Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.
Democratising the BBC
Some of Jeremy Corbyn’s big media speech last week was clearly for the fairies, but there was one part which I substantially agreed with – or, at least, Corbyn agreed with me – namely the democratisation of the BBC. I have long argued that Licence Fee payers need to be enfranchised. We are told that we all own the BBC, or our ‘stakeholders’, yet have no say in the Board, or the overall direction of BBC output.
In 2011, I brought a Bill to Parliament entitled The BBC Licence Fee Payers (Voting Rights) Bill. In short, Licence Fee payers would have been given the rights to vote for the Board and Annual Report of the BBC. Over time, viewers would have been empowered to make decisions on whether the BBC should bid for Formula One, or spend Licence Fee funds on niche digital stations et al. This kind of democracy would ensure much better value for money from the Licence Fee.
The brilliant Robert Colvile, who is transforming the Centre for Policy Studies, implied on Twitter that such ‘people power’ would mean Owen Jones on the BBC Board. Well, my first reaction is this: that is democracy, and if people don’t like it then campaign to get another person with opposing views elected. Second, I think that the great British public would vote for BBC representatives unlikely to destroy one of their favourite institutions. If we trust the people to vote for the government of the country, why not trust them with looking after the BBC? No taxation without representation.
So, even if Corbyn shamelessly plagiarised my idea, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is a bad one.
R.I.P. John McCain. Why call him a maverick?
Although I can’t say that President Trump is quite my cup of tea, there is no denying the renewed strength of the US economy and his North Korean diplomacy seems to have worked. I also supported his action on Iran, as that country remains the Soviet Union of the Middle East: oppressing dissent at home and promoting terrorism abroad.
However, his response to the tragic death of John McCain has thus far been mean-spirited and unworthy, and says a lot about the character of the President.
I never understood why McCain was always called a ‘maverick’, even in his obituaries. He was a principled, compassionate Conservative and a war hero. At a time when Neo-Cons, or ‘Liberal Interventionists’ (following the Iraq war), have had a bad press, McCain was the one person who gave real credibility to the position and kept the flame alight. He continuously argued for an alliance of democracies to use soft and hard power against dictatorships, extreme Islamism, and other forms of terrorism. The world would have been a safer place had he become President. The horrific rise and success of ISIS would have been much more unlikely. There is nothing maverick about that.
A Spectator political award for courage
I always love the Spectator political awards; I was delighted to win one in 2013 for my campaign on keeping fuel duty frozen.
I don’t know if the magazine has an award for true political courage, but if they do I hope it would go to those Labour MPs who have stood up – at considerable cost – to Corbynista anti-semitism, in order to try and ensure that their party returns to the roots of being close to the Jewish people, as exemplified both by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
Step forward: Luciana Berger, Ian Austin, Mike Gapes, Margaret Hodge, John Mann, Ruth Smeeth, John Woodcock and a number of others who are doing everything to stop pure evil flourishing.
Extraordinary individuals in extraordinary times.
Where is the centre right’s Artist Taxi Driver?
We Conservatives love policy, and it is a good thing to prepare a future Conservative Government intellectually with the policy ballast from out-riders. Conservative Way Forward, Onwards, Freer, the Big Tent, and many others are doing the thinking that all Conservatives need to do.
However, in the meantime the left are using social media to hoover up votes and repeat their message in ways which the moderate centre right can only dream of.
Take just one of many examples: the Artist Taxi Driver on Twitter. He does his (sometimes amusing) version of a newspaper review, every day, for exactly two minutes and 20 seconds. It is pro-Corbyn, anti-war, anti-austerity, anti-foodbanks, for public services, for the NHS, housing, a £10 minimum wage and free education – and, of course, he hates Tories. Those Conservatives who watch it on Twitter might scoff and simply say it is a Corbynista rant. But this ‘ranter’ has over 103,000 followers. Not many Conservatives can claim that on social media sites.
Underlying his paper review is an exposé of the flaws of capitalism and alleged Tory excesses. It is not a policy paper, nor a pamphlet, but has the ability to reach over a hundred thousand people in a way that think tanks just do not. I repeat, the Artist Taxi Driver is merely one example of the way the left have successfully used social media to reach the public.
The moderate right desperately need to capture the power of social media and work out simple ways of communicating our message again and again. To the millionaires and other wealthy donors, your dosh might be better spent working solely on a project for communicating centre-right politics and messages for the internet age. Conservatives just can’t leave this terrain to the left, or even the Alt Right.