An interview is not a policy (Ed Vaizey in the Sunday Times: a Tory government may make the BBC sell Radio 1) but it’s a straw in the wind. That wind now blows against the BBC: bloated, smug, out of touch, destructive of the private sector. When I wrote for Prospect in July 2009, that this attack came from the right, I was wrong: it now comes from everywhere. But as the likely next government, the Conservatives will inherit this trend.
It’s mistaken. The BBC is an elephant, but it’s a fine elephant. The fact that, by chance, it has grown to strength and maturity in the British public sector rather than the US private one, seems to strike many as contrary to the laws of nature: and inspires more polemics about its bias than ever comes the way of private media.
I think and have often written that the BBC has a liberal-left bias, and often I find it grates. It pays some of its stars and many of its executives very large sums, and that must excite envy –and with it the question: would they be worth that in the private sector?
But the arguments stands. The two large reasons for preserving the BBC as it is, are that at a time when news and analysis and documentary are being failed by the private sector, a public levy through the licence fee which delivers for all tastes is a welcome, even a necessary, antidote. And also: that where private media’s decisions cannot be challenged except by turning off or on, the BBC’s are a matter of public debate and controversy – now more or less permanent.
To start lopping away at a success which is also a provider of a great public good and is firmly within the democratic square is plain daft. My hope is that the kite flown by Ed Vaizey remains just that: and that it is pulled down if and when the Tories have to make governing decisions.