See that man or woman in a smart suit talking to an interviewer on the BBC news? They come across as informed and on-message, don’t they? How wonderful that the news researchers found such educated, articulate people. Good old BBC. But check again. The chances are these informed people, these ‘experts’ are actually representing a very narrow consensus, namely a think tank. It’s happening more than you think. And often it’s those from right-wing groups popping up and masquerading as just another ordinary bloke or lass with interesting things to say. So the next time you watch current affairs on whatever channel, look out for some of the following names:
Policy Exchange – founded by Michael Gove in 2002, with the intention of finding solutions to public policy issues through market forces. In the past, such leftist figures as Tony Blair, Andrew Adonis and Peter Mandelson have sought its counsel. Which obviously explains a great deal. Centre for Policy Studies – established in 1974 by ‘mad’ Keith Joseph and a certain Margaret Thatcher, this particular think tank aimed to establish unfettered free market economics in the UK. No surprise there.
Adam Smith Institute – another 1970s think thank dedicated to libertarian thought (not to be confused with liberal thought). Although now officially a neoliberal organisation, it also advocates ideas based around the free market, boasting that it can make ludicrously extreme ideas mainstream in next to no time. How comforting.
Open Europe – Yet another liberalist economic group, set up in 2005, and with close ties to former PR employee and occasional politician David Cameron. It opposes centralisation of power in the EU and advocates for those powers to be returned to member states. Strongly in favour of migration, it still favours close ties to the EU.
TaxPayers’Alliance – not only a think tank, but also an influential ‘pressure group’, so they’d have us believe. This organisation was founded in 2004 by rightists convinced that the Tories weren’t being anti-tax enough. And they’re committed to libertarian ideas, of course. It aims to shape (or exploit) public opinion via a media-friendly presence, whereas leftists have accused it of being a front for the Conservative Party.
Centre for Social Justice – another ‘influential’ organisation, and founded by Iain Duncan Smith and Tim Montgomerie, with the aim of putting ‘social justice at the heart of British politics’, which would indicate a catastrophic degree of failure, given current – and previous – Tory policies towards ‘broken Britain’. (Remember that one?)
Reform – an ‘independent’ charity established in 2001 by Nick Herbert, who subsequently became a Tory MP, and Andrew Haldenby. The reform to which it refers is to the economy, education and health, and “on the right balance between government and individual.” In other words, let’s keep the state small, shall we?
Institute of Economic Affairs – developed out of postwar thinking and influenced by free market economist Friedrich Hayek, the IEA was founded in 1955 by Antony Fisher (who also went on to found the deeply neoliberal Atlas Economic Research Foundation). Those associated with it were particularly at home with Thatcher’s policies, and boasted of influencing her government’s neoliberal agenda, and were especially taken with her promotion of corporate interests. Even to extremist libertarians like Milton Friedman, it was an ideological wet dream, and still influences the right today.
The phrase ‘think tank’ sounds almost quaint, doesn’t it? Men in suits (it’s always men in suits) sitting there in front of tedious presentations in a bland office as the pigeons coo on the ledge outside; if only. These people have access to the very centres of power. But that’s their reason for being; no influence, no point. But what I don’t understand is the amount of right-wing think tanks dedicated to economic change.
Surely over the last 40 years or so they’ve had everything they could ever have wanted: globalised trade, reduced workers’ rights, unfettered markets, very limited restrictions, deregulation, state hand-outs; so at a time of an unparalleled transfer of wealth from poor to rich, what else have they got up their sleeves? Given the privatisation of England and Wales’s education system, and the privatisation-by-stealth of the forlorn NHS, the indications aren’t good. And all this at a time when capitalism is the only game in town. But it’s ok, because our wonderful government has a massive budget deficit and an out-of-control national debt. It is only going to get a lot worse.
So the next time you’re watching the news and there’s an ‘expert’ on who’s apparently impartial, take a quick look at their name and who they represent. Of course there’s also left-of-centre think tanks (Compass, the Fabian Society etc), but it just seems that there’s so many rightist ones and they’re trying to control the nature of the conversation and, indeed, government policy. Their obsession with free market policies and a small state means the little people, the 99%, us, aren’t going to get much of look-in. And make no mistake, these aren’t just lunatic fringe groups, they’re very rich, influential and connected individuals. And Brexit/Trump is going to re-energise them into think-tanking themselves into an economic stupor. These various groups need a reason for being, and they may have just found a new one. And of course, the right in the UK worships at the feet of the right in the US.
They say that after 40 years of unbridled power neoliberalism is dead; but you can be certain that whatever replaces it, that whatever these pin-striped vultures can collectively conjure up out of the sickly, fly-ridden remains of neoliberalism, it will be even worse. Increased automation has already arrived, and with it the loss of thousands of jobs. Perhaps these think tanks can conjure up a way of jobless people being able to participate in the joys of unfettered capitalism after their jobs have been claimed by robots and they have to rely on increasingly meagre state hand-outs? Where be the capitalist utopia then? Unless by then all think tanks are founded and run by soulless, unthinking automatons with no regard for the little people. But then how would we tell the difference?
Max Webster is the editor for Political Provocateur