A concept much beloved of Professor Milton Friedman of the University of Chicago, and with which his economics meisterwerk Free To Choose is liberally adorned, is that of “Taxation Without Representation”, the idea that if one should not be paying taxes when one does not have the vote. It is a thought which comes to mind when browsing the BBC’s announcement of its coverage for the upcoming Tory leadership contest.
“BBC News will be hosting a series of special programming on BBC One covering the contest which will decide the next UK Prime Minister” we are told. There is more. “At the heart of the schedule will be a TV debate moderated by Emily Maitlis between the Conservative leadership candidates. This will take place in mid June, and all remaining candidates in the leadership race will be invited to take part in the hustings event”.
And that’s not all. “The final two candidates who remain after the voting by Conservative MPs will then be invited to put their case to an audience, in a single special edition of BBC One’s Question Time with Fiona Bruce … The same two candidates will also be invited to take part in one-on-one interviews with Andrew Neil, both individual, stand-alone programmes, and to take place within the voting period for Conservative Party members, who will decide the UK’s next Prime Minister”. Well, well.
This may give the Beeb’s management, and not least Director General Lord Hall-Hall, a nice warm feeling, but someone has not thought this through. We licence fee payers are effectively stumping up for these programmes, but very few of us get to vote.
I’ll go further. The Tory leadership contest is already being covered - by all broadcasters, every newspaper and newspaper website, and a plethora of new media outlets. That’s quite enough coverage for those of us who aren’t party members.
Lord Hall-Hall: wrong call, Tony
Choosing between the contenders is for Tory Party MPs, and then members. The former get to whittle down the list of contenders to just two, and the latter then get to choose one of the two. No-one else is involved. So no-one else should be paying.
In case no-one had noticed, the Lib Dems, who have just scored four times more MEPs than the Tories, are also having a leadership contest. Where is the wall-to-wall BBC coverage of that event? Where are the televised debates? There aren’t any.
This is an internal Tory Party matter. If the electorate - all 100,000 to 120,000 of them - requires any assistance in making their minds up, then the party can commission its own series of debates, for which the BBC and other broadcasters may tender, to be paid for at normal commercial rates. We The People should not be footing the bill.
After all, this is a clear case of Taxation Without Representation. Should independently funded outlets like Sky News and ITV want to give more attention to the contest, that is up to them. But it is not what licence fee payers should be paying for.
The BBC has made a shockingly serious error. Its management should think again.
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