Margaret Hodge: from Islington socialist to inquisitor-in-chief
In her north London council days they nicknamed her 'Enver Hodge'; now she's 'the nation's favourite battle-axe'
PARLIAMENT'S inquisitor-in-chief, Margaret Hodge, has emerged as the only winner from the wreckage of yesterday's Westminster committee hearing at which Mark Thompson tried in vain to defend the excessive pay-offs given to departing BBC execs during his reign as director-general.
The Radio 4 Today programme this morning avoided any lengthy mention of the BBC car-crash before the Public Accounts Committee, clearly finding the spectacle too painful.
But on Sky TV, Andrew Pierce, associate editor of the Daily Mail, said Hodge, as the chair of the PAC, had become "the nation's favourite battle-axe".
Nick Higham, the BBC's media correspondent, tweeted: "There was an audible cheer in the BBC newsroom when Margaret Hodge accused BBC HR director Lucy Adams of lying to the PAC."
The BBC execs are only the latest targets to be caught in the cross-hairs of the inquisitor with the killer quotes. Before the BBC panjandrums took their medicine yesterday, it had been the bosses of the multi-nationals, up before the PAC for dodging paying their taxes. Hodge humiliated and shamed the heads of some the world's best known brands, including Starbucks and Amazon.
It is a remarkable transformation of a politician who 30 years ago was known as a 'Champagne socialist' - if not a signed up member of the 'loony left' - when she ran Islington borough council in north London from 1982 until 1992.
These were the years when Labour councils were dominated by the left. The rightwing press called Hodge's patch the People's Republic of Islington and nicknamed her 'Enver Hodge' after the Albanian despot Enver Hoxha. She was London's best-known leftie after Ken Livingstone.
That was before she was elected Labour MP for Barking in 1994 and signed her neighbour Tony Blair's nomination papers to run for the leadership.
An ultra-Blairite, she was made Tony's minister for children, an appointment that was controversial because of a scandal involving child care abuse in Islington when she was in charge.
Her role as grand inquisitor in the chair of the PAC is the fourth stage of her political life. She was born in Cairo in 1944. Her father, Hans Oppenheimer, was a German Jewish multi-millionaire steel magnet and her mother, Lisbeth, was Austrian. She was educated at Oxford high school for girls, and the LSE, and has four children from two marriages. She celebrated her 69th birthday on Sunday.
She will have had mixed feelings about yesterday's inquisition. In July, after giving BBC chiefs a similar grilling, she tweeted: "Feeling v depressed as have always been huge champion of BBC, but pay-offs simply unacceptable and cosy culture at the top has to end... and people who got excessive pay-offs should pay it back".
At the end of yesterday's hearing, Hodge said it had been a "grossly unedifying occasion which can only damage the standing and reputation of the BBC".
She added: "At best, what we've seen is incompetence, lack of central control, a failure to communicate for a broadcaster whose job is communicating. At worst, we may have seen people covering their backs by being less than open. That is not good."
The BBC bosses - and the BBC Trust, whose future must surely be doomed - are now nervously awaiting the report from Chairman Hodge. It won't be pretty. The Barking dominatrix will give them a lashing. ·