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