Environmentalist and campaigner Joel Benjamin yesterday re-read an Observer report from last December which had looked at the charitable status of groups behind the campaign to take Britain out of the EU. “Charity alleged to have illegally funded Brexit campaign groups … Questions over grants given by the Politics and Economics Research Trust to anti-EU groups, with potential for tax relief” read the headline.
Benjamin was right to look again at the Politics and Economics Research Trust, which has made significant grants in the recent past to the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance, which is not an alliance of taxpayers, but an Astroturf lobby group whose purpose is to demonise and thereby undermine Government - and Government. The TPA actually represents less than one-tenth of one per cent of all taxpayers in Britain.
How the PERT gets away with continuing to maintain charitable status is a thing of wonder. Consider first their lawyer’s claim that “My client does not campaign and neither does it have a political ‘agenda’ in its grant-giving activity. It provides funds for the purpose of conducting high-quality research which furthers the charity’s objects … My client has built up a relationship with organisations which, in its opinion, have competent researchers capable of conducting an independent analysis on a given subject with rigorous methodologies and processes”. Let’s look at some of that research.
The TPA has done a significant amount of what it calls “research” in the past, including the 2009 study Taxpayer Funded Lobbying, where it was claimed that the then Labour Government had paid groups £38 million just to lobby it. This claim suckered many mainstream pundits and gained considerable media coverage. It was totally untrue.
What the TPA had done was to make FoI requests of companies whose skill set included lobbying - then make the logic leap to say that the payments must be for lobbying, although what the invoices were for was not known. After Mick Fealty at Slugger O’Toole called them out, two of the TPA’s luminaries smeared him in retaliation.
There is more. The TPA was opposed to the HS2 project, as it is to any public sector initiative, and so produced a “report” on its costs. To make the HS2 cost/benefit analysis look worse, this fraudulently added the estimated cost of Crossrail 2, £10 billion of fictional “competition costs”, and another £8.4 billion for good measure. This, too, garnered significant media coverage. It was not worth the paper it was written on.
And the TPA span off another Astroturf group called the Drivers’ Alliance for their “research” into speeding fines, where they made the claim that speed cameras worsened the incidence of death and injury on the roads. There was a regression analysis, and a Chi-squared test. Many in the press were once again impressed.
What the press missed was that the TPA’s “introduction of speed cameras” claim, for the year 1991, covered only a very small proportion of the devices. Most were introduced after the white paper “Tomorrow’s Roads - Safer for Everyone”, in 2000. The TPA analysis was once again worthless. But the media coverage was most generous.
One has to hope the PERT didn’t pay for any of that. Because if they did, there would be even more questions about their charitable status. Over to Joel Benjamin.