Not for the moment.
The Government could have put in their manifesto that they intended to outsource to the BBC—an organisation that is not democratically accountable—a concession intended to help older citizens. They did not do that. They could have consulted civic society, such as the National Pensioners Convention, which my hon. Friend Mrs Hodgson mentioned—I am sorry that I cannot give way to her at this point—or Age UK, which said in its briefing for the debate:
“Age UK firmly believes it is the Government’s responsibility to look after vulnerable older people, not the BBC’s.”
Did they do that? No. Did they have the courage to make the argument for cutting the money that pays for free TV licences for the over-75s? No. Instead, they took the craven path of taking BBC management into a dark room, with the cynical intention of offloading their responsibility for helping older people on to our national broadcaster. The sheer brazenness of it is something to behold, even for the Tories. When combined with a promise in the party’s manifesto to maintain a concession that it has already offloaded to a reluctant third party, it is even more brazen. You cannot pass the parcel with social policy like this and call yourself a responsible Government.
The Government say that this is now a matter for the BBC, but they hope and expect the concession to stay. That is cynical. They say that the BBC willingly agreed to take over responsibility for the licence fee concession, but only in the same way that the victim of a robbery agrees to hand over their wallet with a gun pressed against their head. The Government’s whole approach to this has been underhand, aggressive and based on bullying. Many Members here today have been involved in trade unions as members, representatives or officials, so we know what a negotiation looks like, and this was not a negotiation. It is the kind of politics that gives politicians a bad name. If the Conservatives want to rid themselves of the cost of free TV licences, they should have the courage to say so and say that they are doing it.
This is a point of principle for us. We cannot accept a policy that takes responsibility for even a small part of our social security system away from Government and palms it off on an organisation with no accountability to the electorate. That is not principled political leadership. It is craven and cynical political opportunism, made worse by the false promises in the manifesto. Older people are not stupid. They will see this for what it is: a Tory stealth tax on the elderly, and a cynical, despicable ruse to pickpocket our older citizens.