As Niels Bohr remarked, “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.” And that general remark is particularly true about politics where decisions are taken on the basis of complex (and sometimes less than transparent) motivations.
Given that, is it safe to make any predictions whatsoever about the result of the Conservative Party leadership contest?
This is one situation where we can make a forecast: the next inhabitant of Downing Street will be the Tufton Street candidate:
- Tufton Street houses a network of far-right think tanks
- They have been proposing far-right policy for years
- All of the candidates are linked to Tufton Street.
Tufton Street houses a network of far-right think tanks
Spread across two London townhouses, 55 and 57 Tufton Street and a couple of other locations, are a frighteningly powerful and tightly connected network of campaigning groups and far-right think tanks:
- The Adam Smith Institute;
- Brexit Central;
- The Centre for Policy Studies;
- The Global Warming Policy Foundation;
- The Institute for Economic Affairs;
- Leave Means Leave;
- The New Culture Forum;
- The Taxpayers’ Alliance; and
- Vote Leave.
Not only do they in many instances share a physical location, but several of them were founded by the same person. Matthew Elliott is the founder of The Taxpayers’ Alliance and Brexit Central as well as of Business for Britain (the forerunner of Vote Leave), Vote Leave itself (which he co-founded with Dominic Cummings), Big Brother Watch and Conservative Friends of Russia.
The Security Committee of Parliament investigated Russia’s role in UK governance and concluded:
“We have not been provided with any post-referendum assessment of Russian attempts at interference, ***. This situation is in stark contrast to the US handling of allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, where an intelligence community assessment was produced within two months of the vote, with an unclassified summary being made public. Whilst the issues at stake in the EU referendum campaign are less clear-cut, it is nonetheless the Committee’s view that the UK Intelligence Community should produce an analogous assessment of potential Russian interference in the EU referendum and that an unclassified summary of it be published.”
The funding of the Tufton Street think tanks is deliberately opaque but, researchers at Desmog found that they “are tied to major US funders of climate science denial including the Koch brothers and Robert Mercer, who also bankrolled Donald Trump” and, as George Monbiot wrote of the Institute for Economic Affairs in The Guardian,
“The only hard information we have is that, for many years, it has been funded by British American Tobacco (BAT), Japan Tobacco International, Imperial Tobacco and Philip Morris International.”
They have been proposing extreme right-wing policy for years
The ideological common-ground of these think tanks is market fundamentalism. They all believe in slashing public spending and therefore public services, on minimal taxation and on minimal regulation of businesses. Here are a few examples of their suggestions:
- The Adam Smith Institute believes that Britain needs more slums;
- The Centre for Policy Studies has a plan to ‘help’ with the cost-of-living crisis by removing the green levy from energy bills (despite the climate emergency and instead of price caps on energy companies), by reducing standards of childcare to reduce cost and by unilaterally abolishing all import tariffs;
- The Global Warming Policy Foundation claims that ‘Empirical Observation shows no Evidence of “Climate Crisis”’; and
- The Institute for Economic Affairs wants to abolish the NHS;
- The Taxpayers Alliance called for benefits to pensioners to be slashed because “some of the people… won’t be around to vote against you in the next election [and the rest] might have forgotten by then.”
All of the candidates are linked to Tufton Street
The remaining candidates and their odds of winning (on 14 July 2022) are:
- Penny Mordaunt (favourite at 6/7)
- Rishi Sunak (17/5)
- Liz Truss (17/4)
- Kemi Badenoch (21/1)
- Tom Tugendhat (64/1)
- Suella Braverman (300/1)
And all of these are connected with Tufton Street either through receiving donations from Tufton Street backers or being ‘graduates’ of one or more of the think tanks, or both.
Penny Mordaunt has recently received a donation of £10,000 from a firm owned by one Terence Charles Mordaunt, who is Director of the Tufton Street think tank, The Global Warming Policy Foundation – a leading climate change denial organisation.
Rishi Sunak has been closely connected with the Centre for Policy Studies for whom he wrote a report proposing an extension of the idea of freeports. Freeports themselves are not (despite what the CPS says) banned by the EU – indeed the UK has had freeports in the past: the last five were closed in 2012 under Cameron’s government. What is illegal under EU legislation is anything resembling charter cities because of the human rights issues associated with enabling the guarantor to establish his or her own sovereign state-within-a-state:
“This arrangement would not merely construct a separate economic framework for the designated territory, but also establish a legal and political system autonomous from the host state.”
Liz Truss is one of the co-authors (along with Kwasi Kwarteng, Priti Patel, Dominic Raab and Chris Skidmore) of the book Britannia Unchained which blames the UK’s poor economic performance on the deeply unpatriotic idea (which is factually untrue: we work longer hours than Germany, France, and the Nordic countries – all of whom perform better economically) that “The British are among the worst idlers in the world.” Truss is also the founder of the Free Enterprise Group, an off-shoot of the Institute of Economic Affairs.
Tom Tugendhat has close links with several far-right think tanks. As Yorkshire Bylines reports:
“With his involvement in … the CRG, Onward and the Policy Exchange, he can be firmly placed in organisations at the heart of the Atlas Network. Whatever Tugendhat’s premiership might offer, a clean start from the ever-increasing influence of trans-Atlantic right-wing libertarianism it would not be.”
And finally, Suella Braverman, who also supports the Free Enterprise Group, is the preferred candidate of the European Research group and its former chair Steve Baker because of her unwavering commitment to an ultra-hard Brexit.
As a result, all of the candidates have been questioning the UK’s commitment to net zero. All of them are promising to slash public services and cut taxes and all of them are claiming that the path to growth is through lower standards and less regulation.
Rishi Sunak claims not to want “comforting fairy stories” – but he and all the other candidates are continuing to place a childish faith in the ‘magic of markets’ to solve the country’s problems, despite all the evidence to the contrary. The takeover of the Conservative Party by Tufton Street disciples is as bizarre as it would be if we discovered that the Physics Departments at Imperial, Cambridge and Oxford were all staffed entirely by members of the Flat-Earth Society. What should have been relegated to the status of a quaint fringe group has acquired a dangerous amount of power.
There is a contest, but one thing is certain – the winner will be (at least) heavily influenced by the Tufton Street think tanks and their backers. In the short term, this means that we can look forward to even more damaging legislation until the next election. And if the Conservatives win that election, the achievement of the market fundamentalist objective of turning the UK into a playground for billionaires and a dictatorship for the rest of us becomes a real possibility:
“The new Sovereign Individual will operate like the gods of myth in the same physical environment as the ordinary, subject citizen, but in a separate realm politically.”
Conversely, after the next election we could be looking at a (still imperfect) government which rebuilds our democratic safeguards, manages the economy soundly and shares the benefits of growth with the entire population – poverty rates could again start falling, wages could again start rising, and the NHS could again be the best healthcare system in the world.
To secure the future of the UK, we need:
- Moderates and progressives in all political parties (including the Conservatives) to realise how high the stakes have become and to co-operate to avoid another Conservative government – together, moderates and progressives have a very good chance of winning;
- Voters to drop their traditional party allegiances and vote tactically – it is unlikely that the next government will be perfect, but it need not be destructive, and voters have the power to elect the least harmful option;
- Non-voters to understand that – even if in the past they did not feel that their vote could make a difference, it can now (as the results in Shropshire North, Chesham and Amersham, Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton all show, there is no longer such a thing as a safe seat).
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