Vir Cantium

I'm right, you know …

Boris Talks Cobblers

I’ve been somewhat busy the last few days, so am only just catching up on the other stories around the blogosphere. Rather than bore you (even more) with outdated opinions on stuff that happened three days ago, I’ll just mention one perennial chestnut – the BBC licence fee.
Now I campaigned with and for Boris and will almost certainly do so next time, but on at least one non-London specific issue he is, as Iain Dale rightly says, talking utter codswallop.

Boris’ thoughts on the licence fee included this myth gem:

Take away the licence fee and you take away the Beeb’s ability to spend £6 million on the world’s greatest festival of classical music. [The Proms]

Boris, sadly, is thinking like a socialist. He doesn’t believe, it seems, that things can happen without the State underwriting them. He thinks that without the BBC extorting money from its customers, no-one would be interested in coming up with the readies, either in the form of sponsorship or otherwise, to keep the world’s greatest festival of classical music going.

I am not a friend of the licence fee. It is an anachronism that provided an efficient means of funding the BBC when it was the only broadcaster. Therefore, logically, it should have been given up in the early fifties when ITV came along.

It boils down to this basic question, which I have never yet heard a supporter of the licence fee answer (at least without resorting to vague meaningless concepts like “public service broadcasting”):

If the BBC is so good, then why does it have to threaten its customers with fines or imprisonment?

Actually, that question isn’t quite right, since to refer to licence fee payers as “customers of the BBC” is like calling any driver a “customer of the M1 motorway”. (Some of) your road taxes go to pay for it, whether you ever use it or not. To continue the car analogy, the licence fee is like buying a Toyota and finding that you also have to pay a fee to Daimler-Benz.

Frankly, I’d have abolished the licence fee years ago if I had the power, but as it happens, it need only be until 2012 that we have to endure this vestige of pre-war paternalism, as by then the digital TV roll out will have completed and the BBC can be funded by voluntary subscription using a scrambled signal and decoder cards just like many other channels seem to manage.

Now the Conservative Party policy is to share out some of the licence fee with other broadcasters. While it makes it a little less unfair on the other companies, it doesn’t really get to the heart of the issue. That, I guess, reflects the fact that there is a considerable difference of opinion in the party over the licence fee. Sadly, too many of my fellow Conservatives fall for the emotional scaremongering that Boris and others indulge in. It will take time, therefore, but I am convinced that the days of the licence fee are numbered.

Wow. A whole post about the BBC and not one mention of bias!


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