Former culture secretary Nadine Dorries has launched a bitter attack on the Prime Minister amid reports the Government is set to drop a plan to privatise Channel 4.
The Tory MP, one of Boris Johnson’s most loyal allies, accused Rishi Sunak of U-turning or abandoning key parts of the former prime minister’s agenda as she warned that it would now be “almost impossible to face the electorate” at the next general election.
Ms Dorries, who led the move to privatise Channel 4 as culture secretary in Mr Johnson’s government, hit out at the apparent reversal of the plan after her successor Michelle Donelan wrote to Mr Sunak to tell him that “pursuing a sale at this point is not the right decision and there are better ways to secure C4C’s (Channel 4 Corporation) sustainability”.
Three years of a progressive Tory government being washed down the drain. Levelling up, dumped. Social care reform, dumped. Keeping young and vulnerable people safe online, watered down. A bonfire of EU leg, not happening. Sale of C4 giving back £2b reversed. Replaced with what?
— Nadine Dorries (@NadineDorries) January 4, 2023
Mr Sunak is blamed by allies of Mr Johnson for playing a key role in the former prime minister’s downfall last summer, after resigning as chancellor.
Ms Dorries has not been shy since about making her feelings known about her new party leader.
She wrote on Twitter: “Three years of a progressive Tory government being washed down the drain. Levelling up, dumped. Social care reform, dumped. Keeping young and vulnerable people safe online, watered down.
“A bonfire of EU leg, not happening. Sale of C4 giving back £2b reversed. Replaced with what?”
She used a second tweet to hit out at the Prime Minister’s latest announcement, which would see all pupils in England study some form of maths until the age of 18.
“A policy at some time in the future to teach maths for longer with teachers we don’t yet even have to do so,” she wrote.
“Where is the mandate – who voted for this?”
And she offered a sharp warning to Mr Sunak, saying it “will now be almost impossible to face the electorate at a GE (general election) and expect voters to believe or trust our manifesto commitment”.
Channel 4 was created in 1982 by the Conservative government of Baroness Thatcher and is entirely funded by advertising, out of public ownership.
Unlike other broadcasters, everything it airs is commissioned from external production companies.
The Conservatives’ vendetta against Channel 4 was always wrong for Britain, growth in our creative economy and a complete waste of everyone’s time.
Our broadcasting and creative industries lead the world, yet this Government has hamstrung them with this total distraction. /1 https://t.co/VbgIagfqRY
— Lucy Powell MP (@LucyMPowell) January 4, 2023
In Ms Donelan’s letter, dated January 3 and shared by Lewis Goodall, co-presenter of Global podcast The News Agents, she noted the “view of my predecessor” was that selling C4C was the “right solution” to issues around its long-term sustainability, but that she had come to the opposite conclusion after “reviewing the business case”.
She said she planned to announce a new package of measures to “help tackle” the challenges C4C would face in the “evolving media sector”, including allowing it to create some of its own content and diversify its revenue “should it wish to do so”.
Ms Donelan, who was appointed by Liz Truss and remained in the role after Mr Sunak took over as Prime Minister, previously cast doubt on plans to privatise the broadcaster.
Shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell said: “The Conservatives’ vendetta against Channel 4 was always wrong for Britain, growth in our creative economy and a complete waste of everyone’s time.
“Our broadcasting and creative industries lead the world, yet this Government has hamstrung them with this total distraction.”
She added: “Labour opposed this sell-off, and took a strong stand. Government must now bring forward the Media Bill to protect and promote Britain’s broadcasters in the streaming age.
“Whilst the Conservatives crash our economy, we have a plan to nurture and grow our creative industries.”
Simon Hoare, Conservative MP for North Dorset, said: “A welcome and excellent decision/recommendation by @michelledonelan: if it ain’t broke; don’t fix it!”
Stephen Hammond, Conservative MP for Wimbledon, said: “I welcome the reports that C4 will not be privatised. I have always thought that its commercial future can be more sustainably secured by a new mandate within the current model.
“This decision will ensure the independent UK production industry will continue to thrive and prosper.”
We've been clear that selling such a profitable network would have major consequences for the UK broadcasting landscape.
— Bectu (@bectu) January 4, 2023
The Incorporated Society of British Advertisers said it was “delighted by the Government’s decision not to dispose of Channel 4”, saying its members “overwhelmingly opposed the sale”.
Philippa Childs, head of the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union (Bectu), said the reported scrapping of “short-sighted and damaging privatisation plans” was welcome as well as the “opportunity for more commercial flexibility” for Channel 4.
“We are keen to understand more on DCMS’s proposal to accelerate investment outside London, and how this might bring new opportunities,” she added.
National Union of Journalists general secretary Michelle Stanistreet also called on the Government to “properly engage with unions in the creative sector” so the “industry can continue to thrive and flourish”.