If Andy Coulson was a 'double agent', so is Chris Patten
With a revolution of 'martydom or victory' going on in Libya (not forgetting Tunisia and Egypt); civil war raging in Syria; and eurogeddon still in full swing, it beggars belief that the mainstream media is obsessing about what News International paid to Andy Coulson in 2007, after he had become David Cameron's director of communications. One might expect it from Socialists and the left-leaning press, but even The Spectator alleges incompetence on behalf of CCHQ. His Grace inclines towards the view of David Hughes in The Telegraph: 'The hysteria over Andy Coulson is getting out of hand.'
Robert Peston (BBC) broke the story (which some already knew) that Mr Coulson continued to receive money as part of a 'severance package'. His Grace has done a bit of fishing around on this, and such arrangements are not at all unusual under 'compromise agreements': the reasons may relate to taxation, or some clause to stagger payments to ensure the compromise conditions are met. So the issue appears to be that Mr Coulson was apparently serving two masters - in the words of John Prescott, he was a 'double agent being paid by the Tories & Murdoch'.
If that is the principal objection - or perception - how can Lord Patten simultaneously be Chairman of the BBC Trust and in receipt of an EU pension? He readily gave up jobs (with the Global Leadership Foundation, the International Crisis Group and Medical Aid to Palestine) which might have been perceived as a conflict of interests, but his EU pension of around £100,000 per annum continues to be paid.
Lord Patten's pension is conditional upon him doing nothing to harm the interests of the European Union. According to Article 213 of the Treaty establishing the European Community:
The Members of the Commission shall, in the general interest of the Community, be completely independent in the performance of their duties.Yet the Chairman of the BBC Trust is obliged to be politically impartial (indeed, Lord Patten has relinquished his membership of the Conservative Party). The Trust is tasked with monitoring and holding the Executive Board to account for the BBC’s compliance with the BBC Editorial Guidelines and other relevant codes and guidelines. Further:
In the performance of these duties, they shall neither seek nor take instructions from any government or from any other body. They shall refrain from any action incompatible with their duties. Each Member State undertakes to respect this principle and not to seek to influence the Members of the Commission in the performance of their tasks.
The Members of the Commission may not, during their term of office, engage in any other occupation, whether gainful or not. When entering upon their duties they shall give a solemn undertaking that, both during and after their term of office, they will respect the obligations arising therefrom and in particular their duty to behave with integrity and discretion as regards the acceptance, after they have ceased to hold office, of certain appointments or benefits. In the event of any breach of these obligations, the Court of Justice may, on application by the Council or the Commission, rule that the Member concerned be, according to the circumstances, either compulsorily retired in accordance with Article 216 or deprived of his right to a pension or other benefits in its stead.
The Trust will require the Executive Board to draw up and submit for approval Election Guidelines and Referendum Guidelines. Election Guidelines will include a code of practice for elections regarding the participation of candidates in items about the electoral area during the election period. Referendum Guidelines give editorial guidance in relation to coverage of referendum campaigns. The Trust will review and, when it is satisfied, approve the Guidelines, which may be subject to public consultation.The BBC already manifests considerable pro-EU bias, but Lord Patten is perceptibly unable to address this lest he be accused of acting against the interests of the Union.
Now, Lord Patten may be an honorable man. But, as Lord Prescott has pointed out, there is the perception of a conflict - of being a 'double agent'.
Why, pray, is the media kicking up such a fuss over payments to Andy Coulson from 2007, but not batting an eyelid over the hundreds of thousands of pieces of silver still being paid to keep the state broadcaster in thrall to the EU?