Cabinet minister Nadine Dorries has lashed out at critics of the decision to privatise Channel 4 – saying the “lefty luvvie lynch mob” are obsessed with a personal vendetta against her.
Writing in The Mail on Sundaythe culture secretary said former Tory PM Margaret Thatcher – who set up Channel 4 in the early 1980s – wanted it to be “free from the constraints of the state” by the end of the decade.
Ms Dorries also referenced remarks made by left-wing Labour MP Claudia Webbe, who has criticised the privatisation.
Ms Dorries wrote: “One Labour MP claimed a Channel 4 sale would be ‘the seedbed of fascism’. I shouldn’t be surprised. This streak has always existed in and around Channel 4.”
The minister added: “Its former head of news, Dorothy Byrne, who has been defending the station, is the same person who in a lecture compared our prime minister to Vladimir Putin.”
Ms Byrne, who has condemned the decision to sell off the channel, said in 2019 that Mr Johnson was a “known liar” who was aping Mr Putin’s approach to the media.
She said the prime minister’s move towards online videos over regular sit-down interviews with journalists reminded her of the Russian leader, who “likes to talk directly to the nation”.
The contentious decision to sell off the public-owned broadcaster has sparked outrage from opposition parties, some top Tory backbenchers and leading media figures.
Ms Byrne claimed Ms Dorries “doesn’t know very much about the broadcasting sector” – and pointed out that Thatcher had “invented Channel 4” in 1982 to spark investment in the independent TV sector.
But the culture secretary insisted she had “a truly Conservative and Thatcherite vision for Channel 4”, arguing that privatisation would allow the channel to grow and invest in better technology.
Attacking the “lazy, overwrought and ill-informed rhetoric from the leftie luvvie lynch mob”, Ms Dorries wrote: “They’re happier sneering, accusing me of not being ‘smart enough’ to understand Channel 4 or descending into full-on abusive hysteria.”
In her memoirs, Thatcher said that by 1988 she had decided that Channel 4 would be better off privatised, but said she was defeated by “the monopolistic grip” of the broadcasting establishment.
“In 1988, Margaret Thatcher was right,” said Ms Dorries. “She could see that Channel 4 would only ever reach its full potential when it was free from the constraints of the state – and that is the vision and the outcome we will deliver.”
Labour described the plan as “cultural vandalism” and warned it would cost the sector jobs in the north of England.
Baroness Davidson, the former Scottish Tory party leader, has also suggested it will damage jobs in the independent sector outside of London. “This is the opposite of levelling up,” the Tory peer said of the plan.
The sell-off is expected to form part of a draft Media Bill to be unveiled in the Queen’s speech – setting out the forthcoming agenda for Boris Johnson’s government – next month.
Defeat in the Commons appears unlikely, given Boris Johnson’s working majority of 77, but it might be a different story in the Lords as there is no Tory majority in the upper chamber.
Tory MP Sir Peter Bottomley, who said he opposes the sale “because I am a Conservative”, said peers will rebel. “The House of Lords will take out any clause that privatises Channel 4,” he said.