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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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

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