Thursday News Review

Coulson out Oliver in

Craig Oliver, 41, the controller of BBC global news, was hailed by the Prime Minister as a ‘formidable journalist’. He made his name overhauling the BBC News at Ten and is one of very few television executives to have worked at the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5. Mr Oliver’s appointment – understood to have been engineered chiefly by Mr Coulson – was a surprise, since his name had not featured in the frenzied speculation that has been going on in Westminster since Mr Coulson resigned last month. Former colleagues described Mr Oliver as ‘sharp’ and a ‘workaholic’, though some expressed surprise at the appointment because they said he had previously displayed no obvious political leanings. Educated at a Scottish comprehensive school, he has never been a member of the Conservative Party, and is not expected to become one now. His appointment is an indication of the importance placed by Downing Street on broadcast coverage. As a former editor of the News of the World, Mr Coulson’s background and contacts were chiefly in the newspaper industry. By contrast, Mr Oliver has links to all the major broadcasters. He will be employed as a special adviser and paid £140,000 a year, the same salary as Mr Coulson. – Daily Mail

Oliver, 41, is a career broadcast journalist who grew up in Scotland, the son of a former chief constable of Grampian. He attended a comprehensive school before reading English Literature at St Andrew’s University. In the BBC news room he was known as a film buff. “He never gave a sense that he was party political,” said a long-standing colleague and close friend. “His views, as far as I could see, were fairly centrist. He’s not an ideologue by any means. I would imagine he’s fairly mainstream on most issues.” Oliver arrived at the BBC from ITN, after applying to be controller of the BBC News Channel. He lost out on that job but sufficiently impressed BBC News executive Peter Horrocks to be hired to bring the same visual dynamism to the BBC’s 10pm bulletin that he had introduced at ITN. During the recent BBC strike, Oliver, like other senior managers, crossed the picket line and stood in as a newsreader on the World Service. He recently oversaw the sackings of 650 World Service staff. His appointment is an indication of Downing Street’s acknowledgement of the importance of television. Oliver does not enjoy Coulson’s press contacts, but he knows broadcast news inside out. – the Independent

David Cameron yesterday marked a break with the era of Andy Coulsonby appointing a senior BBC TV news editor with no links to the Murdoch empire as the new No 10 communications director. Craig Oliver, who made his name revamping the News at Ten and who ran the BBC’s general election coverage last year, will be paid £140,000 a year and will act as a political special adviser. The recruitment of a senior BBC figure shows that Cameron and George Osborne, who met Oliver over the weekend, recognise that they need to place some distance between Downing Street and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. Downing Street said that No 10’s relations with News Corp had nothing to with the decision to hire a BBC executive. One source said: “Craig was simply the best candidate.” – the Guardian

Go easy on Murdoch

An email, forwarded on behalf of Ed Miliband’s director of strategy, Tom Baldwin, to all shadow cabinet teams warns Labour spokespeople to avoid linking hacking with the BSkyB bid, to accept ministerial assurances that meetings with Rupert Murdoch are not influencing that process, and to ensure that complaints about tapping are made in a personal, not shadow ministerial, capacity. The circular, sent by a Labour press officer on 27 January, states: “Tom Baldwin has requested that any front-bench spokespeople use the following line when questioned on phone-hacking. BSkyB bid and phone-tapping . . . these issues should not be linked. One is a competition issue, the other an allegation of criminal activity.” It goes on: “Downing Street says that Cameron’s dinners with Murdoch will not affect Hunt’s judgement. We have to take them at their word.” Referring separately to the phone-hacking allegations, the memo states: “We believe the police should thoroughly investigate all allegations. But this is not just an issue about News International. Almost every media organisation in the country may end up becoming embroiled in these allegations.” It adds: “Front-bench spokespeople who want to talk about their personal experiences of being tapped should make it clear they are doing just that – speaking from personal experience.” The guidance concludes with the warning, “We must guard against anything which appears to be attacking a particular newspaper group out of spite.” – New Statesman

Labour frontbenchers have been warned by Ed Miliband’s office not to single out Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper group over the hacking scandal. In a leaked memo, Labour’s strategy director, Tom Baldwin, indicated that many media groups, not just News International, could become embroiled in the row over the interception of mobile phone messages. He also ordered the party’s senior politicians to avoid linking hacking to Mr Murdoch’s £7bn bid for control of Britain’s biggest commercial broadcaster, BSkyB. The memo appears to be designed to avoid a re-emergence of the historically-strained relationship between Labour and News International, whose biggest selling title, The News of the World, is at the centre of a new Scotland Yard investigation into hacking. Dated 27 January and apparently emanating from Mr Baldwin, previously a News International journalist for more than a decade, the memo advised Labour frontbench teams: “On phone hacking, we believe the police should thoroughly investigate all allegations. But this is not just an issue about News International. Almost every media organisation may end up becoming embroiled in these allegations.” The shadow Justice Minister Chris Bryant and the former defence minister Tom Watson have criticised police for failing properly to investigate the allegations. There have been suggestions that Scotland Yard had an unhealthily close relationship with News International. A Labour spokesman said the memo was intended to ensure MPs “didn’t confuse two separate issues”. He added: “There’s no suggestion of us going soft or going hard.” – the Independent

DFID money spent on Papal visit

Pope Benedict XVI’s official visit to Britain last September was partly funded by money meant to be spent on international aid, it has emerged. MPs analysing the Department for International Development’s (DfID) accounts said they were surprised to notice that £1.85 million had been transferred to the Foreign Office for the papal visit. They are demanding an explanation from ministers about what the money was spent on and how this was compliant with rules governing what overseas development aid money should be spent on. Malcolm Bruce, chair of the Commons’ international development committee, told he thought many people would be surprised by the news that UK aid money was used to fund the Pope’s visit. “I’m finding it extremely difficult to see how paying for the visit of the Pope from Rome to the United Kingdom as overseas development assistance (ODA) which is aimed at delivering the poorest people in the world out of poverty, that’s its prime objective,” he said. Mr Bruce said DfID was entitled to spend every penny on ODA, but people would expect its funding to be “overwhelmingly focused” on aid money. It has been suggested that some DfID money could be spent on propping up the BBC World Service, he added. “People have mixed views about that, but it would be easier to see a case for that [than for funding the papal visit].”But Mr Bruce said the £1.85 million “does not really fit any criteria that could obviously be seen as ODA”. A government spokesperson said “DFID was one of a number of government departments part funding the Pope’s visit to the UK.” –

Money intended to alleviate poverty in the world’s poorest countries was used to help fund the Pope’s visit to the UK, MPs have revealed. The government is facing a storm of criticism after it emerged that it raided the international aid budget for almost £2 million to cover some of the cost of the papal visit last year. A report published today by the Commons international development select committee has questioned why £1.85m was taken out of international aid to fund the visit despite a pledge by Prime Minister David Cameron that the budget would be protected. The move has been described as “shocking” by MPs, while the Church of Scotland said it was “utterly unacceptable”. The money was part of the overall £10m cost to the taxpayer of the visit by Pope Benedict. The trip should have been funded by the Foreign Office because it was partly a state visit.
Lib Dem Gordon MP Malcolm Bruce, who chairs the international development select committee, said voters would struggle to understand why DfID money was involved. The Church of Scotland Church and Society Council convener the Rev Ian Galloway said the raiding of the international aid budget would undermine the good work done by the visit. Mr Galloway said: “This is an extraordinary confession by the government. It is utterly unacceptable and hard to explain to those whose suffering would be alleviated had this money been used as it was intended.” Anas Sarwar, the Labour MP for Glasgow Central, who also sits on the select committee and was involved in raising money for the Pakistan floods, described the findings as “shocking”. – the Scotsman

Pluralists vs tribalists

The divide between pluralists and tribalists remains one of the most significant in the Labour Party. It underlines the increasingly fractious debate over electoral reform. With this in mind, the decision by Compass, the influential Labour faction, to ballot its members on whether to offer members of other political parties full membership status is an important development. At present, members of other parties are only entitled to associate membership and cannot stand for the management committee or vote in internal elections. One reason why the result is worth watching is the ongoing debate about Labour’s own membership rules. At the end of last year it was reported that Ed Miliband plans to refom the party’s electoral college to give 25 per cent of the vote to non-party members who register as Labour supporters. In addition, as I’ve noted before, having once joked that he wants to make the Lib Dems “extinct”, Miliband has adopted a more conciliatory tone in recent weeks. In his speech to the Fabian Society last month, he declared his respect for those Lib Dems who have “decided to stay and fight for the progressive soul of their party”, and pledged to campaign for the Alternative Vote, having previously only promised to vote for it. If, as seems likely, Compass members approve the proposed reforms, we could see Labour and Lib Dem members working far more closely together on areas such as constitutional reform, climate change and inequality. With hung parliaments likely to become more, not less, common in the future, it is not just desirable but essential to heal the progressive divide. – New Statesman

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