OPINION - Nadine’s BBC licence fee plan? Red Meat for the Big Dog

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 (Daniel Hambury)
(Daniel Hambury)

Oh, come on. What kind of sad, flatulent geek comes up with policy initiatives billed as Big Dog and Red Meat (is the Red Meat for the Big Dog?) as a way of suggesting that the PM is going to get all populist? The brains at Downing Street may not have actually coined the terms but the gist is that — stand back, girls — Boris is going to get back in touch with his base and feed them something that Tories, as opposed to lovely, eco-friendly Carrie, actually want to hear.

And why should he want to do that? Oh I don’t know. Your call. Why would any PM want to direct attention towards cross-Channel migrants and a clampdown on the “drinking culture” at No 10?

Anyway, at the top of Big Dog’s Red Meat menu is the BBC licence fee. This toothsome T-bone steak was first unveiled by Nadine Dorries, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary. Obviously, in a tweet. Are there any Government ministers who actually share their views with Parliament before they go on social media? Not she.

Nadine let it be known that “this licence fee announcement will be the last... time now to discuss and debate new ways of funding, supporting and selling great British content”. “Content” being the vogue word for “programmes”.

This doesn’t sound to me like a debate; more a statement of intent. If this is the last licence fee announcement, it sounds as if the Government has made up its mind that it’s scrapping the licence fee as a way of funding the Corporation.

That would be a retrograde move, however much of an imposition it feels to pay £159 a year for an organisation it’s often very hard to love. And no, Dan Walker of BBC Breakfast expressing this as 43p a day doesn’t make it better. A freeze in the fee, yes, absolutely; why should the BBC be immune from the cold winds whipping round everyone else? Doing away with the licence fee altogether is quite another matter.

I am the last person to be a propagandist for the BBC. I only listen to the radio, for which you don’t need a licence. I can’t bear the demotic diction in the advertisements for BBC Sounds. I only got a licence to see Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation on iPlayer. But if the licence fee goes, even I can see that something valuable will go with it: public service broadcasting, the last residue of Lord Reith’s remit, to inform, educate, entertain. For all the Corporation’s sins, that’s worth keeping.

What do you think of plans to freeze the licence fee? Let us know in the comments below.

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