'Don't take on the BBC': Ken Clarke warns against dismantling 'hugely respected institution'

Tory grandee Ken Clarke has said the government should "not take on the BBC" amid rumours there are plans to scrap the compulsory licence fee.

In a wide ranging interview for the Acting Prime Minister podcast - which you can watch in full above - Mr Clarke said the BBC is a "hugely respected institution, here and abroad" that the government should not "take on".

The former Tory chancellor said the BBC is "extremely valuable" and labelled any move to scrap the licence fee in its entirety as "ludicrous".

In the podcast he also talks about life after politics, what it was like to have the Tory whip removed last year, and he's asked whether he expects to join the House of Lords later this year.

Mr Clarke claimed the "British middle-classes regard the BBC only slightly less than they regard the NHS".

"It’s not an institution you can take apart and make it go out and compete on a smaller scale with other independent broadcasters."

He told podcast presenter Paul Brand it looks "as though somebody wants to take the BBC on" and attributed rumours to "off-the-record briefings".

In reference to comments made earlier in the podcast regarding Boris Johnson's top aide Dominic Cummnings, he said: "It’s the briefings again, the off-the-record briefings, because they think the BBC is left wing.

"Well left-wingers think its right wing. It is, and I’m glad to say, extremely balanced."

The veteran Tory, who served the party as a Nottinghamshire MP for 49 years before standing down in December, said the licence fee is a "strange tax" that might need "tidying up".

He said, for example, it's a "joke" that he is entitled to free a free TV licence because he is over 75 (he's 79 years old).

"As a flat rate license on every household, you could improve it but certainly stop giving free ones as a prize."

He added: "For poorer pensioners, there is a case for saying they'd be very lonely without it but people like me do not need a free TV licence."

Mr Clarke, who was a minister for three different prime ministers, also told Acting Prime Minister what it was like working for Margaret Thatcher.

Despite having "several rows" with the UK's only female prime minister, Mr Clarke said she was his favourite to work with.

He also commented on the US election, the need for social care reform in the UK and what Prime Minister Johnson needs to do to remain in government.

You can listen to the full interview Wednesday morning on the Acting Prime Minister podcast: