Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries has said Channel 4’s “salad days are in the past” and that it is “time to look to the future” in an online dispute with TV presenter Kirstie Allsopp over the privatisation of the broadcaster.
The pair exchanged public posts on Twitter following the publication of an opinion piece by Ms Dorries in the Mail on Sunday, addressing the government’s decision to push ahead with plans for a sale.
Former Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who set up Channel 4 in 1982, had ultimately wanted it to be “free from the constraints of the state”, the culture secretary wrote in the article, describing opposition to the move as “lazy, overwrought and ill-informed rhetoric from the Leftie luvvie lynch mob”.
Allsopp, who presents Channel 4 property show Location, Location, Location, reacted to the government’s original announcement about the privatisation earlier in April with a tweet saying that “no true Conservative would sell Channel 4” and that “Lady T will be spinning in her grave”.
The Twitter exchange
Responding to Ms Dorries’ article, the TV presenter said it was “crystal clear she doesn’t understand @Channel4, nor why it matters” and that the “divisive piece abuses her position and illustrates why she is entirely unsuited” to her role.
In another post, Allsopp questioned whether it was “really ministerial” to describe those contesting privatisation as a “lynch mob” while “at the same time complaining about having been accused of fascism”.
Channel 4 is state-owned but receives no public funding, with more than 90% of its revenue coming from adverts.
Replying to Allsopp’s posts, Ms Dorries suggested Mrs Thatcher’s memoirs, The Downing Street Years, proved she intended the channel to be sold. She also said Channel 4 could not be preserved in its current state because of “decreasing advertising revenue and decreasing investment” in new shows.
“There is of course the bonus a sale will bring to the entire sector which is that the proceeds of sale will be invested back into people from all backgrounds, especially those from left-behind communities because talent is everywhere, not just in the SE,” she said.
“We will invest in skills in order to benefit from incoming demand due to our booming film and TV sector due to the favourable tax benefit/relief and funding this gov has put in place to encourage film industry to regard Britain as its home.
“I also love C4, especially Location Location, but as I say in my article, it’s time to look to the future. The channel’s salad days are in the past. Being owned by the Gov is restrictive. Time for C4 to fly the nest towards a very exciting future.”
Originating from the Shakespeare play Antony and Cleopatra, the term “salad days” is an expression referring to a youthful, carefree time, or something’s peak or heyday.
What happens next?
Plans for the sale of Channel 4 will reportedly be set out in a White Paper later in April and will be included in a new Media Bill for next spring.
Several Tory MPs and peers, including Sir Peter Bottomley, former Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson, chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee Julian Knight, and former cabinet ministers Damian Green and Jeremy Hunt have publicly questioned the privatisation plans.
Sir Peter, who represents Worthing West, said he opposes the sale “because I am a Conservative”, while Labour’s shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell has described privatisation as akin to “cultural vandalism”.
Several actors and producers have also been vocal in their opposition to the plan.
Stephen Lambert, chief executive of Studio Lambert – which produces programmes such as Gogglebox and Naked Attraction – said there is “simply no real reason” for Channel 4 to be privatised.
Actor Sanjeev Bhaskar, who starred in the Kumars at No 42 and Unforgotten, said the channel was not meant to compete with streaming services.
Nathaniel J Hall, star of the BAFTA-nominated It’s A Sin, told Sky News that the channel is “the gleaming gem in the UK’s outstanding broadcast portfolio” and that privatisation would be “the death knell of its creativity and fierce independence”.