Sitting on the offence

The black Labour MP David Lammy said the vetoing by Karen Bradley of Althea Efunshile as a new Channel Four board member after she had been vetted, approved and recommended by Ofcom “beggars belief”, and so it does.

Can it really be as simple and crass as ruling her out because she is not a white male, like the four other candidates she did rubber stamp? If so and it was simple stupidity, did nobody at DCMS think to warn her of the torrent that would descend on her, as it now is?

Yesterday a group of eminent women including Joan Bakewell, Tessa Jowell, Jenny Abramsky, Bonnie Greer, Liz Forgan and Valerie Amos – lefties all, of course - wrote to Bradley asking for an explanation. So far there has been no reply and they have to make do with the DCMS spokesperson’s response: “The Secretary of State approved candidates on the basis that they met the specific skills and experiences set out in Ofcom’s four advertised job description”, which ignores the fact that there even was a fifth candidate. Efunshile is understood to have been one of three recommended in the summer by Ofsted’s chairman, Patricia Hodgson, an ex-BBC producer known as a gritty judge of character, along with the former chairman of a newspaper group and the chief executive of an insurance company. Later two more names were added, the CEO of the British Library, Roly Keating, and Chris Holmes, a Tory peer and former Paralympic swimmer who, ironically, was LOCOG’s director of integration.
As for Efunshile’s qualifications, she was Alan Davey’s deputy at the Arts Council and ran it adroitly after he left, she had been a senior civil servant and director of education in a London borough. She was trusted, admired, even loved, but could be ruthless if necessary. As she was leaving ACE one remark that she knew where the bodies were got the response “Yes, because she buried most of them”. What the government and DCMS don’t need is an awkward honest broker getting in the way as it battles with Channel Four over its future as a subsidised broadcaster.
But what might be even more germane in all this is her role in getting the surprisingly decent funding settlement for ACE in last year’s spending review, and the then Chancellor’s remark that cutting arts funding was a false economy. By all accounts the winning over of the Treasury in the negotiations was a pincer movement between the outgoing chairman Peter Bazalgette dealing with George Osborne and the politicians (interestingly, he didn’t take up the option of a further four years in the job while his predecessor was effectivly fired) with Efunshile deploying her persuasive skills on his civil servants, effectively by-passing the DCMS of John Whittingdale. It was notable that at Efunshile’s farewell party at the Southbank in October there was a sprinkling of Treasury bureaucrats to raise a toast to her, but the only political representative was Ed Vaizey, “our lovely Ed” as she described him, the long-serving culture minster and Osborne friend sacked by Mrs May. Has Bradley inherited her predecessor’s bitterness over a perceived slight, and is she passing on her boss’s hatred for Osborne? Even more emetic.
There could be one rather elegant face-saving solution for the culture secretary, however: Make Efunshile the next director of Tate.


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