Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
28 February 2011

The tame TaxPayers’ Alliance

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

By Christopher Montgomery

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.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

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).