One of the fondest memories I have of being involved in politics is being a part of anti-BBC marches on behalf of Make Britain Great Again. I can remember vividly walking near the HQ of the organisation in London in 2017 and 2018 chanting anti-Beeb slogans, working with political heavyweights like former MEP Godfrey Bloom, and the real buzz I got out of being a part of such protests. Giving a speech at one of these events only helped me to solidify such positive times in my mind, even if the activism organisation it was a part of is now long gone.
And my views on the BBC haven’t changed much since then. I regard the Beeb, as many conservatives do, as a questionable organisation at the best of times, hopelessly biased to the left and rocked in several scandals.
So you would reasonably expect that I would enthusiastically back Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries’ plans to freeze the BBC license fee, as well as address real reform to how the organisation is funded, as part of Operation Red Meat – Boris Johnson’s last-ditch attempt to save his premiership from its current self-inflicted implosion.
Actually, no. Instead, I feel a positive indifference to the whole ordeal. While the move is a right one in the long term, it does represent a problem with the Conservative Party in general: pandering to niche carrot-and-stick issues that, while of interest to much of the right in Britain, do very little to improve the lives and situation of the British people as it currently stands.
This is because the Tories have teased this to their base for several years now. As early as 2013, Grant Shapps threatened to undermine the license fee if the organisation didn’t resolve its ‘culture of waste and secrecy’, and called it biased against the Conservative Party. In 2015, Prime Minister David Cameron indicated similar support for wanting to abolish the license fee and decriminalise the act of non-payment of it. In 2020, there were similar rumblings concerning scrapping the license fee by Boris Johnson’s government.
None of these amounted to anything of course, and there is an inkling that this threat by Dorries will be more of the same, especially given that renewal of the license fee doesn’t come until 2027, by which time the political conversation will be far different.
But what it highlights is the serious intellectual and policy dead end the Conservative Party now finds itself in. Fox News host Tucker Carlson noticed a similar trend with the Republican Party over in the United States, to which he stated that ‘instead of improving the lives of their voters, the party feeds them a steady diet of mindless, symbolic victories’, citing the Benghazi hearings as an example of that.
With something like this, the Tory establishment are doing something similar.
How does freezing or abolishing the license fee solve the problems of many in working and middle class Britain, like their fears surrounding illegal immigration on our southern coasts and the cost of living crisis swiftly underway?
It doesn’t, but it does pander to much of Boris’ backbenchers and base, of who are starting to turn on him in droves, and who care far more for this sort of thing than most of the British public do.
Meanwhile, there is a danger in scrapping the license fee in what it is replaced with. A subscription system isn’t a bad one, but just seems to be a cynical excuse by the Tories to eventually privatise and sell it off if it doesn’t do well or some other convenient line, like they are currently trying to do with Channel 4. Thatcherite economics has been the sole raison d’etre for much of the party since the Iron Lady’s time in Number 10.
The logical action would be to do something outside the box, keeping it public whilst funding it through voluntary contributions or commercially like Channel 4 or NPR in the US. Instead, the road of privatisation-fits-all will probably be taken, the same way it was disastrously so for the railway system and water services, in a country whereby the media is owned by a small handful of conglomerates and moguls to an alarming degree.
So, while I overall support any discussion of BBC reform and scrapping the license fee, I no longer see it as a big issue when it comes to conservatism or acting in Britain’s best interests. It’s hard to trust a Conservative Party which is intellectually bereft and plainly opportunistic to pandering to their base when they fail to do anything useful.
The policy itself isn’t a bad one, and I fully support it, but it’s hard to see it going any other way than badly.