Deputy Labour leader Tom Watson has said his party will vote down any Parliamentary changes to the TV Licence fee, following the Conservatives entering coalition talks with Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party.
Yesterday afternoon Watson wrote to Conservative culture secretary Karen Bradley to "defend" the BBC "against its DUP critics", pledging that Labour would vote down any attempts to reform the TV Licence.
The DUP manifesto includes a pledge to "freeze then cut or abolish the TV Licence", in its section on increasing family incomes (PDF), saying it would move the corporation onto a commercial footing instead of a tax-based one: "The success of Netflix and Amazon streaming services shows that subscription-based media can and does work."
Watson wrote: "As a firm supporter of the BBC and its current funding model, I urge you to fight hard to ensure that this pledge is not included in any agreement, formal or otherwise, between the Conservative Party and the DUP."
The Conservative Party manifesto simply says it will ensure pensioners receive free TV licences. The party had not replied to our request for comment by the time of publication. Nonetheless, it is improbable that the Conservatives would take up Labour's offer to "protect" the corporation, given that the Tories are dependent on the DUP's ten MPs to maintain their slim Parliamentary majority.
Although a previous Conservative culture secretary, John Whittingdale, was an enthusiastic advocate of TV Licence reform, he lost his ministerial post shortly after Theresa May became Prime Minister, in her first Cabinet reshuffle. A couple of months previously he had been involved in a scandal over dalliances with a prostitute – something that was unlikely to have impressed the PM, a vicar's daughter. Whittingdale's successor has said little of note on the TV Licence.
Seen by its critics as a "highly regressive tax", in the DUP's words, the TV Licence funds the BBC's output, including its broadcast news arms which dominate the radio and TV sectors, and its monolithic internet news arm. The £147 "fee" is payable by anyone who uses a TV to watch live news as it is broadcast, or who uses a tablet or desktop computer to stream it over the internet via BBC iPlayer. People who do not pay up commit a criminal offence leading to a fine on conviction.
Enforcement of TV tax collection is outsourced by the BBC to the notorious Capita Business Services. An exclusive Register investigation earlier this year revealed that in London, Capita tends to target women for prosecution by a significant margin.
A weird myth promoted by grown adults at the BBC and government, who genuinely do know better, claims that Capita has mysterious "detector vans" which can magically sense people watching telly without a TV Licence. This is utter hokum, as we comprehensively reported last year. ®