Think Tanks on the Taxpayer

The Taxpayers’ Alliance has discovered that last year £1.6 million found its way from the taxpayer to four left-of-centre think tanks; Demos, the New Economics Foundation; the Institute for Public Policy Research and the New Local Government Network.

Think tanks often have a role in thinking the unthinkable in present policy terms.  The New Economics Foundation is one of the most bananas of think tanks going. The New Economics Foundation, which was paid £601,518 in 2007-08, is responsible for the Happy Planet Index, which places Saudi Arabia and Burma above the United Kingdom and Sweden in terms of “achieving, long, happy lives without over-stretching the planet’s resources”.  This type of left-wing lunacy would not bother anyone much if it wasn’t for the fact that it us who are paying for this drivel.

Demos is the new base for James Purnell (shades of Ed Balls at the Smith Institute) it is a vaguely Blairite / New Labour.

The IPPR was set up in the mid-eighies specifically to give Labour some intellectual firepower.

The New Local Government Network was set-up (though they will vociferously deny this) to organise local government operators along more New Labour lines.

This is just not right, it is bad for the think tank’s independence at the very least.  How can they risk rocking the boat if the government is funding them?  No right-of-centre think tank as far as Guido knows gets any significant state funding.  This should be for the chop by Hammond on the first day of the new government.

Blundell Ousted from the IEA

Propeller-Head Wonk Watch: Dale is first with the news that John Blundell has been ousted from the directorship of the venerable Institute of Economic Affairs, the grand-daddy of think tanks.  To be honest whatever spin is put in the official announcement this has been in the offing for some time.  Guido made his view clear to all in wonkland last year: “Young Blood Needed at the Daddy of Think Tanks“.

The problem was that John Blundell was not only low profile, he was very expensive and was beginning to concern the trustees.  The complete lack of influence on the Conservative Party agenda on the eve of a change of government was a big disappointment. The IEA trustees very pointedly introduced a rule in April that no IEA employee could drink during business hours or at IEA events.  The IEA has also, like most think-tanks, suffered from a fall in donations post credit crunch.  Staff were recently put on a four day week.

Possible successors to Blundell who are likely to throw in their hat are said to include; Tim Evans, formerly with the Stockholm Network and now kicking his heels at the Libertarian Alliance, the IEA’s own Roger Bates and Julian Morris from the International Policy Network.   Bates and Morris have baggage which will probably rule them out of the running, both have acted too often as think-tankers-for-hire to directly push policies on behalf big agri-businesses and Big Pharma.   The IEA has always kept itself above that sort of thing, it campaigns for capitalism not big corporations.

Matthew Elliott is too happy where he is and will want to keep the pressure on the incoming government from the Taxpayers’ Alliance. His brother-in-law, City A.M.’s editor Allister Heath, is in with a strong chance.  If the IEA wants to become a policy player again he would be a good choice, with his contacts in the media and politics he understands what will get attention.  The only thing is that if (as is rumoured) Matthew d’Ancona is thinking of moving on from the Speccie, Allister might also fancy his chances there.  Other potential candidates from wonkland could include Progressive Vision’s Mark Littlewood or Shane Frith, both of whom have done work for the IEA in the past.  A lot of people would like to run the biggest think-tank budget in Westminster…

Best Idea for MPs’ Second Homes Crisis Solution

Guido loves this idea from the Taxpayers’ Alliance on how to solve the problem of MPs’ second homes: house them in the Olympic Village after the Olympics.

There will be a legacy of 3,000 homes after the Olympics, so it would require no new capital.  The project has been nationalised already since it failed to attract outside capital, the 572 MPs outside London could be housed there at no extra cost.

As they point out, since the Olympics forms a major terrorist target the Olympic Village will already have been built with security in mind.  Housing MPs in a single location will make it easier to arrange a variety of services.

It is also constructed in an ecologically sound fashion and provides a low carbon  emissions means of transport connection to Westminster via the Jubilee line tube network that would take only 25 minutes.  If it is good enough for Olympians, it is surely good enough for our humble public servants…

Cameron : My Government Will Be “Open, Online All the Time”

Dave has just finished a speech laying out some of his big ideas for the oft-promised (by him) “Post-Bureaucratic Age”.  He is advocating local control over schools, housing and policing with the right to initiate local and national referenda. More mayors; fewer quangos and open primaries for parliamentary candidates. 

All good, but has he really got the revolutionary zeal of Margaret Thatcher needed to take on the entrenched bureaucracy?

Dave is promising something easily achievable, so long as he can change the secrecy culture in public life:

“Everything about our political process published online, all the time: the expenses, the spending, the lobbying, parliamentary proceedings, the lot.”

That is doable.  Guido also wants to see every government contract published online, it is our money, we want to see where it is going.  “Commercially sensitive” is code for sellers don’t like price competition, secrecy hinders open competition driving down costs.  Publish what we pay.

Guido is even more sceptical about his plans to curb the power of the whips in parliament and the influence  of spin doctors in government.  It is not like he is without spin doctors in opposition.

He appears to be getting ideas from reading the right stuff.  In the Guardian this morning Cameron said

“the new politics we need should be a massive, sweeping, radical redistribution of power: from the state to citizens; from the government to parliament; from Whitehall to communities; from the EU to Britain; …  we must take power from the elite and hand it to the man and woman in the street.”

Dan Hannan and Douglas Carswell obviously influenced the writer because in theirThe Planthey said

“We need a radical shift of power …. redistribute power back, from Brussels to Westminster, from Whitehall to town halls, from the state to the citizens. …. disperse power among communities, through localism and through referendums”.

The Planis a huge hit, an Amazon bestseller and the all-time best-selling publish-on-demand publication ever sold by Amazon.  Guido simply can’t recall a wonkish policy manifesto selling like this before.The Road to Serfdom maybe back in the forties is the only equivalent that comes to mind.  The internet is really, finally, starting to change how we do politics...

See also : Political Class Starting to Fear the Public’s Anger

The Death and Rebirth of Sound Money

Guido has had a call round the centre-right think-tanks and found that traditional support for sound money policies is now non-existent.  Even the Institute of Economic Affairs’  shadow MPC unanimously supports quantitative easing.

The IEA is London’s spiritual home of Friedrich von Hayek and Milton Friedman, and it was the IEA which in the middle of the 1976 global monetary crisis produced a pamphlet by Hayek; Denationalisation of Money.   Guido has an original edition, it was in this groundbreaking work that Hayek argued that the government monopoly of money must be abolished to stop recurring bouts of inflation and deflation.  How he must be turning in his grave to see the IEA advocate what he spent his life opposing.

Hayek MoneySound money was the traditional cry of conservatives the world over, Cameron even used the phrase in his speech to the Conservative Party conference as recently as last year.  It is clear however that Osborne and Cameron have, in the face of a wider intellectual retreat, given up on sound money and are going along with quantitative easing – a mistake as momentous as their acceptance of Gordon’s spending levels.  In all of Westminster’s Wonkland surveyed by Guido, only Madsen Pirie of the Adam Smith Institute is opposed to QE (also known as printing money).  Policy Exchange’s newly hired chief economist, Andrew Lilico, told Guido there was no other choice.  Lilico also told Guido that if QE was successful inflation and interest rates would be as low as 10% each in a couple of years – some success.

So Guido is looking forward to James Tyler’s speech tonight at Policy Exchange.  Little known outside the City’s money markets – in which he is one of the largest and most invisible players – he is going to sound the cry for sound money in terms that Hayek would approve. All is not lost – Russian and Chinese economic policy makers have read their Hayek – and are said to be preparing to propose a new, more Hayekian monetary order after this credit crisis has abated.  Sometimes it takes a crisis to precipitate a solution…

Matthew Taylor is Ruining the RSA

A few months back Guido was invited to speak on a panel at the Royal Society of Arts. The enthusiastic American staffer on the phone was more than a little taken aback when told that Guido wasn’t interested.

Expanding further on the subject (it was after lunch), Guido told her that essentially Matthew Taylor was ruining a great institution by turning it into just another left-of-centre think-tank – sort of like Demos with a better designed Adam Brothers HQ building.

Matthew has subsequently been a bit defensive with Guido, pointing to the fact that they invited George Osborne to speak and venture capitalist Luke Johnson is the incoming new chairman. Good. Luke is good at kicking ass and Matthew Taylor needs his ass well and truly kicked.

The RSA has a fabulous history of achievements in public life, it was founded as the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce. Past members have included Benjamin Franklin, Adam Smith, William Hogarth, Charles Dickens and Guglielmo Marconi. It was founded to “embolden enterprise, enlarge science, refine art, improve our manufactures and extend our commerce”.

Now Matthew Taylor is turning it into a Blairite third-way think tank “to remove the barriers to social progress”. Well we have enough of those think-tanks already. He spends his days indulgently expounding on the “new progressivism” like some self-appointed high-priest of the chattering classes. Taylor seems to forget he is no longer the “Downing Street Chief Adviser on Political Strategy to Tony Blair” but the CEO of the RSA off the Strand. No wonder the number of paying RSA Fellows is dropping.

NIESR Dismisses Brown/Darling 2009 Recovery Predictions

Propeller-Head Wonk Watch: The National Institute of Economic and Social Research is predicting the UK economy will shrink until the fourth quarter of this year, contradicting the Chancellor’s optimistic forecast for the economy to come out of recession in July. Gross domestic product will fall 2.7% in 2009 the NIESR propellor-heads reckon. Even when the economy stops declining, unemployment will still continue to increase into 2010. Guido predicts it will be half-way through a Cameron government before the economy returns to 2007 peaks. So that is two predictions for the price of one…

UPDATE : Nationwide’s Consumer Confidence Index figure has just come out. It shows that consumer confidence has hit a record low during January, dropping to 40 points. Which is half the level it was at before Jonah became PM.

Miliband Slips on Another Banana Skin

David Miliband travels the world stepping from one banana skin to another. After insulting Manmohan Singh in his own drawing room,* resulting in the worst diplomatic flap with India in living memory, the Indian PM has Guido understands, written a frank letter to Gordon Brown conveying New Delhi’s disappointment over the behaviour and comments of the “arrogant” Foreign Secretary.

Miliband gave a speech a few days ago, perhaps hoping to curry favour with the incoming administration, by dissing and disavowing the outgoing George Bush’s “War on Terror”. Miliband said the notion of the “War on Terror” is misleading and mistaken. That would be the “War on Terror” which British soldiers are dying fighting.
So what did Obama say about the subject yesterday? He said;
Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred…. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

Obama will fight on, perhaps without Miliband.

*The Militwat once publicly lectured Guido on how to blog at a New Statesman event. So Guido knows how Manmohan Singh feels.

Earned Equity

Following on from Boris’ idea ofearned citizenship, Iain Duncan Smith is pushing the idea that council tenants who seek work and “keep their families in good order… could earn a share of the equity in their

[…]

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What Kind of Liberal Waters the Beer?

How they can describe themselves as “liberal” sometimes baffles Guido. Responding to Nick Clegg’s announcement today that the LibDems will support a minimum price on the sale of alcohol, Progressive Vision – the properly liberal think tank run by Mark

[…]

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"The Plan"

Last night Guido infiltrated a gathering of a clique of wonks determined to take over Britain and implement what they call The Plan“. Dan Hannan MEP and Douglas Carswell MP are the authors of The Plan“.

[…]

+ READ MORE +

Exclusive : Neil O’Brien to Head Policy Exchange

Neil O’Brien is to be the new director of Policy Exchange. Currently the 29 year-old is the director of Open Europe, the leading think-tank working on liberal reforms of the European Union. Open Europe has a reputation as the

[…]

+ READ MORE +



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William Hague on Tony Blair…

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