My application for BBC chairman was unsuccessful, but I did get a close-up view of the selection processby David Dimbleby / June 20, 2004 / Leave a comment
At the end of February I applied, for the second time, to become chairman of the BBC, the first being three years earlier before Gavyn Davies was appointed. In the past this post has been filled by an invitation from the relevant minister on behalf of the prime minister. Marmaduke Hussey recalls how his chairmanship resulted from a telephone call from the then home secretary: “Oh Dukie, it’s Douglas Hurd here, with a very odd question to ask you. Would you like to be chairman of the BBC?”
The Nolan rules for public appointments have now been adopted for the chairmanship, a task for which they were not intended. The rules – which cover every public office from a minor advisory board position on tourism to one of the biggest unelected posts in public life, the BBC chairmanship – may make the selection seem more transparent but the final choice, still opaque, remains with the prime minister of the day.
This time the process was especially delicate. Lord Hutton’s report had just been published. It criticised the BBC’s handling of Andrew Gilligan’s allegation that No 10 inserted claims it knew to be unreliable into its Iraq war dossier. In the row that followed the broadcast, the BBC refused at first to back down. After Hutton’s demolition of the BBC’s case the chairman and director general resigned. But to Tony Blair’s dismay, the opinion polls showed that the BBC remained far more trusted than the government. All the more reason that the new chairman should not be seen, as Gavyn Davies had been, wrongly, as someone chosen to do Blair’s bidding. So a curious advertisement appeared in the press. “Could you chair the BBC?” it asked and set out the qualifications for leading the board of governors through what it described as “a difficult and challenging time” for the corporation, with “the immediate need to respond to the conclusions of the Hutton report” and the review of the BBC’s charter, due in 2006.
I sent off for the details and a public appointment registration form duly arrived. Any hubris one may have felt at presuming to apply for such a grand job was dispelled by this prosaic civil service questionnaire. “Are you applying for a specific vacancy?” it asked, “Which vacancy are you applying for?” and “Where did you hear about this vacancy?” These hurdles jumped, it remained to find…