Charity Commission Attacks Sith for Spinning Report

According to charity sector specialist magazine Third Sector, Andrew Hind, chief executive of the Charity Commission, has said he is “extremely concerned” that the Smith Institute is misrepresenting the contents of the regulator’s report into the think tank.

The commission reprimanded trustees of the think tank this week for failing to protect the charity from claims that it is supporting the Labour Party.

Paul Myners, deputy chair of the institute, responded by saying the commission was asking trustees to ensure that all speakers were politically neutral and that the regulator had “shown a fundamental lack of understanding of the work that all think tanks undertake”.

But Hind responded: “We are not saying we expect trustees to guarantee that no party political statements will be made. What we are saying is that if you want to have politicians at your event, as a think tank charity you have to ensure that there is balance.

“The trustees are disputing some of the clauses of the report and are alleging that the Charity Commission is naive and doesn’t understand how think tanks operate. But we have had extraordinarily in-depth discussions with them over the past few months.”

At the commission’s open board meeting in Liverpool yesterday, Hind again defended the report and said it would be “a reference point for the future” for other think tanks.

He said: “Not only are there some important findings about the Smith Institute, but there are also some important points of principle for all charity think tanks.”

Dame Suzi Leather, chair of the Charity Commission, said the enquiry had produced “an exemplary report from an independent regulator”.

Guido has been pleasantly surprised with the thoroughness of the Charity Commission report – the way the Sith’s trustees have tried to spin it has demonstrated their unsuitability to be a charity. Paul Myners really ought to resign.

The Centre for Open Politics has summarised the web of close links to Gordon Brown in a single document to go with this graphic:

click to enlarge

Westmonster R.I.P.

Westmonster is no more and has gone the way of the now forgotten Honourable Fiend. It won’t be missed.

Traffic was small and they were losing money despite the low costs of blog publishing. The owners couldn’t make it work and honestly admit that they just couldn’t find the talent. Once Sadie Smith* left they did it themselves and then had young, cheap writers – the last of which was dire. They also made the classic mistake of commenting on comment too much and just rounding up other peoples stories instead of getting original news stories. It was a car crash.

*She has her own blog here.

New Statesman Owner Buys LabourHome

Guido has been hearing rumours that LabourHome was “in play” and that two bidders were after the site. Tom Miller’s Newer Labour has the exclusive confirming that LabourHome has been bought by Mike Danson, the new owner of the New Statesman.
Newer Labour reports that it went for a “high five figure sum… with some of the existing editors, like Alex Hilton, one of the foremost Labour bloggers and co-founder, Jag Singh, staying on board.” PoliticsHome had also shown an interest in bringing the site into the “home” network – Freddie Sayers had been in negotiations with the site but got gazumped.

Guido called Alex Hilton, LabourHome’s chief commissar, to commiserate with him for not getting a six-figure valuation. (Guardian Media Group just bought PaidContent for $30 million, the Gawker group of blogs is valued at over $100 million.) Alex would only say “We are very pleased to have the support of the New Statesman” from his yacht in the Caribbean.

Guido reckons that if the valuations being achieved in the U.S. were reflected here, the leading blogs would be worth seven figure sums. Mrs Fawkes has become noticeably less intolerant of Guido’s blogging of late…

Vote to See Sky’s Miranda Semi-Naked

Iain is doing his annual blog guide, compiling a list of the top 100 political blogs in the UK.

Miranda from the Boulton & Co. blog is canvassing for votes with the promise that if they get into the top 10 there will be “semi-naked photos of all our political correspondents made available on the blog.”

So if you want to see Miranda, Adam Boulton, Jon Craig, Cheryl Smith and Niall Paterson semi-naked vote for Boulton & Co in your list of top 10 favourite political blogs.

Email your top 10 list to toptenblogs@totalpolitics.com

How Will MPs Cope With 76 Days of Unsubsidised Booze?

As they slip off this afternoon to face a tough 12-weeks holiday in the real world without subsidised drink, Guido wonders how will MPs cope?

The House of Commons Refreshment Department operated on a subsidy of £5.5 million of taxpayers’ money in the 2007/08 financial year, which is equivalent to the total annual tax receipts from 35 pubs. The subsidy is equivalent to £8,500 per MP – that is approximately £50 per diem on top of the £30 per diem they voted to award themselves every working day in cash.

The subsidy, which for some inexplicable reason was not published in the House of Commons’ Annual Accounts, was £693,000 higher than in 2006/07 – a 15% increase. No belt tightening for MPs despite the Chancellor’s warnings.

It accounted for 43% of the operating costs, meaning that the taxpayer coughs up £4.30 for every £10 spent refreshing our politicians: even before they claim back their outgoings without receipts through the expenses system. These figures don’t include the multi-million pound re-fit of the wine cellar.
MPs are members of the best London club with a dozen bars on the parliamentary estate, plenty of dining rooms, brasseries and banqueting suites all operating without a licence and no restrictions on hours – you can even smoke in some.

A pint in the Stranger’s Bar costs £2.10, outside parliament in the West End you pay £3.50 to £4.00. An 8-year-old Scotch costs £1.35, while our politicians can enjoy a Pimm’s on the pleasant Thames-side terrace for just £1.65 – which is a third to a half of prices a mile down the road. Do you really think they need to pay politicians more to attract people?

*Not including all the additional expense claims for essential new kitchens, appliances, window cleaning, garden pergolas, plasma TVs….


[Incidentally to all PRs who send Guido press releases – the AMLR press release was the best Guido has seen in years. Clever, on a relevant subject, well aimed and timed.]

Shanghai Surprise Just Chinese Takeaway

The spin from Downing Street is that an unnamed aide was the “victim of honeytrap operation by Chinese agents.” The incident occurred in Shanghai on the second day of the China tour. That night a crowd of Downing Street staffers and Lobby hacks went to a packed hotel disco, Michael Jacobs was approached by an attractive Chinese woman. The couple fooled around on the dance-floor and later disappeared together back to his hotel room to further Anglo-Sino relations.

Anyone who has spent time in Asia will laugh at the honey-trap-spy media spin, far more likely that it was just a good time girl who pinched his Blackberry and wallet. Why on earth would Chinese intelligence agents care what Michael Jacobs, the right-on former secretary-general of the Fabians, hero of Hampstead, fully paid-up Guardianista and now Gordon’s environmental adviser, had on his Blackberry? Laughable.

Why are the newspapers being so coy about reporting the name? After all, Guido understands that the political editors of the Sun (George Pascoe-Watson), Mail (Ben Brogan) and Telegraph (Andrew Porter) were at the same disco. “What goes on tour, stays on tour”, eh boys?

Right’s Think Tanks Enjoying Revival

Propeller-Head Wonk Watch: James Purnell’s “workfare” proposals are being warmly welcomed by Chris Grayling his Tory welfare shadow. “Much of today’s package is a straight lift from our Green Paper in January… Because these are Conservative proposals we will support them. We will help him get them through this House.”

The Government’s Green Paper may be lifted from the Tory Green Paper from January which itself bears a remarkable similarity to the Adam Smith Institute report from November 2007 – Working Welfare. The ideas in that were were first expounded by the former MP for North Norfolk, Sir Ralph Howell. A resolute free-marketeer, Howell was the author of the ASI report “Why Work?” in the mid-1990s. The ASI’s Madsen Pirie says “this idea has taken longer than we would have wanted to become government policy”. The ideas were theoretical at that time in the 1990s before they were implemented in Wisconsin.

Michael Gove’s advocacy of the Swedish model of “free schools” may owe a little to another recent ASI report – Open Access for UK Schools: What Britain can learn from Swedish Education Reform. Over at the new look Centre for Policy Studies things are getting more lively after a quiet period, Policy Exchange is becoming something of a powerhouse (incidentally, it was cleared by the Charity Commission of tit-for-tat allegations of partisanship).

Alas only the venerable Institute of Economic Affairs has yet to join the renaissance of right-of-centre think tanks in Westminster’s wonkland…

Will He Make Another Illegal Donation?

As Barack heads to Europe the Washington Post asked yesterday of Obama, “Surely a man who has said he would talk with U.S. adversaries such as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can spend a few moments with journalists from friendlier countries.” After all, McCain spares a moment for foreign press questions – probably because he is comfortable with foreign affairs issues.

Hold on a second, which sleazy lobbyist currently under police investigation was spinning to the local Welsh press that he was in charge of foreign media relations for Obama’s campaign?

Steve Morgan will hopefully do for Barack Obama what he did for Peter Hain.

+++ Policy Exchange Boss Joins Team Boris +++

So what is arguably currently the top job in wonkland is now up for grabs…

Via CoffeeHouse

Waning Warm-Up Act

Despite having promised Palestinians mortgages (Eastern Rock?) he is not getting much coverage in Israel. The coverage he is getting is not exactly warm:

Brown’s arrival is also in the shadow of the recent visit by French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Sarah Brown may be a founding partner in a public relations firm and a supporter of charities, but she’s no Carla Bruni.

But that isn’t the only reason for the lack of coverage of Brown’s visit. Former U.K. prime ministers Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair were considered great statesmen but while Brown may hold the same title, he lacks their political clout.

A member of Brown’s entourage says his weakness on the international stage stems from troubles at home. Last month Brown celebrated his first year in office after taking over from Blair.

For a decade, he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, presiding over a period of prosperity for Britain. But when his time finally came to take charge, the New Labour magic disappeared and widely became known as an irascible but tired figure.

Poor Gordon, pitied in the promised land…

Hat-tip : Croydonian

Gordon’s Undeclared Donations During the Long Campaign

Last week’s Charity Commission report ruled the Smith Institute was in breach of the laws on political impartiality. Paul Myners whines that the Charity Commission “have shown a fundamental lack of understanding of the work that all think tanks undertake.”* It is Myners and his fellow trustees who have clearly shown a fundamental disregard or lack of understanding for Charity law. A “think tank” is not a legally defined entity, legally the Smith Institute is a registered charity. Other think tanks, such as the similarly named but rather more illustrious Adam Smith Institute think tank, do not seek charitable status. Partisan think tanks should not be able to abuse the tax exemptions available to charities, because charities can reclaim taxes on donations they are legally obliged not to stray in partisan politics.
In the years leading up to Brown seizing the premiership the Smith Institute was functioning as his political secretariat. Whenever he needed something done outside the party structures, the Smith Institute was used. Photo-opportunity with Al Gore needed? Get the Smith Institute to invite him. Want to get the line out to Toynbee and the media fan base? Have the Smith Institute invite them. Want private polling advice? Get Deborah Mattinson to do it for the Institute (didn’t she do well as a result). Gordon wants expensive strategic advice from Bob Shrum? Put Bob on the payroll and slush the money through the Smith Institute…

Herein lies a very difficult problem for Gordon Brown – the Charity Commission has found that the Institute’s Senior Research Fellow, the expensive pollster and strategist Bob Shrum, was unsupervised. The Inquiry could only identify him leading two events in 2006, both of which did not further the Institute’s charitable purpose. So what was he doing for his money between September 2005 – April 2007? He was advising Gordon Brown on strategy and tactics. This service was undeclared to the Electoral Commission and is a breach of Section 50 (2) (f) of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. Following the publication of the Charity Commission report a formal complaint has been put in to the Electoral Commission. Although he has so far refused to respond to questions from the Charity Commission about the Smith Institute, this is not yet over for Gordon Brown. He may have thought the issue closed, but it has opened up a new front.

See also : Flashback : The Smith Institute Exposé

*Faithfully reported, without critical comment, in the Guardian. Paul Myners is also the chairman of the Guardian Media Group.

Dave’s Euroscepticism

If Dave’s commitment to fight the Lisbon treaty as outlined on Marr is true, UKIP should shut up shop and return to the fold. The problem is Dave has broken his only firm promise made during his leadership election. He promised to take the Tories out of the federalist EPP grouping and form an international grouping which respected national interests “by Christmas” “in weeks not months”. Nothing achieved years later…

Guido cynically wonders if this issue might be like fox hunting was for Blair. Blair didn’t really care about it, but the rank and file really, really did. Every now and then when the grassroots got restless he’d find time for a fox hunting debate. Dave can cheer up the Tory grassroots by talking tough on Brussels…

Parliament Tries Copyright Get Out on Freedom of Information

Guido was discussing the upcoming new Freedom of Information regime for parliament with Tom Steinberg of mySociety, the people behind FoI-via-the-web WhatDoTheyKnow site. Guido wanted to make sure that they were geared up for when the political class returns from their 76 day holiday. Tom said there was a software bug…

The parliamentary authorities are trying to block us knowing what they have been doing by claiming copyright. So the public pay for it. Individuals can FoI it. If however you want to publicise it by re-publishing it, say on Britain’s most popular and widely read political website, you will be (they claim) in breach of copyright.

Complete and utter nonsense of course. Tom says friendly lawyers are being sought to do battle…

Rich & Mark’s Monday Morning View

By Popular Request : Caption Competition Special

EU to Ireland : Tough Luck

Back in the last century Guido was very much in a minority in Ireland opposing swapping the punt for the euro – “it is the future”, “it will make things easier when we go on holiday”. Not the strongest economic arguments.[…] Read the rest

+ READ MORE +



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