The Truss government has set out its stall and political scientists have confirmed what is plain to see – that it is lurching further to the right. You might wonder then where are all these more extreme ideas coming from?
The Guardian’s George Monbiot has highlighted the role of right wing lobby groups, noting that Truss’s senior special advisor is Ruth Porter, formerly communications director for the opaquely-funded Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA). She has called for charging patients to use the NHS. Porter has also been head of economic and social policy at another opaquely funded far right body, Policy Exchange, and it was Porter who established a web page for the “Free Enterprise Group” of Tory MPs which was apparently set up by Truss in 2011.
Truss’s chief economic advisor is Matthew Sinclair, formerly chief executive of the so-called Taxpayers Alliance, which is obscurely funded by foreign donors with little evidence that it involves any UK taxpayers.
Truss’s interim press secretary has also worked as research director for the Taxpayers Alliance. Her health advisor was senior researcher at the Centre for Policy Studies, which claims to be Britain’s “leading centre-right think tank” and was set up by Margaret Thatcher and Sir Keith Joseph in 1974. It has also argued for fees to be levied to visit a GP or for hospital treatment.
Truss’s political secretary was head of government affairs at the neoliberal Adam Smith Institute, which in 1984 attempted to push Thatcher further to the right by publishing the Omega Report – a manifesto for a privatised, insurance-based health system, and has repeatedly argued for a break from the tax-funded NHS model. In 2017 a research paper argued for
“Patient co-payments …to be extended, with care, to reduce marginal and unnecessary demand on NHS services.”
Since her conversion from Liberal Democrat to Conservative MP Truss has consistently leaned to the far right of the party and what Monbiot sums up as “dark money think tanks”. She has spoken at more meetings of the IEA in the last 12 years than any other politician.
And Monbiot points out that on Twitter the IEA’s head of public policy Matthew Lesh was confident enough to agree with the suggestion that Truss’s government has now effectively handed power over to the extreme neoliberal “think tanks” that promote the interests of their donors.
All of this is made much easier by the connivance of right wing news editors, especially in the BBC. As Monbiot has argued:
“Major BBC programmes including Today, Question Time, Newsnight and Any Questions? are populated by speakers from the Institute of Economic Affairs, the Adam Smith Institute, the Taxpayers’ Alliance, the Centre for Policy Studies and Policy Exchange. These groups also happen to have been rated by the campaign Who Funds You? as among the most opaque of all those it investigated.”
One of the few broadcasters to have challenged the credentials of the IEA was LBC’s James O’Brien, who described it as a “hard-right lobby group for vested interests of big business, fossil fuels, tobacco, junk food.” When the IEA complained to Ofcom about this, its complaint was rejected, with Ofcom ruling that he had not distorted the facts.
Three years ago a long read article in the Guardian explained the origins and the key role of the IEA, which had been formed in Britain back in 1955, in spawning the later proliferation of hard right wing foundations and institutes around the world, and especially those in the USA which are now lavishly funded by reactionary billionaires including the Koch brothers.
From the outset, as Adam Curtis outlines in his piece for the BBC, the IEA was created as a misleading front organisation that aimed to conceal its political message. It would masquerade as a “scholarly institute,” recognising that it was
“Imperative that we should give no indication in our literature that we are working to educate the Public along certain lines which might be interpreted as having a political bias. In other words, if we said openly that we were re-teaching the economics of the free-market, it might enable our enemies to question the charitableness of our motives.”
That these organisations and those trained by them now have their hands so close to the levers of government is especially frightening for those who value the NHS, welfare and other public services. We already know these will all be facing real terms or actual spending cuts in the November 23 budget – as a result of the £43bn of tax cuts that have been announced, mainly benefiting the richest five percent.
But with the new power enjoyed by the IEA has come bravado and arrogance, with the mask cast aside. The IEA’s Director, Mark Littlewood, talking about Kwarteng’s disastrous ‘mini-budget’ on Sky News admitted: “You’re not going to like this package if you care more about the poor”.
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