Liberal Hero of the Week #63: Andrew Bridgen

by Stephen Tall on March 22, 2014

Liberal Hero of the Week (and occasional Villains) is chosen by Stephen Tall, Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and Research Associate at CentreForum

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Andrew Bridgen

Conservative MP for North West Leicestershire
Reason: for campaigning successfully to decriminalise non-payment of the BBC licence fee.

In 2012, 181,880 people were prosecuted for not paying the BBC licence fee. They accounted for more than one in 10 criminal prosecutions.

Some 120,000 of them were women because they are more likely to be at home when inspectors visit.

Those caught face a £1,000 fine. Those unable to pay that fine face prison.

Put simply: the BBC licence fee is the single most effective way of criminalising poor women.

Step forward Andrew Bridgen, who tabled an amendment to the Deregulation Bill that would decriminalise non-payment of the television licence, making it instead a civil offence. His proposal attracted the support of 150 MPs from across the Commons.

Yesterday, the Government half-accepted his proposal, backing a revised amendment giving them power to make the change in the future after consultation. That will include investigating ways of cutting off licence fee defaulters from being able to watch the BBC’s free-to-air channels – which seems fair enough.

This is a welcome step for two reasons. First, it ends the scandal of mass criminalisation of poor people for not paying a state-enforced poll tax on TV ownership.

Secondly, it moves us closer to a subscription-funded BBC (and ideally a mutualised one at that, as proposed by Tessa Jowell). As David Elstein has argued:

… the point of subscription funding is not just to end the persecution of the poorest, let alone to introduce some market mechanism just for the sake of it. The essential objective is to stimulate creativity and excellence, to appeal strongly to audiences rather than weakly, to motivate writers and performers and producers to aim high, and supplying the necessary budgets to achieve their objectives.

That’s the kind of BBC I and many millions of others would be very willing to pay for.

* The ‘Liberal Heroes of the Week’ (and occasional ‘Liberal Villains’) series showcases those who promote any of the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book — economic, personal, political and social liberalism — regardless of party affiliation and from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism in some way then they’re in contention. If they confound liberalism they may be named Villains. You can view our complete list of heroes and villains here. Nominations are welcome via email or Twitter.