Let's go back to basics. What is the BBC for? What does 'public service broadcasting' actually mean? How does the BBC adapt to a world in which TV (not radio) audiences are on an apparently inexorable decline as young people consume their media via anything other than a TV screen?
You would have thought that the very essence of public service broadcasting would be the provision of a news and current affairs service which was seen as the envy of the world. And yet over the years budgetary cuts have hit this part of the BBC far harder than virtually every other part of the corporation. We are now seeing the results of this misguided policy, driven by successive Directors General, governors and trustees.
In 2018 the 'Sunday Politics' was axed and not replaced. BBC Parliament was to restrict itself to merely transmitting pictures from Parliament and the regional parliaments/assembles with no original programming at all. That decision was eventually reversed after an outcry. The money that would have been saved was the equivalent to Gary Lineker's annual BBC salary.
This week we learned that the BBC Ten O'Clock News and the 10.30pm local news bulletins are each to be cut back by five minutes in order to enable 'youth' based shows to be scheduled at 10.35 rather than 10.45 on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. 'Question Time' will be brought forward by ten minutes on a Thursday, and it means the overlap with 'Newsnight' on BBC2 will be reduced to a couple of minutes - not that Newsnight ever actually starts at 10.30pm anyway!
On Thursday night The Times broke the story that Andrew Neil had decided to stand down as presenter of the late night weekly political show, 'This Week'. The Head of News Fran Unsworth wasted little time in announcing that as a consequence she had decided to can the whole show...
We couldn’t imagine This Week without the inimitable Andrew Neil, one of Britain’s best political interviewers. After 16 years, Andrew is bowing out of late-night presenting on the show, at the top of his game.
While I think it's right to end the show now because it would be impossible to replace Andrew Neil, there are apparently no plans to replace the show with something else. It seems the BBC beancounters will use this as an opportunity to save yet more money. I hope I am wrong and that plans are developed for some sort of new political show.
It is lamentable that there is now only one hour per week on BBC1 where politicians are held to account through rigorous interviewing, and that's the 'Andrew Marr Show'. 'Panorama' used to do this sort of interview back in the era of Robin Day, but even Panorama has lurched from being the BBC's flagship current affairs show to being full of downmarket, dumbed down mush.
Back in 2013 Andrew Neil's one on one 'Straight Talk' show was axed. This was a half hour interview show shown on the News Channel and BBC2. It was an incredibly cheap show to produce and it was the one show on the BBC where a domestic politician was grilled for 30 minutes. 'Hard Talk' with Stephen Sackur is still going, using a similar format, but the guests are predominantly international.
When the 'Daily Politics' was replaced by 'Politics Live' that was another nail in the coffin of political interviewing. I happen to rather like 'Politics Live' but the guests are on for the whole show and it's a constant battle between them for airtime. You've barely got a couple of sentences out before someone butts in. It's not a format in which it's really possible to hold a politician to account because the time for follow-up questions isn't there.
I'd love to see the one on one 'Straight Talk' format revived. The trouble with most current affairs shows nowadays is that the interviewee is well aware that the interview is only likely to last a maximum of 5 minutes, so they pre-prepare all their soundbitey lines and trot them out whatever they're asked. You can't do that in a 15-30 minute interview. I don't understand why BBC News managers don't comprehend this.
There is also room for a new 'lighter' style politics show on the BBC. Interest in politics is massive at the moment, and I wonder whether the 'Brexitcast' format could be made to work as a TV show.
Returning to the decision by the BBC to cut the main nightly news bulletin by ten minutes, I understand the BBC newsroom is in a state of open revolt. Protests have been made to Tony Hall. Time will tell whether they will bear fruit, but I understand that some household names are prepared to speak out. You can see why. There is a heavier news agenda now than at any time in my adult life. While I do think a lot of local news bulletins on the BBC are full of needless padding (Cat rescued from Tree type of human interest stories) I can see no case for cutting the national news bulletin. Surely providing an all encompassing news service ought to be the BBC's most important mission.
The BBC's foreign news coverage is a shadow of what it was. The number of foreign correspondents is on an ever downward spiral. Its foreign news special reports are becoming more infrequent and the BBC is put to shame by many of its rivals.
Have a look at CNN (declaration of interest: I work for CNN) or Al Jazeera English if you want to see informed, educational reports from all parts of the globe. They broadcast the sort of foreign news reports which the BBC used to be brilliant at.
The German state broadcaster, ARD, still manages to do it. Why can't the BBC? Because its priorities are all wrong.
Let me finish with a word about Andrew Neil. He is without doubt the finest, forensic political interviewer of our time. Yet for whatever reason the BBC has never really appreciated him. Yes, he's been on air a lot, but by rights he should have had a far bigger role, especially on big set-piece occasions. I'd love to have seen him as a US style editor/anchor of Newsnight, but that ship has sailed.
In her statement Fran Unsworth said she is looking at new projects for Andrew. Time will tell whether those were the type of words BBC managers always utter in these circumstances or not, or whether they have substance behind them.
The cuts to BBC News & Current affairs and live political programming have gone far enough. They need to be halted and reversed.
If the BBC can't cover news and politics properly, you really have to wonder what it's for.