Ted Heath remains a hate figure for many Tories. Two reasons for this are well known. He took us into Europe and he conducted the longest sulk in political history when he was deposed by Margaret Thatcher. The third, less publicised reason, was the economic U turn he performed midway through his government in the early seventies.


In 1970 Heath came to power with a right wing agenda to deregulate and make a transfer from direct to indirect taxation. Rising unemployment knocked him off course and his Chancellor Anthony Barber reflated the economy. The resulting inflation was controlled by an incomes policy which led to the miners strike, the three day week and the Conservatives lost the 1974 election.


When Margaret Thatcher faced a similar economic crisis early in her premiership, she was not for turning and became a heroine of her party. Such a status is never likely to be available to David Cameron and George Osborne but next week they do face a similar situation. The cries to modify the austerity and borrow our way out are deafening. Labour point out that as the economy flat lines we are borrowing more anyway.


I don’t expect the Chancellor to ease up. The Budget is likely to include fuel duty relief and more spending on infrastructure but I expect a broadly neutral budget as ministers cross their fingers and hope that the economic course on which they are set, works.


There are economic indicators which support the Chancellor’s approach, the mortgage market is easing, business start ups are growing and unemployment is down.


It is worth reflecting on that last point. It is one of the outstanding features of this recession. In Heath and Thatcher’s time, unemployment rocketed up as the economy slumped. Why hasn’t it happened this time. It is partly because the figures mask the fact that a lot of people are part time or under employed. Workers have been prepared to suffer wage freezes and reduced hours to keep their jobs. The trade unions, once able to bring down governments, are whispering from the sidelines. Sad but true, strikes are not really an option in the 21st century.




One of the many reasons why people are turned off from politics is that the great and the good generally don’t pay with their jobs when things go wrong.


If a brickie builds a dodgy wall and it falls down he gets sacked. If a car mechanic does a shoddy job on your vehicle; same fate.


But when it comes to police officers failing to pick up on complaints about Jimmy Savile or health disasters like Mid Staffs, none of the people at the top lose their jobs.


The glaring example is Sir David Nicholson, head of the strategic health authority which covered Mid Staffs. Now head of the whole NHS for England, he has defied repeated calls to resign.


Just occasionally justice is served as we saw this week with Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce, but this does not detract from the need for people who take high salaries to walk the plank if things go wrong.


I was first in the queue for a seat at the grilling of the BBC Director General over Jimmy Savile on Tuesday. God knows why George Entwhistle volunteered for the ordeal that befell him because, having set up two inquiries, he should have been lying low not exposing himself to MPs who wanted quick answers or an easy headline.


What we got was a very inexperienced DG caught in the headlights and choosing to hang out one of his senior programme editors to dry. If I was Peter Rippon, now “standing aside” from the editorship of Newsnight, I would take the transcript of the Culture Select Committee report to an employment tribunal if he loses his job permanently.


Entwhistle expressed his embarrassment and regret that Rippon’s blog on why he had spiked the Savile investigation was not accurate. He said Rippon’s reasons for not transmitting the report were not defensible. He (Entwhistle) would have transmitted it. He made it clear that he had suspended Rippon rather than the editor having volunteered to “stand aside”.


If your boss went on national media and treated you in the same way, how would you feel? The DG laid down his friend for his life big time.


The pain Rippon must be feeling at his treatment by Entwhistle must only be exceeded by his angst that he did not transmit the report on Savile’s vile behaviour. The fact that ITV scooped the BBC on their own story is a source of huge frustration throughout the corporation and explains the furious civil war that has now broken out.


Rippon is being accused of being sat on by people higher up the BBC chain of command or of lacking the courage to back his journalists. So let’s hold on a minute and reflect that we are all operating with the help of hindsight. A year ago Entwhistle, as Head of BBC Vision, had no qualms in making tribute programmes on Savile a centrepiece of his Christmas schedule. Although rumours and allegations about Savile had been around for years, Entwhistle must have felt them so insignificant that a tribute to Savile’s talent and charity work was entirely appropriate.


It reminds us that just a year ago Savile was a national treasure and the people of Leeds lined the streets as his coffin passed.


It was against this background that reporter Liz Mackean and producer Meirion Jones were preparing to bring Savile’s reputation crashing down. So, although Rippon allowed the production to get to an advanced stage, he must have looked at the state of opinion as it was then. Savile had just died amid public acclaim and the BBC was planning a Christmas celebration of the dead star. He was entitled to take a deep breath before giving the final go ahead.


Two more factors may have affected his decision. One was the huge responsibility that is put on individual programme editors in the BBC. They can talk to colleagues, but it is their call. It is a protection against pressure coming down from above, but it is an awesome individual responsibility in the end.


The other factor that might have weighed on his mind is the Trafigura affair. Peter Rippon was the editor of Newsnight in December 2009 when the BBC withdrew an allegation that the company’s dumping of hazardous waste in the Ivory Coast was directly responsible for deaths there. The report was the work of Meirion Jones and Liz Mackean. The pair rightly went on to win a major award for investigative reporting but reports suggest the BBC faced a bill of £3m if they had fought Trafigura in court.


The BBC is once again at the mercy of those who are always looking for reasons to bring it down. It has not handled this matter well and may well face further embarrassing revelations. But at the end of it all let’s remember that the person who bears ultimate responsibility for this is not George Entwhistle or Peter Rippon, but Jimmy Savile.