Posts Tagged ‘Henry Bellingham’

Private Eye on Think Tanks Funding Political Conferences

February 16, 2015

One of the key causes in the corruption of British politics has been the way the different political parties are being lobbied and funded by the same, almost exclusively right-wing think tanks. These organisations provide the parties with advisors and sponsor debates and events at the various political conferences. As a result, while the parties themselves have changed, the Thatcherite policies they have pursued have remained unchallenged. Not only is this influence corrupt in itself, but it’s also led to the British voting public becoming alienated and disenfranchised. They feel with some justification, that there is little difference between the parties, and that they are being sidelined and ignored in favour of big business.

Private Eye published a piece on this issue in their edition of 21st September – 4th October 2012, listing the various think tanks and describing their links to various politicians and ministers.

Conference Callers

Party members may see conference season as their chance to be heard, but judging by the brochures put out by think tanks, the grassroots will have a job making it past better-funded rivals from the business lobby.

Over the summer, the Eye acquired prospectuses from several think tanks looking to recruit sponsors for debates at the forthcoming Tory, Lib Dem and Labour conferences.

Reform, a think tank with Tory links, tells potential sponsors it can set up “successful events attended by ministers and shadow ministers, special advisors, MPs, MEPs and council leaders”, among them minister for welfare reform Lord Freud, housing minister Mark Prisk, employment minister Mark Hoban and the Foreign Office’s Henry Bellingham.

Lest anyone mistake the purpose, any “partner organisation” – ie company willing to pay for access – can use roundtable events or dinners with “around 20 high-level participants” to put their own “insights into the relevant policy debate at the beginning of the meeting”.

Not to be outdone, ResPublica, run by David Cameron’s “Red Tory” guru Phillip Blond, offers potential “partners” a chance for “intimate discussion over diner with select stakeholders and policymakers”, plus the opportunity to “contribute” to the choice of subject and speaker for meetings with ministers.

Meanwhile the Social Market Foundation (SMF) is touting “an excellent standard of service to our sponsors”, including the chance to “shape the key questions for debate” and “input into the speaker line-up”, with top totty on offer to include Lord Freud (again), Cabinet Office minister Oliver Letwin, prisons and probation minister Crispin Blunt, universities minister David Willetts and chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander.

Trendy think tank Demos urges companies to cough up for events and roundtables potentially hosted by the prime minister or chancellor, with sponsors getting the chance for “conversations that link their policy agenda to contemporary political issues”. And Policy Exchange, the Cameroonian think tank, trumpets its “competitive sponsorship package”: as well as potential access to ministers, a few broad themes scheduled for debate will be honed after … conversations with sponsors.

Think tanks have tax-free charitable status based on their lofty aims to improve public policy. How does offering commercial interests the chance to pitch ideas to ministers over dinner fit that mission?

Clearly, it doesn’t. If politics in Britain is to be improved, and its people to be given a genuine choice between the parties, and have a real voice in how their country is governed, the corporatists think tanks need to be thrown out. Removing their charitable status, except for those rare occasions where they might, actually, represent charities, would be a start.