The Thick of It creator Armando Iannucci thinks the BBC should switch to subscriptions. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

"It’s not filthy to make money" Armando Iannucci tells BBC to replace licence fee with subscriptions

The creator of The Thick of It Armando Iannucci is calling for the BBC to adopt a subscription model for people with laptops asking "what is a television?"

Alan Partridge, The Thick of It and Veep creator Armando Iannucci calls for the BBC to adopt a new subscription model in order to make more money.

In an interview with the Evening Standard, he suggested that subscriptions are the future for the BBC, dismissing the licence fee as something irrelevant to online television viewers:

The BBC should make a mint from the brand internationally. It needs a new attitude that says it’s not filthy to make money. As for the licence, you have people on laptops saying: ‘What is a television?’ There will be a subscription model.

Having been asked to clarify his idea, he has just this morning written a series of tweets outlining his proposal:

The BBC would make a fortune if it ran as a subscription service abroad. It's revered across the world, and rightly so.

It's also on cracking form. 'In The Flesh', 'The Wrong Mans', 'The Fall', etc, are part of a world class output.

Money made from subscriptions abroad would fund even better programmes at home and take pressure off falling license fee collection.

If the international model works, BBC could replace license fee at home with a subscription fee, set lower than current license fee.

Current exemptions would still apply. So no one would pay more for a subscription than they do now for a TV license.

The subscription would give you access to BBC archive too. We'd get a quality service at home, by ruthlessly selling ourselves abroad.

And he concluded his radical rethink of the BBC's business model thus:

I'm a mole, innit.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Something is missing from the Brexit debate

Inside Westminster, few seem to have noticed or care about the biggest question mark in the Brexit talks. 

What do we know about the government’s Brexit strategy that we didn’t before? Not much, to be honest.

Theresa May has now said explicitly what her red lines on European law and free movement of labour said implicitly: that Britain is leaving the single market. She hasn’t ruled out continuing payments from Britain to Brussels, but she has said that they won’t be “vast”. (Much of the detail of Britain’s final arrangement is going to depend on what exactly “vast” means.)  We know that security co-operation will, as expected, continue after Brexit.

What is new? It’s Theresa May’s threat to the EU27 that Britain will walk away from a bad deal and exit without one that dominates the British newspapers.

“It's May Way or the Highway” quips City AM“No deal is better than a bad deal” is the Telegraph’s splash, “Give us a deal… or we walk” is the Mirror’s. The Guardian opts for “May’s Brexit threat to Europe”,  and “May to EU: give us fair deal or you’ll be crushed” is the Times’ splash.

The Mail decides to turn the jingoism up to 11 with “Steel of the new Iron Lady” and a cartoon of Theresa May on the white cliffs of Dover stamping on an EU flag. No, really.  The FT goes for the more sedate approach: “May eases Brexit fears but warns UK will walk away from 'bad deal’” is their splash.

There’s a lot to unpack here. The government is coming under fire for David Davis’ remark that even if Parliament rejects the Brexit deal, we will leave anyway. But as far as the Article 50 process is concerned, that is how it works. You either take the deal that emerges from the Article 50 process or have a disorderly exit. There is no process within exiting the European Union for a do-over.  

The government’s threat to Brussels makes sense from a negotiating perspective. It helps the United Kingdom get a better deal if the EU is convinced that the government is willing to suffer damage if the deal isn’t to its liking. But the risk is that the damage is seen as so asymmetric – and while the direct risk for the EU27 is bad, the knock-on effects for the UK are worse – that the threat looks like a bad bluff. Although European leaders have welcomed the greater clarity, Michel Barnier, the lead negotiator, has reiterated that their order of priority is to settle the terms of divorce first, agree a transition and move to a wider deal after that, rather than the trade deal with a phased transition that May favours.

That the frontpage of the Irish edition of the Daily Mail says “May is wrong, any deal is better than no deal” should give you an idea of how far the “do what I want or I shoot myself” approach is going to take the UK with the EU27. Even a centre-right newspaper in Britain's closest ally isn't buying that Britain will really walk away from a bad deal. 

Speaking of the Irish papers, there’s a big element to yesterday’s speech that has eluded the British ones: May’s de facto abandonment of the customs union and what that means for the border between the North and the South. “May’s speech indicates Border customs controls likely to return” is the Irish Times’ splash, “Brexit open border plan “an illusion”” is the Irish Independent’s, while “Fears for jobs as ‘hard Brexit’ looms” is the Irish Examiner’s.

There is widespread agreement in Westminster, on both sides of the Irish border and in the European Union that no-one wants a return to the borders of the past. The appetite to find a solution is high on all sides. But as one diplomat reflected to me recently, just because everyone wants to find a solution, doesn’t mean there is one to be found. 

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