Good morning. Oliver Dowden, the Conservative party co-chair, has been touring the studios for the government today. He has had various exchanges on sleaze/corruption issues, but perhaps the most interesting came on the Today programme, where Nick Robinson asked Dowden about a process that Dowden initiated in his previous job, as culture secretary.
Boris Johnson wants Paul Dacre, the former Daily Mail editor, to be the next chairman of Ofcom. This has been widely reported (and not denied), but Dacre was rejected by the interview board. At that point Dowden, rather than appoint someone else, took the highly unusual step of reopening the process and re-writing the job requirements to allow Dacre to apply again. Robinson cited this as one of several examples of how the government appears not to take standards seriously, and asked how this could be right.
In his response, Dowden argued that this was actually proof of how proper the process was. He said:
Well … you’re actually proving the point that it is a proper, independent process. Because had it not been a proper, independent process, if it was the case that Paul Dacre was our preferred candidate, he would currently be chair of Ofcom.
From the tone of his voice, Dowden seemed to be saying this with what you might call a wry smile – although without being able to see his face it was hard, to be sure.
Robinson said the government was just changing the rules for its own convenience. Dowden replied:
There were various issues with that process which led me to re-running, not least we had a very, very small field of people that were were found eligible, a small number of people that applied for it. So I thought it was appropriate to run the process again.
But if this had been this this corrupt process, you would be looking at this individual, that you allege was preferred by the government currently in that role.
The fact that we have an independent process, the fact that ministers – in this case and indeed in all public appointments – appoint people independently to assess the validity of applicants, and then from those who are deemed appointable can choose who is appointed, is in practice an open process.
In fact, one reason why so few people applied was that government briefings saying Dacre was going to get the job made people feel there was no point. (Peter Riddell, the former public appointments commissioner, has been highly critical of the government over this.) Dowden also omitted to say that the appointments panel is perhaps not quite as independent as he implied.
I will post more from his interviews shortly.
Here is the agenda for the day.
9am: Keir Starmer holds his regular LBC phone-in.
11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.
2.30pm: Andrew Bailey, governor of the Bank of England, gives evidence to the Commons Treasury committee.
After 3.30pm: Boris Johnson makes a statement to MPs about Cop26.
Later MPs will get the chance to approve the motion approving the standards committee report saying Owen Paterson broke the rules on lobbying. But it is scheduled for after 10pm, and there will be no debate.
And, according to the Times’ Steven Swinford, the government is today due to announce that the vaccine booster programme will be extended to the under-50s.
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