You may have noticed the Telegraph exclusive today about David Cameron giving a firm assurance to Lord Hall, the BBC Director general, that the Beeb’s licence fee will not be scrapped, and will after 2017 rise by inflation.
Number Ten leaked the story – which is, minus a few small compromises, a major victory for the national broadcaster. But primarily it was aimed at John Whittingdale, the Culture, Media & Sport Minister. And it’s clear straight away that this has caught Whittingdale both napping, and rendered him incandescent with anger. Which was very much the idea.
Whittingdale is a prominent member of the Tory clique known by Westminter wags as The Bears – ie, those who want Rupert to replace the BBC and foster a consistently corporacratic line. The main movers in the clique are Jeremy Hunt and Michael Gove, and – while he is forced to maintain a discreet distance – Chancellor George Osborne is highly supportive of it. But it is Whittingdale who has the CM&S job, and so he was the target.
There are ruffled feathers on the headless chickens at Culture this morning: hasty rebuttals and spluttering insistence that “the decision could still go either way”. But David Cameron has this time fired a scud rather than a dud: he has asserted, ‘I’m in charge’.
It is odd is it not how the CM&S recruits are always anti-BBC with close links to Newscorp; but it would be a mistake to see this as Cameron’s doing. When Jeremy Hunt was quietly shuffled away from CM&S, his appointment at Health was both a surprise among mainstream Tories and a clear victory for the Bears. The firmness of John Whittingdale’s post-election grasp on the ministry is another one: not only is he well to the Right of the Party as a whole on social issues, he too has very close links to the Murdoch Mission of Manipulation.
Few would doubt that the chief movers on the dark side of the Murdoch moon were, over the years, Les Hinton and Rebekah Brooks. Secretary of State Whittingdale freely admits that he is an old friend of the Hintonburg, and was invited to his wedding reception in 2009. Among the 386 “friends” on Facebook, the only MP listed by favoured daughter Lis Murdoch is John Whittingdale. Rebekah Brooks has dined several times with….John Whittingdale. He is as deeply embedded among the Undead at Newscorpse as Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson. He has made just the one supportive comment about the BBC: he likes the music on its radio. Damned, faint, praise etc etc.
So why risk a head-on collision with the Bears now? Tough for the PM, but easy to understand: his staff have told him that he will, if current trends continue, ‘lose’ the Brexit referendum. If he does, the Bears will go for it – most of them are either mildly or vociferously eurosceptic – with Draper Osborne moving next door to cement the end of open democracy in Britain.
Cameron is happy to be inconsistent on Europe, because he knows that most Britons don’t care much about it either way: UKIP leader Nigel Farage isn’t really getting a mandate to Leave, but rather getting out a single-issue vote on migrants – where he knows 78% of Brits are opposed. But I have had sight of research in recent weeks which suggests fewer than 1 in 5 of the electorate feel ‘strongly’ about the EU as a whole either way. (It is for this reason that I have asked for the more corrupt and anti-liberty elements of the EU to be given more emphasis by Vote Leave)
Almost exactly four years ago, Cameron told the Commons a referendum on EU membership was “out of the question”, adding:
“Our national interest is to be in the EU, helping to determine the rules governing the single market – our biggest export market, which consumes more that 50% of our exports andwhich drives much of the investment into the UK.That is not an abstract, theoretical argument: it matters for millions of jobs and millions of families in our country.”
But by the beginning of 2013, the flip-flop had begun….under pressure from the eurosceptics. Cameron told the country then it did need to re-evaluate its EU membership….as a sop to that tattered wing.
But now things are swinging the Brexit way, and if nothing else Cameron is a realist: he may suggest realities that are unreal on a daily basis, but politically he believes in the art of the possible. So now he is gently edging over towards the Leave camp: an issue which, at the last election, was ranked 9th in the voters’ hierarchy of important issues.The Camerlot logic is as ever: who’s going to care?
Cameron doesn’t fear his pro-Europe MPs. He’ll be happy to hand over to Little Osborne gracefully – but not to be ousted. And he’d rather anything than Boris Johnson get the job with massive support from both the Teletubbies and the Digger. His only option is defence by offence against the the Bears…and the hope that something might come up to change the national mood into a more actively pro-EU opinion.
That isn’t likely: if anything, by the time of the Referendum, the EU will very likely be a basket case.