As the news of John Whittingdale’s appointment as Culture Secretary came through, I happened to be sorting my pile of threatening letters from TV Licensing. It was taking me a bit of time, as there are 34 of them, accumulated over the past two years or so.
Faithful readers of this column may remember that in my flat in London I do not have a television. TV Licensing, which collects on behalf of the BBC, works on the insulting assumption that everyone has a television and therefore accuses me of licence evasion, telling me that it will take me to court. I never reply to these letters, both because I do not see why I should and because I have established that, contrary to their implication, TV Licensing has no right whatever to demand this information or to enter one’s premises. Its threats are like the sentence ‘Trespassers will be prosecuted’: legal fiction.
As long ago as the Peacock Report in 1986, it was officially recognised that technology would quite soon remove whatever sense might once have lain behind the licence fee, yet such is the intimidatory might of the Corporation that we are still paying this cultural poll tax 30 years later. Politically, it is important to legislate its death sentence early in this Parliament, or the Tories will be too frightened by the approach of the next election to do so.
This is an extract from Charles Moore's notes, which return to The Spectator from tomorrow.