NB Matthew Elliott of the TPA has responded to this article here.
Conservatives have tended to be sympathetic to the stated goals of the TaxPayers’ Alliance: “campaigning for lower taxes and better government”. Which Tory could be against that? But the approach taken by the TaxPayers’ Alliance, while great fun for a party accustomed to opposition, threatens both democracy and good government in Britain and is most likely to be damaging to the poor and inarticulate. It is an approach based on three salient qualities clearly seen in the Alliance’s Better Government Position Paper: these are ignorance, raucousness and nihilism – the bedrock of anarchy (and her twin sister dictatorship) throughout the ages.
The Alliance refuses, in its Position Paper, to articulate any vision of what government is for. There are positive remarks about the Admiralty in the year 1900, so we may assume that the Alliance sees a
certain role for government in the defence of the nation. But beyond that, is there any reason to believe they would not attack anything more elaborate than a basic night-watchman state? There are respectable arguments in favour of a night-watchman state but one very strong and democratic argument against it: the people of Britain do not want one, a fact the Conservative Party knows very well.
Of course, the TaxPayers’ Alliance will never put the popularity of their view of what government is for to the test, since they will never actually field any candidates at the polls to find out. This is where raucousness comes in. As with other destructive nihilists (one thinks of the thugs who sought to take control of Paris in 1967), the TaxPayers’ Alliance is good at shouting and uninterested in the views of others.
And this lack of interest in democracy – listening to what people might
want – is embedded in their entire policy approach. They identify
certain failings in government but then proceed to blame them on a
composite fantasy class called “politicians”. (This is a technique
learnt from Stalin’s murderous condemnation of “kulaks” for causing the
famines he was responsible for.) These wicked, self-serving,
money-grubbing politicians – leave aside for now the many examples of
elected politicians whom we know from personal experience to be the
reverse of all these things, not least in local government – are to be
replaced for most governmental functions, say the Taxpayers’ Alliance,
by “managers”, people capable (like Mussolini with the trains) of
getting things done. Of course the glorious thing about managers is
that they are accountable to nobody, unlike the hated “politicians”,
who are and who therefore might actually be
listening to people. Moreover, these “managers” would probably be no
good at their job, since it is a cardinal principle of the TaxPayers’
Alliance that paying anyone in government a rate appropriate to their
skills is anathema: nothing drives them into a more righteous frenzy.
One of their most persistent lines of attack against local government
is on communications budgets. This is understandable. They cannot
tolerate the notion that people might actually know what local
government does for them. There is a typically sneering piece currently
on their website, attacking Knowsley Borough Council for wanting to
hire someone to help make Knowsley “the borough of choice”. This is
described as “non-job of the week” and an example of “burning our
money”. I have no idea where Knowsley is or whether its aim to be “the
borough of choice” is remotely credible. But the TaxPayers’ Alliance
would deny its people even ambition and hope. One may suppose that all
they need in Knowsley is some underpaid “managers” selected (no doubt
by the TaxPayers’ Alliance) for their unaccountable competence at
telling poor people what to do.
There is a strong tradition of civic pride and achievement in Britain
and Conservatives have been at its forefront. I personally have no
doubt that the TaxPayers’ Alliance would have been amongst the
opponents of the project to build sewers for London in the nineteenth
century. Society, particularly urban society, is complex. A civilised
society is dependent on a degree of civic co-operation, which happily
has tended to be under democratic control in this country. The
TaxPayers’ Alliance seeks simultaneously to crush that civic effort and
to de-democratise what remains. They are dangerous people masquerading
as promoters of lower taxes and better government. The Conservative
Party should have nothing to do with them and will, I have no doubt,
quickly disembarrass itself of any connection on coming to power.