When Think Tanks Collide : CPS and Reform Clash Tonight

Guido gets invited to the occasional think tank bash and when in London generally goes to the ones with the best booze (full marks to the Adam Smith Institute – up market beers and champagne).

Not sure what the booze situation is tonight in Westminster for the Centre for Policy Studies seminar on Politics, Policy and the Internet, the invitation doesn’t say. George Osborne is a big Politics 2.0 advocate of the power of the web and he is headlining it along with Tom Steinberg.

At exactly the same time over at Bloomberg’s offices in the City, Jeremy Hunt, the DCMS Shadow, is talking about the New Media Politics Revolution. Booze is clearly highlighted on the invite.

Decisions, decisions…

Smith Institute Cash for Policy

Guido has just noticed that Gordon’s favourite think-tank, the Smith Institute, has a new publication out today. In it the director-general of the Association of British Insurers (ABI), Stephen Haddrill, calls for a way out for the insurance industry from the “vicious circle of unquantified longevity risks”.

So an insurer does not like risk – is he in the right business? He suggests shifting the risk off insurers onto taxpayers. Of course he wants the industry to be able to offer attractive low premiums by having the insurance industry state subsidised.

Guido expects big business with naked self interest to beg favours from big government, protectionism is the easy way to profits. But shouldn’t an “independent” think tank question the propriety of such an arrangement? Who benefits from this apart from shareholders in insurance companies?

Guido called the Smith Institute to find out how much they were paid by the ABI to produce the report. The public charity refused to answer the question. Guido contacted the ABI’s Jonathan French to ask the same, he has as yet not responded. Guido understands that the Smith Institute got a five-figure sum from the ABI. Would that compromise their independence or integrity?

UPDATE 16:00 : The ABI’s Jonathan French has got back to Guido with the promise of an answer and a request to spell his name correctly.

Willetts Says Vampire Bats Are Tories

Guido is pretty certain that he did not dream hearing David Willetts this morning on Marr’s Radio 4 show Start the Week compare (in a positive light) the altruistic social behaviour of vampire bats to Tory thinking about human social behaviour. Stepping back from the point he was making, which was both interesting and valid, it seems to me that only Willetts would try to win people over to the Tory cause using vampire bats.
Batty? Yep. God knows what Michael Howard will have to say about this…

The Tax Battle that Led to the Bottle

Propeller-Head Wonk Watch: As Polly howls in pain this morning at the Brown/Darling rhetorical U-turn on tax, which she correctly recognises has razed the ideological ground ahead of Brown as he retreats, who should we credit for her torment. Osborne? Well yes, but why did he select inheritance tax and stamp duty as tax cutting priorities?

Matthew Elliott’s Tax Payers Alliance relentlessly highlighted the unpopularity of these particular taxes in the non-ideological language that practical politicians understand. They commissioned an ICM poll in August 2006 revealing that “significantly raising the threshold for inheritance tax, or abolishing it” was the second most popular cut after cutting Council tax. This September their YouGov poll confirmed that inheritance tax was perceived as being the most unfair tax of all and was the third most popular tax to be reduced, marginally behind lowering council tax and raising the tax-free personal allowance.

The poll findings made a deep impression on the Shadow Treasury team, proving that tax cuts could once again be a popular vote winner, giving Osborne the confidence to make the announcement that has turned around Tory fortunes. As Osborne takes the battle glory, remember who fired the opening shots…

Never Work With Guido, Children or Animals

In a rare and uncharacteristic act of selfless public service, Guido spoke at an event for a few hundred sixth formers today (the honarium was a decent bottle of Marguax). He advised the politically minded students that they would be better off not going into politics if they wanted to make the world a better place.

Afterwards one of the organisers thanked me – “Yeah, thanks for that, I’m sure all the teachers who brought sudents along were overjoyed when you recommended that the world would be better off if they became honest drug dealers and arms traders rather than politicians.” Glad to be of service.

Early Election? Don’t Think So…

Propellor-Head Wonk Watch: the appointment of Douglas Alexander to oversee preparations for the next general election might be seen by some as Brownite genius. Guido thinks that depends on how you view his overseeing of the recent election campaign where Labour lost control in Scotland for the first time in generations. Some think it could have been worse.

Guido remembers attending a Demos event last year where the new campaign commissar was giving his thoughts. With all this talk of an early election in the air the boys and girls at CCHQ and Cowley Street would do well to dig out his Serving a Cause, Serving a Community Demos pamphlet from last year. In it he urged the Labour party to work in partnership rather than parallel with like minded organisations including trade unions. Gordon is spinning today that he wants to reduce the power of the unions through one man, one vote.

He wrote about the party to becoming a “community hub” creating space for shared discussion with social interest groups who will have input into local party campaigns using blogs and chat rooms to encourage debate with those preferring not to go to formal party meetings. LabourHome is their best semi-unofficial attempt at this, and it still shaded by ConservativeHome.

He also claimed he wanted to throw off the control-freak shackles and loosen the rigid party structures to allow issues to be discussed informally and he wanted to decentralise professional party staff resources from national to local level. Once again the Tories have the edge here, they are far less control-freaky and they already have their Northern call-centre operation with regional offices benefiting from Lord Ashcroft’s cash.

If the Demos pamphlet was Douglas Alexander’s job application it will take time to achieve his goals for Labour. That together with their cash crisis, makes Guido doubtful they will go for an early election.

Where’s Gordon?™ Begging for Votes

Gordon visited a school again yesterday for yet another photo-op with kids. This time it was the Adam Smith College in Fife. He made a plea for “Labour voters to come home to Labour” on four separate occasions during an address to students and young party activists.
Coincidentally, the respected Adam Smith Institute itself released a report calculating that Scotland could thrive as a free independent nation. If Scotland followed the low tax route to prosperity, a route which took the Republic of Ireland from the poorest country in the EU (per head) to the richest. Scotland, say the wonks at the Adam Smith Institute, could match that performance.

The ASI report can be downloaded here. Where’s Gordon? tracks Gordon’s campaign trail as he tries to shore up the Labour vote.

Wasting Police Time in Downing Street

Propeller-Head Wonk Watch: A well place co-conspirator emails to say he has seen Robert Gould, from the PM’s Downing Street Strategy Unit, thumbing through a copy of Wasting Police Time, the book of the blog by everyone’s favourite plod, PC David Copperfield. The police minister, Tony McNulty, reckons the book is “more of a fiction than Dickens.”

Strange that one of the top wonks in Downing Street is reading fiction the week after Nick Herbert, the talented Tory shadow police minister, put forward some interesting policy ideas. Perhaps it is just holiday reading.

Smash and Gabb

Propeller-Head Wonk Watch: A number of co-conspirators from the wonk-world have pointed out Sean Gabb’s demolition of Danny Kruger’s latest work. Dave’s speechwriter has been caught out before for lifting Dave’s foreign policy speech from After the Neo-Cons, a recent book Fukyama. This time nobody is accusing Danny of cutting and pasting, Gabb suggests Kruger’s book – On Fraternity: Politics Beyond Liberty and Equality – is an intellectual fraud in its intention, and shabby in its execution.
Guido’s classical education is a little sketchy, but prima facie Gabb has undermined Danny’s pretensions comprehensively. Ouch.

Demos Calls in Two-Brains

Propeller-Head Wonk Watch: The new director of Demos, Catherine Fieschi, seems to be steadying the ship and pointing it in a new direction after the short-lived captaincy of Madelaine Bunting produced a mutiny of the wonks.
Catherine Fieschi is respected as a real academic wonk who hails from the soft liberal school (she is on the editorial board of Prospect, the bible of Hampstead liberals). Essentially, unlike Bunting, she has a Phd and knows how to use it.

So it is interesting to see that Demos have arranged a Valentine’s day lunchtime love-in with David Willets on the New Tory buzzwords social responsibility. Not sure who is wooing who here – the brand decontaminating Tories, or Demos who want to distance themselves from their Blairite New Labour heritage. The important thing is not so much what they are saying, as who is saying what to whom as the tectonic plates shift.

IPPR Wonk Whoring Again

Wonks for Sale : IPPR has been caught taking payments for policy again.

IPPR is pushing an unpopular road pricing plan, despite 640,000 petitoners having gone to the Downing Street website to protest against the plan. The IPPR website reveals that for the last two years hardly a month has gone by without a press release or event pushing the poll-tax-on-wheels.
T-Systems supplies the electronic systems that collect €3 billion-a-year from German petrol-heads. Surprise, surprise, T-Systems has given £45,000 to the IPPR in the hope of picking up the contracts for supplying the auto-spy-in-the-sky. Policy payola without disclosure is discrediting wonkland, the recycling of corporate press releases as policy advice stinks and Westminster reeks of it.

The IPPR claims that

Our agenda is simple: we want to build a fairer, more democratic and environmentally sustainable world. We are driven by these values, not by any party or interest group.

Bullshit.

Crisis, What Crisis?

Matthew Taylor, Tony’s chief adviser on political strategy and the former IPPR head wonk is on his way out of Downing Street. By way of a farewell speech today he tells us he fears the internet could be fuelling a “crisis” in the relationship between politicians and voters.

“We have a citizenry which can be caricatured as being increasingly unwilling to be governed but not yet capable of self-government”.

The über-arrogant wonk alleged to an audience of teenagers that people are incapable of self government. Is it any wonder we despise this regime and the way that it infantilises the voters.

“a conspiracy to maintain the population in a perpetual state of self-righteous rage… It seems to me this is something which is worth calling a crisis… The internet has immense potential but we face a real problem if the main way in which that potential expresses itself is through allowing citizens to participate in a shrill discourse of demands…


What is the big breakthrough, in terms of politics, on the web in the last few years? It’s basically blogs which are, generally speaking, hostile and, generally speaking, basically see their job as every day exposing how venal, stupid, mendacious politicians are.

The internet is being used as a tool of mobilisation, which is fantastic, but it only adds to the growing, incommensurate nature of the demands being made on government.”

The problem Taylor reckons is the online culture itself, rooted in libertarianism and “anti-establishment” attitudes. Since when has liberty been a problem?

Guido intends to be a thorn in the side of corrupt politicians for a long time. There is nothing the vermin can do about it, no media proprietor for them to brandish baubles to, no job you can offer, no bribe we will accept. They deserve everything they get, the crisis has been brought about by their lies. In an age where all can be journalists and information is freely available they have lost control of the media. That is their crisis and our victory.

Waste Bashing Wonks

Propeller-Head Wonk Watch: The Bumper Book of Government Waste: The scandal of the squandered billions from Lord Irvine’s wallpaper to EU saunas has had a massive amount of media coverage. The book lists £82bn of government waste and the message is hitting home.

The Treasury fielded the financial secretary, John Healey, to bat against it when it was launched. Healey sees himself as an attack dog, but is really more of an attack puppy. He tried the New Labour tactic of rubbishing it (without reading it). Healy described it as shoddy and not worthy of serious consideration. So why field a Treasury minister to rubbish it?

Something tells Guido that Matthew Elliott is getting under the skin of the Treasury. The polite, mild mannered CEO of the Taxpayers’ Alliance is deceptive, beneath the Clark Kent exterior is a superman of a campaigner. The former aide to David Davis is building a relatively broad anti-tax alliance which will make a strong case to a future Conservative government for the proceeds of growth to be shared with taxpayers. It is strategically advantageous for the Tories that there is a non-party grassroots lobby for lower taxes besides the business lobby. Gordon’s penchant for tax and waste is a rich vein of opportunity for the Tories. If they themselves are not willing to make the case, than the quietly combative Elliott will have to lead the charge.

Wonk Watch : Cameroonie Outriders

Propeller-Head Wonk Watch: As the post-leadership battle dust settles, the battle for the ear of the new regime begins. Guido wrote previously about the alignment of the think-tanks during the election hustings, now the importance of having influence with Cameron has shot up the think-tank agenda because New Labour seems so intellectually tired and the novelty of the Notting Hill set seems as attractive to wonks as much as voters.
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