The IEA is good at getting its message out there, making the right noises for the broadcast and print media. It enjoys charitable status, claiming that it is non-political in nature. But this façade has been busted by another sting from the people at Greenpeace.
Mark Littlewood, director of the IEA. For now
As the Guardian has reported, “The director of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) was secretly recorded telling an undercover reporter that funders could get to know ministers on first-name terms and that his organisation was in ‘the Brexit influencing game’ … Mark Littlewood claimed the IEA could make introductions to ministers and said the thinktank’s trade expert knew Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, David Davis and Liam Fox well”.
There was more. “The IEA chief was also recorded suggesting potential US donors could fund and shape “substantial content” of research commissioned by the thinktank and that its findings would always support the argument for free-trade deals … This could hugely benefit US farmers by lifting the ban on the sale in the UK of beef from cattle treated with growth hormones and chlorine-washed chicken”. Nice.
“Littlewood explained that a meeting with an agriculture minister would provide him and his client with the opportunity ‘for you to say, ‘Minister I’m really keen to bend your ear about beef’”. Littlewood was looking to “get these ideas in the bloodstream of Defra”. And then came the clear suggestion that this was part of “buying access”.
“Littlewood said IEA reports were consistent with the thinktank’s ideological position and he said donors could not dictate their conclusions … But he added: ‘There is no way this report is going to say the most important thing we need to do is keep American beef out of our market in order to prop up our beef farmers, in fact exactly the opposite.’”
Yet the IEA enjoys charitable status, or it did first thing this morning: the Greenpeace report is being sent to the Charity Commission. Perhaps the Commission will also consider other politically motivated IEA behaviour, like attacking the HS2 project - IEA transport “expert” Richard Wellings claimed that all the demand for freight capacity could be met by increasing the lorry weight limit and using the existing motorway network.
Or, indeed, its urging abolition of the NHS, as Tom Pride has pointed out. Or its dependence on US right-leaning organisations like the Earhart Foundation, which has funded lobby groups like the American Enterprise Institute, and the John Templeton Foundation, which “tries to encourage the integration of religious beliefs and free-market principles into the classroom”. All good charitable stuff.
The sting was greeted enthusiastically by Nick Lowles of Hope Not Hate, while Owen Jones described Littlewood’s and the IEA’s behaviour as “scandalous”. James Ball mused “Could and should have big implications for the thinktank world”, but David Henig thought donating to the IEA might not be so clever: “The IEA clearly do have good government connections on trade at the moment. Without any great knowledge of the subject”.
Crucially, Littlewood has been on the Today programme this morning to explain himself, and Mic Wright was listening. “Mark Littlewood from the IEA just said the word ‘synergy’ on the Today Programme. He’s about as convincing as a £25 note”. Busted, indeed.