“Will BBC pay the price for upsetting PM?” asks The Sunday Times. It reports that the Culture Secretary, Nadine Dorries, “has privately expressed her fury at the BBC’s Nick Robinson” after he told the Prime Minister to “stop talking” during an interview on the Today programme.
Dorries is said to have “told allies” that “NIck Robinson has cost the BBC a lot of money”.
Meanwhile Julian Knight, Chairman of the Culture Select Committee, has said if Laura Kuenssberg steps down as the BBC’s Political Editor, the Corporation should consider finding a pro-Brexit replacement for her.
All of which is interesting, especially to broadcasters wondering who might get Kuenssberg’s job.
But the rest of us should not slip into the error of supposing that in holding the Government to account, free broadcasters, and a free press, though vital, are all that matter.
When Rishi Sunak presents his Budget on Wednesday, he will be concerned to carry not just the media, but his own backbenchers, with him.
And this is a worry for Boris Johnson too. “Will PM pay the price for upsetting backbenchers?” as The Sunday Times might have put it.
Parliament matters. That conviction lay at the heart of Brexit.
The Prime Minister has been energetic in stealing Labour’s clothes. Taxes are being raised in order to give yet more money to an unreformed NHS, and supposedly to reform social care.
Labour has yet to develop a critique of this approach, which is pretty much what it would try to do itself if it were in power.
It is the Tories who are alarmed by the direction of policy. They agree with the Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, who declared, when interviewed by Paul Goodman and myself at the start of this month, “I don’t believe we can tax our way to wealth.”
As Kwarteng said,
“I’ve never understood how we incentivise economic activity by increasing tax. I always come back to that. We can talk about raising taxes in the short term to deal with a short-term crisis.
“But broadly, higher tax is basically a tax on economic activity.”
Sunak will perhaps say something along the same lines on Wednesday. He is at heart a low-tax Conservative, and can hint that once he has absorbed the shock to the public finances caused by the pandemic, he will return to being a low-tax Conservative.
The Prime Minister is also an enthusiast for lower taxes. On the other hand, he is an enthusiast for various plans which indicate a need for higher spending.
He and his colleagues stood on a manifesto which said: “We will not raise the rate of income tax, VAT or National Insurance.”
We learned last month that the last of those is being raised from next April. Circumstances have changed dramatically, but one wonders how tolerant people will be once they are paying the extra amount.
If the Conservatives were in Opposition, it is not hard to imagine what they would say about this “tax on jobs”. Increases in corporation tax, and a freeze on income tax allowances, are also on the way.
The Budget will be debated for four days in the Commons. Conservatives who believe these tax rises will do more harm than good will have the opportunity to argue their case.
Even if the Chamber and Press Gallery are almost empty when Tory backbenchers express their doubts, cogent argument presented with evident sincerity will be noted. Snippets of it may even appear on the BBC.