Cameron's hypocrisy on BBC cuts

BBC cuts are "delicious" for Cameron, except when they're in his constituency.

David Cameron may have once described cuts to the BBC as "delicious" but he's less enthusiastic when said cuts affect his constituency. The PM has intervened to persuade the Beeb not to axe its local news service in Oxford, which includes his constituency of Witney.

Cameron expressed his displeasure at the cuts in a letter to BBC director general Mark Thompson, who also lives in Oxfordshire. Despite previously declaring that it would not provide a "running commentary" on the cuts, the BBC has now announced that it will protect its regional service in Oxford, as well as those in Cambridge and the Channel Islands, although it insists this decision was taken before the PM's intervention. In his response to Cameron, Thompson said:

Your constituents are correct that there has been a suggestion from some of my colleagues that, in order to save money, we should withdraw those regional services - based in Cambridge, Oxford and the Channel Islands - which serve the smallest populations.

Like you however, I believe that these services are very valuable, particularly in the light of ITV's retreat from regional broadcasting, and that to withdraw them would be a retrograde step. I do not intend to include this idea in the final package of proposals that I submit to the BBC Trust.

Last year, Cameron memorably declared that "we're all in it together, including, deliciously, the BBC". In response to a question from Newnight's Michael Crick, who asked the PM how he would justify an EU budget rise of 2.9 per cent to the British public, Cameron said:

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.

Update: To its credit, the government has announced this morning that an extra £2.2m will be given to the BBC to fund its Arabic Service. Clearly the cuts aren't as "delicious" as Cameron once thought.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Theresa May defies the right by maintaining 0.7% aid pledge

The Prime Minister offers rare continuity with David Cameron but vows to re-examine how the money is spent. 

From the moment Theresa May became Prime Minister, there was speculation that she would abandon the UK's 0.7 per cent aid pledge. She appointed Priti Patel, a previous opponent of the target, as International Development Secretary and repeatedly refused to extend the commitment beyond this parliament. When an early general election was called, the assumption was that 0.7 per cent would not make the manifesto.

But at a campaign event in her Maidenhead constituency, May announced that it would. "Let’s be clear – the 0.7 per cent commitment remains, and will remain," she said in response to a question from the Daily Telegraph's Kate McCann. But she added: "What we need to do, though, is to look at how that money will be spent, and make sure that we are able to spend that money in the most effective way." May has left open the possibility that the UK could abandon the OECD definition of aid and potentially reclassify defence spending for this purpose.

Yet by maintaining the 0.7 per cent pledge, May has faced down her party's right and title such as the Sun and the Daily Mail. On grammar schools, climate change and Brexit, Tory MPs have cheered the Prime Minister's stances but she has now upheld a key component of David Cameron's legacy. George Osborne was one of the first to praise May's decision, tweeting: "Recommitment to 0.7% aid target very welcome. Morally right, strengthens UK influence & was key to creating modern compassionate Conservatives".

A Conservative aide told me that the announcement reflected May's personal commitment to international development, pointing to her recent speech to International Development staff. 

But another Cameron-era target - the state pension "triple lock" - appears less secure. Asked whether the government would continue to raise pensions every year, May pointed to the Tories' record, rather than making any future commitment. The triple lock, which ensures pensions rise in line with average earnings, CPI inflation or by 2.5 per cent (whichever is highest), has long been regarded by some Conservatives as unaffordable. 

Meanwhile, Philip Hammond has hinted that the Tories' "tax lock", which bars increases in income tax, VAT and National Insurance, could be similarly dropped. He said: "I’m a Conservative. I have no ideological desire to to raise taxes. But we need to manage the economy sensibly and sustainably. We need to get the fiscal accounts back into shape.

"It was self evidently clear that the commitments that were made in the 2015 manifesto did and do today constrain the ability to manage the economy flexibly."

May's short speech to workers at a GlaxoSmithKline factory was most notable for her emphasis that "the result is not certain" (the same message delivered by Jeremy Corbyn yesterday). As I reported on Wednesday, the Tories fear that the belief that Labour cannot win could reduce their lead as voters conclude there is no need to turn out. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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