Chris Patten is right to resign the Tory whip

Written by Iain Dale on 10 March 2011 in Opinion
The former governor of Hong Kong will make an excellent chairman of the BBC Trust, as long as he fulfils his intention to remain non-partisan

I think Chris Patten will be an excellent chairman of the BBC Trust. If he can run Hong Kong, surely the BBC can’t be any more difficult. He was head and shoulders above the other five shortlisted candidates.

Naturally, there have been several predictably partisan attacks on him for being, whisper it, a Conservative. I don’t recall the same people attacking Michael Lyons as a Labour stooge when he was appointed, despite that fact that he had been a Labour activist and councillor.

However, I think it is wise of Chris Patten to resign the Tory whip in the House of Lords and to step down as President of Richmond Conservatives, as he is thought to have done. But in my view he should go one step further and resign his Conservative Party membership. Perception is tantamount to reality in matters of bias in the broadcasting world. I don’t think him resigning his Tory party membership will make the slightest difference to any decision or recommendation he makes in his job as chairman of the BBC Trust, but by doing so his critics would have one fewer sticks to beat him with.

As many of you know, for the last six months I have been presenting LBC’s evening phone in show. Phone in presenters are encouraged to be opinionated and have views. But not in a party political sense. I have been careful not to use my position as a means of pushing pro Conservative views. And the fact that in six months no one has complained shows that I must be getting the balance right. Not a single Labour politician has felt that I have treated them unfairly in an interview. Or if they have, they haven’t said so!

But having said all that, I have felt that it was not right to maintain my membership of the Conservative Party, and I have now let it lapse. I did it some time ago. It’s made no difference to the way I do my job at LBC, but no one can accuse me of having a vested interest now, even if they wanted to. If I have a strong view about something, I declare my interest to my listeners and then almost go out of my way to ensure the other viewpoint gets a fair airing.

I remain a Conservative supporter, but anyone who listens to my show knows that I am often very critical of Conservative positions. It is possible to be both opinionated and even-handed.

Chris Patten doesn’t have the luxury of being opinionated any more. But I would respectfully suggest that if he did indeed resign his party membership, it might make his job just that little bit easier to do.

Tags: BBC Trust, Chris Patten, Conservative Party, Iain Dale, LBC

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