TaxPayers’ Alliance deletes “transparency” comments
Oct 19, 2011 – The TaxPayers’ Alliance (TPA) uses the word “transparency” a lot – over 2,000 times on its website alone, according to a Google search. Yesterday, this influential rightwing pressure-group published a new piece – about transparency in public spending. Two comments were posted underneath – regarding the TPA’s lack of transparency. Both of these were quickly removed, leaving no trace. You can read the deleted comments here. (The first one was from me).
Lobbyist/thinktank transparency is currently headline news (see today’s Times coverage and recent coverage on Liam Fox and Atlantic Bridge). A series of Guardian articles (eg from George Monbiot) revealed a lack of transparency regarding the funding of (mostly) “free market”-ideological thinktanks. TPA has consistently refused to disclose the sources of its funding.
Transparency vs “privacy”
These groups seem to rationalise their lack of transparency with the following framing:
- Concentrations of great ‘market’ wealth are equivalent to private individuals.
- These ‘private individuals’ have inalienable rights such as freedom & privacy.
- These ‘private individuals’ don’t have to account for their funding/spending.
- Governments require transparency / ‘private individuals’ require privacy.
The corporation-as-individual metaphor transfers the notion of “rights” from the domain of individual persons to institutions of concentrated wealth and power – including legal owners, policy heads and PR arms, etc. But these Concentrations of Wealth and Power act like private governments, not persons. They use vast amounts of taxpayers’ money. Trillions of pounds/dollars. And not just in direct bailouts. They’ve always depended on publicly-funded infrastructure. Boeing and Microsoft, for example, wouldn’t exist without the decades of public funding of aerospace and computer research/development.
Private government vs public government?
“People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the
conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices”
— Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations
These Concentrations of Great Wealth and Power affect everything from our work, our food and our health – to what we read in the newspaper. The issue here is transparency and accountability – just like it is with government.
The TaxPayers’ Alliance is quoted in the media on a daily basis – often on the front pages. It’s hugely influential. But it presents itself – misleadingly – as a “grassroots alliance” of “ordinary taxpayers”. It won’t disclose its donors, but the Guardian has listed some of its wealthy/corporate financial backers.
It’s easy to see why the TPA is nervous about comments on its funding transparency. The “ordinary people vs government” line (the TPA’s thick toffee coating over market-fundamentalist ideology) would be undermined by the knowledge that it’s underwritten not by any “alliance” of “ordinary” persons, but by unaccountable, unelected concentrations of wealth and power – like private governments.