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Sunday 12 February 2012

How Independent Is ConHome?

The whole point of ConservativeHome, we are told, is that it is not beholden to the Tory Party, that it is independent, and that it therefore has no problem giving a platform to conservatives who are not of coincident view to Westminster Tory MPs or the party leadership. But events of the past two days have thrown that independence into doubt, as well as raising further questions over influence.

Those events kicked off on Friday with an opinion piece by Tim Montgomerie: “The unnecessary and unpopular NHS bill could cost the Conservative Party the next election. Cameron must kill it”. Monty claimed that three cabinet ministers were of similar view. But the backlash was as immediate as it was vicious, with Monty sneered at for his association with an unpopular past party leader.

In his defence, Montgomerie claimed that he “had been virtually instructed to write the opinion piece by Conservative cabinet members”. Think about that for a moment: ConHome, supposedly independent, “virtually instructed” to take part in Government in-fighting. The clear inference is that ConHome is being used as a conduit for party briefings – and that it is not properly independent of it.

Moreover, if ConHome is not truly independent of the Tory Party, the thought then enters that the Tory Party may not be truly independent of those who are given a platform by ConHome, despite claims to the contrary. A slew of Astroturf lobby groups, such as the Adam Smith Institute, Centre for Policy Studies, Institute of Directors, Policy Exchange and Institute of Economic Affairs feature there.

And most significantly our old friends at the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) enjoy a regular slot on ConHome, plus former ConHome stalwart Jonathan Isaby has recently gone through the revolving door to join the TPA, not so long after former TPA staffer Susie Squire went through that same door the other way to become a SpAd to Iain Duncan Smith (former boss of Tim Montgomerie).

Added to all of that is the influence of groups like the Young Britons’ Foundation (YBF) which trains party activists and enjoys links to the Freedom Association and the Heritage Foundation in the USA (who provided the moderator for the CPAC debate I considered yesterday). Several YBF trained activists have become councillors, notably in Hammersmith and Fulham, and Parliamentary candidates.

The YBF, too, gets a voice through ConHome. Its CEO does too. Tory MPs and ministers speak at its events, and at those of Astroturf lobby groups given a voice by ConHome. The more that this particular can of worms is prodded, the more it appears that ConHome is not independent at all: rather, it uses, and is used by, the party, the lobbyists, the briefers and the entryists.

And it is for that reason that ConHome should be watched. Very closely.

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