Plotting to save the BBC
Should you be forced to pay a flat tax to pay for TV programmes you don't watch and find offensive? Can it be justified in an era when so much can be downloaded for free?
Should the TV licence fee be scrapped? Twenty or so years ago Margaret Thatcher's answer was yes but she didn't get the idea through Whitehall.
Understanding why tells you a great deal about the obstacles any future prime minister who favours the idea might face.
On tonight's Decision Time on Radio 4 we examine the arguments, pinpoint the opponents and look at the hurdles on an ideas path down the corridors of Whitehall and Westminster.
In tonight's programme a former broadcasting minister - David Mellor - confesses to plotting with a former BBC director general - John Birt - in a smart Westminster restaurant. He is chastised by his former Whitehall boss - ex-permanent secretary of the Culture Department, Sue Street. In the process they reveal a great deal about how policy is made in SW1.
Mellor tells the tale of how he took Birt to Green's restaurant and told him:
"[T]hey're saying you should throw away Radio 1 and Radio 2. Do not do that. The person in the Gateshead council house has got to have a reason to pay the licence fee. If it appears to be a subsidy from the Gateshead council house to the bloke in Hampstead Garden Suburb plugged into Radio 3, it isn't going to work."
Birt, who recoils at the suggestion he was "plotting" recalls:
"He gave me a very full and candid account of what was going on in government and I gave him an extremely honest and candid account of what I thought the real problems were at the BBC, and we had, in a sense, a negotiation, and we were able to forge a sense of common purpose."
Sue Street advised her former ministerial boss:
"[D]on't appear, either in fact or in perception, to cosy up to the BBC, because there are other big beasts out there - the chancellor, the Business Department, the Cabinet Office - who will see the faults in that view"
Decision Time is on BBC Radio 4 at 2000 GMT tonight - 20 January 2010.