Cameron: BBC cuts are “delicious”

“We’re all in it together, including, deliciously, the BBC,” says David Cameron.

David Cameron may insist that he does not "relish" the spending cuts but, in the case of the BBC, he's just allowed the mask to slip. Speaking at a Brussels press conference, the PM began his salvo with a dig at the Beeb for sending too many journalists to cover major events.

He said: "Good to see that costs are being controlled everywhere – let's take the third question from the BBC."

He then shifted things up a gear by declaring that "we're all in it together, including, deliciously, the BBC".

The remark came in response to a question from Newnight's Michael Crick, who asked Cameron how he would justify an EU budget rise of 2.9 per cent to the British public. The PM replied:

I would explain patiently – as I hope you will on Newsnight – that we were facing a 6 per cent increase. We've pegged that back to 2.9 per cent.

At the same time, I will say, 'We're all in it together, including, deliciously, the BBC, who in another negotiation agreed a licence fee freeze for six years. So what is good for the EU is good for the BBC.'

Crick butted in: "We're getting a freeze. We'd love 2.9 per cent." To which Cameron replied: "Well, I'm afraid it's going to be a freeze. I am sure there are some savings available."

In fact, the licence fee freeze and the decision to force the BBC to bear the cost of funding the World Service and S4C means the corporation faces a real-terms cut of 16 per cent.

Cameron's words may seem frivolous enough, but they reflect a firm belief in the Conservative Party that the BBC must "do more with less". Recall Michael Gove's clash with Sarah Montague on the Today programme earlier this year. Gove argued:

I believe in value for money. It is maybe a concept that was alien to the last government and it may not be a concept that the BBC would like to see applied to public expenditure, but I believe that it is important that the taxpayer gets protection for the money that it spent on his or her behalf.

The coalition's drive to reduce the size and scope of the BBC does little to dispel evidence of an informal pact with the Murdoch empire.

Hat-tip: James Kirkup

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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