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The clowns inside the Big Tent

SOLOMON HUGHES reports on Stephen Kinnock’s latest ‘centrist’ shenanigans

LABOUR MP Stephen Kinnock has become a trustee of the Big Tent Foundation, which runs the Big Tent Ideas Festival, a political get-together founded by a Conservative MP and dubbed the “Tory Glastonbury.”

This is an unpaid role, so Kinnock is doing it because he believes in what he calls the “mainstream political engagement” of the Big Tent Ideas Festival. 

The festival was founded by Tory MP George Freeman in 2017. Freeman was scared by the success of Labour under Jeremy Corbyn and he wanted a Tory-oriented festival to help the party “reach out to the young, the working class, northerners, public-sector workers, and ethnic minorities and explode the damaging perception that the party only cares about big business” and backward-looking pensioners.   

After the 2017 election, Freeman was worried if the Tories didn’t work out how to reach these groups “Corbyn will be the next prime minister.”

Since 2017, the Big Ideas Festival has slightly toned down its explicitly Tory orientation, and now calls itself a “non-party” event, aimed at fixing the “widespread disillusionment with mainstream party politics, with its current strong trends toward emphasising division and polarisation.”

In the name of “non-polarisation” it puts both Tory and “moderate” Labour MPs on the festival stages. 

In 2021 this meant that Labour MPs like Jess Phillips and Kinnock as well as Tories like George Freeman himself, Kwasi Kwarteng and Penny Mordaunt spoke.

Kinnock will serve on the Big Tent Foundation alongside Freeman and Tory lord — and former health secretary — Andrew Lansley.

You can get a feel for where the Big Tent Ideas Festival is headed by the increasing role of Benedict “Ben” Rich in organising the festival: Rich runs a Lib Dem-oriented think tank called Radix, but was also listed as a member of staff of Lansley. 

Rich shows the Big Tent Ideas Festival is about the “non-partisan” space where “centrist” Tory, Lib Dem and Labour MPs mingle.

As part of their effort to become less Tory-focused, the festival appointed former Labour minister Baroness Sally Morgan as an adviser in 2018. 

This Blairite minister was an enthusiastic privatiser who actually served as a director of PFI firm Carillion as it collapsed. 

Her involvement shows all that is bad about supposedly “non-partisan” centrism. The Big Tent Ideas Festival’s recent corporate sponsors include disability testing privatiser Atos and accountants KPMG.

Kinnock supporting this political festival shows that Labour’s “centrists” would prefer to reach out to Tory “centrists” rather than have a dialogue with Labour’s left. 

It’s not even about reaching numbers: The Word Transformed, the lively left-wing festival had about 2,000 attendees this year. The Big Tent Ideas Festival is about half the size, with around 1,000 attendees.  

As Kinnock says on the Register of MPs Interests, he is backing the Big Tent because he prefers its “mainstream political engagement” of hanging round with smaller numbers of “centrist” Tories to working with Labour’s still vibrant left.

Tie the Vampire Kangaroo, sport

A LEADING banker for an Australian firm nicknamed “the Giant Vampire Kangaroo” because of how it sucks cash out of companies has emerged as a big backer of Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab.

According to Raab’s latest entry on the Register of MPs’ Interests, in September Jiri Zrust gave £10,000 to Raab’s local party, which can use the money to pay for Raab’s local election campaigns.

Zrust is a senior managing director at Macquarie Asset Management, an arm of Macquarie, a giant Australian investment firm. 

In 2009 US investment firm Goldman Sachs was called a “great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”

Macquarie has also been accused of sucking money out of firms, so in imitation the Australian company has been called the “Vampire Kangaroo.”

Macquarie got heavily into sucking money out of British privatisation in the 2000s. 

It was involved in several nasty New Labour PFI schemes. It also famously became a major owner of Thames Water. 

Under its ownership Thames Water paid huge dividends to shareholders like Macquarie, while investing far too little in the firm itself. 

Instead of spending enough money on stopping leaks and pollution, Thames Water’s large payouts to shareholders left the firm £10 billion in debt. 

Macquarie moved on from Thames Water just over four years ago, but this September the company became the leading owner of another privatised water firm — Southern Water. Macquarie Asset Management bought the majority shareholding in the water firm.

Many observers worry that under Macquarie, Southern Water will continue being a major polluter, while paying out cash to shareholders.  

The government should intervene. But with Macquarie’s bankers intervening in the government instead, by funding their local parties, that seems less likely.

Reeves gambling cash

LABOUR sometimes makes noises about Tory donors influencing policy — but Labour has also revived the practice of getting rich donors to fund its policy-making.

So Labour’s economic policy is being funded by a gambling boss. Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves announced a new £10,000 donation in August “to support the shadow chancellor’s office” from Richard Flint. 

Flint was the longstanding chief executive of Sky Betting until 2018. In 2020 Flint became a non-executive director of Flutter Plc, the gambling giant owner of Sky Betting, Paddy Power and many other brands.

In 2018, when Flint was chief executive, Sky Betting was fined £1 million for failing to protect vulnerable customers. 

Problem gamblers can “self-exclude” themselves from gambling websites, but Flint’s Sky Betting let hundreds of self-excluders continue gambling and sent gambling advertisements to around 50,000 more self-excluders. 

So Labour’s economic policy is funded by a guy who ran what looks like an irresponsible, exploitative gambling firm. 

Flint has put money into politics before, but not for Labour. During the 2019 election he gave £5,000 to the Lib Dems.

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