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Tuesday 10 August 2021

Twilight Of The Astroturf Gods

Their “research” is regularly recycled as informed and factual by our free and fearless press. Their talking heads are given a platform by broadcasters. They are generously described as “think tanks”, as “non-partisan”. They generally get a free pass on their funding sources. But one of their number overreached itself by complaining to Ofcom after being called out live on air. They lost. From now it will be downhill all the way.

James O'Brien - called out the lobby groups

The group who complained and lost was the IEA, but the alphabet soup of Astroturf lobby groups is effectively interchangeable: they, the CPS, the ASI, the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance, and Policy Exchange, are all deeply conservative, highly partisan, and their “research” has been shown time and again to be seriously flawed.

What happened when the IEA complained to Ofcom can be put directly. As the Guardian has reported, “The Institute of Economic Affairs has lost a two-year battle with LBC radio presenter James O’Brien over claims the registered charity is a politically motivated lobbying organisation funded by ‘dark money’”. And there was more.

The IEA complained … that [LBC] had made … unfair suggestions that the organisation is a professional lobby group of ‘questionable provenance, with dubious ideas and validity’ staffed by people who are not proper experts on their topic … [they] particularly objected to O’Brien’s dismissive description of an IEA representative as ‘some Herbert’, as well as guest Peter Geoghegan’s suggestion that the IEA was ‘politically biased’”. Do go on.

O’Brien also described the organisation as a ‘hard-right lobby group for vested interests of big business, fossil fuels, tobacco, junk food’ and urged newspapers to stop quoting from an organisation that is registered as ‘as an educational charity because they don’t reveal who funds them’”. So let’s look at those “experts” and that “non-partisan research”.

Mark Littlewood of the IEA - rumbled

So were O’Brien and Geoghegan being unfair on the IEA? They wish. Consider their rail “expert” Richard Wellings, whose attacks on the HS2 project were accompanied by flat-out lies and his assertion that any more demand for rail freight capacity could be met by increasing the lorry weight limit and dumping it all on the motorway network.

Wellings also co-authored a fraudulent claim that turning railways into busways would increase their capacity. This was well-received by those in the right-wing press, but it was easily debunked. HS2 has also exposed the lack of expertise at the ASI, whose hatchet job on the project mistakenly claimed that HS2 would have a wider track gauge. They didn’t even bother to have their work read for technical competence before publication.

As for the TPA, where does one start? Claiming that the Brown Government was paying £38 million a year to lobbyists for them to, er, lobby the Government? That wasn’t true, but it got in the papers. Claiming that the introduction of speed cameras actually increased road accidents and casualties? That wasn’t true either. Claiming that Government had been growing unsustainably for years? That, too, was all made up.

For anyone at the CPS who feels left out, there’s always their seriously flawed attempt to prove left-wing bias at the BBC. Which did not take long for Zelo Street to dismantle.

James O’Brien was right to call out the Astroturfers. Other media outlets please take note.

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Anonymous said...

the Graun is always late to the party, always trying to claw back "credibility" from its usual establishment position - even worse since Viner got her fat tory arse in position.

Meanwhile, some of us have been exposing far right "institutions" and "think tanks" for years for what they are: propaganda units for the British capitalist state. Which, of course, guarantees them a place in corporate media. Bullshiting liars the lot of them.

Anonymous said...

Two things, Anon.

The Guardian of old can't really be compared with the Viner (ex lipstick correspondent for Cosmo) version.

The "think tanks" are US in origin, in funding and staffing, and the British state is not yet as bad as they intend.

Anonymous said...

Goodness - the Railway Conversion League of 1955 - 1994 reborn. I had no idea.

James said...

This is one of the few occasions when Mr Obrien is in the right. This lobby group are a bunch of wannabe NHS carpetbaggers.I cannot stand how much airplay, especially Question Time, their boss has been given. She is a vile neoliberal parasite.

Anonymous said...

To 16:51.

Guardian policies have much deeper roots than the last 20 years. True, its agenda varies slightly from editor to editor, but when it comes to a real crunch it ALWAYS settles eventually on the establishment side. It has been that way since its inception, very rare exceptions apart.

The reality is it doesn't even measure up to the definition of "liberal". It never will.

Mr Larrington said...

Of course if all these outfits wish to repudiate the claims that they are funded by “dark money” they have only to publish their full accounts.

(Doesn’t hold breath)