Applause here for Chris Snowdon, one of those fighting the good fight over at the IEA.
The chairman of the Charity Commission has been accused of actively helping a leading critic of charities who inspired a controversial new law curbing their activities.
Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that William Shawcross urged a trustee on his commission to meet Christopher Snowdon, head of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), a free-market thinktank that receives funding from big tobacco and has taken money from at least two oil company giants in the past. Snowdon is the author of a 2012 discussion paper, Sock Puppets: How the Government Lobbies Itself and Why, which argued that government grants should not be used by charities to lobby politicians, as this meant that “government funds the lobbying of itself”.
IEA research was used by the government to justify a new “anti-advocacy clause” that will be inserted into all government grants for charities, prohibiting the money from being spent on lobbying.
The whole piece really needs to be read as it's a just staggering piece of nonsense. For example, that one of the people involved might not be fully signed up to the idea that climate change is an immediate and catastrophic problem is dragged in to prove to all right thinking people that any and every of his other views must be wrong.
On a more basic level of course this is exactly what think tanks should be doing and what we all do do to the best of our ability. Identify what we think is a problem in the current state of things and propose a solution. As an example, a decade ago here we started pointing out that we don't in fact have low wage poverty in the UK. We have tax poverty: the taxes charged to those on low incomes are too high and this is what creates that poverty that people so bitterly complain about. A decade later it is government policy (and it appeared in three of the four manifestos of parties which won over 5% of the vote last general election) to raise the personal allowance to levels where those we might regard as being in poverty no longer pay income tax. not the entire solution but a good start.
So too here with Chris Snowdon and the sock puppets. As he's identified there really are groups out there who live on taxpayer money and whose only activity is to lobby government for changes in the law. This shouldn't happen and the law is changing to make sure that it doesn't.
And there's a delicious irony in what those sock puppets are now complaining about. They are complaining that Chris and the IEA informed government and thus changed policy. The very thing that they insist they should be allowed to do but obviously not Chris and the IEA be allowed to do. That's the sort of argument that really should be met with a staccato burst of ripe Anglo Saxonisms.