The row over the BBC’s decision to scrap the free TV licence for the over-75s has riled Piers Morgan, but then that man is perpetually affronted about something or other.
There is a story beneath the one we are seeing here, and it is a story about how cuts work. But let’s stay on the choppy surface for now.
Morgan’s co-presenter on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, Susanna Reid, joined in the whipped-up anguish. Her broadcast comments are splashed across the front of the Daily Express. “My heart breaks for you,” is the larger statement, above the words: “Susanna Reid’s tears at distress caused by axing of free TV licences…”
That’s the same Susanna Reid, by the way, who was paid handsomely from the BBC licence fund when she co-hosted BBC Breakfast, and no doubt picked up a penny or two from appearing on Strictly Come Dancing. Nothing wrong with that at all, although if you spot a few sequins of hypocrisy here, you are not alone.
The Express uses Reid’s quote as part of a campaign on the BBC’s decision to end free TV licences for most over-75s. This age-related perk was introduced by Gordon Brown in 1999 when he was chancellor, and the government paid the bill.
Another chancellor, George Osborne, did a bit of sly political footwork in 2015, convincing the BBC to pick up the tab for this state benefit as part of the negotiations of the corporation’s new charter.
As the cutter in chief and the architect of austerity, Osborne calculated that by passing on this government cut, he would land the BBC in the shit at some time in the future He planted a poisoned seed. And that seed has now sprouted.
It is not morally stimulating to refer to the Tory candidates two days in a row, but most have jumped on this BBC-bashing bandwagon. Former broadcaster Esther McVey said the BBC had forgotten the public it was supposed to serve, adding: “My aim is to make sure that the BBC do not benefit financially from breaking their promise and I would want to do everything we can to ensure that all over-75s get the free TV licences they deserve.”
This wasn’t a ‘promise’ from the BBC: it was a present from one chancellor later sabotaged by another. Also, the poorest pensioners will still receive free TV licences, according to the BBC.
While tearful pensioners were rooted out by Morgan and Reid on Good Morning Britain, plenty of other pensioners receive a perk they do not need. This is always the difficulty with such things, and it is likely that when some of us finally roll into threadbare retirement, many of those benefits will have disappeared altogether.
George Osborne and David Cameron gave us modern austerity – a political choice and not the fault of Gordon Brown, as many Tories like to say (unless you believe the banking crisis was Brown’s fault).
Osborne was the Freddy Kruger of Downing Street, unleashing financial nightmares all round. But cuts take time, and that makes them harder to oppose. Cuts are announced and ritually condemned by the opposition. And then nothing much happens, so people assume cuts can’t be that bad. Until years later everything starts to fray and come apart at the seams.
That’s why councils are struggling, having faced years of cuts deflected onto them by the government. And that’s why there are reports today of a primary school in east London asking for money from the BBC Children in Need fund to make up for cuts to its budget.
Piers Morgan hasn’t mentioned that as far as I know. Cuts don’t get much of a look in either generally. Unless they’re pushed onto the BBC, always a whipping boy in such matters.