Archive for the ‘Taxpayers’ Alliance’ Category
Dec 28, 2011 – Today’s Express front page reports that 33% of JobSeeker’s Allowance recipients have “records of offending” in the last five years. The Sun and Telegraph also covered this story under the blunt headings: “One in three on dole is a criminal”; “Third of unemployed are convicted criminals”.
The figures reportedly come from a “data sharing agreement between the Department for Work and Pensions and the Ministry of Justice”, but at the time of writing, neither DWP nor MoJ appear to have this finding on their websites. [See update, below*]
Predictably, the rightwing TaxPayers’ Alliance (so-called) is quoted by the Express. Robert Oxley (TPA campaign manager) says: “The minority who split their days between claiming benefits and getting rich from the proceeds of crime are giving those who fall on hard times a bad name”. Of course, there’s no indication that the crimes involved made anyone “rich” – after all, we’re not talking about Goldman Sachs here.
(For example, poor people receive criminal records for watching TV without a licence. I don’t see anyone getting rich from that “crime”.)
Not that the details matter to the hard-right ideologues at the Express, Telegraph, Sun and TaxPayers’ Alliance. What matters for them is that welfare is framed as “criminal” and immoral. What matters to them is that public anger is directed away from the wealthy beneficiaries of public misery, and towards “criminals” and people receiving benefits. And if the distinction between “criminals” and people receiving benefits is blurred, that’s viewed as a bonus.
* Update – This story has also been covered by the Daily Mail, Mirror, Star, Metro and Times, but the “government study” on which it’s based remains unavailable – which means it’s difficult to check the figures, and to put them into context. One aspect of context is statistical comparison – for example, 1 in 4 US adults has a criminal record (according to Yahoo! News), the same ratio that the Express cites for all out-of-work UK benefits recipients. It would be interesting to see what proportion of Express journalists has a criminal record.
• ‘BENEFITS RECIPIENTS ROUTINELY CRIMINALISED’
• ‘WAR IS PEACE, WORK IS MANDATORY’
• ‘JOBLESS PUNISHED BY SHAME & EARLY DEATH’
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.
Oct 13, 2011 – Today’s front pages – Daily Mail, Times, Telegraph, Independent, ‘i’ – carry NHS stories. The Mail, Telegraph and Times go with a report about the National Health Service “failing the elderly” so badly that it’s “breaking the law”. The Independent and ‘i’ run with a National Audit Office (NAO) report about financial crisis in the NHS.
Curiously, the ideological rightwing pressure-group, TaxPayers’ Alliance (TPA) has also just (today) published a “major analysis” on the NHS, called Wasting Lives – which supposedly “exposes how the huge increase in healthcare spending since 1999 has had no discernable effect on mortality rates”. The TPA report was covered in today’s Telegraph, Mail, Express and Sun.
The Daily Mail quotes the TPA as saying that “more competition would produce better results for patients”. The Daily Mail also acknowledges (in the same piece) the view that a large part of the problem is Private Finance Initiatives (PFI):
“In some cases, costly Private Finance Initiative deals have landed hospitals with huge debt repayments they can no longer afford. […] Under PFI deals, a private contractor builds a hospital and retains ownership for up to 35 years. During this period, the public sector must pay interest and repay the cost of construction, as well as paying the contractor to maintain the building.”
PFI is currently being reframed by the right (eg TPA and Tory ministers) as a sort of wasteful-government Labour scheme. But it was a neoliberal creation, first implemented in 1992 by the Conservative government. At the time, Labour critics described it as a “back-door form of privatisation“, but the later Labour government adopted it. Two months after Labour took office in 1997, Alan Milburn, the health secretary, announced that “when there is a limited amount of public-sector capital available, as there is, it’s PFI or bust”.
“Limited amount of public-sector capital available”? Hold on, that was 1997, not 2011. In fact, as George Monbiot pointed out, “the problem was that much of what the NHS wanted to do was not attractive to private financiers”.
Incidentally, the ideology (and initial framing) of PFI looks, to me, strikingly similar to that which causes the TPA to assert: “more competition would produce better results for patients”.
Sept 15, 2011 – The BBC’s Daily Politics gave a platform yesterday to TaxPayers’ Alliance director, Matthew Sinclair (on “energy bills”). Meanwhile, the Daily Mail quoted TaxPayers’ Alliance chief executive Matthew Elliott (in an article on how ‘Union chiefs plot wave of strikes to cripple country’). Elliott also has a Daily Mail blog.
Earlier this month I cited some “news” created by the TaxPayers’ Alliance (on “benefits cheats”) which appeared in the Telegraph and Mail. Also, on Sept 2, the Express quoted TaxPayers’ Alliance in a front-page story on “scrounging families”. The front page of the Express on August 24 quoted Emma Boon of Taxpayers’ Alliance in a story about public-sector pay rises. The next day (Aug 25) the Mail quoted Emma Boon in a front-page story on Quangos.
As you can see, the TaxPayers’ Alliance is very active and highly successful at shaping the news. Who are they, and how do they get so much media coverage?
“Thinktank” funding & framing
The Taxpayers’ Alliance is a rightwing pressure group, but it calls itself “Britain’s independent grassroots campaign for lower taxes”. In a Guardian article on the secretive ways of so-called thinktanks, George Monbiot lists TaxPayers’ Alliance as one of several groups which refused to provide useful information on the sources of their funding. So, a “grassroots” “alliance” of “taxpayers” which doesn’t want us to know about its funding.
The Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) uses frames which are well-established in the tabloid press: “benefits cheats”, “wasteful EU bureaucrats”, “fat cats” (public-sector variety), “rip-off” energy bills, etc. Emotive issues which get headline coverage. A TPA spokesperson typically cites the “public” “outrage” and “fury” which has supposedly “erupted” as a result of not following “cost-cutting” (and ideological “free-market” rightwing) solutions which TPA recommends.
TPA uses populist language: “It’s shocking that so few benefits cheats are facing serious punishment for their crimes. If crooks think the system is a light touch, with little or no consequences for being caught, then they will carry on fleecing the taxpayer without hesitation.” (Matthew Elliot, TPA Chief Executive, in Daily Mail)
Tweet a “Thinktank”
I’ve created a list of UK thinktank twitter accounts here. Use it to publicly query a thinktank of your choice on the sources of its funding. (This was an idea originally floated on Twitter and promoted here by George Monbiot).
Sept 4, 2011 – This “news” story about “benefits cheats” appeared in both the Telegraph and Daily Mail on 2/9/11. The story appears to have been created (ie promoted as “news”) by the rightwing pressure group, the TaxPayers’ Alliance. (The pressure group was also quoted on the front page of the Express on the same day – over a different story.)
A spokesperson for the TaxPayers’ Alliance was quoted at length in the Mail: “It’s shocking that so few benefits cheats are facing serious punishment for their crimes. If crooks think the system is a light touch, with little or no consequences for being caught, then they will carry on fleecing the taxpayer without hesitation. Tougher sentences will help to discourage would-be cheats but reforms to the system as a whole are also needed, to make it easier to detect scammers.”
The same quote also appeared in the Telegraph. No other sources were provided by either newspaper for this particular “news” story.
Alternative made-up “breaking news”:
• ‘BANKS STILL OWE US A TRILLION POUNDS’
• ‘WAR ON UNELECTED PRESSURE GROUPS’