An ex-banker, a Rishi Sunak mentor, and a Tory donor walk into the BBC: Meet the new Chairman — he might be its last

The Director General was a Tory council candidate. Now his boss is a Goldman Sachs guy who gave the Conservatives more than £400,000. Shit.

“I didn’t think morale could sink any lower, but it just has.”

Those were the words of a BBC presenter who got in touch with me after the new BBC Chairman was announced. After all the dead cat trolling into the run-up to the announcement — Boris Johnson was going to pick avowed BBC hater Charles Moore! No, wait, Moore is out but it might be George Osborne! — the name that came out of the hat, in the end, was designed to be boring but it’s worrying to anyone remotely paying attention.

Richard Sharp, a former Goldman Sachs man who was Rishi Sunak’s mentor before going on to be an advisor to Boris Johnson when he was mayor and latterly an advisor to Sunak on the economic response to Covid, will be the new BBC Chairman. He also just happens to have donated over £400,000 to the Tory Party over the years.

But there’s an element of Sharp’s CV that’s more pertinent than him paying money to cosy up to David Cameron. Since 2002, he has been on the Centre for Policy Studies’ board. The think-tank which is at best described as right-of-centre has a clear view on the BBC and its future; in 2013, it published a substantial report alleging bias at the corporation and, in 2016, followed up with ‘A licence to kill? Funding the BBC’, which argued for scrapping the licence fee — often a stepping stone argument towards a privatisation of the broadcaster.

Sharp’s foundation, the unimaginatively-named Sharp Foundation, has also funded “anti-extremism organisation” Quilliam and funnelled cash to the Insitute for Policy Research, which chucks coin onwards to think-tanks including… the CPS.

And while I note that connection with dread, the shit-stirrers at Guido Fawkes raise the connection with glee. They also note that Sharp’s father, Lord Eric Sharp was tasked by Keith Joseph with the privatisation of Cable & Wireless. They bring up that historical trivia for one reason only: A hope that Sharp Jnr. is destined to do the same thing to the BBC. Lord Sharp also had connections to the CPS and wrote screeds for the Institute of Economic Affairs, which also specialises in right-wing red meat.

Alistair Campbell, a man in no position to criticise people smacking the BBC about after his abhorrent behaviour during the time of the ‘dodgy dossier’, chuntered that “The anti-public service contingent really are getting all their people in on the inside now. Trump and Orban watch on in admiration.” Insert “the worst person in the world just made a good point” meme here.

The counter to Campbell’s ire, already put forward by the human bin bag Mark Reckless, and amplified by the Guido ghouls, is that Tony Blair made another former Goldman Sachs man, Gavyn Davies, BBC Chair from 2001 until 2004. That’s obviously a bad faith argument as it’s not the Goldman service on Sharp’s CV that is drawing the most concern — though it should raise some — but instead his almost Siamese twin-like closeness to the government’s two most senior figures. It’s clear that Sharp has come not to praise the BBC but to bury it in a shallow grave.

Combine the current Director-General, Tim Davie — a former PepsiCo exec whose experience at the BBC prior to his elevation to the top job was entirely in the commercial realm — with Sharp, a former banker and government advisor with no experience in news, current affairs, drama, radio or, well, anything the BBC actually does, and a Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden — the sentient potato — who has been clear that he wants significant ‘change’ at the corporation and things look very bleak.

In November, announcing a review of public broadcasting — to be undertaken by his hand-picked panel of private-sector stooges and right-wing goons — Dowden said services like Netflix and Amazon Prime had “lobbed a grenade into the system.”

He didn’t mention how he expects these American-owned tax avoiders will produce local news, British-made children’s television, radio drama or any of the many other things that the BBC currently contributes to the cultural landscape. I don’t think Reed Hastings will be setting up a crack team of Netflix hacks to do court reporting in Nottingham any time soon.

Dowden’s public sector review features a roll-call of people ill-disposed towards the BBC, including Lord Grade (a former chair of the BBC as well as a former boss of ITV and Channel 4), Baroness Bertin (David Cameron’s former press-secretary) and Sir Robbie Gibb (the former director of communications for Theresa May and former head of BBC Westminster who is now heavily-involved in GB News, the Brexiteer-backed, Andrew Neil-fronted news channel which is launching soon). Facebook’s VP (Europe), Nichola Mendelsohn, Andrew Griffith MP (the Priminister’s former business ‘tsar’ and ex-COO of Sky) are also part of the gang.

The BBC is under the most sustained attack it has faced in 30 years. Sharp and Davie will act like cuckoos in the nest, while the shitehawks of Dowden’s ‘review’ panel and screeching gulls like Darren Grimes, Laurence Fox and the murky Defund The BBC campaign dive-bomb them from outside.

There is no doubt that BBC News, terrified of the Tory government and exacerbated by a number of senior political journalists who lean so far to the right it’s like they’ve got one leg shorter than the other, has had serious problems over the past 10 years (at least). Because of what many on the left — myself included — consider a tendency in BBC news output for the left to get hammered while the right gets kid gloves, it’s become increasingly common for people to say, “Fuck the BBC.”

But that’s a mistake. Like the NHS, the BBC is one of the great products of post-war Britain. If it is privatised, bowdlerised, or brutalised into a shadow of its even-now diminished self, something unique will have been lost forever. As I wrote in a previous newsletter:

The BBC is DoctorWhoThe ArchersI’m Sorry I Haven’t A CluePeople Just Do NothingThis CountryAlan PartridgeThis LifeI May Destroy YouThe Thick of It, John Peel, The Evening SessionYes, MinisterA Good ReadHis Dark MaterialsInside No.9The Night ManagerLimmy’s ShowBlackadderKermode & Mayo’s Film ReviewYoung OffendersThe Young Ones… I could go on.

Anyone who likes comedy and drama will have a list like that one.

The BBC costs — for radio, TV, news and entertainment — about 43p/day or £13/month. The argument from the right is that the Licence Fee that pays for that material is a tax because if you watch live TV in the UK, you’re legally obliged to have one. I think it’s a good deal overall, despite my long list of gripes about how BBC News does its business.

Don’t let the right persuade you to throw the whole BBC out because of the execrable performance of a particular gang in the News division.

Watch now as the Davies/Sharp team wear down the BBC budgets with the aim of getting people to say, “Oh, there’s no point paying for the BBC any longer, it’s rubbish!” Great drama, comedy, and entertainment take money to produce and the government’s aim will be to strangle the funding then kill the corporation itself. If the BBC is destroyed, it will never be rebuilt.