Government critics blocked from senior public roles, ex-Tory minister claims |

A former Conservative minister has accused the government of blacklisting dissenters in contests for senior public jobs after claiming she was overlooked for high-profile roles at Ofcom and the Charity Commission.

Anna Soubry, whose ministerial career ran from 2012 to 2016 and spanned three departments, told the Guardian she believed her opposition to Brexit and criticism of the prime minister, Boris Johnson, meant her applications for the jobs were ignored.

The former TV journalist, who now works as a criminal defence barrister in the east Midlands after losing her Commons seat in December 2019, said she had not been called for interview for jobs as the chair of the broadcasting regulator Ofcom or the chair of the Charity Commission, which regulates good causes. Both appointments are being made by ministers.

She said she had also been overlooked for a non-executive director role at Channel 4. The recruitment process is managed by Ofcom with the final decision made by ministers, the regulator said.

“I have no doubt I have been blacklisted because of my views on Boris Johnson, which are well known, and because of my views on Brexit,” she said. “I think it is shocking and disgraceful.”

Soubry believes she was sufficiently qualified to at least be interviewed for the jobs. Channel 4 has been looking for a non-executive director with a job advert that said relevant skillsets include “news/journalism; broadcasting; regulation; legal; government/parliament”.

She felt her experience as a former broadcast journalist as well as steering regulation as a minister at the Ministry of Defence from October 2013 to May 2015 and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills from May 2015 until July 2016 made her a plausible candidate. In addition, she said she had experience taking bills through parliament and that this would be useful for the future Ofcom chair given the likely need to reform the regulation of online safety and social media.

Soubry has previously said she would “never forgive” Johnson for campaigning for Brexit, because she did not think he believed in it. She quit the Conservatives in February 2019 and joined disaffected Labour MPs to form the Independent Group for Change.

Her claims come after Jonathan Evans, the chair of the committee on standards in public life, called for reform of the public appointments process and cited concerns about ministers “seeking to pack assessment panels with majorities of political affiliates”.

The Guardian reported on Monday that the government recently tried to select a Tory peer as an “independent” panel member for one significant appointment. That came after it was revealed that the public appointments watchdog had to step in to prevent ministers breaching a code on appointments in competitions for the chairs of the BBC, British Film Institute and Office for Students.

Soubry said she understood the public appointments system because she was involved in picking candidates during the David Cameron-led governments. The policy then was that if candidates “were supporters of the Labour party they would not be appointed”, she said.

“It has gone beyond that and there are people who are on a blacklist,” she said. “I am told that anybody who is applying for any form of public role, their social media will be checked out and if they have tweeted anything anti-Brexit or anything anti-Boris Johnson they are out. Even if they are ably qualified, they don’t have a cat in hell’s chance.”

After failing to get an interview for Ofcom, Soubry also applied to be chair of the Charity Commission, but again was overlooked.

“I really understand the charity sector. How could they not offer me an interview?” she said. She added that she wanted to “put something back” and would have done it for no salary.

The job advert states that significant political activity including holding office, public speaking, and standing for election are likely to present a conflict of interest, but Soubry has not been an elected politician since December 2019.

Candidates were asked to provide detail of political activity over the last five years so conflicts of interest could be explored in the context of their ability to perform in the role, only if selected for interview.

“Again, week after week went by and I got the email saying I didn’t get an interview,” she said. “Then I applied to be on the board of Channel 4. They were looking for a non-executive director with political and media experience. I mean, hello, all those years as a journalist and a politician at a senior level. Again I wasn’t offered an interview.”

A Whitehall source said Soubry “didn’t meet the required standard” for their roles. “She can cry conspiracy all she wants, but in the same way that politicians should respect the results of referendums and elections, she should learn to respect the result of job applications,” they said.

Ofcom said it ran “a fair and impartial process involving independent interview panellists”.

A government spokesperson said: “None of these public appointments processes have concluded. Public appointments are made in line with the governance code which clearly sets out that assessment panels must be objective when deciding which candidates meet the criteria for a role.”

Read More:Government critics blocked from senior public roles, ex-Tory minister claims |

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