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Register thinktanks as well as lobbyists

George Monbiot in (yet another) forceful defence of democratic transparency draws attention to Atlantic Bridge,  founded by the disgraced Liam Fox and registered with the Charity Commission as a thinktank,  but actually a lobby organisation demanding the usual right-wing menu of deregulation, privatisation, tax breaks, and cuts in public expenditure (apart from defence of course).

No.10 has now said that it will bring in a statutory register of lobbyists in the next parliamentary session (meaning 2012-3), and we should be grateful for the Fox-Werrity saga because, although it was part of the Coalition Agreement, it would probably have never seen the light of day otherwise.  But Monbiot adds a very important further point.

Lobby outfits, even those covered by charity law, can sometimes masquerade as thinktanks.  They hide under innocent-sounding titles – for example Policy Exchange (Cameron’s favourite thinktank) or the Institute for Economic Affairs – but their fare is relentlessly and aggressively right-wing.  They are not interested in a balanced and objective discussion of contentious issues, only in overpowering the opposition to their predetermined agenda by using every means at their disposal, notably tankerloads of money.  Two issues arise: if we are not to be brainwashed, we are entitled to know what their hidden agenda is as revealed by their financiers: and parti pris organisations like this should not be entitled to be designated as charities with all the public subsidies and glow of honorific aspirations which that implies.

Their hallmark is free markets, but it is a very warped sense of freedom.  This is not freedom to improve health or education or justice, nor is it freedom from pollution or injuries at work or abuse by landlord or employer.  It is freedom for oceans of money to do what it likes, freedom from regulation to protect human rights and decent standards, and where there are still regulations that get in the way freedom to use their financial muscle to induce, bribe, c0rrupt, or threaten regulators or politicians to change the rules to suit their own interests.   That could involve commissioning highly partisan research, refusing to publish contrary evidence, selective presentation of the facts, endowing university chairs with fixed objectives contrary to all the canons of science or objectivity.

Thinktanks should therefore be required to log their financial backers on a statutory register of lobbyists and should be rigorously excluded from all the benefits and protection of charity law.   We shall see then how interested they really are in advancing human knowledge.

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