Red Prince Will Straw: The New "Emperor of Blackburn"

Red Prince Will Straw doesn’t seem to be taking his bid to follow his father Jack into parliament that seriously. Despite fighting the ultra-marginal seat of Rossendale and Darwen, wonk Will has not yet to moved into the seat and continues to work in London. “Like father like son,” says a suspicious local resident, “his old man barely ever spends any time up here, sweeping in once a month like the Emperor of Blackburn.” Will claims he is staying with family and friends while he looks for somewhere to rent. Jake Berry, his sitting Tory opponent, is scathing: “publishing a picture* of yourself wearing a flat cap doesn’t mean you can pretend to live in Lancashire when you don’t! People round here aren’t daft.” 

*A photo of Will in a flat cap on his website has mysteriously disappeared from the interent. Above is an artist’s impression.

UPDATE: Will Straw has contacted us to say he has never worn a flat cap in Lancashire. He has only worn one in chi chi France…

How Charities Spend Taxpayer Millions on Political Lobbying

The Institute of Economic Affairs has done the leg work to expose how charities spend millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on political campaigns and lobbying. As Guido mentioned earlier in the week, several leading charities are now run by ex-Labour advisers. This is clearly reflected in their work:

  • Save the Children: Receives 16.3% of total income from taxpayer. Run by Justin Forsyth, former No. 10 spinner for Gordon Brown, who has ramped up attacks on domestic government “cuts” since 2010.
  • National Children’s Bureau: Receives more than 50% of income from taxpayer. Current campaigns include minimum pricing for alcohol, votes at 16 and a ban on smacking children.
  • Sustain: Receives 24.8% of income from taxpayer. Campaign for bans on junk food at supermarket checkouts and on children’s television.
  • Balance North East: Receives 100% of funding from taxpayer. Campaigns for minimum pricing of alcohol.
  • War on Want: Receives 8.7% of income from taxpayer. Opposed campaign to spend 0.7% of GDP on foreign aid, because if they joined they ‘couldn’t be critical of government.’

Worth reading some further work done on this by City AM this morning. A charity that relies in the main part on taxes is no more a charity than a prostitute is your girlfriend…

Bright Blue Director’s SpAd Blocking Temper Tantrum

Over Christmas dripping wet Tory pressure group Bright Blue launched a blistering attack on the Conservative Party’s messaging. The group’s director Ryan Shorthouse slammed the Dave for “pandering to prejudice, uncertainty and anger”. Though now it appears it was Shorthouse who was the angry one – he was blocked by Downing Street in December from becoming a SpAd to David Willets at BIS. Revenge is a dish best served on a slow news day.

Top Wonks Slam Osborne’s Minimum Wage Rise

Osborne ruining Ed’s big day by calling for a rise in the minimum wage is politically cunning, though it remains a fundamentally unsound economic idea. Here is a round up of how some of the more sensible think tanks responded to the idea of an increase to £7-an-hour:

Adam Smith Institute – “A minimum wage increase will hurt the poor, particularly young people and vulnerable groups like migrant workers. Most of the empirical economic evidence has found that increases in the minimum wage cause increases in unemployment. Even if the immediate impact is not large, this increase will lead to a long-run decline in job creation and standards for Britain’s poorest workers. It will hurt the very people it is supposed to help.”

Institute of Economic Affairs“This move would not only jeopardise the jobs of some of the most vulnerable workers in the country, it will make it even harder for the young and out of work to get a foot on the employment ladder. If an employer cannot afford to hire someone because the minimum wage is too high, then someone who otherwise could have found work remains unemployed. The minimum wage is a blunt instrument. Increasing it will damage both business growth and society’s most vulnerable.”

Centre for Policy Studies – “Those who suffer most from a rise are the unskilled and young, who have low productivity and get priced out of the market – denying them the chance to accumulate “on the job” human capital. Higher minimum wages make it less profitable for firms to take on untested employees. This may be one reason why youth unemployment and unpaid internships became more common, even in a healthy pre-crisis jobs market.”

Still, you’d need a heart of stone not to enjoy Labour’s squirming this morning…

Wonk Movements: All Change at TPA

Big wonk movements last night, with Matt Sinclair leaving his position as chief executive of the Taxpayers’ Alliance to jump ship to Europe Economics. He is replaced by the TPA’s current political director, Jonathan Isaby who has gone from hack, to wonk, to boss in under five years. Research director John O’Connell is promoted to Director. Fact: Isaby owns every single Now That’s What I Call Music album ever released.

Labour Rehab Wonk Shop's Unpaid Intern Mystery

Centre for London is an “independent” think tank run by Ben Rogers, a former adviser to Gordon Brown and fellow at Labour wonk shop IPPR. This morning they are launching a “ground-breaking” report criticising low pay, authored by Brown treasury minister and expenses trougher Kitty Ussher, calling for a higher minimum wage in London than for the rest of the country. Indeed, they say this is a policy they employ themselves. According to their website, “internships at Centre for London are paid at the London Living Wage”. 

That is not what one former employee says. An ex-staffer at Centre for London, who wishes to remain unnamed, tells Guido that the think tank has itself regularly used unpaid staff and that many members of its current team started out there in jobs without pay. He says “my jaw dropped” when he saw today’s report attacking low pay, claiming that when he was there a “we will pay you if you raise the money” policy was in place. A spokesperson for Centre of London insists that they have always paid their staff. Surely a wonk shop doubling as a rehab clinic for failed Brown era apparatchiks would never say one thing then do the other…

Wonk Allegiances

Interesting to note the political influence and orientation of some of the lefty wonk shops most willing to take money from the taxpayer compared to their counterparts to the soft right. Economist Andrew Whitby has calculated that the supposedly “non-political” IFS is more biased to Labour than almost any right-wing think tank is to the Tories. IPPR, Compass and the Fabian Society are almost off the chart. No surprise there.

Via @EconAndrew and @GoodwinMJ.

Labour's Manifesto Must Pass Twitter Test

Just when Labour appeared to be making an interesting intervention into the debate about how we reduce the welfare bill, Rachel Reeves shoots down the proposal. IPPR, Labour’s favourite think-tank, are displaying a rare flash of common sense with their idea to restrict benefits to under 25s. Despite Labour appearing to brief the Telegraph that they were looking at the policy, they’re now claiming they are not. The left flipped out at the idea; Owen Jones got on his high horse and Reeves quickly distanced herself. Guido can’t wait to read the Labour manifesto if every policy must have the blessing of some moany, hand-wringing Twitter users.

So Reeves’ pledge to out-tough the Tories on welfare is going well then. Guido is all for the plan – they just need to raise the age threshold to 65.

The Un-Free, Anti-Enterprise Group

The “Free Enterprise Group” is made up Tory MPs who are usually relatively sensible and allegedly right-wing, so Guido cannot understand why they keep coming up with such bonkers ideas. First they wanted to tax the old even more, now they want to put VAT on food and kids’ clothes. The idea is that the 20% rate is lowered to 15% but exemptions are abolished, so it would apply to all purchases. The Mirror has rightly given them a deserved two page kicking, calculating that: “A weekly grocery bill of £54.80 would go up by £8.22, an outing for £251.10 worth of under 14s clothes would jump £37.66 and a fuel bill of £1,267 would rise £127.” 

Guido cannot help but wonder what kind of supposed free enterprise group wants to extend the reach of VAT, introducing a blanket tax on every transaction. Cutting the rate is all well and good, but how can these self-proclaimed right-wingers possibly sell to voters the idea that their grocery bills, energy and kids’ clothes costs should all go up? As group member crazy Kwasi Kwarteng admits: “This is controversial.”

"The Personal is Political"Gender Inequality at the Patriarchal CLASS Think Tank

class-gender-inequality

The union funded Class think-tank Owen Jones helped found is, despite being very left-wing, not very right-on it seems when it comes to ‘fair’ representation of woman. Their insanely large ‘advisory panel‘ has 48 members, only a third of whom are women. Inexplicable for an organisation devoted to furthering equal rights…

All three of their ‘officers’ are men and only 2 out of 11 of their management committee are women. Of course, their two junior staff are both women – typical the men have all the power and the women do all the work. Disgraceful. Surely Owen Jones, Unite’s Len McCluskey and the Guardian’s Seumas Milne will resign in protest from this blatantly unfair patriarchal organisation…

Wonk Watch: Ruth Porter Jumps IEA for PX

Big transfer news in Wonk Land this afternoon as Ruth Porter jumps from Director of Communications at the Institute of Economic Affairs to take on the Head of Economics and Social Policy brief at deadly rivals Policy Exchange.

Porter, who has been a key part of the IEA’s recent renaissance, is said to be politically ambitious and PX is a natural feeder into the Tories. A source there chuckled this afternoon “she’s gone from the Premiership to the Champions League now”This story has legs.

Wonks Take Spooks to Court

gchq

Big Brother BankingGCHQ are facing court action after three campaign groups filed papers accusing them of breaching the privacy of British citizens. Big Brother Watch, the Open Rights Group and English PEN have brought the action against the government at the European Court of Human Rights. Legal action in open courts in Britain was banned by the government, so rather than go through a secret spooks tribunal the case is going to Strasbourg. They are relying on donations to pay their legal bills

Wonks Take Axe to Clegg’s Magic Money Tree

Nick Clegg’s big conference giveaway managed to last a few hours before it was comprehensively taken apart by policy wonks.

  • Centre for Policy Studies – free school meals for under 8s is yet another “universal benefit… a middle-class welfare gimmick”. Costing £600 million it is “not free at all. The money comes from somewhere. It comes from us.”
  • Taxpayers Alliance“This is a conference gimmick that is a misleading, but all too typical, attempt from politicians to wade in and pretend they are doing something about the pressure on the finances of struggling families by promising subsidies paid for with other people’s money.”
  • Institute of Economic Affairs – “This is an enormously bad use of public money. Not unreasonably, the government already ensures that those in need have access to free school meals, so it beggars belief that we are now going to see a policy instated which will subsidise the children of affluent families.
”
  • Adam Smith Institute – “Like so many of the Lib Dems’ policies (for instance, their supposed commitment to free university tuition) this is middle class welfare dressed up as help for the poor. It stinks about as much as the school dinners we’re all about to start paying for.”

Labour of course love it, despite even Ed Balls ditching their commitment to universal benefits. No prizes for guessing how the LibDems are framing this:

Conveniently forgetting that Maggie successfully fought the Treasury to keep free milk for under 7s and that the LibDems have now ensured minimum wage shelf stackers are paying for the lunches of millionaires’ kids. The deal is the Tories can now offer a £500 million tax break for married couples. That is over a billion a year of extra spending. The deficit is targeted at £120 billion this year. What austerity?

Wonks Demolish Lobbying Bill IEA, TFA, CPS, TPA, BBW and ASI Slam Proposals

We wish to highlight our grave concern about the Government’s Lobbying Bill, a piece of legislation that poses a significant threat to legitimate campaigning freedom of speech, political activism and informed public debate.

Part II of the bill threatens the ability of charities, research and campaigning organisations to inform the public debate, fulfil their missions and raise awareness of important issues. The current drafting would capture a huge number of organisations who would not presently be considered as relevant to electoral law and who do not receive any state funding. It also threatens to dramatically expand the range of activity regulated far beyond any common sense understanding of commercial lobbying. 

We do not regard the Cabinet Office’s assurances as sufficient given the widespread legal doubts expressed from across the political spectrum. It cannot be a prudent approach to legislate on the basis of assurances that enforcement will not be to the full extent of the law. The exceptions offered are unclear and unconvincing.

The lack of clarity in the legislation further exacerbates its complexity, while granting a remarkably broad discretion to the Electoral Commission. The potential tidal wave of bureaucracy could cripple even well-established organisations, while forcing groups to reconsider activity if there is a perceived risk of falling foul of the law. This self-censorship is an inevitable consequence of the bill as it stands. 

We urge the Government to reconsider its approach and to urgently address the fundamental failings in this legislation.

Yours Sincerely,

Mark Littlewood, Director General, Institute for Economic Affairs
Simon Richards, Director, The Freedom Association
Tim Knox, Director, Centre for Policy Studies
Matthew Sinclair, Chief Executive, Taxpayers’ Alliance
Jo Glanville, Director, English PEN
Emma Carr, Deputy Director, Big Brother Watch
Eamonn Butler, Director, the Adam Smith Institute

Well that’s pretty comprehensive…

Wonk World Whacks Carney

The new Governor’s first big day at the office has gone down rather badly in wonk world: The IEA call it “the most dangerous development in UK monetary policy since the late 1980s.”:

“Monetary policy should be designed to ensure that we have stable prices. The level of unemployment is mainly determined by a range of factors such a labour market regulation, the benefits system, tax rates and so on. To try to use monetary policy to reduce unemployment when inflation is already above target is playing with fire and could lead us down the road that we followed in the 1970s. This move also calls into question the independence of the Monetary Policy Committee and the Bank of England’s ability to fulfil its statutory duties.” 

The Adam Smith Institute accused him of “fumbling in the dark”:

“Mark Carney had the leeway to make radical change here but he’s bottled it with baby steps… unemployment and inflation come from both aggregate demand (which the bank can control) and aggregate supply (which it has essentially no control over). Since neither of these numbers distinguish between changes in supply or demand, the Bank is still fumbling in the dark with its guesses over whether a change in inflation comes from demand (which means it should react) or supply (which means it shouldn’t). This means firms are still left guessing, and it means that uncertainty still reigns.”

Well that went well then.

What the BBC Doesn't Tell You

Bad news for the Department for Education this morning, or so the BBC would have you believe. Apparently a “university think tank” says that “the system of planning teacher training in England has broken down and risks a future shortage of teachers”. Doesn’t sound good, eh?

What the BBC doesn’t tell its readers is that the think tank in question, Million+, is quite obviously a Labour front. No mention that Pam Tatlow, quoted a length in the Beeb piece, ran as a Labour parliamentary candidate at the last election. No mention that their chairman, Michael Gunn, is a Labour luvvie who spoke at their conference last year. Nor that interim Head of Public Affairs is pally with the Fabian Society. And certainly not that the woman he is covering for, Victoria Mills, is a Labour councillor in Southwark and a National Officer for Unison. This is the top story on the education section of the BBC website. It is a classic sockpuppet…

Wonk Watch: Mandarin to Head Social Market Foundation

Seasoned Cabinet Office mandarin Emran Mian is off to become the Director of the zero-impact Social Market Foundation wonk shop when Ian Mulheirn quits in August. In his spare time Mian writes novels about murder suspect bankers. Sounds about right…

Labour’s Favourite Think Tank Say Eds are Wrong

IPPR made a living out of producing pleasant reading for Labour, though even they couldn’t spin these figures in Ed’s favour. A YouGov poll commissioned by the Labour wonk-shop finds massive public opposition to the party’s position on welfare. 76% say the system is too soft on people who could work that don’t, with just 10% taking up Ed’s line backing those on benefits. Who is the type of person the public is most sympathetic to protecting? Pensioners, the very group that Balls has targeted for pension cuts if Labour win in 2015. With friends like these…

Show Us Your Laser, Ed

The line from Ed’s speech  that pushed the boundaries of credibility was his promise to “be laser-focused on how we spend every single pound.” Lasers equal precision. So where is the precise detail of how Ed intends to get the welfare bill down? So far we have only had vague pledges to spend more by building houses and somehow guarantee jobs (presumably in the public-sector) which doesn’t bode well for the debt. Hardly laser like…

The TaxPayers’ Alliance has shot down Ed’s vague policy ideas to deal with welfare problems:

Housing Benefit
The main cause of Britain’s ever-increasing housing benefit bill is a lack of housing supply due to planning restrictions, not poorly negotiated deals by local authorities. Freeing up private investment in housing will bring down housing costs for everyone, including the Housing Benefit bill. Trying to cut Housing Benefit by increasing direct spending on housing won’t help taxpayers.
 
Grants for living wage
Offering taxpayers’ money to companies in return for paying a living wage would do little more than link two bad polices into one. Incentives for companies to switch from low-paid jobs to capital investment could lead to fewer jobs, not more.
 
Tax Credits and low pay
Heavy business taxes and onerous regulations mean companies have to pay lower wages. The Government should stop making it so expensive to hire low-paid workers by cutting business taxes like employer’s National Insurance and let workers keep more of the money they earn.  
 
The contributory principle
Benefits and taxes are already too complicated. Reform should focus on expecting people to work for their benefits and preparing job-seekers for the job market while simplifying the system. 

Guido was told that while discussing another much trailed big speech in January, the late Maggie told a friend that the problem with modern politicians is that “they think that once they’ve given a speech, something has happened.” That anecdote came to mind this morning…

Guardian Uses Word “Scrounger” More Than Any Other Paper

Seemingly the entire left-wing twitterati have been up in arms this week over analysis carried via LexisNexis showing that use of the word “scrounger” has rocketed in the British media since 2010. You might, if you subscribe to the Owen Jones thesis that there is a right-wing agenda cooked up in CCHQ to demonise “scroungers”, have expected it to appear more in the likes of the Mail or the Express than the ‘progressive’ metropolitan liberal press.[…] Read the rest

+ READ MORE +



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Quote of the Day

Tory MP Nick Boles says what everyone thinks…

“There is a timidity and lack of ambition about Mrs May’s Government which means it constantly disappoints. Time to raise your game, Prime Minister.”

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