Only if they deliver a proper and lasting legacy for the whole of Britain. That means renewed emphasis on school sport and grassroots sport – but the latter has had its funding halved because of the lottery raid to fund – you’ve guessed it – the Olympics! So having won the Olympics on the basis of the “legacy” of the London games, the government is cutting precisely the budgets that will create one.
On your second point, I have nothing against harnessing the talent of all those who work legally in London – the question here is why the government’s skills strategy is failing to equip British school leavers to compete on a level playing field with highly qualified immigrants.
Editor: Former BBC reporter Robin Aitken (author of a book on BBC bias that I could not recommend more highly) has suggested that a small portion of the licence fee - 2% - be allocated to a new speech-based radio station that could offer a public service broadcasting alternative to the BBC. It could, for example, be based on our parliamentary and legal systems where two sides of debates are in charge of programming/ debating rather than the French system of law where we entrust one person to search for truth. The Moral Maze, Morgan & Platell, Hannity & Colmes, Sky's old Crossfire programme are all examples of what the station might look like. What do you think of this?
Thanks for the recommendation Tim – Robert Aitken’s book is on my summer reading list. I think the BBC does a pretty good job on its non-political programming (by which I mean programmes like Planet Earth rather than ratings-chasers that could easily be produced by commercial broadcasters). I do have a problem with the way the “BBC world view” informs its political reporting e.g. a tendency to be pro-European, anti-American, anti-politician, anti-capitalism etc. Your idea of an adversial style of current affairs programming could be a practical way to tackle this. I also want the new BBC Trust to show us it really is independent by tackling these problems at source.
Sally Roberts: What do you think is going to be the biggest challenge in your new job?
Finding time to keep up with everything going on the world of arts, culture, sports, the Olympics and the media! This is one of the widest ranging briefs in the Shadow Cabinet, but luckily also one of the most interesting. I guess dealing with a higher media profile will also be a new challenge – going onto Any Questions the other week was the first time I did a panel-style political programme which I really enjoyed in the end.
Henry Edward-Bancroft: What are you thoughts on fighting Lib Dems, this is a key issue for Surrey members and activists. As a party both locally and nationally should we be more focussed on "campaign support", much like the Lib Dems, for example your own constituency of South West Surrey supporting, say, Anne Milton in neighbouring Guildford?
The Lib Dems have a very simple formula which is a) to be very local and b) to spend 90% of their talking about what they do in their literature and only 10% of their time actually doing things for the community (which is why they tend to be pretty useless in power at a local level). I don’t think we should copy them slavishly because to do would only make people even more cynical about politicians in general. But I do think that Conservatives need to be better at communicating – too often the literature we put out contains either a Pravda-like endorsement of the local Conservative council or a very strident attack on an opposition council, in neither case approximating the kind of free local news-sheet a floating voter would actually want to READ. Regarding campaign support, I couldn’t agree with you more, and South West Surrey will certainly be supporting Guildford (although with Anne as MP Guildford are in excellent shape). I also think we are getting a lot better – despite the disappointing result, Grant Shapps did a superb job in Ealing, as good if not better than any LibDem campaign I have ever seen.
Richard Hamilton: Jeremy: Many congratulations on being promoted to this crucial Shadow Cabinet role. A couple of questions. Firstly, although it is early days, do you have any emerging views on whether the Arts Council (as currently constituted) is fulfilling its brief in the right way for the country as a whole? For example, is it right that some of our national institutions (many of them of international standing) are directly supported by DCMS (such as The National Gallery) while some (such as The Royal Opera House) are subject to Arts Council requirements? Secondly, given the crucial role the Arts can play with education, do you see yourself working closely with the new Shadow Education team in this regard?
You make good points Richard. Our arts task force, set up by Ed Vaizey and led by Sir John Tusa, is specifically looking at the issue of funding structures. The key issue here is to remove funding from political control – following the National Lottery Act, James Purnell now has greater control over 50% of the funding for good causes raised by the lottery. This cannot be healthy if we want to encourage true excellence in the Arts. On education, I have already been to an Arts Task Force seminar on the how to promote the arts in schools, and have been liaising with Michael Gove on the government’s over-spun announcement to boost competitive sports in schools.
Old Hack: Is it not time to establish an independent commission to review the future structure and purpose of the BBC? Should Channel 4 be privatised? Is there any point to requiring broadcast media to produce 'balanced' reporting in elections when in fact there is precious little balance to be seen?
An independent commission is a possible option which I will certainly consider. I think all these questions are interlinked and point to the wider debate about how to secure good quality public service broadcasting in a digital, multiplatform age. At the moment public service broadcasting happens primarily through the BBC and Channel 4, and the key questions are
a) is the best way to support public service broadcasting by continuing to back two channels for whom that is their primary purpose, or should more channels be able to bid for the public service broadcasting pot of money?
b) what precisely do we get in return for giving the BBC privileged access to £3bn+ through the licence fee and
c) how will Channel 4 survive when the digital switchover destroys its commercial model? This is because It will soon be one of 25+ stations as opposed to one of 5 terrestrial stations at the moment.
Regarding the balanced reporting of elections, I refer you to my earlier answer. The problem seems to be that whilst all broadcasters make efforts to be impartial in terms of party politics – giving equal numbers of minutes to each party in its narrowest sense – that doesn’t stop the “BBC world view” becoming the default for many programmes even when it is totally unrepresentative of the views of ordinary people.
Alan S: Do you support charging for museums?
I don’t. Admissions are up by over 80% since free admissions, and that is something we should welcome.
MO: How difficult did you find it being selected for South West Surrey as PPC and what was the experience like?
South West Surrey was the first seat I applied for so and I didn’t think for a moment they would choose me so I must have had some beginners luck. That said for me the real battle was after I was selected – defending a majority of 861 against one of the most aggressive LibDem PPCs in the country and being the no.3 LibDem target nation-wide. The key to my election victory was teamwork. I had a brilliant chairman and an extraordinary agent and between us we worked hard to build team spirit amongst both our local councillors and our wonderful secret army of leaflet deliverers!
Yogi: Do you think that the Government should ban our cricketers from travelling to Zimbabwe to play one day internationals?
I do. As with so much in cricket we should follow the lead set by the Australians.
TaxCutter: I believe that individuals should choose their own social lives, and pay for them too. Hence, would you support me in abolishing the post of Minister of Culture?
There is something a bit 1984-ish about having a “Minister of Culture.” I do think funding decisions on where money goes should not be made by politicians which is why lottery money should be returned to the original good causes rather than controlled by Ministers (as happens with 50% of it through the “Big Lottery Fund”). But I do think there is benefit in having a champion for art, heritage and sport at Cabinet level, perhaps most importantly to ensure we have the correct framework for media regulation.
Malcolm: Now you've had a chance to see IDS report will the Conservative party unequivocally campaign against ANY supercasinos being established in Britain?
We’ve always been concerned about the social impact of gambling addiction and reduced the number of supercasinos from 40 to 8 and then to 1. We will not support any new supercasino until the social impact of the 16 smaller casinos can be measured. That said, we do support a responsible gambling industry and are not against casinos in principle.
Pisaboy: To what extent will the internet render OFCOM obsolete?
Good question, I wish I knew the answer. The internet is radically changing the media landscape and making regulation much harder – just look at the online gambling sites that avoid all UK regulation and taxes by registering offshore. Ofcom will become obsolete if it tries to regulate internet broadcasting channels in the same way it regulates traditional TV channels. They will need to be flexible, light-touch and pragmatic if they are to survive.
Alex Swanson: In 1997, the Major govt banned the ownership of full-bore handguns, in defiance of their own commissioned report which recommended against it. The new Labour govt then extended the ban to 0.22" calibre pistols as well.
Will you reaffirm the promise made at that time, that the next Conservative govt will repeal the Labour legislation?
And finally, if the bans are still in effect in 2012, will you support the holding of an Olympic Games in a country where some Olympic events are illegal, and where the Olympic charter is therefore not being upheld?
David Davis and Hugh Robertson previously proposed a change in the law that would allow competitive target shooters to be licensed to train on Army ranges in the UK. I’m in agreement with this line as it seems absurd that we support a sport with taxpayers’ money but ban them from practicing and competing in this country. I don’t think it would be right to call for a more general repeal of the handgun ban though.
Ken Stevens: Will you advocate confining the BBC and associated licence fee to genuine public service broadcasting, i.e. not ratings driven? That would entail reducing BBC to one or two channels each of TV and radio. Much of BBC's output, filling several TV channels, is in straightforward competition with the commercial broadcasters and should be privatised.
Part of the equation could be direct grants for the making of public service programmes by independent companies, for airing on any channel.
I agree with your sentiments, and in fairness the BBC is moving quite fast in this direction. Mark Thompson, the Director General, has said that the BBC exists to produce programmes where there is market failure. He has also said the BBC will not buy American programming that could just as easily be aired on commercial channels.
We need diversity of public service provision. The key question then is whether this is achieved by supporting two organisations primarily set up for the purpose (BBC and Channel 4) or just having a pot that all TV companies could bid for. I want to meet the key players in the sector before coming to a view on this.
Towcestarian: In Antony Jay's pamphlet "Confessions of a Reformed BBC Producer", which you highlighted on CH today, Mr Jay says "media liberalism has now been adopted by the leaders of all three political parties". This directly associates David Cameron and his shadow cabinet (yourself included)alongside the BBC as "part of the problem", not "part of the solution". How do you answer this very forthright and damning accusation.
Anthony Jay’s booklet is very powerful and I agree with much of what he says. He is wrong on David Cameron though – look at the strong support that David gave for Iain Duncan Smith’s ideas about promoting marriage. This is a very good example of where we as a party are much more closely in touch with the instincts of the country than the metropolitan world view that Anthony Jay criticises.
John Marsh: Should there be a powerful external auditing body with real teeth to check that broadcasters - especially the BBC - are impartial?
During the BBC Charter review process the Conservatives argued that the BBC should be subject to greater independent, external scrutiny. This is why we consistently called for the National Audit Office to have full access to the BBC's accounts, and not just be allowed in to scrutinise 'by invitation'. We also expressed concern about the new governance arrangements at the BBC and questioned whether the Trust, in replacing the old board of governors, would be sufficiently independent of the Corporation to act as its regulator. We argued that Ofcom could play a greater role in regulating the BBC. Clearly the latest revelations about deception on BBC programmes are going to provide a major test for the Trust and all eyes will be on it over the coming weeks and months to scrutinise its response.