David Cameron was last night accused of paving the way for the destruction of the BBC after he threatened to hand £250million of its money to other broadcasters."Its money" = our money.
The Tories plan to force the Corporation to give away part of its licence fee funds to create new competition in public service broadcasting.
The move will break the BBC's "monopoly" over programmes and guarantee more quality output in areas such as children's television, the Tories claim.
"We must ensure there is plurality of provision of quality broadcasting content," says the party's new blueprint for public service broadcasting, to be unveiled tomorrow.
The move will be coupled with a plan to scrap the governing BBC Trust - itself only set up last year - and replace it with a more independent "public service broadcasting commission".
But the plans prompted an angry backlash from the BBC - which claimed it would mark the beginning of the end of the Corporation.
"Once you take away part of the licence fee you break the trust between the BBC and the licence-fee payer," said a senior BBC executive.
"The viewer won't know who on earth their money is going to and will say, 'why on earth should I pay this any more?'
Actually, some of us are already asking that very question. We would be happier to pay the licence fee, if less of it went to fund an institutionally liberal organisation, which pumps out a solid stream of left-wing propaganda, regardless of who the money went to instead. Abolishing the licence fee altogether might well be better still...
The Tories are now proposing to "top-slice" the licence fee income and put some of it into a new fund available to outside bidders - including the Corporation's commercial rivals.
The BBC could bid for a share of the money but "it would probably be preferable for these funds to go to new organisations or new channels where it has been shown there is a gap in the market," says the Conservative document.
Privately, the Tories have earmarked £250million for the fund to come out of money currently being allocated for the switch-over from analogue to digital broadcasting which is due to be completed by 2012.
This proposal is reminiscent of one made by the former BBC reporter Robin Aitken, in his (very readable) book, Can We Trust the BBC?. Aitken suggested that as little as 2% of the BBC's total income could be redirected to funding a rival, more conservative, public service broadcaster. Of course, Aitken's book focuses primarily on the Beeb's left-wing political bias, rather than its monopoly status. But there seems to be little reason why the principal of competition within public service broadcasting should not be extended to cover non-political areas, such as children's programming.
Personally, I would be quite happy to see the Tories (or anyone else) go further, and really destroy the BBC. But, regrettably, there are still a great many people in this country for whom any attack on dear old "Auntie Beeb" would be an act of secular sacrilege akin to bludgeoning the Queen Mother to death. As such, we are unlikely to see the BBC openly attacked by any major politician any time soon. But efforts to remove the BBC's monopoly are always to be welcomed, and, for once, I am actually moderately impressed with David Cameron's suggestion.