on past timescales they won’t necessarily be so rosy in a couple of months’ time.”

But Jeremy Corbyn never enjoyed such an edge. In the heady days of September 2015, after he clinched a surprise victory in the Labour leadership election, ICM found Labour enjoying an immediate honeymoon boost of one point. 

That still put Labour lagging four points behind the recently victorious Conservatives, with 32 per cent of the vote.

The gap has widened. Immediately after Brexit, the Tories had 36 per cent of the vote and Labour 32 per cent. Both parties were tested in the following month, and the Conservatives triumphed. 

For the hard left backing Corbyn, a 27 per cent slice of the vote is welcome after years as political outcasts. The centre left, on the other hand, must hope May trips up – or that Owen Smith can claim a honeymoon bounce of his own.