Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland until I return to the Murcia region of Spain in the Autumn for a month or so
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Monday, 23 May 2005

Bill's 'Thought for the day'

My clock radio switched on this morning at 6.59am, just as usual, tuned to Radio3 - I prefer to awaken to the usually dulcet tones of the BBC's classical music station than the argy-bargy of Radio4, although I normally switch over to the other station just before 7.45am, in time for the 'Thought for the Day' and I then stick with the 'Today' programme until 9am. However, this morning, I awakened to the news that a one-day strike at the BBC (which had been scheduled some time ago, I recall) was happening today, so no 'Today' or any other live news production would be broadcast.

So I decided to do my own 'Thought for the Day' - there are more than one, of course!

First the BBC and its one-day news strike, to be followed we are told by a 48-hour strike on 31 May - 1 June. The strike is about plans to cut 3,780 jobs (136 in Scotland - why so few, here?) and to privatise parts of the Corporation. This is from a total staff of about 27,000, of whom roughly 11,000 are expected to participate in today's strike. I do not have a choice about paying for the BBC as I, like almost every other household in the country, possess a television set. Even if I never watched the BBC I would still have to pay. This is wrong. It's not as if all the 'job cuts' will be job losses - some will continue working, probably much as before, but for outside contractors in the private sector. Channel4 (also a public corporation), set up under Margaret Thatcher's government in the early 1980s, contracts out most of its production which is not bought in as already produced programming. It funds itself by advertsing. It provides quite a decent standard of programming and its news broadcasts, in particular, are of pretty high quality. It's a decent model. The BBC is considered by many, me included, to be a bloated bureaucracy badly in need of stream-lining and it tries to compete across the whole range of broadcasting, despite the fact that with the huge range of alternatives now available it is never going to achieve the quasi-monopoly (or duopoly with ITV, when they were the only two broadcasters) it once enjoyed. There is a great deal of 'dross' on BBC1 and even on BBC2, its two main television channels. The BBC needs a salutary shock to bring some of its staff down to earth. When President Reagan first hinted he might dismiss all air-traffic controllers across the US, and use military controllers instead on a temporary basis until new less strike-prone employees could be employed under more modern contracts and trained, he was widely believed to be mad and his ideas completley impractical. Well, it worked and despite some very temporary difficulty, there was no disruption to air traffic. Same goes for the much derided 'Star Wars' weapons defence system initiative - that never came to pass, but what did happen was that the USSR could not begin to comtemplate the level of expenditure needed to compete with the US in this area, if the latter were to succeed, and the USSR duly collapsed for economic reasons without a shot ever being fired. Marvellous! The Government agreed only recently to renew the BBC Charter, still based on a universal licence fee for users of television sets - this was a misguided step in our current multi-channel and multi-media broadcasting environemnt. It is very clear what needs to be done - abolish the compuslory licence fee and make the BBC either a subscription or partially advertising-based network and let the market decide just how much of their services we require.

My other thought this morning, initially at least, was "Oh no, it's back to the 1960s and 1970s" when life under the last Labour government (and the Heath government, too, of course) was characterised by strikes, go-slows and power cuts. Naturally I quickly realised it's not nearly so simple as that. The Conservative administrations of Mrs Thatcher changed, thank goodness, the whole climate of politics in the UK and reduced greatly the power of unions to disrupt our lives for their own selfish, and quite often misguided, ends. Nevertheless the instincts of this 'New' Labour government remain what they have always been, even if they are inhibited from doing some of the foolish and short-sighted things they might once have done. Luckily, for example, EU rules provented them from giving a naked subsidy to Rover, but they still took far too long, flirting with the idea of GBP150m of 'research' money which might circumvent EU regulations, before finally accepting that this would be pointless - when the Chinese side eventually expressed their real aims. Similarly, putting Rover into the hands of the four Midlands businessmen some years ago, rather than the alernative venture capital solution. Even more clearly seen is the longterm damage being done to the UK by calls recently that much of the off-balance sheet PFI funding may have to be shown as government liability for public debt purposes - making even more certain that we will likely have tax raises foisted upon us pretty soon, if Gordon Brown's spending (aka 'investment') on public services is not to go completely awry; very conveniently for the Government this is coming just after the election! Just a reminder - expenditure on staff costs and consumables is 'spending', not 'investment', and just because Nu-Labour persists in miscalling it as spending, it doesn't mean we have to accept meekly their attempts to confuse the issue.

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