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Sunday 4 December 2011

Welcome To More Astroturf

[Updates, two so far, at end of post]

The number of Astroturf lobby groups continues to grow: to add to the other right leaning organisations has come the Trade Union Reform Campaign (TURC), which has no interest in reforming trade unions, but instead is a thinly veiled attempt to damage them. The group is so non-partisan that it takes as data “research” from the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA).

The TURC is riffing on the same theme that the TPA has been plugging for over a year: the idea that trade union facility time somehow equals “taxpayer funded trade unionism”. Zelo Street regulars will be aware of the TPA’s initial “dodgy dossier on the subject, and that this has been updated recently to claim that facility time costs Government around £80 million a year.

But, as a recent Channel 4 FactCheck pointed out, the TPA are only giving one side of the story, and any group basing its line of attack on that partial analysis will not do any better. So who is behind TURC, and who pays the bills? Well, on the latter point, no information is provided, so that’s another parallel with the TPA. Those lending their names to the group are also from the Conservative movement.

Chairing TURC is Tory MP Aidan Burley, whose year and a half in the Commons has already drawn adverse comment, as well as attracting the attention of the folks at Political Scrapbook. And Burley has also demonstrated the ability to finesse difficult issues, saying he wanted a referendum on the UK’s EU membership and then voting against the recent motion to do just that.

Chief Executive of TURC is Mark Clarke, who as Tory candidate for Tooting at the last General Election managed the rare feat of incurring the displeasure of both the Mirror and the Daily Mail over his activities. He is also a director of the Young Briton’s Foundation, a body that is claimed to be a “Conservative Madrasa” which “radicalises” its students.

Press Officer for TURC is one Andre Walker, who is said to have “A wealth of experience” working for bodies including Windsor and Maidenhead Council. What is not told is that Walker had to resign his post there after being recorded during a train journey being serially indiscreet about the Council’s deputy leader. Walker blamed the episode on “a left-wing activist” rather than his own stupidity.

Walker is seen on the TURC site with his mouth open, which in view of his past is strangely apposite. Also shown in that mode is the TURC Parliamentary Liaison Officer, none other than Henry Cole, tame gofer to the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines at the Guido Fawkes blog. Cole’s serial cluelessness is legion. And this line-up is no doubt intended to strike fear into those trade union leaders.

Or, given the potential comedy gold on offer, maybe not.

[UPDATE1 11 December: Aidan Burley has been caught by the Dacre press attending a party where one of his fellow guests dressed up in an SS uniform and Nazi slogans were chanted. Several people were duly offended. Burley paid the bill. The response of Young Dave, who Burley claims to be close to, will be interesting to hear. So will that of Burley's fellow TURC luminaries]

[UPDATE2 11 December: Burley has now posted the following Tweet: "Deeply regret inappropriate behaviour by some guests at Stag party I attended and I am extremely sorry for any offence that was caused", which when translated means "The Mail On Sunday got me bang to rights and I should have engaged brain beforehand". Still no word from the TURC's Parliamentary Liaison Officer, the serially clueless Henry Cole. Might be better that way]


Anonymous said...

TURD, The TPA, The Young Britons Foundation: who's funding all these groups?

Tim Fenton said...

I think you mean TURC, and the answer right now is that they won't say.

Alex said...

Is Henry Cole perhaps Harry Cole?