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Booker: a shameless lack of blame

Richard North, 23/12/2012  


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One of the more conspicuous features of British life nowadays, writes Booker, is how many people who are, in one way or another, found seriously at fault, such as by failing to do their job properly, are nevertheless allowed to get away with it without having to pay any penalty.

That much I hinted at in my own piece but Booker takes the theme much further. We see almost daily examples, he tells us, such as when the head of a major news organisation, forced to resign in what should be disgrace, walks away with £11 million; or a senior council executive fired for incompetence is then given a grotesquely inflated pay-off, such as the former head of Haringey social services compensated with £1 million for her wrongful dismissal after the Baby P scandal.

Even more familiar are the cases of people who make every kind of mess of a job they are overpaid for and never get sacked at all, such as those "quango queens", who move effortlessly from one post to another, hopelessly out of their depth in every one. "What does it take to get sacked", we may ask, "if you are at the top of an organisation in modern Britain?"

We may have had such thoughts last week when we heard how MPs had excoriated Lord Patten and the BBC for agreeing to pay George Entwistle a full year's salary of £450,000 after only 54 days as director-general – which, with other perks, amounted to a pay-off of some £10,000 for each day he was in the job.

Patten admitted he had been "wrong" to appoint Mr Entwistle in the first place and was right to replace him two months later. But listening to Patten’s own smug, self-justifying interviews on the Today programme and elsewhere, many must equally have wondered how Patten himself could have the brass neck to remain in his own post as chairman of the BBC Trust, when pretty well everything he has done there has shown him to be wholly unfit to carry out the wholesale reforms that bloated, self-satisfied organisation so desperately needs.

Booker, of course, takes something of a personal interest in this, because it is just a year since he wrote a long report for the Global Warming Policy Foundation analysing how and why the BBC had so blatantly flouted its charter in its reporting on climate change – from its shamelessly distorted coverage of the scientific debate to the way it has turned itself into a propaganda arm of the wind industry.

He traced the BBC’s decision to mislead its audience on these issues back to that now notorious "secret seminar" in 2006, attended by 28 senior BBC staff including Helen Boaden, its director of news (who, after a brief absence from work following her involvement in the Savile fiasco, last week waltzed happily back into her £354,000-a-year job as if nothing had happened).

It was the BBC Trust that told the world in 2007 that the briefing at this policy-changing seminar had come from the "best scientific experts". Yet it recently came to light that this was a complete falsehood. Not one proper climate expert was there and almost all those present were professional propagandists from organisations such as Greenpeace.

Patten himself has been as happy to endorse the BBC's deliberate breaching of its charter on climate change as he has so much else that this corrupted and dishonest organisation gets up to, such as allowing another top executive, Caroline Thomson, to walk away with £674,000. Is it surprising, when we hear such things, that so many of us stare in disbelief, asking how on earth do these people get away with it? 

At this point, had I been writing the piece, I would be asking: "And the reason we don't rise up and slaughter them is?" But, in a legacy newspaper, Booker cannot ask that question. That it remains unasked, however, cannot conceal the singular fact that – increasingly – there is no convincing answer.

These people may be getting away with it now – but nothing is forever.

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