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. The demonising is in reality coming from Owen Jones, who is relentless in trying to describe any reasonable attempt to reform welfare as an attack on the poor – he is desperate for a Cabinet Minister to use the term “scrounger” so that he can say to the 53% of the population that receives a welfare payment of some kind – including pensioners, war widows and the chronically disabled – that the government thinks you are scroungers. Not so. Guido has been crunching the numbers, and it turns out it is none other than the Guardian that uses the word most, followed by the Indy, where Owen has a column.

After carrying out a simple search of the word “scrounger” on each newspaper website for the period 2010 to date, the figures show that the Guardian used the word in 736 articles over the last three years. In second place is Owen Jones’ Indy, who – as he might say – “demonised the poor” 185 times over the period. Much further down come the right-wing tabloids: 76 for the Mail and 20 for the Express. Owen knows there is no public sympathy for people who abuse the welfare state, he also knows that the majority of the population, thanks to Gordon Brown, receives a welfare payment of some kind. Owen dogmatically refuses to countenance any welfare cut of any kind, that is why he is trying to encourage the likes of mothers who receive child benefit and deserving pensioners to align with those who are rightly losing benefits – fit people of working age who turn down jobs for example – he wants them to believe that welfare reformers think they are “scroungers”That is why Owen and the unpopular progressive sections of the media use the emotive term more than anyone on the welfare-reforming right…

Methodology: Because neither Google or LexisNexis include all paywalled sites in their analysis, Guido used each newspaper website’s own internal search engine to determine in how many articles the word “scrounger” appeared between 2010 and today. The respective Sunday editions of the titles were included with the daily for the purposes of this research.

Borrowing to Pay Public Sector Pensions is £1 in £7

cpsThe budget has yet to entirely unravel this year though there are some nasty figures buried in the small print. The Centre for Policy Studies has spotted that deep within the Budget Red Book is the admission that the cashflow shortfall between public sector pensions’ contributions and pensions in payment is now forecast to double within 5 years. The pensions gap is growing to such an extent that it will soon represent a significant driver of the deficit. The 2013 Budget now forecasts a Public Sector New Borrowing Requirement of £96 billion for 2015 – the year the Coalition optimistically intended to close the deficit. At £13.6 billion, the pension cashflow shortfall will then be equivalent to 14% of the deficit. Unaffordable.

To put it plainly the government will by 2015 be borrowing £1 in every £7 it borrows to cover the gap in public sector pensions, at a cost of £1,500 to every household every year. So much for the post-bureaucratic age…

Tory Brain Drain as Labour Beef Up Attack

The cynics amongst you might think it’s an interesting time for CCHQ stalwart Nick Park to jump to the private sector.

The Tory head of research and attack crafter is off to energy giants Centrica.

The loss of the best part of decade’s experience is a blow for the Tories.

Meanwhile Labour are beefing up their attack team for the coming digital battle. Obama’s rapid rebuttal unit “backroom Brit” Matt McGregor:

“McGregor was responsible for the digital rapid response unit that attacked Mitt Romney relentlessly, ensuring that any statement by the Republican was picked over and rebutted, often within minutes or hours.”

Could get bloody…

Policy Wonk Burns Misleading Plain Packaging Consultation

Setting up a policy consultation that doesn’t actually do any proper consulting seems to be a growing theme under Dave. A report by Rupert Darwall, the policy wonk who helped expose the Civil Service foul up over the Virgin West Coast train franchise, has laid into the Department of Health’s consultation on plain packaging. Darwall’s report finds:

  • The consultation was deliberately framed to garner support for plain packaging, presenting policy-makers with a loaded question.
  • Questionable evidence: no causal link between packaging and smoking.
  • Department of Health admitted the consultation was biased but has done nothing about it.
  • Consultation does not consider negative impacts such as reducing barriers to illegal tobacco.
  • Overall the consultation creates a misleading impression that plain packaging will cut smoking.

That went well then. You can read Darwall’s report in full here

WATCH: US Obama Critics Attack Falklands Policy

The US hasn’t always been staunch in standing with Britain over the Falklands. Even Reagan had to be handbagged by Thatcher to do the right thing.

Our friends in Washington have produced this history lesson for Obama…

Via Heritage Foundation.
[…] Read the rest

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Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner:

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