Political memoirs reveal Downing Street bids to control the BBC under David Cameron

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Former cabinet minister Ken Clarke has claimed that the Downing Street press office falsely told the BBC he was ill to try to stop him appearing on Question Time.

In a memoir serialised in  The Times, Clarke has written of how Prime Minister David Cameron exercised “control freak discipline” over Cabinet colleagues “with steady injunctions about the use of set policy lines and slogans on all public occasions”.

Clarke said that he preferred to “take a very Heseltine view” and “engaged in regular television and and radio controversy on major political subjects”.

He said he was due to appear on an episode of BBC One debate programme Question Time in the spring of 2014 when he was told by Downing Street that his appearance had been cancelled because the show had accidentally booked two Conservative ministers.

He said he rang up the producer to find out what had gone wrong.

“She was amazed by my query. She had been told by the Downing Street press office that I was ill and unable to attend…

“This was a silly and childish incident and I was reinstated on the programme and took part in the normal way.”

Meanwhile, former Downing Street director of communications Sir Craig Oliver has revealed how David Cameron attempted to influence BBC coverage of Brexit during a conversation with the director general over charter renewal.

In an extract from his new book (also reported by The Times) Oliver has related a phone call between Cameron and  Tony Hall made in the run-up to the EU referendum of June this year.

“The PM has a call with Tony Hall, the director-general of the BBC, to discuss how its new unitary board will work. DC manages to get across my point that the BBC  business and economics unit is giving a misleading impression on the balance of the debate. He says he will look at it.”

Oliver writes in the book that the BBC “led on stories that were simply wrong” which were put out by the Leave campaign when it should have “been stamping their own independent authority and analysis on the output”.

A BBC source told Press Gazette: “There’s nothing new in people having strong views about our coverage, but the public will notice a distinct irony in the BBC being accused of failing to do enough to stop Brexit on the one hand while being criticised for being anti-Brexit on the other.

“As we’ve said before, our job is to challenge politicians from all sides and interrogate the arguments. That’s what we’ve been doing and what we’ll continue to do.”

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