The job of chairman of the BBC Trust is up for grabs. On paper it looks like a dream job. Not too taxing; perks of being a civil servant; good pay; great working environment; interesting, high-profile, semi-altruistic organisation. Basically, a great way to kick-off your retirement. However, unless you've been living on Mars for the last 15 years, you'll know that this is, in fact, the job from hell.
As bad jobs go, chairman of the BBC Trust is up there with the manager of the England Football Team; president of the European Commission and editor of the paper formerly known as the News of the World. It is a basket-case of a job in which you can please no one and the chances are high that you'll end up wondering why you ever thought applying was a good idea.
Yes, I accept that this is not a 'normal' job. You are not chairman of the world's largest sock manufacturer. No one is going to tell you, Mr Sock Chairman, not to sell anymore green plaid ankle-length pull-ons to China purely because they don't like China. But though chairman of the BBC Trust is not a run-of-the-mill post, it is supposed to be an independent role; one free from political interference. And that's the big problem. For the last 15 years, the BBC Trust has been kicked around the place like a political football.
What happened to Greg Dyke, the director general of the BBC during the Blair years is the stuff of legend so I won't go there. We all know what happened and it wasn't pretty. But the problem is, though the DG role is gone and the spotlight is on the chairman of the Trust, it hasn't really got much prettier since. Chairmen have come and gone, always with an underlying feeling that they left because of political pressure or the stress of such an impossible balancing act. Public interest; the need for a return on investment and complete impartiality are never going to be easy to attain when there's a government breathing down your neck; especially a coalition government whose main parties, if the polls are to be believed, are likely to be out of office come the soon-to-be-held General Election.
In May, against this backdrop, the department of culture, media and sport advertised for a new chairman on the news that Lord Patten was retiring due to ill health. There was no doubt a mad scramble to complete the application forms. Unfortunately, no one bothered to tell the scramblees that they were all doomed to failure; that they'd wasted much time and many dreams. The position of BBC chairman is one of those jobs. It's no good just being a massively successful, rich, important and well-connected person who has a long track record of outstanding achievement in a semi-related (or in fact totally unrelated) industry. Oh no. You don't need to be the best person for the job. How passé! Unlike most other jobs apart from possibly the prime minister, first and foremost, you need to be 'acceptable'. But to whom?
Well, first of all you need to be acceptable to the government of the day. You need to be on their side. Allegedly, you need, if at all possible, to be mates with the prime minister. Lord Grade was mates with Gordon Brown and his successor, Sir Michael Lyons, was Gordon Brown's 'Mr Fix-It' before becoming chairman. David Cameron knew and trusted Lord Chris Patten, having known him since Cameron was a young adviser to John Major. The man widely touted to succeed Lord Patten was Lord Coe. Though there's no indication that Coe is anything other than an acquaintance of Cameron, Coe's charisma and achievements are enough to make you believe that even David Cameron would be star-struck enough to class him as his best friend.
But there the story ends. For the first time, an important, well-connected, rich, successful, talented, acceptable person has turned down the role of chairman of the BBC Trust. Sadly for the government, Lord Coe has not been living on Mars for the last 15 years. Seb Coe knows what the job entails and he's self-aware enough not interested. So where next? Who next?
The word on the street is that Cameron wants a woman for the role. You can bet your bottom dollar that in a parallel universe that would have been Rebekah Brookes. But as she's out of the picture - unless Cameron is suicidal of course - then if I was a high-profile woman in the media, preferably a peer with links to David Cameron, I'd be very afraid right now. Especially as the one person who fits that bill, Dame Marjorie Scardino, former chief executive of the Financial Times-owner Pearson PLC, has just ruled herself out of the running.
There will be a new chairman or chairwoman of the BBC Trust at some point because no matter how hard you try, if someone offers you a job like this, the vast majority of us will take it. We will kid ourselves that it will be different under our tenure. That we will change things and cover ourselves in glory and go down in history and all those other things we tell ourselves when our egos get the better of our brain cells. So fear not! The next person with their bum on that seat will...well...end up exactly the same way as all the previous incumbents: spending a few years battering off allegations of impartiality and cronyism, fighting scandals and getting so totally worn out by the whole thing that one day, pottering around in the garden with a G&T will suddenly seem such a wonderful way to spend your later years.
So, tell me again why anyone would want to be the chairman of the BBC Trust?Suggest a correction