Chloe Westley is the Campaign Manager of the TaxPayers’ Alliance.
Last week The Guardian, Open Democracy, and other left wing blogs launched an attack on Britain’s best known right-wing think tanks – including the TaxPayers’ Alliance.
This is nothing new. In fact, there have been various attempted hit jobs on groups like ours before. I knew that when I joined the TPA it would involve being relentlessly smeared, targeted and attacked. We’ve been portrayed as some kind of dark and dangerous group of multi-billionaire tax dodgers who regularly meet the Prime Minister for drinks to discuss how to privatise the NHS. Our ideas are so ‘dangerous’ that a Liberal Democrat MEP has even started a petition to ban me from appearing on TV!
The truth is, we’re a team of ten and have the operating budget of a local pub. We’re funded by thousands of people, many of whom give less than £100. Our press team is just me and my colleague, James Price. We get a lot of coverage because James and I work our butts off and our research team (of three) write awesome papers. Our biggest ground campaign this year has been on council tax, which has been increasing all over the country – and that ground campaign and our activists are managed by Harry Fone. Most of our day-to-day work is on exposing wasteful spending in local government and going on local radio to talk about things that really matter to people, like bin collections. We get a lot of airtime on national TV and radio, too, and I think that’s because we’re often the only people willing to say that taxes should be lower.
Compare our small team with The Guardian, which employs over 900 staff and has a turnover of over £200 million. Or Greenpeace, who employ more than a thousand staff across Europe and an operating budget in the UK of nearly £20 million. Think tanks like the TPA and IEA are tiny in comparison, and yet we’re somehow made out to be all-powerful and rolling in money.
I really wish that was the case. Left-wing organisations are far more influential in the corridors of power. And they’re winning a lot of the key arguments – the tax burden in Britain is at a 49 year high, and the Government is set to put up taxes even more at the Budget in the Autumn.
Groups like ours are a minority in Westminster. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been the only person at a networking event who doesn’t agree with a varying degree of socialism. Even Conservative MPs are out there advocating for higher taxes these days. Last week on Any Questions, I suggested that lowering income tax could help people with the cost of living – and the other three panellists scoffed at me. Sarah Wollaston even went so far as to attack me and the TPA live on air before smiling in agreement with the Labour MP on stage that we need to put up taxes.
The difference between myself and those trying to silence the TPA is that I believe our society is enriched by a diversity of opinions. I don’t think that everyone who disagrees with me is a bad person. In fact, if they’re involved in politics, they’re probably the kind of person who wants to make the world a better place. I want the people who fiercely oppose my position on Brexit and taxation to have their voices heard. I don’t want to ‘shut down’ any political commentator or political group. I want the chance to respectfully debate them and have a proper battle of ideas.
Ad hominem attacks on right-wing think tanks like the TPA may temporarily embolden some on the left, but the fact they feel the need to try to silence us shows that there are people out there who believe in a low tax economy; who don’t like it when their taxes are squandered by faceless bureaucrats; and who want to pay for good public services but otherwise want to be left alone to get on with their life.
People hold such views because they can see for themselves what works. Free market capitalism has brought millions of people out of poverty. In China, for example, the abandonment of central government planning (which Corbyn would advocate introducing in Britain) and the adoption of more free market policies has lifted 800 million people out of poverty since 1978.
Freedom is worth fighting for. Empowering individuals to have more control over their income and their lives is an entirely legitimate moral cause. There is a consensus in Westminster amongst MPs and commentators that more state control and spending is the only way to solve society’s problems. Surely the left can handle one or two activists like me challenging this statist consensus?
No amount of Guardian hit jobs, criticism, abuse on social media, or online petitions to ban the TPA from TV are going to shut down debate. There will always be people out there who believe in our ideas and who will give up their time and money to campaign for a freer society.
So instead of trying to shut us down, perhaps our critics should come along to an action day and debate some of our activists. They might even change their mind on a few things.