The tame TaxPayers' Alliance

When will the TPA go after the Conservatives' use of public patronage for party political purposes?

It's good to learn from Dan Hodges that the Yes to AV campaign is even worse than the TPA Team B, aka the No to AV, effort is. But here's a quick question for the original TaxPayer's Alliance, specifically its director, Matthew Sinclair.

You'll know what the grumbling has always been about the TPA. That you were far too tame in opposition. That, for all you moaned in private about Osborne's shadow treasury team being intellectually timid yet rigidly controlling, you, in the last parliament, did far too often pull your punches in response to demands from Matt Hancock and co to keep quiet.

Meaner people than me did, at the time, wonder whether TPA alumni -- having fallen for the idea that David Cameron would actually win an election against Gordon Brown -- were rather too dazzled by the prospect of SPADships (and other plums of patronage). And that, as a result, not everyone in the TPA was fully committed to being quite as offensive as your name might have had unrepentant Thatcherites hope you'd be. That is, to my mind, completely unfair. So what that we now have a government where a Conservative Chancellor bashes bankers and boasts about how much protection money he's squeezing out of them? These pre-emptive, long-term, trouble-storing-up rhetorical surrenders on behalf of the party leadership are hardly your fault. You've been fighting the good fight, even if it's not always been as awkward and unhelpful a fight as it might have been on every occasion. But here's the thing -- that quick question -- are you following the jobs?

You're very good at tracking waste in local government, in highlighting the absurd, uncompetitive salaries chief executives and other functionaries award themselves in the shadows, but are you being as vigilant at the national level? For as we both know, the consequence of Cameron having managed to find one thing he won't flip-flop on -- the number of those precious SPADships being reduced, with even fewer on offer to Tory flacks now that the Liberals have to get their cut too -- is that ways round this are being found. Blatantly political appointments are being made to supposedly neutral civil service jobs. Ministerial private offices are littered with CCHQ lags, and other think tank hangers-on, who haven't been able to get SPADed up, and as yet you have let this slip you by.

So there it is: just let me know that your FoI requests are, even now, working their way through the system to see just who has been given public patronage for party political purposes. It's an easy enough thing to do: we both know who the limited cast of characters involved are. So do be sure to email me when you have this latest piece of TPA research ready to go. It'll make for fun reading when you name names. (Oh, and natch, I'm taking it as read that the non-party TPA opposes ministers bunging apolitical taxpayer-funded political positions to political stooges, even when those stooges are chums).

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The 5 things the Tories aren't telling you about their manifesto

Turns out the NHS is something you really have to pay for after all. 

When Theresa May launched the Conservative 2017 manifesto, she borrowed the most popular policies from across the political spectrum. Some anti-immigrant rhetoric? Some strong action on rip-off energy firms? The message is clear - you can have it all if you vote Tory.

But can you? The respected thinktank the Institute for Fiscal Studies has now been through the manifesto with a fine tooth comb, and it turns out there are some things the Tory manifesto just doesn't mention...

1. How budgeting works

They say: "a balanced budget by the middle of the next decade"

What they don't say: The Conservatives don't talk very much about new taxes or spending commitments in the manifesto. But the IFS argues that balancing the budget "would likely require more spending cuts or tax rises even beyond the end of the next parliament."

2. How this isn't the end of austerity

They say: "We will always be guided by what matters to the ordinary, working families of this nation."

What they don't say: The manifesto does not backtrack on existing planned cuts to working-age welfare benefits. According to the IFS, these cuts will "reduce the incomes of the lowest income working age households significantly – and by more than the cuts seen since 2010".

3. Why some policies don't make a difference

They say: "The Triple Lock has worked: it is now time to set pensions on an even course."

What they don't say: The argument behind scrapping the "triple lock" on pensions is that it provides an unneccessarily generous subsidy to pensioners (including superbly wealthy ones) at the expense of the taxpayer.

However, the IFS found that the Conservatives' proposed solution - a "double lock" which rises with earnings or inflation - will cost the taxpayer just as much over the coming Parliament. After all, Brexit has caused a drop in the value of sterling, which is now causing price inflation...

4. That healthcare can't be done cheap

They say: "The next Conservative government will give the NHS the resources it needs."

What they don't say: The £8bn more promised for the NHS over the next five years is a continuation of underinvestment in the NHS. The IFS says: "Conservative plans for NHS spending look very tight indeed and may well be undeliverable."

5. Cutting immigration costs us

They say: "We will therefore establish an immigration policy that allows us to reduce and control the number of people who come to Britain from the European Union, while still allowing us to attract the skilled workers our economy needs." 

What they don't say: The Office for Budget Responsibility has already calculated that lower immigration as a result of the Brexit vote could reduce tax revenues by £6bn a year in four years' time. The IFS calculates that getting net immigration down to the tens of thousands, as the Tories pledge, could double that loss.

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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