Notes From the Margins…

The TaxPayers’ Alliance: Your Toxic Solutions

  • February 14, 2019
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It’s been known for some time, for those who want to look, that the lobbying organisation the Taxpayers’ Alliance is not what it says it is.  On its website the TPA presents itself as a ‘non-partisan, grassroots campaign for lower taxes, government transparency and an end to wasteful government spending.

Founded in 2003  by Matthew Elliott – the future  chief executive of the Vote Leave campaign during the referendum – the TPA is one of various astroturf lobbying organisations based in Elliott’s 55 Tufton Street stable.  Its influence has grown in the last few years, thanks to donations from some wealthy Conservative Party supporters, in addition to undisclosed donations from American donors.

For all its ‘grassroots’ pretensions, the TPA is a strictly top-down outfit.  And if you want to know what kind of organisation it is, consider its attempts to stop Southampton City Council from enforcing a low-emissions Clean Air Zone (CAZ), in Southampton city centre.  Some context here.  The CAZ is an attempt to address the fact that  Southampton is one of the WHO’s top 11 most-polluted urban areas in the UK and Ireland, where Public Health England figures in 2011 attributed 6.3 per cent of adult deaths in the city to air pollution.

Last year the government’s  Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP) estimated that between 28,000 and 36,000 people die as a result of air pollution every year in the UK, and the UK was one of five countries referred to the European Court of Justice for breaching legal limits on air pollution levels and failing to introduce ‘credible, effective and timely measures to reduce pollution as soon as possible, as required under EU law.’

Southampton is one of the cities that breaches EU legal limits.  In 2011 Public Health England attributed 6.3 percent of adult deaths in Southampton to air pollution.   As part of its Clean Air Zone project therefore, Southampton announced last autumn that it would charge some diesel vehicles to drive in the city centre.

In October the TPA began to protest these proposals, which it described as a ‘stealth tax’.  Nothing surprising about this.  The TPA also opposes proposals to tax sugar and processed meat, regardless of the consequences for public health.

The TPA reached deep into its grassroots support base and dispatched…four activists to Southampton Football Club, where they wore Saints shirts and held up mock £100 cheques made out by ‘ A. Taxpayer’ – to support their claim that the charge would prevent Southampton fans from entering the city centre.


Image result for taxpayers alliance campaigns against southampton clean air zone

The scheme was also opposed by local Tory MP for Southampton Itchen Royston Smith as a threat to ‘jobs and livelihoods.’  Last month, the City Council announced that it was removing plans to impose £100 charges from its CAZ.

And today, the TPA has been bragging about its victory as part of an ongoing attempt to raise its profile further, with messages like this:

It’s not entirely clear whether this outcome really bears out the TPA’s claim that ‘ Facing our campaign, the Southampton City Council decided to push back the announcement of a clean air zone in Southampton’.  It’s actually difficult to believe that four parachuted-in ‘grassroots activists’ could force the council to row back on a scheme that was supported by 56 percent of respondents in the largest public consultation exercises in Southampton’s history.

In an update on the scheme last month the Labour-led council claimed that technical assessments have already reduced nitrogen dioxide by 24% in the most polluted areas, without the need for a charging zone, and that therefore there was no need to apply one in order to be within the EU legal limit by 2020.

These conclusions have been disputed by local campaigners,  which have accused the council of of ‘limbo dancing’ under the EU’s limits.   Regardless of how the scheme turns out however, the essential facts are these: that a rightwing lobbying organisation with opaque funding, and links to the Leave campaign, the Tory libertarian right and the Republican Tea Party movement, is boasting about ending a campaign designed to improve public health.

This matters, and not only for Southampton.  Because strip away the TPA’s vapid rhetoric about ‘bloated government bureaucracies’, and the ‘hardworking taxpayer’, and you have an organisation that is about as ‘grassroots’ as the Bilderberg Group or the Monday Club.

Ideologically, the TPA is situated in the same camp that brought us Thatcherism, Reagan, Trumpism – and Brexit.   It seeks a stripped-down 19th century state, where corporations and big business pay little or no tax, and government withdraws from any obligation to protect the most vulnerable members of society and ceases to play the role of the ‘enabling state.’

To the TPA, like the Republican right,   any system that doesn’t share these objectives constitutes ‘socialism’.

We can expect a great deal more of this in the future, as the TPA and other similar organisations on both sides of the Atlantic use Brexit to pare back what remains of the UK ‘nanny state’, by presenting the ‘taxpayer’ as an oppressed victim.

The TPA’s campaign against Southampton’s clean air is just one part of this offensive.  For them, like Thatcher, there is no such thing as society.  They will do everything they can to complete the revolution that she started, using all the undisclosed money that its ‘grassroots’ donors provide.

And it doesn’t matter if the ‘taxpayer’ – or the child who will grow up to become a ‘taxpayer’ – gets sick from pollution or even dies from poisoned air, sugary food or processed meat, or anything else.

The only thing that matters is that the ‘A. Taxpayer’ pays less taxes, thereby removing one of the few instruments we have that enables ‘bloated’ governments to create even the modicum of a decent and civilized society.

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  1. Zoltan Jorovic

    18th Feb 2019 - 6:15 pm

    The rise of these shady lobby groups, and the way they are pandered to by the media, is disturbing. Who funds them? What are their aims? Who do they really represent? The so-called TPA even get slots on BBC Question Time – which actually just lowers the standing of that now tired and tiresome exchange of soundbites and opportunity for self-promotion that adds nothing to the social capital of this country. I intend to start Active Supporters of Public Services (Patron Cleopatra) to lobby for more spending and higher taxes – particularly of opaque lobby groups and their supporters.

    • Matt

      18th Feb 2019 - 7:38 pm

      That sounds like an excellent initiative Zoltan. Yes, I’ve seen the BBC boost the TPA and C4 News do the same with the IEA – not a pretty sight.

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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