Paddy slams Tory plans for the BBC

The Huffington Post reports what it describes as Paddy’s “blazing rant” about the Tories’ plans for the BBC. To be fair, they have probably never witnessed or been on the receiving end of an actual Paddy rant. This is mild in comparison. However, his comments were certainly robust and there is an audio clip of them on the report.

He told audience members at Radio 4’s ‘Any Questions’ that were the Conservatives still in coalition with his party they would “never have gotten away” with changing the BBC’s governance rules that meant they could appoint the new executive’s Chair and deputy.

Ashdown warned that letting the government oversee the two most important positions would risk compromising on the BBC’s impartiality.

To rapturous applause, he argued: “The BBC is listened to with respect all the way round the world because it is known to be impartial, that’s why it has the standing that it does.

“But the BBC should be run independently and not by the government and I can tell you very straightforwardly if we Lib Dems had stayed in they’d have never got away with putting a board in there, many of whom – slightly less than 50% – are going to be appointed by the government.

“I’m with Norman Fowler, the ex-Chairman of the Conservative party, who said none of them should be appointed by the government – they should all be independent…

“The best protection of the licence payer and the best protection for the BBC valued across the world is that it stays indy and the gov lays no finger upon it.”

You can listen to the whole programme here. 

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Barry Snelson 16th May '16 - 1:45am

    Paddy could expect rapturous applause from a BBC audience in a BBC studio.

    He claims that the BBC is admired around the world but none of the other 192 member states of the UN have been envious enough to try and copy it. The pale imitations that were created are being systematically dismantled.

    Those who claim the BBC is immensely popular and is the darling of the British public become completely hysterical when asked for a cogent reason why voluntary subscription shouldn’t then replace the licence fee.

    I don’t object to Paddy and others liking the BBC but don’t count on my support (or money) for much longer. Millions of us detest it, don’t watch it and don’t want to be forced to pay up for other peoples’ tastes in entertainment any more.

    If You think I am mistaken, Paddy, just have the courage to support Whittingdale and move to subscription. The day the phone lines open all 22 million will have happily signed up and the BBC’s funding would be the same, wouldn’t it?

    What would be so terrible about testing your claims?

  • nigel hunter 16th May '16 - 7:57am

    ‘The pale imitations are being dismantled’ If so why and what are they replacing it with?

  • @ Barry Snelson “I don’t object to Paddy and others liking the BBC…… Millions of us detest it, don’t watch it”. Well, It’s very generous and liberal of you to allow Paddy and the rest of us to like the BBC….

    But how do you know about your supposed millions ? In a massive recent in depth poll, (81%) indicated that the BBC is serving its audiences “well or very well”.

    It’s also not just “watching” – it’s listening – and being able to trust the impartiality of public service broadcasting without any mind numbing adverts . It goes very deep…. I can just about remember Mum picking me up and telling me Dad would be OK when the news of DDay came through on the radio….. so it goes back a long way and some of us would fight in the last ditch to preserve it..

  • Barry Snelson 16th May '16 - 9:15am

    Nigel, replaced by Netflix, Sky, BT, Amazo………… and any number of networks and news channels. And as to why, because this is the free choice generation. We are used to subscriptions, selective newsfeeds. paywalls, pay per view. We don’t want to be taxed to pay for other peoples’ choice of entertainment.

    David, it is damned generous of me. It’s actually £145 generous so you and Paddy can be subsidised from my wallet. I don’t respect your Spike Milligan percentages. If you believe that is true then why is voluntary subscription a threat? Don’t you believe the BBC’s surveys any more than I do?

    Anyway, the debate is over. The White Paper is a perfect example of UK Govt “double speak”. The BBC is going to be “allowed” to open a subscription service behind a paywall. But the licence fee will remain, to permit citizens to watch broadcast TV through their aerials. Of course, no changes to the programmes we “all” love so much.

    Now then, in 11 years time who is going to still have an aerial? Our sons live in cities with 80 Megabit broadband. We are having glass laid which will be 300 Megabits. In eleven years it will be seen as utter nonsense that the electromagnetic spectrum be wasted in sending TV signals to buildings that don’t move and are connected to ultrafast internet which will be far greater in quality and choice than can be broadcast and all those frequencies will be “sold” to telecoms companies for mobile use (i.e. stuff that does move about).

    There will be some who will say that ultrafast broadband won’t reach remote places.

    Those few will get the same answer offered to those who don’t like internet banking and want to go into a branch and talk to a real person. Which is, of course, derisive laughter.

    It’s licence fee income is already disappearing as iPlayer users outnumber fee payers and it will vanish altogether in those 11 years. Then “reluctantly” the paywall will cover all output and the BBC will vanish.

    Good riddance.

  • This is one of those areas where I find the LibDem conservatism (small c) very depressing, just like the BBC management. The truth is that the licence fee will become untenable and end up being abolished (in its current form) the refusal to accept this would leave the BBC in a terrible state as the world move around it and they have to adapt in a rush.

    What would be wrong with the BBC having advertising on certain times (high viewing, with the low production cost programmes like Saturday night). Voluntary subscription for access to the back catalogue in i-player is a must as it provides a significant amount of opportunity to raise revenue for something which is a new level of choice that was not offered not long ago (and currently is restricted due to cost).

    It may be possible to have some very small continuing licence fee (c.£12 pa) for “public service” aspects and to give an even more diversified funding base but it would have to be genuinely very low.

    There are other issues though, why is the BBC still providing Radio 1 and Radio 2 which could be easily spun off (not a massive staving but symbolic). Why is noone pushing for licence fee payers involvement in the governance of the BBC like a large mutual or certain large charities. If you want independence, the more that is privately funded (subscriptions) and privately appointed (fee-payer elections to the board) the safer the BBC will be from government interference. If we are really lucky the more that the current culture of the BBC will receive the proper shock it needs to make it genuinely cater for the divers population we have (by diverse I am thinking diversity of opinions and interests not the physical diversity that seems to concern the BBC currently).

  • @ Barry Snelson You don’t subsidise me any more than I (as a licence payer) subsidise you – and the poll figures were independent. If you tell me that you never on any occasion ever watch or listen to a BBC programme then how do you know how awful it is ?

    As for the anonymous Psi – and you too, Mr Snelson …. what I find depressing is that you want to create a vacuum to be filled by vested interests with something to sell. Frankly, it is the destructive so-called classical liberalism you both seem to be espousing which is depressing.

    The prospect of Murdoch, Desmond & Co having a monopoly of broadcasting and political influence is terrible to contemplate.

  • Barry Snelson 16th May '16 - 12:55pm

    Hi David,
    I listen to Heart FM in the car (can’t abide that smug and pompous Radio 4). I have honestly tried to watch BBC TV but turn off after minutes. Their documentaries are just their latest celebrity favourite grinning at the camera for shot after shot after shot – unwatchable.
    Sitcoms are politicised, foul mouthed and utterly humourless. All written by the in crowd of luvvies I suppose. So, I don’t want your subsidy and I really, really don’t want to subsidise you any longer.

    Psi is quite correct. The BBC doesn’t have a workable funding model. It is haemorrhaging fee payers and growing free loading iPlayer watchers. If it indexes (i.e. puts up) the fee that migration will be unstoppable. If it goes for a household tax then that must mean that millions who pay nothing now will be hit = millions more enemies.

    The writing is on the wall. It is launching a new subscription service and to keep that bringing in the revenue it will have to, quietly and over the years, move its good stuff behind pay-per-view leaving the ‘free’ output as watchable as The Jewellery Channel.

    What on earth is ‘liberal’ about taking money by force from peaceful, law abiding citizens to pay for a competition where members of the public vie to bake the best victoria sponge and another where D list celebrities, you thought had died long ago, reappear and try and dance a perfect pasa doble? Am I to be taxed for rubbish like that?

    I’m relaxed about the BBC. It’s death warrant is written – it wrote it itself.

  • David Raw

    “the anonymous Psi”

    If your argument requires knowledge of the person making the opposing argument it will be at least in part an ad hominem. Perhaps you should try focusing purely on the argument at hand, and if you can’t without knowing the person you are trying to address then you should re-examine your position.

    “you want to create a vacuum”

    I guess when Ad hominem is closed, strawman is the next ploy to try.

    You need a dictionary. Vacuum: a space devoid of matter.

    What about a mutual entity with: the IP rights to everything the BBC has produced over its history; a globally recognised brand; a significant amount of the broadcast spectrum; and significant numbers of people wanting to work for them constitutes a “vacuum?”

    If a mutual entity which provides services to the public and obtains its funding predominantly voluntary exchange is so distasteful to you I assume you want the Nationwide Building Society and the National Trust to be nationalised?

    Yes I am an economic liberal, which means that I want the market place to have strong players who are mutual and charities also providing services within it. The extent if that will vary by the market they are in. I thinkit is telling that I think the BBC could survive and thrive (after a change in management culture) as a mutual whereas you seem to believe without the force of criminal law to extract revenue from the public yet you appear to believe it would wither and die.

  • Richard Underhill 16th May '16 - 5:27pm

    Jonathon Dimbleby said that Number Ten had said that Liam Fox might return to the Cabinet if he is well behaved (unlike Boris?). Fox said he is always well behaved.
    He was previously a hospital doctor, so is this a hint about a reshuffle for Hunt? Peace with the hospital doctors? Labour’s candidate for MP in Tooting is a hospital doctor.

  • The real problem for the BBC is that it’s getting to the point where it’s a bit like charging a licence fee based on usage of oil lamps or hansom cabs. An increasing number of people simply do not watch TV in the way they did or even watch it at all. Something like Gogglebox is indicative of this. It’s like those 80s/90s/00s nostalgia shows. Remember last week, when we all waited to see how that show ended. Them’s was the days. I honestly, can’t remember the last time I listened to the radio or followed a show that wasn’t easier to watch online or as a box set.
    The truth of the BBC is that it’s becoming a nebulas “Arts” issue for the chattering classes. The arguments are full of these assertions of quality and importance, whilst the reality is Celebrity Bargain Hunt Cook Off or Michael Portillo in increasingly loud trousers talking to a hotelier about napkins or something. All of which would be fine if we weren’t having to stump up hundreds of millions of pounds under threat of legal action to pay for it.

  • Richard Underhill 17th May '16 - 6:50am

    The BBC takes politics seriously in a way that ITN used to do. Try a quiz question “What time is News at Ten?”

  • Richard Underhill 17th May '16 - 6:57am

    Glenn 17th May ’16 – 4:23am
    4:23am !! Are you a night shift worker?
    Do you have good broadband locally?
    Do you wait for the reviews before you decide to buy The Night Manager? and look at the “Fireworks Display?

  • Richard,
    Up all night after the Leicester celebrations, guv. But yes I do have Broadband. What’s the Night Manager? Didn’t see it. But I’ll get round to it at some point.

  • @Glenn
    You seem to be assuming that everybody else is just like you.

    In fact, contrary to the “everybody’s using VOD these days” line we often hear from license fee critics, 86% of TV viewing is still done “live” just as it was in the three-channel days of my youth. The rate of switchover from live to catch-up has been pretty slow and remarkably linear :-

    If this trend continues – and it’s been completely linear for the last 10 years – then catch-up will not “catch up” with live viewing until 2046 at least.

    As for the much-vaunted subscription VOD services, these are still a tiny niche market, accounting for about 5% of TV viewing.

    Though the BBC’s critics like to describe its model as “untenable”, the Beeb still reaches 97% of the public for an average of 18 hours per week each (all services). It’s the only broadcaster with a growing audience share, is by far the most popular, and manages to snap up 33% of all TV viewers despite only having 20% of UK TV revenue. Even those households that pay a fortune for Sky subscriptions still spend more time watching the BBC. If this is an “untenable” model, I’m a duck. It should be the models used by the other broadcasters that are under scrutiny – they are sucking in huge amounts of revenues from advertisers and subscribers yet failing to produce content that people want to watch.

  • Richard Underhill 18th May '16 - 11:39am

    “Hands off the BBC!” Dennis Skinner MP agrees with Paddy Ashdown and millions of viewers, including me.
    In passing please note that Black Rod appears to have damaged a door to the Commons. Their constitutional independence goes back centuries, but could he knock more quietly?

  • Nick Collins 18th May '16 - 12:22pm

    I’d like to see Sheldon Cooper appointed as the next Black Rod.

    Then we could have “Knock , knock, knock Commons; knock, knock , knock Commons; knock, knock, knock Commons”.

  • Stuart

    “Though the BBC’s critics like to describe its model as “untenable”, the Beeb still reaches 97% of the public for an average of 18 hours per week each (all services).”

    Well you are still justifying it on the basis where it is funded by compulsory levy, so peoepl regard it as a sunk cost so watch. In a ten year period the music and film market was transformed, Blockbuster was wiped out, HMV suffered massive disruption and forced in to administration before being brought back. Past performance is no guarantee of future performance.

    Some of us would like the BBC to be ahead of changes, be more independent and less susceptible to government interference, more accountable to licence fee payers, more diverse in output and have a diverse funding base. It is better to be ahead of the changes than reacting once the world has moved. The BBC already restricts the access on iplayer based upon the cost of providing the service, better they are able to charge to cover the increased cost of offering an improved service and start to generate proper returns on the back catalogue.

    If the BBC sits funded how it has always been it will face death by a thousand cuts, the current management don’t seem to realise this and the external supporters seem just to go along too. A BBC that was more of a mutual model would be better than one which is so closely tied to government for its tax raising powers.

  • @Psi
    “Well you are still justifying it on the basis where it is funded by compulsory levy, so peoepl regard it as a sunk cost so watch.”

    That doesn’t sound plausible – you’re suggesting viewers are not acting rationally. It doesn’t work for Sky, whose subscribers spend far more time watching the much-cheaper BBC.

    The only threat to the BBC’s current model comes from ideological sources. In terms of popularity and value for money, by any objetive measure the BBC is forging ahead, not heading for oblivion. Though the more thoughtful license fee critics like to dress up their arguments by claiming they simply want a more modern and accountable BBC, what this would inevitably mean in practise is an emaciated BBC – and this in turn would lead to an emaciated sector as a whole, as the other channels (already in decline) would find themselves forced to compete for limited subscriptions and advertising revenue with a still-popular BBC. Those who moan about the license fee need to be taking a more holistic approach, whether they personally like the BBC’s output or not.

  • Stuart
    If the BBC is good value and popular, then it should have no problem attracting subscribers. Quite frankly, I think people just watch TV because its there and if the BBC disappeared they would just watch more of the other channels.
    As for the assertion of quality, I don’t see it. TV is mostly very forgettable and always has been. Maybe the odd show here and there has lasting impact, but mostly they tend to be cult science fiction series and most of them are American. Outside of that, the day to output of TV is really not up to much and certainly not worth the billions the BBC takes in licence fees every year.
    By the way most of the arguments for keeping the BBC are ideological too. Personally, I don’t feel that I am getting value for money and not having to pay for it would, bar a few quid, virtually pay for my yearly broadband costs.

  • @Glenn
    “If the BBC is good value and popular, then it should have no problem attracting subscribers.”

    But with consumption of BBC services being virtually universal (see figures in previous post) there’s no need. You might as well argue that the popularity of pavements means we can introduce a subscription model for those too. So long as virtually everybody uses the BBC – and they do – then the license fee is very close to being a subscription model as it is.

    At the moment we have a vibrant TV industry financed by a mix of the license, subscriptions, and advertising (which we all pay for as consumers but strangely this does not upset the anti-license brigade nearly so much). I don’t see any benefit to be gained by breaking the current equilibrium.

    If you have broadband, you ought to have no trouble avoiding paying the license fee completely legally…

  • Stuart,
    It isn’t close to being a subscription model at all. Your argument is like saying we virtually all eat bread and have probably toasted some Warburton’s at some point so we should grant Warburton’s the right to charge a licence fee. Then after x number when people consume more Warburton’s than any other brand saying “Well , look how popular Warburton’s is, the licence fee is obviously justified! And anyway if you only toast teacakes or stale bread there’s no need to pay the Warburton’s licence fee.”! I maintain that people watch the BBC because it’s there and they’re already paying for it anyway and that if there was a Warburton’s licence fee they would also consume more Warburton’s than any other brand even if they were paying extra for Hovis. I don’t want to have to give up watching live broadcasts. I like watching football matches or sometimes the news or whatever. It’s not an ideology. it’s a principle.

  • @Glenn
    Though your analogy is very drole, of course it’s not very accurate since Warburton’s is not consumed by 97% of the population every week.

    The subscription model you seem to favour is a complete non-starter. This is partly because of the rise in digital services, which have left the BBC as pretty much the last bastion of public service broadcasting, and it can hardly fulfil that role if it’s forced in to a subscription model (which would necessarilly mean it losing its free-to-air status). Nearly 200,000 people took part in the government’s recent consultation and only 1.4% of them favoured a full subscription model.

    An advertising-based model would be even less desirable for several reasons, not least of which being that all the other channels which rely on advertising (which is most of them) would have the rug pulled out from under their feet if suddenly faced with competition for revenues from a dominant BBC.

    So we’re left with the license (or a general levy, which would actually be my favoured option), which may well be an anachronistic oddity, but the alternatives all seem much worse. Still, it’ll all be up for debate again in another 11 years!

  • Stuart,
    Maybe If my Warburton licence fee had been running for about 90 years 97% of the population would be consuming Warburton’s at least once or twice a week. Personally, I don’t think we need public service broadcasting. Most countries do fine without it.

  • @Glenn
    “Personally, I don’t think we need public service broadcasting. Most countries do fine without it.”

    Pretty much the entire developed world has some form of public service broadcasting, according to the huge list on Wikipedia :-

    Perhaps BBC4 could do a documentary on the history of PSB. This would help fulfil the BBC’s legendary mission to “educate and inform” while giving you a bit more value for money from your license!

  • I stand corrected. But I still don’t think we need a licences fee in Britain. At the very least they could scrap most of the BBCs entertainment remit and run it as an actual public service with a nominal fee or through direct tax.
    I did read up on it after you posted wiki link and I also found there are or one or two documentaries online.

  • Be careful what you wish for.

    Warburtons are well known Conservative Party donors. In successive elections they have allowed Cameron/Osborne to use their premises as a backdrop to launch their election campaigns…… (with hair nets as opposed to high vis jackets for variety). I prefer my local profit sharing local bakery for quality as well as ethics..

    One of the scary things about the media is what a high proportion of them are right wing expat nom doms trying to pick over the bits of what’s left of the public sector.

  • One of the disturbing things about the believers in so called classical economic liberalism is their naivety about the motives of the big beasts and carnivores in the Tory jungle.

    For example, earlier this week itr was reported that the Daily Express owner Richard Desmond is to build an ‘Academy’ secondary school to be named after him – the ‘Richard Desmond Academy’ as part of a 1m sq ft redevelopment of his old Westferry printworks site in London’s upmarket Docklands area.

    Boris Johnson approved the development in one of his last acts as London mayor, after seizing control of planning authority from Tower Hamlets council. Building the school is a condition of the planning permission”.

    The mind boggles that the publisher of so called ‘adult’ magazines and ‘adult’ television channels should become a provider of education.

  • David,
    I’m not an economic liberal. I just don’t think the BBC is a good organisation or a necessary one. I do not wish for a Warburton’s licence fee, I was just pointing out that if we had one you could use the same arguments.
    To me it comes down to whether or not you think the BBC is good value or really does provide a balanced view or is in any shape or form progressive. Most of the arguments in its favour actually strike me as the same as the ones that keep the royal family and the house of lords in place. Well, they do a lot for country, people love em’, if we got rid of them we would have to have a president or a dictatorship. Do you want Putin or Trump or whatever? All I see in the BBC is a lot of upper middle class Oxbridge graduates and various connected hangers-on extorting money from us plebs to make rubbish programs.

  • @David Raw
    “One of the scary things about the media is what a high proportion of them are right wing expat nom doms trying to pick over the bits of what’s left of the public sector.”

    What I find grimly amusing about all this is that these right-wing media barons are the very same people who have been trying to brainwash us for decades into believing that the private sector is always inherently superior to the public sector. So why don’t they simply stop whingeing and compete the BBC out of existance? Surely it ought to be easy for them to do? They can’t blame the license fee for their failure to beat the BBC, because proportionately the private companies have a bigger share of all broadcasting revenues.

  • @ Glenn, There’s nothing wrong in being a pleb – unless you think there is – as Andrew Mitchell once found out. I’m afraid we’ll just have to disagree.

    By all means knock the BBC if it makes you happy, but in the real world you have to put forward some sort of credible alternative – safe from the commercial right wing predators who would produce a diet of wall to wall Jeremy Kyles exploiting the sadness and inadequacies of people you would probably call plebs – interspersed and with mind numbing advertisements every twelve minutes encouraging us to drink, gamble or take out over priced pay day loans.

    PS. I could happily manage without the nonsense of an hereditary monarchy and the unelected House of Lords full of party donors and cronies of the party leaders (including ours). Oddly it’s the owners of the right wing tabloids who write endlessly about doings of the Saxe-Coburg Gothas and who are always in the queue for gongs.

  • David Raw

    “By all means knock the BBC if it makes you happy, but in the real world you have to put forward some sort of credible alternative”

    I disagree with Glenn that I do want the BBC to continue, just functioning like a mutual.

    A transition to a mutual model could give it a lot more freedom, there would be none of this “right wing predators” scaremongering that the defenders of the status quo rely on. If we turned Channel 4 in to a workers co-op then we may even start to see a real mix of models.

    I have not seen anyone provide an argument against Licence Fee payers electing half the BBC board (a model that works in mutuals).


    “Though the more thoughtful license fee critics like to dress up their arguments by claiming they simply want a more modern and accountable BBC”

    What is wrong with more modern and accountable?

    “what this would inevitably mean in practise is an emaciated BBC”

    How? Subscription to online content will actually enable the service to be more comprehensive and allow “premium products” to be sold to those who are willing to pay for it, raising more money.

    “Those who moan about the license fee need to be taking a more holistic approach, whether they personally like the BBC’s output or not.”

    Well I don’t like most of the BBC out put, which as far as I can tell is due to its internal culture, giving conformity to a number of views and also styles which makes programmes to similar.

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