BBC’s Think Tank Funding Hypocrisy

The BBC took film crews into the Taxpayers’ Alliance and Institute of Economic Affairs for a Politics Live feature today, ostensibly to help viewers “make their own judgements” about whether them making their donors public is “relevant” to their ability to take part in public debate. It quickly became clear that the BBC was more interested in portraying them as pantomime villains than letting viewers “make their own minds up”…

As the IEA’s Mark Littlewood pointed out, think tanks are far from the only organisations and institutions which frequently intervene in public debate yet do not publicly divulge their donors. Most of them in fact do so with far more clout – from Oxfam and Greenpeace to the CBI and the Corbynite Archbishop of Canterbury…

Greenpeace UK operates on a vast £21 million annual budget, the CBI on £24.5 million and Oxfam UK on a truly gargantuan £427 million, yet none of them provide fully detailed information about where their funding comes from, despite all of them having a huge influence on public debate. The IEA operates on a budget of just over £2 million and provides a clear breakdown of its income sources, even though it does not publish individual donors’ names.

This is not a case of “whataboutery”, it is a fundamental point about free speech and a balanced public debate in civil society. Attacking someone on the basis of who funds them rather than on the strength of their arguments is one of the most basic forms of ad hominem attack. Tellingly, these attacks are almost entirely one-way politically. They are almost exclusively led by the assorted cranks of the authoritarian left who are targeting those on the right as part of their broader war of attrition to purge public debate of dissenting views.

These attacks will not stop if think tanks reveal their funding. Their donors will hounded and subjected to the same sort of rabid abuse that think tanks’ staff members, particularly female ones like Chloe Westley and Kate Andrews, receive on a daily basis online, until they cave into the intimidation and withdraw their support. And Jo Coburn and other presenters will keep asking them questions on an ad hominem basis rather than engaging with the substance of their research. If a think tank has genuinely distorted their research due to outside influences, that will be evident from the flaws in the substance of the work they publish.

Faiza Shaheen, alongside Littlewood, claimed that her think tank, CLASS, was entirely transparent about its own funding arrangements. It is not. It lists its total income, as the IEA does, but it only names donors who have given over £1000, and even then it does not divulge how much each has donated. Every single named donor except one is a Trade Union.

When was the last time a single presenter challenged the integrity of Shaheen’s arguments on the basis that she is almost entirely funded by Trades Unions? When was the last time Jo Coburn herself was challenged over the fact that her career is dependent on the specific Government policy of extorting money out of taxpayers to pay her salary? They haven’t, as always it’s one rule for the right and another rule for everyone else…

UPDATE: James O’Brien has gone even further, openly admitting his entirely partisan motives in a recent interview.

Shanker Shocker as Legatum’s Brexit Team Transfers to IEA

Shanker Singham has resigned from the Legatum Institute as Director of Economic Policy and is taking his three-strong team with him from Mayfair to Westminster to join the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA). This is the wonk-land equivalent of Manchester City signing Manchester United’s top strikers…

Guido sources say Shanker resigned on Wednesday and the board of the IEA agreed to take him and his team pretty swiftly. The IEA is creating a new International Trade and Competition Unit for Shanker’s team, bringing with him lawyer Victoria Hewson; economist Catherine McBride; and research analyst Dr Radomir Tylecote. The three – who have a wealth of experience from the legal, technology, business and think tank worlds – will take up their roles later this month. Shanker’s team are widely recognised as the top Brexit wonks outside government.

The IEA’s Mark Littlewood tells Guido:

“I have huge admiration for the work Shanker and his team have done at the Legatum Institute. Under Philippa Stroud’s leadership, Legatum have gone from strength to strength, becoming thought leaders in crucial policy areas of which trade is only one. I look forward to continuing our strong relationship with them, and to Shanker and his team continuing their work at the IEA.”

Shanker Singham says: “We look forward to being a resource to all who need us in the trade, competition and regulatory policy space.” It is fair to say that the philanthropists who back Legatum were extremely uncomfortable with the critical political attention that the polarising Brexit work was bringing them and that this was distracting from their greater philanthropic endeavours on other issues.  At the IEA Shanker will be at liberty to engage with the Westminster debate and key players more directly…

THROUGH THE ROOF…

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