Former Labour cabinet minister James Purnell will be unveiled as the BBC’s new £300,000 a year radio chief today.
With overall responsibility for BBC radio’s editorial output, Purnell’s elevation has triggered concerns among some Tory MPs about impartiality.
As well as having been a member of a Labour government, Purnell has twice been an advisor to Tony Blair and is a former Labour councillor in Islington (where else?).
Surely even he wouldn’t try to pretend he is anything other than a man of the Left.
Heat Street remembers the unease in Tory ranks when Purnell took up his present job, as the BBC’s director of digital and strategy, in 2013.
His boss, Tony Hall, tried to assure MPs sitting on the Commons media select committee at the time that concerns about Purnell’s impartiality were irrelevant because Purnell had no editorial duties.
On that occasion – 25 April 2013 – Hall said:
“I think the key thing is— James’s job of course is not editorial – do you believe that the people who are coming to work for the BBC will be impartial, buy into its impartiality or not. That for me is the key test. In James’s case, I am satisfied that is the case.”
Now that Purnell’s job does have editorial responsibilities, Hall’s key test has been failed.
So what is the BBC’s comment in light of this?
A spokesman told us this morning: “All BBC editorial staff are impartial.”
Philip Davies MP, who was present when Hall spoke those words, said: “The BBC isn’t even trying to pretend anymore – it is openly impartial and James Purnell’s appointment proves it. The whole thing is a disgrace.”
Who can argue with Davies on that point?