Blair 'crony' is tipped as new chairman of BBC
By Benedict Brogan and Matt Born
TONY BLAIR was accused of packing the BBC with his "cronies" last night as he prepared to announce that one of Labour's most influential advisers has been made chairman of the Corporation's board of governors.
Tories protested after learning that Gavyn Davies, the millionaire chief economist at American bankers Goldman Sachs, is due to be confirmed today to one of the most influential positions in public life.
His appointment as successor to Sir Christopher Bland will mean that both senior BBC posts are held by Labour supporters. Mr Davies and Greg Dyke, director-general, have donated thousands of pounds to Labour while Mr Davies's wife, Sue Nye, is an adviser to Gordon Brown.
Tories complained that the Prime Minister had trampled on parliamentary convention by failing to consult with the Opposition on the appointment. It is understood that neither Iain Duncan Smith nor his predecessor, William Hague, was told of the plan.
Although the Opposition does not have a right of veto, a protest from the Tories risks embarrassing the Government because it will highlight the political nature of Mr Davies's appointment.
Amid rumours that the appointment was being announced deliberately when public attention was focused on the attacks against America, David Davis, the new Tory chairman, said: "The BBC may not be free of charge but it should be free of bias."
He added: "Tony Blair has already appointed Greg Dyke, a Labour donor, to the post of director-general. I think it would be a bridge too far to make Gavyn Davies the chairman." Mr Davis said Mr Davies worked for Labour prime ministers Harold Wilson and James Callaghan 25 years ago.
"At a time when the BBC is under fire for Left-wing bias - just see last week's disgracefully anti-American Question Time programme - it's crazy to put the whole show in the hands of two long-standing Labour cronies.
"Over the past four years Tony Blair has stuffed his cronies into every corner of British public life. It would be a grave misjudgment if he were now to mount a final takeover bid for the BBC."
Downing Street sources last night refused to confirm that Mr Davies was the Government's approved candidate but they said it was the first time a chairman had been chosen by an independent panel rather than by politicians.
A Blair spokesman denied that he had broken a parliamentary convention. "There is no obligation on the Government whatsoever to inform or consult the Opposition in any form."
Tim Yeo, the new shadow culture secretary, said the Tories did not necessarily oppose Mr Davies's views on the BBC but were concerned about his links with the Labour Party.
"We have concerns about having a chairman and the director-general simultaneously who are very overt and well known supporters of a political party. This has never happened before. Given the importance of the BBC, we think this is a very bad precedent to set," he said.
The expected confirmation that Mr Davies has emerged as the successful candidate for the £77,500 four-day a week post will come as little surprise. Mr Davies was on a shortlist of six candidates which included David Dimbleby, the broadcaster, and Lady Jay, the former leader of the House of Lords.