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Ex-Tory adviser married to Tory MP will help choose Ofcom chair | Ofcom


A former Tory adviser who is married to a Conservative MP will help select the next chair of the media regulator Ofcom, the government has confirmed.

Michael Simmonds worked as an adviser to Conservative ministers during the 1990s before co-founding the polling company Populus. He is the husband of the former schools minister Nick Gibb – and therefore the brother-in-law of the BBC board member Sir Robbie Gibb, a former Downing Street communications chief under Theresa May.

Simmonds will sit on the interview panel that will decide which applicants meet the required criteria set out in the job description to oversee Ofcom.

The former Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre is the preferred choice of ministers for the role and almost secured the job in May. However, the government was forced to rerun the entire recruitment process after Dacre unexpectedly failed the final interview round and was deemed “not appointable” to the job.

This time, despite struggling to find people to take part in the interview process, ministers are taking fewer risks, with the job description rewritten to favour a more confrontational candidate. The successful applicant will have ultimate oversight of everything from social media regulation to television broadcasts and the postal service.

The three-strong interview panel for Ofcom chair is helmed by a senior civil servant, Sue Gray. But the two other government-appointed interviewers both have connections to Robbie Gibb.

Simmonds is Gibb’s brother-in-law, while the other external interviewer is lobbyist Michael Prescott, who the Financial Times has described as “a friend of Robbie Gibb”.

Gibb, who helped found the rightwing television channel GB News, is in turn close to Dougie Smith and Munira Mirza. They are the couple in Downing Street who are credited with pushing the government’s “culture war” agenda and attempting to get sympathetic individuals appointed to key roles in public life.

This week the Guardian revealed concerns about ministers putting political allies on interview panels in an apparent attempt to ensure that pro-government candidates secure public jobs. Peter Riddell, the former commissioner of public appointments, said the government had even attempted to put sitting Conservative politicians on panels.

Other government-led appointments to media institutions are under scrutiny. Samir Shah – a television producer who co-authored the government’s controversial racial disparities report – is sitting on the interview panel for other Ofcom board appointments. Ministers are also about to recruit a new Channel 4 chair, amid the ongoing threat to privatise the broadcaster.

All the decisions will ultimately be approved by the culture secretary, Nadine Dorries, in consultation with Downing Street.

Dacre has yet to confirm whether he has submitted his formal application for the Ofcom job, although last month he formally cut most of his remaining ties with the Daily Mail after more than 40 years with the newspaper, removing a potential conflict of interest.

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