Mr Thompson is someone to whom - to adapt Burns - the giftie was alas not gi'en, to see himself as ithers see'um. All across the British Isles, knotted purple veins pulsed on the foreheads of this newspaper's freedom-loving readers, and red threadlets crazy-paved the whites of their eyes. "Hey guys," he might as well have written. "We're extorting money from you under threat of imprisonment, but it's not very much money so you might as well stop carping."
His haughtiness, his apparent failure even to understand why some people object to the licence fee, seems to me to be the most damaging thing of all to his case. The BBC cannot have it both ways. On the one hand, we are told, its chat-show hosts and senior executives must be paid telephone-number salaries because we are competing with the commercial sector; on the other, we are told that they must be paid from a compulsory tax, because the BBC is not competing with the commercial sector.
On the one hand, we are told that the BBC deserves its funding because it is hugely popular; on the other, we are told that its programming would wither on the vine were its popularity to be tested in the marketplace. On the one hand, we are told that it has a "unique link" with its adoring viewers; on the other, we are assured that so strong and affectionate is that link that it needs to be maintained by the full majesty of the criminal law. There is a word that describes all of these arguments, and it rhymes with "rowlocks".
Quite so. But people do have a real affection for the BBC.
When members of LPUK were at Farnborough Sixth Form College a few weeks ago, the Politics teacher was defending the BBC, appealing to its unique status and bemoaning the fact that we would have all of our channels with adverts and that no one would make educational telly anymore.
Amusingly, our immensely precocious host, a keenly-libertarian and absurdly well-informed 17 year old (just one of many there, actually), then pointed out that said teacher had, in fact, worked for the BBC in the past. Ah, the joys of local knowledge!
Still, I have a sneaking affection for the BBC too; yes, they tend to be a bit biased towards Socialism Lite, but to judge the entirety of the Beeb's output by such criteria seems a little unfair (and narrow-minded). But that doesn't alter the fact that it is funded through extortion (which is wrong) and thus given an unfair advantage leading to distortions in the market (which is unwise).
Anyway, said teacher did seem to be vaguely sympathetic to our ideas, however he maintained that we should keep the BBC and the telly tax. Fair enough: that was his pet project.
But this, of course, is how political deals are done. Although two politicians may have principles, they each have a pet project. The first outlines his, and the other objects that it is against his principles. The second outlines his own project, and the first objects on the same grounds.
"OK," they agree, "let's just bend our principles on this occasion. I'll ditch my principles and vote for your project if you will vote for mine." And so a deal is struck and all it cost the two politicians was their principles.
Those pet projects will, of course, cost us taxpayers an awful lot more...