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THE Taxpayers’ Alliance is on the TV a lot. Just this week its spokesperson Chloe Westley was on BBC Question Time, Marr on Sunday and BBC Daily Politics. They are one of the key right-wing voices in the media.
So what is the Taxpayers’ Alliance, and why does it get such access to the TV studios? I asked them the most basic questions — who is allying with who?
Who are its members, and how do they join? How does it decide its policies? I spoke to its spokesman on its 24-hour media phone line and emailed follow-up questions and got no response at all. The normally talkative Taxpayers’ Alliance went very quiet when I asked who they really are.
So who is in this high-profile alliance? I looked hard and the answer is, not very many people. And many of the members of this rather small alliance are secret. Those we know about are strongly connected to the Conservative Party.
The Taxpayers’ Alliance doesn’t have elections to its leadership or any votes on policy. In fact you can’t join because it doesn’t have any members at all.
According to its own annual report the Taxpayers’ Alliance is actually the “trading name of the Taxpayers’ Alliance Ltd,” a small company.
Other think tanks and campaign groups have a company organisation, but they also have some kind of elected leader or at least a board of trustees.
The Taxpayers’ Alliance is just a company, without the democratic bits. There is an “advisory council” of right-wing economists and journalists, but we don’t know how often it meets, and presumably it only has an advisory role.
According to Companies House, the official register of companies, the Taxpayers’ Alliance Ltd is controlled by Andrew Allum (chairman) and John O’Connell (chief executive). So next time they appear on telly, remember the Taxpayers’ Alliance is just a private company controlled by two blokes.
Allum was a Tory councillor in Westminster and before that a Conservative student leader in London. Allum says he left the Tory Party because it wasn’t “free market” and “individualist” enough.
Many other Taxpayers’ Alliance people have been active Tories. Spokesperson Westley was an “adviser” to Gove 2016 (Michael Gove’s leadership campaign) and a volunteer for Mary Macleod, the losing Tory candidate for the Brentford and Isleworth seat in 2017.
The media spokesman who didn’t reply to me was a Tory campaigner for a year, and after that helped run the Margaret Thatcher Centre at Buckingham University.
The Taxpayers’ Alliance has a “What other people say about us” page on its annual report. It has praise from Theresa May, Gove, Sajid Javid , David Gauke — all Tory ministers. And Trevor Kavanagh — the Tory-supporting former Sun political editor.
For “balance” it has a supporting quote from Tom Harris, the ex-Labour MP who now writes for the Telegraph and who said Labour “deserves” a “crushing defeat” and that Labour should “divide” into “two parties.
So every one of their quoted supporters in their annual report is either a Tory minister, a Tory supporter or Tom Harris who is now “too embarrassed to say” whether he votes Tory or Labour.
The Taxpayers’ Alliance likes to talk about government funding. But it keeps its own funding completely secret.
It describes itself as “the grassroots campaign for lower taxes.” However, it doesn’t have any members, “grassroots” or otherwise, but it does have secret funders. Most of its donors are anonymous, but details of some rich supporters have leaked out.
The Taxpayers’ Alliance got its Westminster offices free from property multimillionaire David Alberto. Tory-donating businesses grouped in the Midlands Industrial Council, and Conservative funder Sir Anthony Bamford, who runs digger-and-bulldozer firm JCB, have also chipped in.
All these men have a lot of money, and so a strong motivation for paying less tax. I assume that even more multimillionaires — possibly tax-dodging ones — have given the Taxpayers’ Alliance cash, because they also want to pay less tax.
This might also explain why the Taxpayers’ Alliance doesn’t argue that stopping tax avoidance by the rich might help reduce the tax burden on the poor. In fact it says that HM Revenue & Customs should not “attempt to clamp down on anti-avoidance” of tax.
But what about the rest of us? Dig into the Taxpayers’ Alliance website and it says its mission is to “Change the perception that big government is necessary” and argue for a “smaller state.”
A smaller state means a smaller NHS, smaller schools, smaller welfare payments, a smaller police force.
So the Taxpayers’ Alliance is really the voice of a small company run by some Tories and ex-Tories which uses secret donations from multimillionaires to campaign against what it calls “incessant claims that the NHS needs extra funding” and says there are “too many [NHS] hospitals in the UK.”
To give the impression there are more people in their group than a handful of right-wing ideologues, the Taxpayer’s Alliance says it has “80,000 supporters.”
Sometimes, more grandly, it claims you can “join the TaxPayers’ Alliance 80,000-strong activist base.”
However, you become a “supporter” just by signing up to its mailing list. You don’t have to pay subscriptions or go to meetings or, well, do anything.
It illustrates its supposedly large number of supporters with a picture of a small but full meeting. I actually went to this meeting: it took place in a marquee inside the last Tory conference. Not only is it a meeting in the Tory conference — so hardly grassroots — it isn’t even a Taxpayers’ Alliance meeting. It’s a joint meeting with the right-wing think tank the Institute for Economic Affairs.
The Taxpayers’ Alliance website does list sporadic events by its “grassroots supporters.” As far as I could tell the latest event was held in 2016, involving half a dozen people handing out leaflets in Bournemouth.
Other “dispatches from the front line” showing its vibrant grassroots include demonstrations of half a dozen people in St Albans in 2008.
The Taxpayers’ Alliance has just five “local co-ordinators” — all men — to “ help the TaxPayers’ Alliance deliver their message across the country.”
It says its local co-ordinators cover Wales (all of it), East Grinstead, Plymouth, York and Leicester.
Compare with, say, the bakers’ and food workers’ union BFAWU, which actually has 20,000 members who pay monthly subs. Or any other of the trade unions representing 6.4 million actual members rather than “80,000” paper supporters.
The former are real grassroots organisations, with much less access to the TV studios. The latter is a company run by a couple of blokes, who are all over our screens.
Solomon Hughes writes every Friday in the Morning Star. Follow him on Twitter @SolHughesWriter
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