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Tuesday 13th November 2012 | 08:07
WORDS: SAM MACRORY
Call off the search. Relax. Name names freely. The witch hunt is over. It was the BBC all along.
And not just poor old George Entwistle, who won't even be that poor if the ex-Director General has his hefty pay off rubber-stamped.
Nor is everything the fault Chris Patten, Auntie's increasingly crumpled looking chairman and cheerleader-in-chief to the former editor-in-chief.
No, the entire corporation is in the docks. The crime? Don't worry about that. The finger-pointers didn't. They were out with pitchforks and burning torches, witch identified and hunt underway.
The rabble had been roused by Harriet Harman, whose urgent question on the recently-resigned Mr Entwistle saw her warn that the BBC “has enemies waiting to pounce.”
And with that, they pounced, springing up across the Conservative benches and shaking their fists angrily at the mere mention of the BBC.
The head of the baying mob was the Culture Secretary Maria Miller, though whether she was out to protect or provoke was hard to tell through a cut-and-paste statement made up of off-the-shelf warnings to put houses in order and visions of periods of stability. But Ms Miller also let it be known that Entwistle’s £450000 parting gift was “hard to justify”, in a stroke unlocking the gates for the hordes of BBC-haters behind her.
Philip Hollobone complained that the BBC “is being far too liberal with licence fee payers’ money.” Justin Tomlinson grumbled that when “other media sources mess up, we can stop paying or switch off.” Philip Davies fantasised about the moment when Miller, having tracked down Patten, “tapped him on the shoulder and told him to move aside and manage all his other outside interests.” Cheers broke out.
Inspired, David Nuttall turned all Nostradamus and looked into the future to predict that "the debacle will bring forward the day when the British public will have the freedom to decide whether to pay to watch the BBC, rather than being forced to pay for it by the criminal law."
With the BBC now curled into a ball on the floor, Alec Shelbrooke landed another kick with a complaint that the BBC “beat the Government with a stick all the time” – which sounded a bit like saying ‘well, they started it.”
Mark Pritchard added a rare voice of support from the Tory benches, before setting the an impossibly high bar by calling on the next Director General “to lead this wonderful organisation forward into the rest of the century.” Hard-working? Tick. Creative? Tick. Ever-living? No? Don't call us, we’ll call you.
Other voices of support were less demanding, preferring to set their criteria for success using a BBC bingo calling card.
Alison Seabeack cheered a “a national treasure”, Bob Russell got misty-eyed about an organization which was “the envy of the free world”, even Ms Miller got into the act and called on MPs to stand up for an “iconic national institution.”
These were rare outbreaks of white flag-waving as the fighting and frothing continued all around. The Lib Dems, usually such vocal supporters of the BBC, had timidly sent only a handful of MPs along to the Commons. And they looked rattled, with Stephen Gilbert's question about “an election in China” failing to distract the BBC’s enemies.
What enemies? “Every Member in the Chamber attaches enormous value to the role of the BBC”, insisted Miller in a monotonic rallying cry. The scowling faces behind her showed their support with total silence. Their favourite villain was firmly their sights. It was hard to remember how we got here in the first place.
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