Tory MP criticises ‘nasty’ manner of debate about future of BBC

A Tory MP has hit out at the “nasty manner” of the debate about the future of the BBC.

Huw Merriman, who is chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the BBC, said the “ideological trench warfare” against the corporation is “unedifying”.

It follows claims in the Sunday Times last week suggesting that Number 10 could be prepared to scrap the TV licence fee as part of a move to scale back the broadcaster’s operations.

Huw Merriman
Huw Merriman

A senior Downing Street source told the newspaper: “We are not bluffing on the licence fee. We are having a consultation and we will whack it.

“It has to be a subscription model. They’ve got hundreds of radio stations, they’ve got all these TV stations and a massive website. The whole thing needs massive pruning back.”

In an interview with The House magazine, Mr Merriman defended the BBC, calling it a “much-loved British institution”.

“Since the election, the BBC has become the subject of various negative briefings and opinions,” he said.

“The latest intervention indicated that the BBC would be forcibly slimmed down, moved to subscription and, bizarrely, given a ‘whack’ in the process. Given I am the chairman of the APPG for the BBC, I felt that the corporation needed a supportive voice.

“It is absolutely right that the future funding model of the BBC is debated before 2027, when the charter is up for renewal.

“What’s not helpful, and unedifying, is waging some ideological trench warfare on the BBC.

“My own preference would be to continue with the licence fee. By having most homes pay towards the BBC, we all have a stake in this much-loved British institution, and we keep it at a price which, at roughly the price of the Sun, is affordable for most.

“Others will take a different view, but I dislike the nasty manner in which this debate is being conducted. It needs to stop.”

Mr Merriman also raised concerns around the “somewhat brutal” methods of Dominic Cummings – Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s controverisal senior aide at Number 10.

“I feel quite torn about my views on Dominic Cummings, because, on the one hand, I like people that have original thought and ideas. They challenge the status quo,” said Mr Merriman.

“And also, I think there’s a lot to lend itself to the point of ‘is the Civil Service actually currently working?’. And we certainly notice in the responses we get back on some of our constituency work, it just feels like it needs a bit of a shake-up and needs to be a bit more responsive.

“And so, actually, I think he’s a breath of fresh air as far as that’s concerned.

“Where I get concerned is the somewhat brutal way behind (his methods). So the BBC is a good example of that.

“It’s fair enough to say we need to have a conversation about whether the licence fee is going to still be relevant in 2027. There’s nothing wrong with that. I agree with that conversation.

“But this whole thing about ‘whacking’, about ‘it’s got hundreds of radio stations, and we’re going to close them down’. It doesn’t, it has 63, and so, therefore, the facts aren’t correct.

“And there seems to be a sort of nasty streak behind some of these briefings. And if our whole mantra is to try and unite the country, after the difficulties we’ve had over the last couple of years – and this Government has a mandate to do that – then I’m not sure why we need to be quite so divisive in the tone and language that we’re using. I just don’t think it’s going to end well.”