I previously examined “Astroturf” groups – those giving the appearance of a grass roots group, but in reality just more lobbying organisations – and particularly the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA). The TPA has recently discovered that the Government has made payments to organisations that, among their other activities, work as lobbyists. Therefore, the TPA concluded, the Government was paying – an amount of 38 million was given – for others to lobby it. At first it sounds daft, and a good example of waste. Some newspapers and blogs took it as just that. But not everyone.
Fortunately, over in Northern Ireland, the blogosphere thinks things through objectively and with no small precision. Bringing these qualities to bear on the TPA report, the excellent Slugger O’Toole blog of Mick Fealty asked the question that had already occurred to me: what goods and services were actually bought by Government for that 38 million? Was the TPA merely assuming a connection?
The post, with the forthright naming of the TPA report as a “Dodgy Dossier”, brought forth the full rebuttal treatment from the TPA. Communications Chief Mark Wallace, the usual source of so many of the group’s quotes, was not on this occasion the protagonist: this was left to Matthew “Gromit” Sinclair, whose comments display a mixture of dismissiveness, bullying and that show of impatience so beloved of those clever people who talk loudly in restaurants. But the question put about what the 38 million was buying was not answered, except to say, effectively, “well, they do lobbying, so it was spent on that, so there”.
At the end of the post, Mick has inserted a link to the TPA site: this shows the roll of shame, those media outlets and bloggers that, as he puts it, were “well and truly suckered” by the TPA’s “research”.
And we still haven’t seen the TPA’s 2008 accounts. Where’s that transparency when you need it?