Abolishing BBC licence fee is 'sparpling' from bigger issue

Mid-Bedfordshire Conservative MP Nadine Dorries exhibited her popular culture knowledge this week. P

Conservative MP Nadine Dorries in the House of Commons - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

All hail the wonderful Susie Dent, known as the great lexicographer on Channel 4’s Countdown and its risqué sister show, Eight Out of Ten Cats Does Countdown. Most days she also uses her online page to tell us about a little-known word from the English language. This weekend it was “Sparple”.

Ms Dent records that Sparple has its origins in the C14th and means “to deflect unwanted attention from one thing by making a big deal of another”. As I have bored you all within recent weeks, 2022 will be a great festival of naked sparple from a government seeking to get us to look anywhere but at their own conduct. This is why I have been warning of the dangers to democracy of GB News, the new organ for this flaccid, contrarian nonsense

And lo, Sparple has come to pass. Last weekend Nadine Dorries of I'm a Celebrity (and the Secretary of State covering broadcasting regulation) tweeted (of course) that she wanted to see the BBC licence fee abolished in five years’ time and its budgets shrink in real terms until then. In a more febrile column than this perhaps I would refer to her as TV’s Ms Sparple, but I won’t.

Last week the Journal and Herald papers ran two items that apply.

Simon Jupp, MP for the west part of East Devon, wrote a positive and welcome piece about local radio, in which he has a professional background. He concluded, “BBC Radio Devon continues to deliver a first-class service across the county and rightly holds local politicians and decision-makers to account… I will continue to do what I can to support local radio in East Devon.” Well said, though Nadine is taking an axe to that now.

On the letters page, a Honiton resident had a pop, as they should, about my warnings to do with GB News. They made the usual point about the BBC’s left-wing bias etc, and demonstrated how little many commentators understand any of this by saying that the BBC owned Channel Four!

At random, I opened my newspaper’s TV guide to last Sunday’s left-wing schedule. On BBC1 a women’s football match was followed by the news, regional news, Countryfile, Around the World in Eighty Days, Call The Midwife, a serial drama The Tourist, more news and Match of the Day 2.

In other words, two top-notch soccer shows, an incredibly successful long-running doc series about the countryside, an incredibly popular series drama about midwives, and a very high-class international co-production drama. As public service broadcasting goes, it ticked every box. All done on about two-thirds of the per hour money available to ITV. With viewing figures leagues above Netflix or the other arrivistes, part of our national life.

Nadine Dorries hates this, for some reason, but really she detests the news part of the evening. In this, she displays brazen ignorance. The BBC editorial guidelines around impartiality in news production are the strongest in the world. Left-wing bias? Try telling that to Jeremy Corbyn supporters, a man who could not escape the allegations of anti-Semitism in his political support group or his relationships with those associated with terrorism. And of course, they too blamed the BBC messenger, rather than their own flaws in these matters.

Nadine Dorries is the blue-rinse version of that. Actually, rather worse. Her sparpling is cynically designed to play to the tiny number of British people who have a vote at local Conservative constituency associations, who read in their Telegraph and their Mail that they must loathe the BBC. Her calculation is that if she can throw them a bit of red meat, they may spare her boss.

There is an honest and engaged debate to be had about the BBC, which must be scrutinised, and is constantly. Ms Sparple’s tweet isn’t that, though her future on celeb gameshows is assured.