Political Matthew Taylor Risks RSA's Charitable Status

Guido likes Matthew Taylor, he is a smart operator, shares Guido’s view of Gordon Brown and now runs the Royal Society of Arts. He is unfortunately turning this august institution into a third-way “progressive” think tank. He shouldn’t, hard as it might be for Tony Blair’s former Chief Adviser on Political Strategy and a former director of the IPPR to depoliticise himself, he really ought to separate his personal agenda from the RSA’s mission.

The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce has a mission to “embolden enterprise, enlarge science, refine art, improve our manufactures and extend our commerce”. Past members have included Benjamin Franklin, Adam Smith, William Hogarth, Charles Dickens and Guglielmo Marconi. That is a great heritage.

Last year ahead of the AGM one Fellow, Angus Stewart, challenged the RSA, claiming that

“The real problem with the RSA is its management. It’s a political body. The title should go and it should be hived off to be a consultancy firm. The same thing happened to The Industrial Society. There is no validity here, everyone is uncomfortable, and management are uncomfortable as they know they are not liked or admired by the ordinary Fellows. In terms of quality thinking this society has no standing anymore.”

Will Hutton notoriously ran the Industrial Society into bankruptcy, the RSA is financially solid, however it is becoming intellectually bankrupt, an ideologically narrowed think-tank reflecting only Taylor’s hobby horses. Matthew will no doubt cite the invitations to George Osborne to speak and the chairmanship of right-leaning Luke Johnson. It doesn’t really deflect the central charge.

Another Fellow, Kevin Cahill, Chair of the South West Region, also challenged Taylor, arguing

“We have a perfect mandate and a simple mission, there is nothing in our mandate about reforming society or changing humanity, those are the wild utopian missions of the person in charge.

Last Thursday Taylor gave his annual keynote speech to the RSA. It was an attack on the profit motive and Milton Friedman in particular. Taylor will no doubt argue that this is perfectly in tune with the RSA mission – he has argued this before to Guido face-to-face. The Charity Commission may take a different view if he is going to turn the RSA into the IPPR Mark II. More importantly the Fellows of the RSA may not stand for it much longer. Many of them are closer in their thinking to former members the free marketeers Benjamin Franklin and Adam Smith, than to Taylor’s “twenty first century progressivism”.

See also: Matthew Taylor is Ruining the RSA, February, 2009

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