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. More often the antipathy was blamed on Guido spending too much time in the company of British Eurosceptics.

Now times have changed. Being in the eurozone is recognised as having exacerbated the property bubble. Interest rates were just too low and cheap money flooded into over-priced property. If Ireland’s central bank had interest rate sovereignty it would have raised interest rates – it couldn’t and the Irish property crash will be one of the world’s worst as a result. 

Now the economy is in trouble Irish interest rates should be lowered to make the currency more competitive and the attractive to U.S. investors. Ireland is a high cost country for American investors who now look elsewhere. Irish finance ministers John Bruton in 1986 and Bertie Ahern in 1993 drove down the punt to bring in foreign investment when economic growth was faltering. But as a member of the euro, devaluation of the exchange rate is no longer an option.

Yesterday the president of the ECB, Jean-Claude Trichet bluntly told Paul Tansey, economics editor of the europhile Irish Times that “the ECB has to care for the superior interest of the euro area”. Tough luck, Ireland isn’t important, monetary policy will not help the Irish. Anti-treaty campaigner Declan Ganey says the Irish are not eurosceptic, they are Brussels-sceptic. As the Brussels political elite’s contempt for Irish democracy becomes clearer, that could change…

Gordon Gets it in the Groin

Guido hates to repeat here anything he reads in newspaper diaries, (if only they felt the same) however this chuckle is just too good to keep from the co-conspirators. According to Black Dog, at a Downing Street reception to mark the 100th anniversary of the Territorial Army, a rushing TV sound engineer bashed Gordon in the balls with with a boom microphone.

Obviously the engineer enjoys his work…

Sunday Sleaze Round-Up

Time for the weekly Pigs in Shit ratings (ranking guide here). Post links in the comments and we will update this post during the morning.

Dizzy kicks it off with evidence of Cameron’s Piggish Tendencies. Nil pigs.
Cherie Keeps Official Car and Driver Still

Mail on Sunday

Denis Thatcher used to get the bus, Cherie wrangled a deal for a government driver.
Northern Rock Hounds Whistle Blower
Mail on Sunday

Guido’s old friends at Schillings are up to their old tricks. Hounding an alleged whistle-blower for telling the truth about what is going on at Northern Rock – the bank we own. There is a legitimate public interest defence.

Flashback : The Smith Institute Exposé

If you are new to the Smith Institute story this January 2007 documentary expo which Iain Dale presented and Guido scripted for broadcast by the old 18 Doughty Street internet TV station gives you the background. This video really did kick off the official Smith Institute investigation. It was whilst filming outside the Charity Commission office that a press officer came out and asked Guido what we were doing. In conversation Guido was told that the reason they hadn’t started an investigation was they had no official complaint! The next day Guido filed his complaint, days later the investigation was announced. It was not too bad an effort for a first time citizen journalist producer…

Some bloke called Crick had a go as well – see here. Hmmm…

The Sith Suffered a Grave Defeat Yesterday

Guido has now had time to fully digest yesterday’s report on the Smith Institute. Some comment from the unpopular wing of the blogosphere shows they don’t seem to have grasped that the Sith were found to have operated illegally nor have they understood the full ramifications of the Charity Commission’s investigative findings:

The Institute failed to implement key elements of the 2002 commitments arising from the first investigation.

The “predominant involvement of Labour Party politicians in the Institute’s activities, compromised the Institute’s independence.”

“Due to the amount and nature of party political content in some of the Institute’s events and publications, the Commission concluded that the Institute’s work was not always as sufficiently balanced and neutral as required under charity law”

“The trustees allowed inappropriate party political comments which were made at events, to be reported word for word… without any commentary, editing, qualification or disclaimer in Institute publications and disseminated to a wider audience”

The language used by the Institute at times “constituted a party political statement inappropriate for the charity. This inevitably compromised the Institute’s independence and reputation”

The Institute “took insufficient steps to regulate inappropriate party political” activities by Senior Research Fellow, Robert Shrum.

Directly criticised the trustees, finding “evidence of unchallenged party political comments being made at Institute events by politicians and also party political comments made by or on behalf of the Institute… combined with the predominant involvement of Labour Party politicians in the Institute’s activity, compromised the Institute’s independence. Bearing in mind the previous engagement between the Commission and the trustees in 2001/02 on this matter, the Commission concluded that the trustees had not safeguarded or adequately supervised the risks posed to the independence and reputation of the Institute”

Found that “the trustees had allowed the Institute to become exposed to concerns that is supported Government policy and was involved in party political activity inappropriate for a charity” and that they were “not sufficiently engaged to ensure the proper supervision of the charity”. The trustees were lambasted throughout the report for failing in their statutory duties to oversee the workings of the charity.

Still had ongoing concerns “over the Institute’s frequency of use of 11 Downing Street and over the review and monitoring of the impartiality of its educational programmes”.

Found “a number of instances where the balance and neutrality of the Institute’s work were compromised by a party political association… Sufficient steps had not been taken to identify or manage the perception that the Institute was unacceptably linked to and supported the Labour Party or that it inappropriately promoted Government policy… it is understandable how the perception arose that the Institute was focussed on or was connected to the then Chancellor of the Exchequer”.

This is a good result and Guido feels totally vindicated in making his complaint. The Commission has formally found the Institute in breach of the laws on political neutrality – anyone interested now knows what really went on. The Institute has been forced to restructure, with an audit committee. It has also closed down the subsidiary company S.I. Events Limited, which was used to launder money from corporations seeking regulatory favours and to invoice the Treasury for seminars. A formal oversight structure was ordered to be put in place with tight controls and it has been told to appoint known Tory and LibDem supporters to the board. It is now on probation and must report back on the implementation of the changes as ordered in six months. The Commission will take a second look next year.

Guido doesn’t think we will be hearing any more speeches on how to beat Cameron and the LibDems at Smith Institute events in the future…

+++ Brown is in Baghdad +++

Thought he said he wasn’t taking a foreign holiday..?

Friday Caption Competition (the Men in Suits)

Gordon Brown Refused to Answer Inquiry Questions

One footnote from the Charity Commission report into Gordon Brown’s Smith Institute is positively Nixonian.

You have the right to remain silent but….

Labour are spinning that the report clears Gordon of any links to the Institute. Which is complete bollocks. The Treasury Minister John Healey welcomed attendees to Number 11 in December 2004 thus:

“I am a last-minute substitute for Gordon Brown, so I would like, on his behalf, to welcome you all to Number 11 Downing Street. I know, looking around, some of you are quite regular attendees of Smith Institute seminars, and you will know you get a letter from Wilf Stevenson before each one explaining that you are invited to Number 11 by Kind permission of the Chancellor. I have to say, this series of seminars in particular is being held not so much by the kind permission of the Chancellor, but by his absolute insistence that they take place. He is unable to be with us now, but he will want to know exactly what has been said in the discussion when I see him earlier this morning. Many of you, including and perhaps especially the panel here, have known Gordon for a long time”

The Centre for Open Politics has summarised the web of close links to Gordon Brown in a single document.

click to enlarge

Smith Institute Report

Guido is digesting the lengthy Charity Commission report. The Smith Institute has been found guilty of charge after charge first highlighted on this blog.

Back with fuller comment soon.

UPDATE : There seem to be some errors of fact which Guido will be highlighting.

Treasury Denies Plans to Break Broken Golden Rule

The FT front pages the Treasury’s supposed plan to break the Golden Rule and breach Gordon’s self imposed debt limit of 40% of the UK’s gross domestic product.

The truth is the City and the Gilts market has regarded the Golden Rule as a political fiction for years. 700 or more PFI debts that build schools and hospitals owned by the state are government guaranteed debt whatever fudge the government claims. Northern Rock mortgage guarantees are not only bad debts they are also government debts, the Network Rail debt likewise, state pensions are another unfunded government debt.

The Office of National Statistics made it officially 43.1% back in May (full explanation from IFS download here). The only news is that the Treasury looks set to admit the truth. The pathetic reality is that Gordon’s psychology did not allow him to admit his failure to keep his own rule. The rule could have been kept to in the good times, it hardly needed much fiscal rectitude to sustain when he inherited falling public debts from Ken Clarke.

The Treasury is spinning this morning that it is not going to break or loosen the rules. Guido suspects it will “redefine” the economic cycle somehow.

See also Fantasy Island Economics.

+++ Charity Commission Smith Institute Report Tomorrow +++

+ READ MORE +



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