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.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

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

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