OPINION: Tories' Television Tax Brainwave Is a Blast from the Satellite Past

Article excerpt

It is very difficult to feel sorry for Conservative politicians - the people who brought us Black Wednesday and Railtrack. But the plight of Tim Yeo, shadow secretary of state for culture, media and sport, almost gets there.

The high ground is dominated by those in office, and the present set of office-holders think nothing of outflanking the Tories on the right.

So the great temptation for a Tory spokesman is to come up with a zany idea, mainly because it seems so weak-minded not to have any ideas at all.

Yeo's predecessor Peter Ainsworth decided it would be a good idea to privatise Channel 4 and use the money to fund art galleries and perhaps even universities.

It is an idea, for all its undoubted originality, that has now mercifully died a death. Yeo scarcely mentioned C4 last week when he announced the first fruits of his broadcasting 'journey of discovery' - other than to praise it as a model for a publicly owned channel.

The Conservative spokesman also ruled out privatisation of the BBC or requiring the Corporation to take advertising. The commitment completed a notable consensus with all three major parties now unambiguously against advertising on the BBC.

But then Yeo succumbed to temptation and went for the Big Idea, however tentatively expressed. To find it he jumped in his Time Machine and shot back a few decades to come up with a variant of ideas long ago dismissed as impractical.

People don't mind public service broadcasting from the BBC but they don't want too much of it and they don't want to pay pounds 2. …