Policy Making through a Public Prism

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Policy Making through a Public Prism 

By Tony Stoller

In this lecture, Tony Stoller, Chair of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust, considers the relationship between popular discourse and policy-making. Drawing upon recent examples from a wide range of sectors, including adult social care, welfare reform, housing and broadcasting, he assesses the impact of giving undue priority to managing public debate over the task of designing and delivering effective policies.

Extracts

We no longer inhabit the age of mere ‘Government by spin’. What we have now is a completely new paradigm for public policy-making, dominated and managed by what we can call the ‘new elite’. It is a coalition of politicians, policy wonks, commentators, journalists and media owners, who both shape and comment upon policy. They are the masters now, and they jointly take part in a symbiotic dance, which the public is encouraged to believe they are part of, but from which they are in reality consciously excluded. 

For the moment, let us just say that we can now identify the closest of inter-relationships between many media owners and commentators on the one hand, and elected politicians, policymakers and some senior officials on the other, going beyond anything which had been normal practice in the past. Within this ‘new elite’, think tanks have taken over much of the policy-proposing role of the professional civil service, as the latter’s numbers are reduced. That potentially widens the circle of policy-making, and is proving valuable in the devolved administrations in that way, but it also means that a century and a half of civil service expertise is being sidelined. Add to that the extraordinary revolving doors between posts in Government, think-tanks, special advisers, media and regulation, and you have a new paradigm run by a ‘new elite’.

The changed relationship between those whose job it is to make policy, and those whose nominal role is to report on and criticise it, is undermining our ability as a nation to formulate, properly debate, and then implement public policy. 

The language of ‘benefits’ and the ‘welfare state’ have become ‘dog-whistle’ words of implicit abuse. Politicians assert that housing benefit is designed for “those who lie in bed with the curtains drawn”. Those on benefits are ‘scroungers’, ‘benefits cheats’, and the like. The picture we have of those who are poor is that provided by television programmes like Shameless, reinforced by the patronising toleration of stereotypes by members of audiences in television programmes from Question Time to The Jeremy Kyle show.

The media presentation of ‘facts’ which are nothing of the sort exacerbates the problem. For instance, we all read about, and eventually subliminally come to believe in, the supposed massive problem of teenage girls who get pregnant in order to get themselves local authority housing.

The concern is also over the partial use of statistics, promoted as part of this managed discourse rather than as grist for genuine debate.

What actions can we undertake to manage the new policy-making paradigm for the common good?

First, we must return to policy-making properly based upon valid data; insist that that data is effectively open source, available un-packaged by opinion to those who wish to participate in the debate; and ensure that we are informed by those voices that are usually unheard. 

The second task for all of us is to prevent the Leveson report, and the action which should follow from it, being undermined by the very processes which it has exposed.  

Third, we need to be alert to the growing trend to let go the impartiality requirements on broadcasters. 

And last, we need to help the public as a whole to understand social media, to appreciate its strengths and weaknesses; to know what represents a genuine view ‘trending’, and what has been artificially set up to appear as such; to realise that there are those around who regularly offer to sell us another hundred or thousand followers. The social media could be about a genuine upwelling of public opinion, but they are open to manipulation as never before. 

Gresham College Lectures 

The transcript and downloadable versions of all of the lectures are available from the Gresham College website:
http://www.gresham.ac.uk/lectures-and…

Parliament of the People

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Parliament of the People?

Every day we hear stories of anger and despair, people destitute, dying, as a result of governments refusing to address the ever widening rift between the rich, and the rest of us, with the numbers falling into deep poverty rising alarmingly. Whether we classify ourselves as working class, middle-class, or just ordinary people, there is no doubt that in comparison with periods in history, the collective people have found a voice. Education, science and technology have provided us with tools of communication never seen before.

There are a number of ways we can make our opinions and needs understood today. We can communicate around the world in seconds. Tweeters, bloggers, marchers – we can all make our voices heard. We can write to newspapers who may decide to publish. The BBC may be selective in what is broadcast, but in comparison with agricultural workers or the factory workers in towns in the nineteenth century, people have higher levels of literacy and the means to communicate instantly around the world today.

Yet while communication today has increased,

power has diminished considerably.

The working class found a voice through the Labour movement and trade unionism, giving some influence and power to workers and founding a Labour Party which sought to being about change. How representative is the Labour Party today? How representative is parliament?

Government policies have led to a plutocracy, billionaires and corporations holding power over people as long as they hold a tight grasp on the very basic needs of water, food and energy. So many politicians today, obstentiously elected to represent people in parliament actually represent the interests of those who funded their election, who seek influence under the auspices of some Think Tank or collective groups.

If any one company has played a decisive role in the destruction of the NHS, it is the consultancy giant McKinsey. Partners and other McKinsey staff regularly senior take jobs inside goverment. Dr David Bennett, a former senior partner, became chief of policy and strategy for the Labour goverment from 2005 to 2007. Dr Bennett is now chairman and acting CE of Monitor, which regulate the new Health Care market and play a crucial role in offering NHS business to private companies.
Dr Penny Dash was the Department of Health’s head of strategy from 2000. Dr Dash was a key author of the NHS plan which set in train Labour’s privatisation agenda. She subsequently became a McKinsey partner and played a role in producing the Labour goverment’s two Darzi report, the first of which sought to radically restrict levels of provision and staffing in London. The second envisaged a system of private owned polyclinics across the nation.
Red Pepper (1)

Similarly, it is well known that the interests of the Insurance company Unum, are central to the controversial Welfare Reform Bill 2), and evidence of their involvement was documented as early as 1995. Policy and power no longer rests with our elected representatives , but with Think Tanks which seem to be ubiquitous these days and decide everything. ( see The Lost Democracy and the Role of Think Tanks 3. ). In this scenario, there is little point of having a parliament at all. Certainly, they do not formulate policies or strategies. Parliament is not the debating chamber as intended.

Recently we even heard that the Prime Minister declined to answer questions at Prime Minister Question Time (4) . The shift of role of our elected representatives from policy makers to tacticians is acknowledged by one of Margaret Thatcher’s own team , now in The House of Lords.

The Thatcherite former chief whip Richard Ryder (now a Tory Lord in the House of Lords) summed up this state of affairs when he said that “George Osborne isn’t a strategist at all, he is a tactician”. In other words, Tory economic strategy is all narrative and no substance.

How much experience do MPs have of the lives of ordinary people? What understanding do the majority of the Cabinet have problems working class people face every day, most of them having been privately educated and many behind the isolated, protected gates of Eton?

Ed Miliband,while still under pressure from Blairites on the right of the Labour Party (especially Progress which is separately funded 6.) , is acutely aware of the need to change the demographic make-up of a party founded to represent the working class:

It was heartening to hear Labour leader Ed Miliband admit there is an urgent need for more MPs from working-class backgrounds in Parliament.

Miliband was answering a question from Lachlan Morrison, a 23-year-old plasterer from Nottingham, at a Q&A at the party conference.

He praised Morrison, a Ucatt member, for his work as a Labour councillor and said: “We need more workers in Parliament. We need to have a more diverse Parliament, particularly in terms of ethnic minorities and working-class backgrounds – we have a responsibility to ensure not just people from middle-class backgrounds get into the election contest.”

Miliband also suggested that 50 per cent of MPs should be women, and conference passed a rule-change that requires selection panels to take class into consideration in the same way they already do for race and gender.

Morrison hopes this spells a new direction for the Labour Party. Report, Morning Star (7.)

Paul Kenny on the role of Progress (8)

Think Left’s analysis of the social make up of MPs, (Becoming a Member of Parliament, 9 ) took into account secondary and tertiary education, gender, and experience as council representatives, and unsurprisingly demonstrated how our representatives in The House of Commons has little “in common” with those they purport to represent.

A very high proportion of Conservative MPs have been educated privately , followed by Oxbridge. While it is important for some of those with power and influence to have technical and scientific knowledge, how many have any awareness at all of people’s lives which qualifies them to govern? Why, when most people are female is our parliament overwhelmingly male? What is liberal about a Liberal Democrat party, which is exclusively white?

We may make our voices heard, but who is listening? Have today’s politicians chosen a career or a vocation? Are they driven by a desire to change the world or themselves? Do they follow in the steps of Aneurin Bevan? Cameron knows and fears the truth might just come out if there were more MPs like Dennis Skinner. When he speaks against the Prime Minister in parliament, out come the jibes. And insults.

Regaining our democracy and attaining true and fair representation for the people is essential if we are to redress the imbalance in society. Apathy is not the answer, cynicism is understandable yet ineffective.

In order to convince people to use the vote so many fought hard for, then they have to be convinced that parliament can really be representative, and just.

Parliament needs committed representatives not careerists.

Parliament needs a greater voice for women.

Parliament needs more working class representatives

Parliament should ensure need a much fairer funding for political parties

Parliament must not permit lobbyists and Think Tanks to be invisible.

The idea of a parliament of the people and for the people might be an old cliche, but it is about time it was enshrined in fact.

References and Further Reading:

1. Red Pepper McKinsey’s Unhealthy Profits (Hat Tip, Paul Bowler)

2. Welfare reform and the US insurance firm Unum , Think Left

3. The Lost Democracy and the Role of Think Tanks, Think Left

4. Politics.Co.Uk : Furious Cameron Refuses to answer Questions at Prime Minister’s Question Time

5. Another Angry Voice, Blog All Narrative and No Substance :

6. Left Futures: GMB Congress to investigate Progress as a Party within a party

7. Morning Star: Where are the Working Class MPs?

9. With : Video Link :

Left Futures : Paul Kenny of role of the influence of Progress and the need for more working class MPs)

9. Becoming a Member of Parliament, Think Left

10 Women as Voters and MPs, Think Left

11. Women in the commons

Plutonomy – Invasion of the Political Body Snatchers.

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I want to pitch an idea for a contemporary science fiction film… the lead, called F, investigates the dark world of politics, wealth and manipulation of the economy in a small country called Brittania (B).

The first thing that intrigues F is a graph that shows that over a period of some 30 years, there had been a large upward redistribution of income from the bottom 90 per cent to the top 1 per cent… but most striking of all was the rapid increase in wealth of the top 0.1 per cent.

Whilst analysing international data, F realizes that this redistribution is not a generalised phenomenon of all advanced economies.  Instead it is particularly marked in Brittania and one other advanced economy, Americana.  It occurs to F that this puzzling pattern of income redistribution couldn’t have resulted from just any old factor.  It had to be due to government policies; and that meant that the redistribution had occurred regardless of which political party had been in power!

This is weird to F because there had been no significant change in the two countries’ formal systems of government … but F gradually begins to understand that there is more to government than its formal structures. The same institution, for example an elected parliament or even individual political parties, may perform radically, systematically and intentionally differently from one historical period to the next, including with regard to the welfare of the general population.

Perplexingly, even those political parties commonly identified with the interests of the wealthy, had won their seats by convincing the majority that their policies would best serve the electorate’s material interests.  The story was, that by generating a larger GDP, gains would ‘trickle down’ to be shared with the majority of the population.  Obviously, that hadn’t happened.  The graphs didn’t lie.

But in both Brittania and Americana, either of the two major political parties could win elections, and it was thus open to one or other of them to expose the policies which resulted in the declining standards of living for at least 90% of the population.

After all, F reasons:

 “It does not seem credible that the electorates would knowingly vote for their continuation. Together these points imply a change in the political structures of these countries.  Why?  Because if the major political parties have before them a straight-forward way of winning elections by appealing to the basic material interests of the overwhelming majority of the electorate and they repeatedly decline to do so even when it means defeat, then there must be a non-democratic reason that governs their decisions and their access to office.”

F concludes that it follows that the real agendas or platforms of the winning parties had been kept secret!  What are they?”  The plot thickens.

F reviews his findings.  It seemed that the populations of Brittania and Americana had been kept nearly totally ignorant of the fact that for over thirty years their countries have been subject to the engineering of huge and extremely skewed upward redistributions of income. Moreover, this central fact had virtually never been mentioned or discussed in their general media. Nor could F find much about it in economics journals.

The breakthrough comes when F finally gets hold of The Plutonomy Reports which, though incomplete, reveal that the redistribution phenomenon is documented, conceptually driven, and no mere historical accident. In fact, so-called Plutonomists exist… even though their history is clouded in secrecy.  Plutonomy is a real-world political force; and the primary players of this political ideology, political movement and concept of government, belong to the financial sector.  The Plutonomists are the 0.1%!

The three reports, written before the global banking crisis 4 years earlier, outline the key points of this political ideology.  Their strategic nature make it all too clear why it has been imperative for the plutonomists to keep the contents of these historical documents from entering into mainstream discourse.  Now F understands why the Plutonomists had gone to such lengths with threats of legal action to supress these important historical documents from the internet.  Fragments of the reports are given below:

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‘Report no. 1

Little of this note should tally with conventional thinking. Indeed, traditional thinking is likely to have issues with most of it. The world is dividing into two blocs – the plutonomies, where economic growth is powered by and largely consumed by the wealthy few, and the rest. Plutonomies have occurred before in sixteenth century Spania, in seventeenth century Hollander, the Gilded Age and the Roaring Twenties in Americana.  

We project that the plutonomies (Americana, Brittania and Canadia) will likely see even more income inequality, disproportionately feeding off a further rise in the profit share in their economies, capitalist-friendly governments, more technology-driven productivity, and globalization.

In a plutonomy there is no such animal as “the Americana consumer” or “the Brittania consumer”, or indeed the “Russkian consumer”. There are rich consumers, few in number, but disproportionate in the gigantic slice of income and consumption they take. There are the rest, the “non-rich”, the multitudinous many, but only accounting for surprisingly small bites of the national pie.

. . . we think the plutonomy is here, is going to get stronger, its membership swelling from globalized enclaves in the emerging world, . . .

Report no. 2

 The second report begins by identifying three things that have enabled the creation of plutonomies in Brittania, Americana, Canadia and Aussie:

Asset booms, a rising profit share and favourable treatment by market-friendly governments”…

What Could Go Wrong

. . . the rising wealth gap between the rich and poor will probably at some point lead to a political backlash. Whilst the rich are getting a greater share of the wealth, and the poor a lesser share, political enfrachisement remains as was – one person, one vote (in the plutonomies). At some point it is likely that labor will fight back against the rising profit share of the rich and there will be a political backlash against the rising wealth of the rich. . . . .  We don’t see this happening yet, though there are signs of rising political tensions. However we are keeping a close eye on developments.

The third is the longest of the three reports.  Significantly, it notes that  ‘The rise of this inequality is not universal. In a number of other countries – the non-plutonomies – income inequality has remained around the levels of the mid 1970s. It singles out Japan, France, Switzerland and the Netherlands as examples and dubs them “The Egalitarian Bunch”.  Further on, after reminding the readership that “plutonomy countries” are those with “economies powered by a relatively small number of rich people” and geared to “financial wealth creation”…. “the risks to plutonomy” are, as in previous reports, considered.

 Report no. 3

‘Perhaps the most immediate challenge to Plutonomy comes from the political process. Ultimately, the rise in income and wealth inequality … is an economic disenfranchisement of the masses to the benefit of the few. However in democracies this is rarely tolerated forever. One of the key forces helping plutonomists over the last 20 years has been the rise in the profit share – the flip side of the fall in the wage share in GDP. As plutonomists or capitalists tend to be long {on} the profit share, they have benefited from trends like globalization and the productivity revolution, disproportionately. However, labor has, relatively speaking, lost out. We see the biggest threat to plutonomy as coming from a rise in political demands to reduce income inequality, spread the wealth more evenly, and challenge forces such as globalization which have benefited profit and wealth growth.’

[emphasis added]

Nonetheless:

Our own view is that the rich are likely to keep getting even richer, and enjoy an even greater share of the wealth pie over the coming years.’

F is left reeling. These three plutonomy tracts, being windows both into the plutonomist’s mind and to their strategies, contain many interesting points, but for F, the most overwhelmingly significant one is that plutonomists see the subversion of the democratic process as the ultimate key to their success.

Indeed, if the “political enfranchisement remains” and is allowed to remain, then the “economic disenfranchisement of the masses” is only possible if the electorate can be bamboozled into voting against their interests.

The rest of the film is devoted to F uncovering the means by which the Plutonomists have undermined the democratic process and engineered the redistribution of wealth upward and off-shore.  F identifies the various strategies employed to effect and preserve the desired changes in law and government policy… the lobbyists, the think-tanks, the Public Relations, the political campaign funding, the long-term contracts enshrined by international treaties, the repeal of inconvenient legislation (particularly with regard to financial markets), off-the-books accounting for banks, deregulation (or non-regulation), tax havens, globalization, tax cuts for the 1%, shrinking state policies  and so on.

F finally realises, that underpinning all of this redistribution is the revolving doors movements of personnel between roles in government, corporations and finance.  For example, F’s attention is repeatedly drawn to the revolving doors movement of a mysterious organization referred to as the giant squid company, which seemed to wield inordinate influence in governments across the globe.

It also seemed that wherever the financial sector’s profit-seeking activities became focused primarily on the buying, selling, packaging and repackaging of either existing financial assets or new ones attached to existing real assets, the squid people were likely to be involved.  Furthermore, this profit-seeking activity, the redistribution of wealth upward, and the creation of asset bubbles were interlinked. By using their financial power to create rising prices which attracted investors, especially pension funds, from outside the plutonomy’s inner core, the prices became more and more inflated until eventually the bubble burst. Needless to say, the bubbles burst because the 1% sold off at the top, leaving themselves with proportionately huge profits to the disadvantage of the pension funds. The whole process was then re-started by the squid people, to create another bubble.

I will not spoil the climax of the film, which is essentially the struggle to regain power back from the 1%; and the difficulties for the 99% in identifying between the ‘good’ and the ‘infected’ politicians/activists … but suffice it to say that giant squids are definitely involved!

Reference:

Edward Fullbrook, “The Political Economy of Bubbles”, real-world economics review,

issue no. 59, 12 March 2012, pp. 138-154, http://www.paecon.net/PAEReview/issue59/Fullbrook59.pdf

The Lost Democracy and the role of think-tanks.

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The Lost Democracy

Do party conferences feed policy or polls? The role of think-tanks.

Q: What can you say to a young couple who can’t afford a home to rent or buy?

A: “This Think Tank (1) thought it would be a good idea to sell off the council houses” (2)

Q: What can you say to a bright student who can’t afford to stay in education because of Tuition fees?

A: “This Browne Report Review Group (3 ) decided putting students in debt to learn and pay interest on it would be a good idea – and it so happens one of group ( Peter Sands) for a bank, another was given a job by David Cameron after the election.”

Q: What can you say to the cancer patient waiting for an urgent operation.?

A: These powerful people with vested interests feel that delaying operations will force people to use private healthcare. NHS Privatised: Vested Interests (4)

What can you say to the starving and cold or to the unemployed? Basically that there are those who think that the world is not for you, even though there is food and sufficient resources for everyone.

Now, it might sound blindingly obvious to you and me.

Tanks don’t think; people do.

But it is not for us to think we know what is good for us. It’s just possible we might rattle a few cages, and tip the balance away from the establishment. We might just achieve democracy and justice.

What is a Think Tank?

NCPA (National Center for Policy Analysis ) (5) describes Think Tanks as “Idea Factories”. Factories make things. They then sell them and distribute them, and people use them. So, ideas and thoughts are now commodities to be bought and sold. Politicians are salesman or buyers, rather like an employee of M &S. We might question whether a politician unable to formulate policies is in the best career, if he needs to buy ideas. We should also question why people have ideas to sell, if their minds are full of political ideas, then why don’t they go into politics? Who decides that an Idea Factory will present policies, which are in the public interest and not for their own self-interest? Isn’t this undermining our democracy?

George Monbiot’s (6) excellent article, also published in the Guardian (7) demonstrates how billionaries and corporations can manipulate information – or spread lies. It reveals how the corporations, have abandoned the democratic process as a means to persuade the electorate, and settled quite simply on using their money and power to change information within the public domain. Money decides what and how information is taught in schools, presented in the media, and who and how we are governed. Where possible, they seek to conceal themselves and cover their tracks.

The Heartland Institute, which has helped lead the war against climate science in the United States, is funded among others by tobacco firms, fossil fuel companies and one of the billionaire Koch brothers. The Luntz techniques used can be linked to the Republican Party

Luntz’s technique was pioneered by the tobacco companies and the creationists: teach the controversy. In other words, insist that the question of whether cigarettes cause lung cancer, natural selection drives evolution or burning fossil fuels causes climate change is still wide open, and that both sides of the “controversy” should be taught in schools and thrashed out in the media.

The leaked documents appear to show that, courtesy of its multi-millionaire donors, the institute has commissioned a global warming curriculum for schools, which teaches that “whether humans are changing the climate is a major scientific controversy” and “whether CO2 is a pollutant is controversial.”

Think Tanks and Thatcherism

Thatcher’s favourite Think Tank was the Centre for Policy studies. (8)

The CPS was founded in 1974 by Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher in order, in the words of Lord Joseph, “to convert the Tory party” to the principles of liberal economics, the focus of what became Thatcherism.

On education policy, the CPS called, from as early as 1982, for a concentration on standards, parental choice and the devolution of power to schools. Later it successfully called for the introduction of league-tables. The CPS “freedom for schools” agenda was made official Conservative party policy in 1999. In health, the CPS argues for greater pluralism in the delivery and funding of care.

Adam Smith was a Scottish economist who overturned the prevailing view that nations became rich by exporting more than they imported.

The modern system of free trade, free enterprise and market-based economies, actually emerged around 200 years ago, as one of the main engines of development for the Industrial Revolution.

In 1776, British economist Adam Smith published his book, The Wealth of Nations. He suggested that for maximum efficiency, all forms of government interventions in economic issues should be removed and that there should be no restrictions or tariffs on manufacturing and commerce within a nation for it to develop.

For this to work, social traditions had to be transformed.

Professor Michael Perelman, The Invention of Capitalism details how peasants did not willingly abandon their self-sufficient lifestyle to go work in factories.

  • Instead they had to be forced with the active support of thinkers and economists of the time, including the famous originators of classical political economy, such as Adam Smith, David Ricardo, James Steuart and others.
  • Contradicting themselves, as if it were, they argued for government policies that deprived the peasants their way of life of self-provision, to coerce them into waged labor.
  • Separating the rural peasantry from their land was successful because of “ideological vigor” from people like Adam Smith, and because of a “revision of history” that created an impression of a humanitarian heritage of political economy; an inevitability to be celebrated.
  • This revision, he also noted has evidently “succeeded mightily.”

(from: http://www.globalissues.org/article/39/a-primer-on-neoliberalism) (9)

Such were the powers of persuasion, that politicians looked for academics to make their arguments for them. It was 1977, that the Adam Smith Institute further inspired Margaret Thatcher to develop policies of privatization and low taxation for the rich which led to the spiralling out-of-control neo-liberalist policies which have led to the current financial crisis.

Today, we find Think Tanks are everywhere, and the number proliferating out of control like cancers in our democratic bodies. The success Thatcher enjoyed by using powerful Think Tanks and PR companies backed by very rich benefactors to achieve her aims ultimately led to other political groups using similar means to achieve their own. However there can be no fairness without equality and transparency of funding, media exposure and controls.

Some UK Think Tanks are listed here by The Guardian (10) and Wikipedia (11) and Telegraph (19)

2011 GLOBAL DISTRIBUTION OF THINK TANKS BY REGION 6,545 THINK TANKS TOTAL (18)

In fact, Think Tanks have proliferated to such an extent that they now have league tables as to which is best and present trophies to those they like. What further self-gratification can we tolerate as democratic systems become history?

Think Tank of the Year Awards: Prospect Magazine

Peter Mandelson presents the Global Think Tank of the Year Award to Guntram Wolff, the deputy director of Bruegel.

David Cameron’s Tories, and their very presence in Westminster is very dependent on right-leaning Think Tanks.

Red Pepper (13) reports:

Two recent scandals showed how closely knit the networks between politics, public relations and lobbying companies, the corporate world and think‑tanks really are. First, there was Liam Fox and the now defunct think-tank Atlantic Bridge. In October 2011, Fox lost his job as defence secretary over the questionable connections between his party, US-American neo-cons, big business and the think-tank – which he helped set up in 2003.

Second, in December, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism broke a scandal about the practices of professional lobbying companies in Britain. One agency, Bell Pottinger Public Affairs, stood out with its claims about the ‘dark arts’ of manipulating politics and politicians. Managing director Tim Collins, a speechwriter and aide to several Tory leaders and MPs, emphasised his company’s excellent links with the Conservative Party to undercover journalists posing as potential clients.

Who’s Who and Who is funding Think Tanks?

So-called Think Tanks, supplying the political PR industry have proliferated at such a rate in recent years and are intertwined such that is difficult to unpick the web to discover truth of who is behind them. Rather than face the reality and speak sense truthfully to the people, lies prevail and escalate rather like an Emperor who wears no clothes. To create controversy, to create confusion and misunderstandings is accepted as the norm – fine as long as the sponsors are kept happy and the politicians get themselves elected.

Everyone knows there is no truth in it, but then everyone plays the game because of the desire to succeed in politics or business. These days politics is a career, no longer a means to change the world.

In other words, Think Tanks proliferate because of the need to confuse and contradict. It is no wonder that the voters tire of politicians.

George Monbiot writes further here (14) about the extent that our politicans will go to in order to protect the secret funders which undermine our democracy:

“When she attempted to restrict abortion counselling, Nadine Dorries MP was supported by a group called Right to Know. When other MPs asked her who funds it, she claimed she didn’t know. Lord Lawson is chairman of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, which casts doubt on climate science. It demands “openness and transparency” from scientists . Yet he refuses to say who pays, on the grounds that the donors “do not wish to be publicly engaged in controversy.” Michael Gove was chairman of Policy Exchange, an influential conservative thinktank. When I asked who funded Policy Exchange when he ran it, his office told me “he doesn’t have that information and he won’t be able to help you.”

The Kochs and the oil company Exxon have also funded a swarm of thinktanks which, by coincidence, all spontaneously decided that manmade climate change is a myth. A study in the journal Environmental Politics found that such groups, funded by economic elites and working through the media, have been “central to the reversal of US support for environmental protection, both domestically and internationally.”

Jeff Judson, who has worked for 26 years as a corporate lobbyist in the US, has explained why thinktanks are more effective than other public relations agencies. They are, he says, “the source of many of the ideas and facts that appear in countless editorials, news articles, and syndicated columns.”They have “considerable influence and close personal relationships with elected officials”. They “support and encourage one another, echo and amplify their messages, and can pull together … coalitions on the most important public policy issues.” Crucially, they are “virtually immune to retribution … the identity of donors to think tanks is protected from involuntary disclosure.”

The harder you stare at them, the more they look like lobby groups working for big business without disclosing their interests. Yet throughout the media they are treated as independent sources of expertise. The BBC is particularly culpable. Even when the corporate funding of its contributors has been exposed by human rights or environmental groups, it still allows them to masquerade as unbiased commentators, without disclosing their interests.”

We should be fully aware of who is funding these organisations who call themselves Think Tanks for the sake of our democracy. It should be compulsory for anyone who is influencing policy to disclose who is sponsoring them. Another threat to our democracy of utmost concern is the influence of other rich individuals, particularly members of the royal family. Why should we permit Prince Charles to have influence over elected members of parliament? Attempts not to disclose contents of Prince Charles’ letters to ministers has been ruled unlawful by a judge. Guardian 21)

In a significant ruling published on Tuesday, three judges in a freedom of information tribunal decided the public is entitled to know how the prince seeks to alter government policy.

“The essential reason is that it will generally be in the overall public interest for there to be transparency as to how and when Prince Charles seeks to influence government,” they ruled.

For seven years, the government has been resisting the disclosure of a set of letters following a freedom of information request by the Guardian to see them.

What is most concerning is that some thought such an influence could even be contemplated.

A handful of Think Tanks

Under some external pressure, some Think-Tanks have volunteered information about funding. On June 21st 2012, a web site Who Funds You? (15) was launched calling for think tanks and public policy campaigns to publish their annual income and name their major funders.For its pilot project, Who Funds You? asked 20 leading UK-based think tanks and political campaigns to disclose their major funders and rated them on the depth of their responses. Unsurprisingly the Think Tanks favoured by the political right are the least likely to be transparent. The website awarded six organisations its top “A” rating (Compass, IPPR, New Economics Foundation, Progress, Resolution Foundation, Social Market Foundation), while three received its lowest “E” rating (Adam Smith Institute, ResPublica, TaxPayers’ Alliance). Richard Murphy (Tax Research UK) also comments (here) (20).

The full results are:

A – Compass, IPPR, NEF, Progress, Resolution Foundation, Social Market Foundation

B – Demos, Fabian Society, Policy Network, Reform

C – Centre Forum, Civitas, Smith Institute

D – Centre for Policy Studies, Centre for Social Justice, Institute of Economic Affairs, Policy Exchange

E – Adam Smith Institute, ResPublica, TaxPayers’ Alliance

ResPublica (Category E), identifies itself as an independent, non-partisan public policy think-tank established in 2009 by Phillip Blond.

IEA: The Institute of Economic Affairs: (Cat D) The IEA is registered as an educational and research charity. On this basis it claims to be entirely funded by voluntary donations. In 2010 the income was reported at £896,000. They give no public information on their web page about donors.

PROGRESS (CAT A) Progress was set up as a party-within a party and separately funded. Bill Pottinger, the largest PR firm was set up by Lord Bell, who worked as a PR adviser to Margaret Thatcher. Why is a PR company, working for foreign governments contributing large sums of money to sub-groups in The British Labour Party, if not to influence certain groups within it, and contribute further to a Party which has been wrenched from its roots by New Labour. Funding last year £368,598 Progress show contributors on their website, which includes Bell Pottinger, and Lord David Sainsbury.

CLASS: The Centre for Labour and Social Studies (Class) is a new thinktank established in 2012 to act as a centre for left debate and discussion. It is supported by The Labour movement and trade unions.

New Economics Foundation (nef) is an independent think-and-do tank that inspires and demonstrates real economic well-being.

Migration Watch: This organisation distributes statistics regarding the movement of people.

Adam Smith Institute (Cat E) This organisation favoured by Thatcherites as the force behind driving neoliberalism through. They remain secretive regarding their funding details

Tax Payers’ Alliance: (Cat E) claim The TaxPayers’ Alliance (TPA) was launched by Matthew Elliott and Andrew Allum in early 2004 to speak for ordinary taxpayers fed up with government waste, increasing taxation, and a lack of transparency in all levels of government. If greater transparency is their aim, perhaps they ought to submit funding to Who Funds You?

Control of the Media

Individuals and ad-hoc communities communicate through the new media mass on the same level and use the same resources as the Masters’ Voices of days gone by (i.e. corporations, politicians and traditional journalists). These elites held control of the mass media, while the rest of the population listened, watched, slept and consumed. However, their time has passed: the unilateral monopoly of the Masters’ Voices is gone for good.

From Me, The Media : Rise of the Conversation Society (16)

Featuring the Obama moment by Pete Leyden

( can be downloaded from http://www.methemedia.com)

During the Thatcher years and beyond, the establishment controlled the media. Corruption involving News International, the Police, and politicians have plagued our headlines in recent months. Whistle-blowers and leaks have uncovered dark secrets which many would rather not have been told. The truth is that technology has given communication power to the people. The Internet has given people a voice so there is no media monopoly these days. U-Tube videos, blogs and tweets allow far more freedom of information than was witnessed in the Thatcher years. So many people, can share thoughts and ideas, just as I write here. Control of the BBC and daily headlines continues, so much remains hidden. There are attempts to censor the Internet.

The establishment will make every effort to minimize freedom of information and sharing of ideas, and will not let go easily.

What is a political party?

Quite simply, a political party is an organised group of people who have similar ideas about how the country should be run. Their aim is to get their candidates elected to political power. Party members ideally meet, debate, and consult the electorate, and could, indeed be considered as Think Tanks. Indeed, in order to decide on policy, annual conferences are organized, with the intention of giving party members the opportunity to present motions for debate to be voted on and adopted as policy.

If Think Tanks are formulating policies influencing politicians, then what are political parties supposed to be doing? The expectation of the electorate is that they who are elected to make laws do so, by consultation with those who represent them, following debates within their parties and at conferences formulating manifestos which are then presented to the electorate at election time.

Funding for political parties is limited and transparent, though far from a perfect system, and ripe for improvement.

Party funding and Democracy

The Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 aims to make party funding more open. It specifies that:

  • parties can only accept donations of over £500 from ‘permissible donors’, who are individuals on the UK electoral register, registered companies incorporated in the EU which do business in the UK, registered political parties, or trade unions
  • all donations of over £7,500 to a political party’s central organisation must be reported to the Electoral Commission on a quarterly basis, or weekly during a general election campaign
  • organisations or individuals who campaign but don’t stand for election (like trade unions) must register with the Electoral Commission if they spend more than specific limits on campaigns. In England, the limit is £10,000. In Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland the limit is £5,000
  • all donations of over £1,500 to ‘accounting units’, like a constituency association, must be reported to the Electoral Commission

Direct Gov (17)

But in a democracy, surely it is groups of politicians who we look to be our Thinkers, and for answers to questions then politicians should be consulting those they seek to represent? For the ordinary man and woman joining a political party used to be a way of influencing the powers-that-be , enabling them to make a difference to the lives of ordinary people.

Conferences, now staged affairs, no longer are alive with original thought – Idea Factories. Indeed, since Michael Foot’s demonisation by the Press, Labour has been so focused on image, and the packaging of that image, that democracy within the party became something of the past, and as a result people left the party, and the electorate have stayed at home. Ed Miliband has stated his intention to revive the Labour movement and include the people in policy making. I hope this is going to be the beginning of redemocratisation of the Labour Party, and politics in the UK and elsewhere.

We must, as Tony Benn says, “Say what we mean and mean what we say.”

Do that, Labour, and you will become the People’s Party once again.

THINK LEFT:

From Think Left:

1. The PFink Tank: https://think-left.org/2011/08/15/the-pfink-tank-pharmaceutical-industry’s-role-in-promoting-laissez-faire-capitalism/

2. Coalition MPs Links with the Financiers ( Think Left): Britain under Siege

https://think-left.org/2011/08/24/britain-under-siege/

3. Think Left: Thoughts inspired by Tony Benn

https://think-left.org/2012/09/18/thoughts-inspired-by-tony-benn/

References and Further Reading:

1. Policy Exchange: Think Tank Selling Council Houses

2: Huffington Post : Policy Exchange and Council House Sales

3: Browne Report (Tuition Fees) Wikipedia

4. NHS Vested Interests

5 NCPA: What is a Think Tank?

6. George Monbiot Plutocracy: Pure and Simple

7. Guardian (Monbiot) We need to low who funds lobbyists (Pure and Simple)

8. Guardian CPS

9: global issues:a primer on neoliberalism

10: Guardian: Think Tanks

11: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_think_tanks_in_the_United_Kingdom

12: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/page/2007/dec/20/1

13 http://www.redpepper.org.uk/tory-think-tanks-tangled-web/

14. http://www.monbiot.com/2011/09/12/think-of-a-tank/

15 Who Funds You?

16. Rise of the Conversation Society

http://www.scribd.com/doc/16629031/Me-The-Media)

17 Direct Gov: Political Parties (Me the Median Featuring the Obama moment by Pete Leyden

18 The Global Go To Think Tanks Report January 2012 pdf document

19 Telegraph Top 12 Think Tanks 2008

20 Richard Murphy: Tax Research UK: Which are the worst Think Tanks at Transparency?

21 The Guardian Sept 18th Judge rules contents Prince Charles’ letters to ministers should be disclosed.

http://www.iea.org.uk/policy-areas

http://www.progressonline.org.uk/

http://www.localis.org.uk/

http://www.adamsmith.org/blog

www.neweconomics.org/

http://www.migrationwatchuk.org

http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/politics/2012/09/inexorable-rise-pr-men