Sunday, May 10, 2015


A smaller, poorer BBC is almost inevitable after the 2015 election result.

BBC executives have, historically, tried to guess long-term government changes, and pick up bright political advisers who will give them insight into the direction either Labour or Conservatives are heading with public service broadcasting, so that emerging strategies at Auntie are smiled on, embraced and funded.

In the late eighties, the BBC wrangled with the Peacock Committee, set up by Margaret Thatcher with a view to scrapping the licence fee. Entertainingly, the long-term outcome was deepjoy - the 1988 licence fee of £58 was index-linked, by Douglas Hurd, and that, combined with steady growth in number of licence fees, produced the "jacuzzi of spare public cash" that the ever-helpful and strategic Mark Thompson noted when employed briefly by Channel 4.

Patricia Hodgson, a Tory inside the the BBC from 1970 to 2000, hedged against the arrival of a Labour Government, by hiring two Labour policy wonks, James Purnell and Ed Richard, to map out an expanded BBC future in the mid-90s. ( Lord Hall may have partially been gambling on a Labour win in 2015 when he re-hired James Purnell, now with Cabinet experience under his belt.)

In 2000, Labour's Chris Smith topped up the jacuzzi with a licence deal of inflation plus 1.5% for digital initiatives, to run for six years.

The jacuzzi started emptying in 2007, when the link with inflation was broken at the behest of Gordon Brown. The BBC had been concentrating on woo-ing Tessa Jowell, not Gordon. They thought they'd squared Gordon - with moves out of London - like Salford - which were a fit with the Labour re-distribution of big Government offices. And with the use of PFI-type deals to fund them. Thommo was aghast, and talked of a £2bn funding gap - but the BBC survived, as did Thommo's salary increases.

The 2010 deal-in-a-weekend, done by Mark Thompson and Jeremy Hunt, was financial, not strategic. Thompson had to take over funding of World Service, BBC Monitoring and S4C, as an alternative to more top slicing of the licence fee to pay for Tory initiatives. The Foreign Office and Welsh Office were able to meet Osborne targets.

Now the Tories will say they have a mandate to go further - and, as they hunt for further billions of public service cuts, will seek to ameliorate them in other directions.

Tories who have made the BBC's life difficult over the last Parliament are back with more votes. Andrew Bridgen, MP for Leicestershire North West, added 4,000 to his 2010 tally, despite what he claims was "false reporting" by Auntie locally.  Richard Bacon, one of the Public Account Committee's attack dogs, doubled his majority in South Norfolk - his first post-election promise is sort out rural broadband, so you can imagine where he thinks that money might come from.

The last Culture Secretary, Sajid Javid, accused the BBC, of being "anti-Tory" with a week to go to polling day.  This complaint, against a discussion on the Today programme, was made to the Daily Mail. Nonetheless, against such unfair pressure, Sajid picked up 5,500 additional votes in Bromsgrove.  Will he stay with the brief ?


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