When I heard from a constituent complaining of persecution by the TV licensing authority, who not believe him when he told them he did not have a television, I was sympathetic and took up his case. The response I received from the Authority was typical of this governmentâ€™s revenue arms â€“ inflexible, and determined to raise the maximum cash it can from the long suffering public. As usual I did not take the matter to the press, as the issue came to me in confidence and many constituents do not want their personal details splashed across the local â€“ or sometimes the national â€“ newspapers.
Today I can vouch for the hectoring behaviour of this body, backed up from my personal experience. I have a studio flat in Westminster, which I use when I have to vote after 10 pm in the Commons â€“ or attend a working dinner in London â€“ and then need to be up and out early the next morning for a breakfast meeting or the like. It is not a place I plan to spend my evenings in. I decided not to buy a TV partly because I deeply resent having to pay a poll tax to the BBC for the TV coverage of public issues they choose to put out, and have no intention of paying them two, one for home and one for the flat.I do not like the way they use so many voices who want higher taxes, more European government and more regulation for every problem.I also tire of the very large number of self advertisements on the BBC, when no-one else can buy the advertisement time.
When I moved in they sent me a letter reminding me of the need to take out a TV licence. I wrote back telling them I did not have a TV. For my pains I received another couple of standard letters telling me I needed a TV licence, and that inspectors might call unannounced to check up on me. I wrote back again complaining of the harassment. They replied saying they were sending me another standard letter, that inspectors would be calling unannounced, and they were sorry I was cross about it. They said they would be writing to me in a similar vein at least annually.
It is typical of this government and its state broadcasting corporation that the only thing they care about is extracting more money from the public, and they cannot believe that anyone could possibly live without their TV output. They clearly regard anyone who says they do not have a TV as a liar, and spend large sums on writing them endless letters and sending out inspectors. Their inspectors will, of course, be wasting their time in my case, as I am most unlikely to be in any time they call, unless I am to experience the knock at the door at 2 am, to confirm that I am living in a version of the Soviet Union circa 1960.
We see the daily incompetence and waste of most branches of government, where letters go unanswered for months, where people have long waits to get on a waiting list for a hospital appointment, where many parents and pupils cannot get into the school of their choice, and where the roads are constantly disrupted by the authorities who are meant to look after them. It is galling to discover that the only thing they are persistent about is taking money off us. Life in a democracy requires civil exchanges between the government and the governed, and a framework of trust. Governments should assume honest conduct by citizens unless there is evidence to suppose otherwise, and should have a framework of sensible laws and requirements that most people most of the time respect and wish to follow. As soon as government becomes heavy handed and imposes too many laws â€“ and too many laws that do not seem reasonable to the governed â€“ there is more chance that more people will deliberately or inadvertently break them, and more likelihood that government will then intensify its snooping and heavy handed enforcement. Such a progress makes public life coarser, and creates a growing gap between government and governed. The UK now is suffering from rapacious government, seeking ever larger sums of revenue to feed the bureaucratic monster. It will in turn create an angrier electorate, resentful of how the money is spent and cross about the bullying techniques used to extract it.
The TV licensing website – with comments in 16 languages – tells us they spent over Â£130 million last year on collecting the revenue and enforcing the charge. They also claim that around 5% of the public with TVs do not bother to buy a licence. It is difficult to know how they work out such a figure, yet still fail to collect the money from them. In this multi media digital age the licence fee is looking increasingly out of date and expensive to collect. It is time for rethink.