Taxpayers Alliance exposed!

7:04 pm - March 15th 2009

by Sunder Katwala    

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Are the Taxpayers’ Alliance a politically motivated, right-wing conservative group? Anybody applying the duck test knows the answer. But not the Taxpayers’ Alliance themselves.

It is “outrageous” to claim they are on the right, or that they prefer any political party, their campaign manager Susie Squire spluttered on LBC Radio, when host Nick Ferrarri described them as across “the party political divide” from Labour, and when Chuka Umunna challenged Squire’s claim that “we don’t have a party preference”.

Given their insistence on non-partisan independence, logically, how outraged the Taxpayers Alliance to find themselves traduced by their inclusion in Tim Montgomerie’s post, intended to dramatically illustrate the “growth of Britain’s conservative movement“, with two very pretty PowerPoint slides showing a sparse lack of activity in 1997 and a crowded market of ideas in 2009.

Why is this independent, non-partisan group being libelled with the claim they are “Conservatives in Britain” and part of a a “conservative movement”? You might think the TPA would be sending a huffy email, even fantasising about giving the lawyers a call. And yet, wait! On the other hand, perhaps not.

Let’s look a little closer. For it turns out that the slides are not Montgomerie’s but those of his co-presenter. And who might that be? Montgomerie reveals all …

I’m currently in Ottawa with Matthew Elliott of The TaxPayers’ Alliance. Earlier on Friday, as part of a conference hosted by the Manning Centre, we gave a joint presentation on the state of conservatism in Britain. I reproduce two of Matthew’s PowerPoint slides below, showing the growth of our country’s conservative movement since 1997.

Outed! By themselves too. Ouch! OK, I admit this one was hardly a case for Inspector Whicher. And it might not be the most surprising scoop to hit the progressive blogosphere.

Tax Research UK – who have considerably more research expertise and depth – have noted the partisan and often shallow nature of TPA “research” focused heavily on simplistic media advocacy. And three cheers for The Other Taxpayers Alliance to contest the nonsense spouted at This small and welcome web-based campaign has been created to scrutinise the TPA’s challenge, on behalf of the majority of taxpayers who don’t think all taxation is bad.

But I think we can all safely now drop this canard that the TPA are not self-consciously right-of-centre, conservative, and indeed evidently pro-Conservative, particularly as Cameron and Osborne break ranks with every government in the world in their response to spending and a fiscal stimulus in a recession.

Assuming that Matthew Elliott, Chief Executive, no longer wants to defend the Taxpayers Alliance’s public statements that they are not “on the opposite side of the political spectrum” to Labour, and that “they don’t have a party preference”, will he kindly now gracefully withdraw that and cease this trust eroding double-talk to different audiences?

I can’t see that a weasel words defence based on whether you capitalise conservative or not would do anything more than keep digging – though Elliott’s slides go for the capital C “Conservatives in Britain” just to close that route off. Perhaps he would like to publish the presentation which he and Montgomerie gave together? Full disclosure, transparency, accountability: all very good things, one often hears from articulate, angry campaigners in popular newspapers.

Cross-posted from Next Left, which has a longer version of the article

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About the author
Sunder Katwala is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He is the director of British Future, a think-tank addressing identity and integration, migration and opportunity. He was formerly secretary-general of the Fabian Society.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Economy ,Our democracy ,Think-tanks

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Reader comments

Look at it the other way round. Don’t you think that the Tory Party would be more than a bit wary of the Taxpayers Alliance being identified as capital ‘C’ Conservative?

They do in fairness direct a significant chunk of their ill-informed rantings at Conservative controlled local councils. I’m not claiming there’s no waste in the public sector, they’re just looking for it in stupid, headline-grabbing and, if they got within a sniff of having an impact, counter-productive, ways.

This, too – speaker at a Tory conference fringe meeting last year organised by a pro-Heathrow expansion group:

“Mark Wallace
Mark Wallace, 24, is the Campaign Director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, the grassroots campaign for lower taxes and better government. As Campaign Director of the TPA, Mark deals with the lobbying and media for Britain’s most-reported political campaign, chalking up over 400 media appearances a month on every topic from MPs’ expenses to Green Taxes. He is a graduate of Durham University, an enthusiastic traveller and former Campaign Manager of the libertarian pressure group The Freedom Association. ”

That’ll teach them to call me a conspiracy theorist. Personally I think the TPA is an attempt to infiltrate libertarian ideas into the Tories via the party’s right wing. A lot of their attacks are therefore against perceived backsliding by their own side – C-FIT are very down on Theresa Villiers, for instance.

“But I think we can all safely now drop this canard that the TPA are not self-consciously right-of-centre, conservative, and indeed evidently pro-Conservative, particularly as Cameron and Osborne break ranks with every government in the world in their response to spending and a fiscal stimulus in a recession.”

Oooh, that line claiming that the Conservatives are all out of synch with the rest of the world, including other conservative parties, I’ve heard that from the Fabians before. Quite clever: subtle argument from consensus. Still “do nothing” (if only the Tories advocated it consistently) has more support amongst economists than most of the mainstream government lines at the moment.

Arguably the TPA line has been much more successful at setting UKIP’s economic policy so I don’t think you can accuse it of being all for one party. And an awful lot of its better government ideas are not too dissimilar to what you can hear from Frank Field and Alan Milburn. But hell, I don’t think we should be too bothered if you guys want to describe the TPA as conservative. After all, only those that want to use the term as a call primarily for automated boos and hisses would consider that in any way a meaningful claim.

I thought it was pretty much common knowledge that they were a right-leaning organisation. While some of their medthodology is flawed I do appreciate that we have at least one think tank trying to highlight government waste. It would be helpful if a left-wing think tank could do the same job, thus taking the partisan element out of waste-identifying. Obviously there will be differences over what constitutes waste but it might help to reach a consensus. It is in the interests of nobody for the government to waste money.

I think having both left and right anti-waste researchers would be very good. In fact one might argue that some of Unity’s work comes close to providing just that broadly left position. However, I think we are dealing with a certain ideological divide between the left and right on this, much as it is dangerous to use such terms to suggest a meaningful non-tribal difference:

Essentially, I think most people on the left are indifferent, all other things being equal, between money spent by the state and money spent by the private individual. In effect, money wasted in private hands is entirely equivalent to money being wasted by public hands. And in the end, money spent paying a non-job in the private sector is probably worse than one provided in the public sector. After all, at least you can decide where to stick a public sector job and could put it in a depressed area. They are interested in the efficient consequences of whatever expenditure takes place.

The right, when they are not being stupid, contribute what I think is an additional insight. The form of the expenditure does have an effect beyond what it is put towards. If the money is spent on the basis of appropriation (rather than a consensual transaction) then you actually damage future consensual transactions (on the basis that people are expecting those transactions to be compromised by appropriation). You can certainly reduce the bad consequences of those appropriations by, for example, making them through simple, fair tax systems with predictable outcomes. But a tax is always parasitic on the fact that the money has value because of its use as a consensual transaction.

Which means, all things being equal, I contend we should actually prefer lower taxes (or at least easily collected and regulated taxes) with services being provided, in the main, by consensual transactions.

7. Mike Killingworth

Nick, have you ever heard of the “free rider” problem?

More generally, I doubt the Taxpayers’ Alliance is a Tory stooge – as others have said, they basically have a libertarian position. They don’t seem to allow individual members, but if they did I would expect them to attract primarily the self-employed. Of course, there’s nowhere on their website saying how they afford their copious staffing level. I think we can take it for granted that there’s no waste in their operation, though. Which being so, it seems a little odd that they’re not being sought out by organisations and companies who wish to make efficiency savings…

Spring and its bounty are truly upon us and we had best enjoy this full fatuous post before it is taxed on the minimum amount per units of stupidity basis .

Fire brigade drop neutrality to fire!
Doctors accused of sham equidistance between health and sickness!
Exposed ! The conspiracy between Police and the Law abiding.
Pest Control abandon negotiations with cockroaches !

Thankfully this priceless gift of laughter is not yet taxable but I expect they will find a way . Meanwhile the writer might pause to wonder how any organisation representing tax payers could not be against New Labour ?

Institutional anti drowning bias discovered in RNLI !

Fancy …

What difference will this “exposure” make to anything?

The TPA are certainly small-c conservative if nothing else. They oppose wasting tax-payers’ money but support the monarchy…

Setting up a left wing think tank. Brilliant idea.
Just get some directors, some appointees, researchers, offices, a split offof part of the investigation into a quango. Another set of people to create a protest/charity movement. ‘Taxspenders alliance’ or some such. Then some press officers, media consultants, banking facilities, expenses, managers, stationary, office equipment, vehicles and a few special privileges to examine data sources and some foreign trips to see how Cuba/Angola/ Australia tackle the issues..
Hmmm.. might some significant funding. .. where could the left get this money from.
Need somepeople who wouldn’t notice as it wasn’t reported..hmmm

One of the more interest questions regarding the TPA is whether they’re actually a libertarian organisation or merely just the usual bunch right wing Tories who’ve jumped on the libertarian bandwagon because they’ve got a vague idea that seems to involve paying less tax and allows them to indulge their fantasies about being civil libertarians.

The fact of the matter is that the majority of self-styled Tory ‘libertarians’ would:

a) shit themselves if they ever got around to reading Rothbard,

b) possess only the most superficial understanding of Hayek and mistakenly believe that his notion of self-organisation is identical to their belief that there is a ‘natural order’ in society, when Hayek’s work implies nothing of the sort, and

c) are, generally, too stupid to appreciate the fact that free market economic liberalism and social conservatism are incommensurable and that, under the social conditions created by the former, the latter can only be attained by adopting manifestly authoritarian means.

What the right desperately needs in coming to terms with libertarianism is for someone to do for the interface between economic liberalism and social conservatism what Isaiah Berlin did for the interface between negative and positive liberty.

As they stand, the simply resort to good old fashioned doublethink and disregard any inconvenient paradoxes that their ideological belief throw up in their face.

“shit themselves if they ever got around to reading Roth bard,”….
(NME circa 1978 ?).Would we indeed ? I find myself strangely peaceful at this “revelation”. What will you discover next, America …..?
Markets do not , for Conservatives , exist on the pages of text books and in post Marxian verbiage .They are real things evolving from civil society and the very culture you nonsensically claim cannot survive them. “The problem you have not identified exists internationally, if at all, and it is a creative tension…ahem”. Its an interesting subject which one day I will tell you all about.
Your ‘Natural order of society’ is mis-understood .Conservatism is an effort. “Not to throw the baby out with the bath water “. It is an ideology of “Better” not “best”. .The “natural order” (shrugs )will change in time and place and should any fascist or Utopian lefty feel they have discovered it for us all they should be resisted .

On “double think” perhaps you would, tell me how Liberals with a historically far closer commitment to the free market than us reconcile it with the fact their support of collectivism ( Hence Lib Dum ) . How indeed the Labour Party with its historically exclusive emphasis on positive freedoms , reconciles that with a feeble pretence to safe guard negative freedoms like ID cards etc. Is this a paradox or just a squirt of ‘ody’ cologne on a smelly lie ?I know what I think
Right now the TPA would probably be to the right of the Conservative Party as a single issue protest group. The ‘Tax spenders Association ‘would similarly be pro Labour or a bit to the left. No mystery.

I have a feeling the TPA take their Rothbard, but in small doses. They are certainly more radical than your average conservative.

“Nick, have you ever heard of the “free rider” problem?”

Yep, is it relevant? I know there are a public goods that have traditionally been difficult to charge for in purely voluntary transactions, but our current state provides services well beyond that realm.

When I spend my own money on myself I care about the cost and the value
When I spend someone elses money on myself , I care about the value but not the cost
When I spend someone elses money on someone else I don`t care about either

Thats why the state wastes money

“When I spend my own money on myself I care about the cost and the value
When I spend someone elses money on myself , I care about the value but not the cost
When I spend someone elses money on someone else I don`t care about either

Thats why the state wastes money”


Why is there such a dichotomy between liberalism and human nature?

Except, Newmania, that just isn’t true. When I spend other people’s money I’m more conscious of the need to get good value (including a good price).

19. Mike Killingworth

[16][18] The bit New Mania missed out is the notion that when I spend my money on others I care about the cost but not the value. Whether this is as an accurate account of how we behave when buying presents (Xmas, birthdays) I leave for others to judge.

Of course, that view of the world bears little relation to reality, for all its slick use of language. Take for example a student who receives both a student loan and tops it up with a MacJob. According to our right-wingers, the loan (because it comes from the State) is a form of bondage, the MacJob, being “consensual” is an exercise of freedom. This is before we get to the problem that, in this account of the world, anyone who chooses to work for the State is preferring less freedom to more, which is supposedly impossible.

20. Shatterface

When I spend my money it usually goes on beer because its MY money and I can do what the fuck I want with it; if I am given money I feel obliged to spend it responsibly.

“Are the Taxpayers’Alliance a politically motivated, right-wing conservative group? “

Of course they are, and the fact that they try to deny it just shows how untrustworthy they really are.

They are a classic Astroturf organisation. I.e. Fake grass roots. They are like so much of the right wing pressure groups in America which are funded by rich people, and pretend to make themselves look like a bottom up campaign. Where in fact they are a top down organisation, wanting policies that benefit that wealthy donors and friends.

Oh dear. Seems it all started in America. again.

“Oh dear. Seems it all started in America. again”

Shorter troll…… I like American right wing bullshit.

“Except, Newmania, that just isn’t true. When I spend other people’s money I’m more conscious of the need to get good value (including a good price).”

I wonder if that would stand up to an empirical analysis of your revealed preferences. It is an interesting claim.

25. Mike Killingworth

[24] I am wondering whether the likes of Nick & New Mania think that the (salaried) purchsing managers of PLCs spend their bosses’ money responsibly, and if so, why they can do it and public sector managers can’t. One possible response, to which I think there is some substance, is that if the ultimate authority is a politician, mixed messages will ensue since the electorate always wants both to have its cake and to eat it.

“When I spend my own money on myself I care about the cost and the value
When I spend someone elses money on myself , I care about the value but not the cost”

That is such hot air. I find the people who go out of the way too avoid paying taxes are the most profligate with their own money. But as long as they are spending it on products, and designer labels they don’t care. They have no problem walking into the up market car garage and spending a fortune on the most high spec car and then watch 20% disappear as they drive it out the door. No problem.

And don’t get me started on corporations. The amount of money they waste is unbelievable. Just look at RBS.

27. Shatterface

I’m actually prepared to believe Newmania when he says he spends his own money responsibly but would fritter away other people’s money, I’d just take issue with him projecting his own selfishness onto everyone else.

It may have long been obvious that they are right-wing, but they have denied it.

The simple question to the TPA is whether they will continue telling conservative audiences in Canada that they are part of a Conservative/conservative movement, while telling public audiences in Britain that they are totally independent and wouldn’t dream of having any partisan preference.

Perhaps The Other Taxpayers Alliance should call itself “Taxpayers Alliance against the Taxpayers Alliance”?!

“Tax Research UK – who have considerably more research expertise and depth – have noted the partisan and often shallow nature of TPA “research” focused heavily on simplistic media advocacy.”

LOL! Tax Research is a virtual blog run by a leftie in deepest Norfolk. Just look at who he claims to advise on tax:

Christian Aid

and wait for it…

the BBC

who all contribute to the public purse…..SFA.

Come now, as ever, articles on here are all about reinforcing the indoctrinated that dissenters from the Left rhetoric are all nasty Tories/Daily Mail bogeyman.

The problem with you lefties is that you have a real confidence problem. You doubt your own dogma.

“I am wondering whether the likes of Nick & New Mania think that the (salaried) purchsing managers of PLCs spend their bosses’ money responsibly, and if so, why they can do it and public sector managers can’t.”

Absolutely not. When I was working in an office, we would always go for the office supplier that gave you some free chocolates for us as well, rather than necessarily the fastest, cheapest supplier in terms of stationary or whatever it was we were ordering in. The office suppliers are as well aware of the incentive structure as anyone else, and know that a well deployed “free gift” can work wonders for office orders.

Of course, they know the limits of the strategy as well. I suppose it is because the form of delegation in small businesses at least only allows for quite a limited deviation from the interests of the business (I imagine this benefit reduces over time). But we can see how the public sector gets so bad. It is a bit like having a public company with 10 individual million shareholders where the cost of leaving the deal is very high. Where is the incentive to keep costs down in those circumstances?

31. Mike Killingworth

Well, well, Nick. I didn’t expect you to admit quite so readily that, being greedy and dishonest yourself, you assume that everyone else is the same. I assume the business you were working for was expanding quite rapidly at the time, as the private sector is notoriously hopeless at cost control in boom times – which is admittedly why some on the right think that the public sector should be squeezed continuously – because they cannot conceive of an organisation growing without its inefficiency growing too.

But of course not everyone is like Nick. If they were, we wouldn’t have any nurses for a start. I have a mate who used to be a local authority purchasing manager, and he derived great satisfaction from cracking deals. He would have regarded suppliers who offered such freebies as fools to be gulled…

TPA have clarified: yes, they are centre-right, yes they are conservatives, yes they are part of a conservative movement. They are intellectual allies of the Conservative Party, but they are not bound to it and will criticise the Conservative Party

I’ll take that. It isn’t what they were saying previously. So I take it they would not object to these descriptions as fair and balanced, next time they are in the media:

“The conservative pressure group, The Taxpayers Alliance”

“The conservative anti-taxation campaign, The Taxpayers Alliance”

“The right-wing anti-taxation campaign, The Taxpayers Alliance”

So let’s call it a truce on nomenclature. And, now to substance: I would love to hear a defence of the policy of “opposing all tax rises”. Could we have a clarification: in all circumstances? forever?

Mike, as it happens I felt a strong affinity with the company I was working for, just not quite strong enough to reject an occasional perk for myself and fellow employees. All I am saying is that when it comes to public policy, you shouldn’t rely on people not being like me (greedy, selfish whatever you call me) because everyone (or at least enough people) have their weaknesses as well as their seperate interests, besides whatever common interests they. If you assume otherwise, you will be engaging in a public policy for a non-real world with non-real humans and will fail to achieve your goals as a consequence.

34. K Hamilton

The Fact Is that the TPA has helped expose a problem. People who want to get in power will say anything to make a good organisation look bad. The people behind the TPA are human beings so are you seriously saying that just because you are a TPA member that you now cannot vote? I joined TPA because there was a problem and noone seems to care to solve it. Including you surprise surprise. I am not surprised the liberals are trying to get some publicity by mocking the only force we can belive in. If you don’t like the TPA then you don’t like the taxpayer which means you have your head in a bucket of sand. I will NOT be voting conservative and if you think that the TPA is con you are very much mistaken.An organisation is allowed to have a veiw that tax is unfair when it is wasted or even stolen by fraudulent means. Is this site not politically motivated and tax belive it or not is a political issue? It seems you think there is something wrong with being politically motivated? And if there is why is this site politically motivated? All you have now done is discouraged me a member of the public from voting liberal as it seems your answer is to do nothing. If you are passionate about your country you should get behind the people that have good ideas not poo poo them because you didn’t think of them first. But that isn’t your agenda is it. Your agenda is to get in power by any means so if anyone outside your organisation who has a good idea is a threat rather than being useful to the electorate and that is what is wrong with politics today. Politicians think up silly little things to distract people from whats going on. MPs INCLUDING AND ESPECILALLY THE CONSERVATIVES are involved in taking our money and living it up immorrally. The TPA has exposed this and the sideliners or irrelllivants try to muscle in by saying they are politiically motivated? Even if they were NO ONE CARES. There are more important things to worry about than trying to score points against a threat that doesn’t exist for a bit of cheap publicity.The adverts that encourage us to vote quite clearly state that everything in our lives is political especially when you start talking about tax. Sorry guys but I’ve given up on the political system now. Its full of people that poo poo good ideas just because they didn’t think of them first. So this site is an enemy of the taxpayer? Hardly a vote winner.
Isn’t Liberal conspiricy a Liberal focused group. Oh no thats political, but its all right for you to be political but anyone who supports the TPA is now not allowed to vote? Get real. It will be interesting to see how impartial this site is as to whether this post gets deleted. I will be writing about it.

What a load of nonsense. You have exposed no-one!!
The whole way Britain has been run over the past decade is appalling all we are seeing at the moment is the death throws of a socialist government. Giving money away left right and centre to everyone who asks for it. Somebody has to pick up the tab.
At present the government is being supported by DEBT. This will have to be cleared up after the next general election WHOEVER gets in. (and oh won’t they be nasty eh?)
At present the left are living well beyond their means.
If the Taxpayersalliance can’t show the bloated public sector to be the disgrace it is at the moment I’d be amazed. It is far too easy.
As for Sunder saying that it is a right wing conspiracy party with political leanings, I’m hardly going to believe anything that comes from a website with such blatant Liberal leanings,
To quote your website,

“Liberal Conspiracy is a political magazine and discussion site in the form of a multi-author blog.
We aim to bring together and re-invigorate the liberal-left in Britain through discussion and campaigning. ”

What a load of crap. Sunder, crawl back into the hole you came from.
The left are going to swept out of British politics for a LONG, LONG time. An absolute necessity before Britain goes totally down the pan.

Reactions: Twitter, blogs
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    New post: Taxpayers Alliance exposed!

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    RT @libcon Liberal Conspiracy » Taxpayers Alliance exposed! | creating a new liberal-left alliance

  3. Paul Crowley

    @simonmacm @StReathamSoul Turns out @wallaceme has reason to attack @ChukaUmunna search:

  4. Streatham Miscellany

    @simonmacm @StReathamSoul Turns out @wallaceme has reason to attack @ChukaUmunna search:

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