Credit where it is due, the left-wingers at openDemocracy have finally included Gordon Brown’s Our Scottish Future in their annual ‘transparency audit’ of UK think tanks. For some reason, they forgot to include it last year despite it being the pet project of a former Prime Minister. Now they’ve corrected their oversight and scored Our Scottish Future an E, the lowest possible rating…
“[Our Scottish Future] publishes no information on its donors and lists a firm of solicitors as its main director. This makes it impossible to know for certain who controls or funds it.”
Back in December, Labour published a weighty blueprint on its plans for “A New Britain“, which included a section on “cleaning up Westminster”. Given Angela Rayner had already promised Labour would “look to broaden the scope of lobbying rules, including transparency on who funds them”, Guido was excited to see how they would go about doing that. The word “lobbying” didn’t appear once.
What did appear in the ‘acknowledgements’ section, however, was this:
“We also drew significantly on primary research conducted by Our Scottish Future, including Scotland in a Zoom and original polling and focus groups carried out over the summer of 2022.”
What was it Labour said about the “malign impact” of “opaquely-funded think tanks” again?
Aside from partygate yesterday, the government celebrated the two year anniversary of Brexit, publishing a 100-page document of the victories so far and plans for future Brexit-enables successes. According to Steve Barclay and the Cabinet Office, the government’s achieved 76 policy changes so far that wouldn’t have been possible within the EU. Most are sound and should be shouted about, some were rather tenuous…
Wonks were quick to share their two cents on the paper and the government’s stated plans to use Brexit to improve the country’s regulations and legislation.
The CPS welcomed the white paper, particularly supporting the intention to make Britain the best regulated economy in the world; as well as ensuring regulators take into consideration competition, growth and innovation when assessing the impact of decisions; simplifying burdens for SMEs; and the freeports agenda. They did, however, criticise the abandoning of a ‘one in, two out’ pledge on new regulations…
“Fixing our regulatory system is one of the great opportunities of Brexit. But that needs to apply to all regulations, not just those inherited from Brussels.
The £1 billion target for cutting post-Brexit regulation is headline-grabbing but relatively unambitious. We need more detail on what will replace the current system of regulatory budgeting and business impact targets, which are due to expire. It is especially concerning to note that a one-in-two-out system was considered but rejected – apparently because it will be too difficult to implement alongside Net Zero.”
The IEA were more critical, saying the government “is talking a good talk on cutting red tape yet failing to walk the walk”:
“The Prime Minister is making the right noises about tackling the regulatory burden all the while introducing laws and regulations that go in the opposite direction.”
“Brexit was meant to provide us with greater freedom not even more burdensome rules derived from Whitehall rather than Brussels. From online safety to Net Zero, it’s hard to see how the government is sticking to its own principle of regulating only when “absolutely necessary”.”
UK In A Changing Europe’s Anand Menon accused the document of “missing the trade-offs”, and it appeared the report had been published “because of where the Prime Minister is”. Guido presumed it was more to do with the two year anniversary of Brexit…
Away from the glossy spin now expected from team Rishi, there is a distinctly nervous reaction from the right’s ideological bastions. Delving into the details of the Chancellor’s spending review announcement, think tank responses range from at best unease to at worst some disdain for the government’s decision to double down on further increasing record levels of public spending. Is this the start of a growing gulf between wonk world and Number 10?
The Centre for Policy Studies are the warmest, claiming credit for the two most obvious examples of fiscal restraint within the announcement: the cut to international aid and the so-called public sector pay freeze. It’s clear however that the organisation, which was heavily involved in constructing the Tories’ successful 2019 manifesto, wants the government to more clearly return to the traditional Tory ground of letting the private sector drive the post-Covid recovery:
“But ultimately it will be the private sector, not the public, which digs us out of this economic hole – so as the pandemic recedes we urge the Chancellor to embrace pro-growth, pro-enterprise stimulus measures, such as tax incentives to encourage businesses to hire and invest.”
The ASI doesn’t hold back, accusing the government of a “public sector splurge” in spite of the ‘pay freeze’; and singling out the rise in the minimum wage as an “unforgivable”:
“This public sector spending splurge fails to put the United Kingdom onto a strong fiscal footing for the recovery. Rishi Sunak cannot tax our way out of debt or spend our way out of a recession”
“Increasing departmental budgets as the economy shrinks is just spending money we don’t have.”
“For the party of business, the lack of thought about their needs and the increase in costs they’re facing coming from the government, this is a massive and unforgivable oversight.”
Unfortunately for Rishi, the IEA goes in even harder, arguing that while the chancellor’s diagnosis of doom was correct, his pledges to boost departmental funding are “vague” and his support for apprentices, and extra work coaches are “retro policies drawn from dusty files last seen in the 1980s.”:
“Recovery from the recessions of the 1980s and 90s was not the result of extra government spending, but was rather associated with deregulation and freeing up markets. There was no sign of this in today’s announcement. Government intervention, however justified by health concerns, has created the current economic situation; the answer is not yet more intervention, but rather to allow businesses maximum freedom to reorient and rebuild.”
The Taxpayers’ Alliance adds to the voiced concerns about Rishi’s fiscal splurge:
“The lack of focus on value for money in today’s spending review will no doubt disappoint taxpayers.
“Coronavirus has undeniably left a large hole in the nation’s finances. But instead of forever dipping back into taxpayers’ pockets, the government should prioritise policies to get the economy going.”
The Centre for Social Justice welcomed the focus on jobs but wants “warm words” on families and communities to be followed by action.
“as the Chancellor said, a job is the best route to personal prosperity – an identity, purpose, and reason to get up each morning. Various investments in housing, city growth deals, and a very welcome community levelling-up fund will all help to enable this.
“support for the most vulnerable such as rough sleepers, and our prisons was welcome, but warm words on families and communities, where many find their greatest support, must be followed by action.”
It’s clear a great many Tories – whether sitting quietly on the back benches or orbiting in wonk world – want a private sector-led recovery, and a definitive end to the endless splurge of taxpayer cash with little thought to the consequences. The question is whether Boris or Rishi will be brave enough to lead their new voters from the front, or surrender the battle of ideas entirely…