Always, always follow the money
As I’m forever saying in this column, so-called ‘research-based’ surveys can’t be taken at face value. More often than not, you’ll find an agenda of some sort at work, either commercial or political, and sometimes both.
You might be tempted to think that there are exceptions to this rule. One such instance perhaps being the “rich list” published by the Taxpayers Alliance which recently shared details of council chief officer salaries. You’d be wrong.
There’s some things to be taken into account about any findings put forward by these self-appointed guardians of the public purse.
To start, funding for local government has been trimmed down drastically over the years. Close on to a third of real spending has been lost, along with a big chunk of the workforce and the services they once provided. Managing that situation is a tough call and requires a huge level of expertise.
Another is that the TPA, although keen to selectively quote council running costs, remain noticeable silent as to where and how their own organisation gets its funding - and where it goes.
Maybe that’s because this “independent grassroots campaign representing ordinary British taxpayers” receives hundreds of thousands of dollars in foreign donations, including cash from a billionaire-founded religious trust incorporated in the Bahamas.
The only reason we know this information is because it was leaked to the public domain. Thus is appears that this private body Set up in 2004, and which castigates public institutions for “a lack of transparency” doesn’t exactly practice what it preaches.
The phenomenon of undeclared donors attempting to influence British politics is of course nothing new and is well-publicised by less vapid sections of the the UK press. What is surprising (or maybe not) is the eagerness of that same media to regurgitate an anti-public sector message without any attempt at qualification about the one-sided source.
It’s worth noting that the Taxpayers Alliance is one of nine lobbying groups linked to a single address in Westminster. They all campaign for greater privatisation and a reduction in state influence. Some also promote climate change denial.
In addition, the TPA is very closely linked to Vote Leave, the official organisation that circumvented spending limits while campaigning for Brexit in the referendum.
So my advice is that whenever you read something negative about the cost of public services, you should take a good look at the source and always, always follow the money.
Could it be 'Game Over' for someone?
Brexit can do funny things to you. I sometimes wonder if I’m not trapped in a virtual reality game that gets harder and more unlikely as you progress through the levels.
The word ‘meaningful’ lost any actual meaning in parliament some time ago and for all the rhetoric across the chamber, it’s clear that MPs are as confused and factionalised as the rest of us.
That said, it seems the only kind of people left advocating a ‘no-deal’ option are those without any real inkling (or interest) as to the potential impact and those who have already shifted their assets and/or interests overseas.
Mrs May seems unperturbed that her Commons majority is now in single figures. Meanwhile Labour attempts to suggest that its recent conversion to the possibility of a second referendum has nothing to do with a dramatic decline in the polls.
If a snap election were called now then it would definitely be game over for someone. But who?