Rishi Sunak’s just wrapped up his fringe event with the IEA and the TPA. It was a far-reaching conversation, although Guido doubts he was alone in coming away feeling apprehensive: a lot of eloquent chatter about why raising national insurance was right and necessary (explaining that NI’s historic link to healthcare made it the “least worst option“, especially given it “spreads the burden” on businesses), though also with an implicit warning that it could take several years before any significant tax cuts are possible. Asked by the IEA’s Mark Littlewood if the earliest chance of a tax cut was 2050, Rishi insisted that was “pretty pessimistic” – small mercies…
There was also a question about the cost of net zero by the mid-century, to which Rishi claimed “you can’t put a single figure on it…it’s an ambitious target”, adding that “innovation” was also crucial to hitting that target – not just spending. He did, at least, also reinforce that the upcoming spending review will force government departments to judge spending targets by outcomes. Every little helps…
You might be wondering why politically-savvy Rishi, who’s just put taxes up, chose to go into the lion’s den of the IEA/TPA as his only fringe reception of the conference. Could it be that a tax hiking Chancellor with leadership ambitions needs to make friends with the tax cutting, small government wing of the party?
IPSA has published the findings of their inquiry into how they should decide future MP pay rises; rejecting the Guido-endorsed Taxpayers’ Alliance proposals to link future MP pay rises with changes in GDP per capita. While there were many alternative reform suggestions from the public – such as linking pay boosts to changes in earnings across the whole economy or a fixed multiple of the level of average weekly earnings – the body specifically addressed the GDP proposals:
“had we followed one suggested approach of linking pay to GDP, the outcome for 2020 would have been a freeze or cut in MPs’ salaries, but the outcome for 2021 and 2022 on current forecasts would be a rise of 4.3% and then 5.8% when the same forecasts predict an increase in average earnings of 2.2% and 2.4%. It is not self-evident to us that this would be seen to represent a fair outcome”
Irritatingly, it looks like IPSA deliberately misinterpreted the campaign, which saw 1727 submissions via the TPA website. They claim respondents were pushing for GDP-linked pay rises, rather than GDP per capita rises, which would see significantly smaller changes to pay than claimed (2019’s figures for example saw a per capita rise of 0.8% versus GDP’s 1.4%). IPSA claims they had just under 4,000 responses to the consultation, so it looks like just under half the submissions called for a new system – which IPSA rejected out of hand…
The TPA’s political director James Roberts tells Guido, “IPSA took the easy way out and ignored the thousands of taxpayers who told them to get a grip on the system.”:
“Now politicians can look forward to another barney next year, when they’re inevitably recommended a pay rise that many of them won’t deserve; that most of them don’t even want; based on data that no one agrees with.
“Performance related pay could have changed the game, but IPSA bottled it.”
The only pleasure Guido got from reading the report was seeing one MP had argued the proposed £3,000 pay rise this year was justified as “MPs had continued working throughout the pandemic”. The bar is on the floor…
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…
Co-conspirators will know that Guido has little time for the BBC’s biased activist/experts, bloated news crews, and Question Time group think. Rival broadcasters don’t charge a legally-enforced licence fee to non-viewers. Why should the BBC continue to enjoy that privilege?
With the new consultation on decriminalising the TV tax, ministers may be finally looking at major changes to Britain’s state broadcaster. Decriminalising the licence fee is the first step to funding reform; from a tiered system to a subscription model. Something we’ve called for long before Dom got on the phone to Tim Shipman…
The Taxpayers’ Alliance is preparing for a fight, rallying grassroots supporters to counter the tidal wave of worthy submissions (often from taxpayer-funded groups which always dominate these otherwise dull consultations). They’ve designed a nifty tool to do the legwork for you, and generate a submission which won’t fall foul of the notoriously selective civil service consultation guidelines. You can find it here.
They’re also on the lookout for some examples of poor old dears who’ve been on the receiving end of the BBC’s nasty enforcement letters and home visits. If your grandma’s been hassled by some BBC jobsworths, let the TPA know: firstname.lastname@example.org
Join Guido in sticking in a submission, to stick it to the Beeb. The road to BBC reform starts by clicking here….
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.
The TaxPayers’ Alliance is joining the think tank revival and ramping up its presence in Westminster with two new hires this afternoon. Lynton Crosby protege James Roberts will join as Political Director from CTF. His job will be to make sure the TPA’s campaigning on the ground is reaching the corridors of power. He’s already in with plenty of MPs.
Also coming on board is Phil Basey as Editorial Director. Basey was responsible for whipping the UKIP 2015 manifesto into shape – he will be overseeing the research team. The TPA has been doing well recently, with Chloe Westley emerging as a rising star on Question Time and James Price touring the studios fighting for taxpayers. At a time when the statist Tories in Number 10 are backing new taxes, the TPA’s voice is more needed than ever…