Darren Grimes: Why I’m backing this new campaign to defund the BBC

1 Jul

Darren Grimes is a political commentator and is content creator at Reasoned UK.

It’s safe to say that the BBC has had a terrible Coronavirus war.

Allowing itself to become the propaganda wing for Black Lives Matter protestors; dismissing one protest in particular that injured 27 rank and file police officers as ‘largely peaceful‘. The Corporation has decided it can use our own money to tell us what to think further still – removing Little Britain from its increasingly skewed iPlayer content. It then announced it would spend £100 million of our dosh on producing “diverse and inclusive content”, when its only diversity problem is its lack of diversity of thought.

At the weekend, the BBC even went as far as to say gay men who exclusively fancy men are transphobic, placing itself at the very front of the barricades of the culture war that we appear to have imported from the United States. In a BBC News piece on Pride Month, the (since removed) bit of text told us that: “discrimination also extends to what some people describe as transphobic preferences in the dating world: from cisgender gay men not wanting to date trans men”.

A gay man exclusively fancying men? “Bigotry!” says Auntie Beeb.

Readers of this column will be aware many things grind my gears, but having to pay the BBC to watch Newcastle United get thrashed in real-time, via a Now TV subscription, is one thing that I find staggeringly incomprehensible. As if being a NUFC fan isn’t punishment enough? To watch any live telly, I have to pay for the BBC in its entirety, even if I watch none of it. Funding right-on Gary Lineker’s large pay packet with the threat of prison if I do not.

It might well have made sense when my mother was a child to ensure that house number 48 couldn’t pick up the signals from number 47 for nothing, using just a TV set with an aerial or even a coathanger, but the world of broadcasting has changed. Back in my mother’s day, there existed no technological mechanism to charge people based on what they actually wanted to consume.

Choice in television has since exploded. More than 480 channels are available to every UK TV viewer, as well as an abundance of other streaming services: people are now used to paying a subscription for the telly they want. With an understanding that if you don’t pay the fee, the only penalty you face is that those channels are switched off.

That’s not the case with the BBC’s Telly Tax. It’s single mothers like mine that are hardest hit by non-payment of the licence fee. Figures from the Ministry of Justice show that 72 per cent of cases, or 93,319 of 129,446 prosecutions in 2018 were brought against women. If you ask me, that’s too high a price to pay just to keep Strictly Come Dancing on free-to-view telly.

And then there are young people. It was reported in December that around 18,000 people under the age of 20 have been prosecuted in the last five years. Surely the liberal do-gooders advocating decriminalisation for middle-class coke sniffers, to protect young people from a criminal record that they deem to be a minor or harmless activity, must now recognise the human cost to young people and women from criminalisation for non-payment of the telly tax?

The same bunch that opposed Margaret Thatcher’s poll tax must surely be opposed to the BBC’s poll tax. A tax imposed on those who are increasingly likely to watch little or no BBC output, but must pay the £154.50 a year tax, regardless of income, to watch a TV set.

Inevitably, all of those arguing that our courts are overstretched, seized-up and that the justice system must be better funded, will recognise that substantial resources are taken up with thousands of prosecutions for non-payment of the licence fee, right?

If you have read all of these arguments and heard them all before, many have not. That’s why I’ve decided to join the Defund The BBC campaign, which is now managed by the same set of seasoned campaigners behind StandUp4Brexit, who held our parliamentarians’ feet to the fire in ensuring that our voice and our vote for Brexit was listened to. They want to do that again with the BBC.

Defund The BBC want to make the case to the public, lobby our Government and stiffen the resolve of our parliamentarians to do something about the biased, bloated, antiquated and regressive BBC. Anything you can donate to their crowdfunding efforts will boost their campaign to secure the decriminalisation of non-payment of the licence fee by the end of 2020, and to fight for a commitment from the Government to change the Charter, so that its remit covers only BBC channels and content.

Our broadcasting and streaming habits have left the 1970s days of aerials and coathangers behind them, it’s about time that the regressive and antiquated BBC funding model – with its real, present and tragic human cost – was dragged into 2020 with them.

Caroline Nokes: Spare a thought for women. Male ministers have forgotten we exist in their lockdown easing plans.

30 Jun

Caroline Nokes is Member of Parliament for Romsey and Southampton North. 

Covid-19 has taught us many things about the importance of physical and mental wellbeing. We discovered (if we actually needed to be told) that your chances of recovery were greatly improved by being physically fit and in the normal weight range for your height.

We found out that mental resilience was important to cope with long periods of relative isolation, and social contact carried out mainly by Zoom. We were told very firmly that an hour of exercise should be part of our daily routine, and pretty much the only way to escape the house legitimately.

But for women in particular the importance of wellbeing seems to have gone well and truly out of the window as lockdown is relaxed.

Why oh why have we seen the urge to get football back, support for golf and fishing, but a lack of recognition that individual pilates studios can operate in a safe socially-distanced way, rigorously cleaned between clients?

Barbers have been allowed to return from July 4 because guess what – men with hair need it cut. They tend not to think of a pedicure before they brave a pair of sandals, although perhaps the world would be a better place if they did. Dare I say the great gender divide is writ large through all this?

Before anyone gets excited that women enjoy football and men do pilates can we please just look at the stats? Football audiences are (according to 2016 statistics) 67 per cent male and don’t even get me started on the failure of the leading proponents of restarting football to mention the women’s game.

Pilates and yoga (yes I know they are not the same thing) have a client base that is predominantly women and in the region of 80 per cent of yoga instructors are women. These are female-led businesses, employing women, supporting the physical and mental wellbeing of women, and still they are given no clue as to when the end of lockdown will be in sight.

Could it be that the decisions are still being driven by men, for men, ignoring the voices of women round the Cabinet table, precious few of them though there are? I have hassled ministers on this subject, and they tell me they have been pressing the point that relaxation has looked more pro-men than women, but it looks like the message isn’t getting through.

I will declare an interest. Since I first adopted Grapefruit Sparkle as a suitably inoffensive nail colour for an election campaign in 2015, I have been a Shellac addict. The three weekly trip to Unique Nails is one of life’s little pleasures, an hour out, sitting with constituents, chatting, laughing, drinking tea.

It is good for the soul, a chance to recharge and chill out. And for many of the customers it is their chance to not have to bend to get their toenails trimmed, it is a boost to their mood, that can last for a full three weeks until it is time for a change.

And it is a fairly harmless change to go from Waterpark to Tartan Punk in an hour. Natural nails have done very little for my mood since a nice chap from Goldman Sachs told me: “you could go far if only you opted for a neutral nail, perhaps a nice peach.”

At school I was described as a “non-participant” in sport – I hated it, and it has taken decades to find the activities I can tolerate to keep my weight partially under control. Walking the dog is a great way, but nothing is as effective as the individual work-out rooms in a personal training studio – where it is perfectly possible for those of us who do not like to be seen in lycra to exercise in isolation and then have the place cleaned for the next victim.

I am not suggesting it is only women who do not like to exercise in vast gyms, there are men with similar phobias, but what I cannot get over is the lack of recognition that a one-to-one session in a studio is not the same as toddling off to your local treadmill factory.

The Pilates studio owners of Romsey and Southampton North are deeply frustrated at the apparent inability to draw the distinction between their carefully controlled environments and much larger facilities where, to be blunt, there is a lot of sweat in the atmosphere.

I know I get criticised for being obsessed about women – it goes hand in hand with the job description – but I cannot help but feel this relaxation has forgotten we exist. Or just assumed that women will be happy to stay home and do the childcare and home schooling, because the sectors they work in are last to be let out of lockdown, while their husbands go back to work, resume their lives and celebrate by having a pint with their mates.

(And yes I do know women drink beer too, but there is a gender pint gap, with only one in six women drinking beer each week compared to half of men.)

Crucially, women want their careers back and they want their children in school or nursery. Of course home working has been great for some, but much harder if you are also juggling childcare and impossible if your work requires you to be physically present, like in retail, hairdressing, hospitality.

These are sectors where employees are largely women, and which are now opening up while childcare providers are still struggling to open fully – with reduced numbers due to social distancing requirements. It is a massive problem, which I worry has still not been fully recognised or addressed.

Perhaps if the PM needed to sort the childcare, get his nails done and his legs waxed it might be different. But it does seem that the Health Secretary, the Chancellor, the Business Secretary and the Secretary of State for Sport and Culture, who all have a very obvious thing in common, have overlooked the need to help their female constituents get out of lockdown on a par with their male ones.

Am I going to have to turn up to work with hairy legs to persuade them that women’s wellbeing matters?