The Thatcher years saw an increase in the number of privately financed think tanks/pressure groups with mission statements liberally infused with terms such as: liberal, freedom and liberty. Picky people might interpret the dogmas dished up by the majority of them, rightwing neoliberal and neocon, more accurately as illiberal, authoritarian and repressive.
Their objective is to propagate their particular ideologies; to influence government thinking and the direction of policies on areas such as the economy, health, education, transport, welfare, benefits and pensions. They hire researches to comb through statistics and compile strategies covering every aspect of British life and present themselves, as fed to us daily by the BBC, as ‘experts’. And, importantly, they all claim to be ‘independent’ except the question is never posed on the BBC who funds them. Now I’m being picky.
It must be so reassuring to the busy programme presenter, editor or reporter in a hurry to press fast dial for one of their contacts with whichever think tank is seen as most appropriate to the item being covered – a reliable friend to sort out confusing facts and figures for them and, perhaps, provide an articulate spokesperson for interview who can dazzle with facts that trip off the tongue. And in the unlikely event of a challenge will run rings around any reporter lacking their expertise.
A cursory glance at the personnel involved with some of these think tanks suggests a familiarity about them. It is as if person A completes his/her degree, preferably at Oxbridge (in Scotland it may be Glasgow), goes to work with a think tank for a while, nips off to the BBC or a newspaper for a bit, then perhaps into parliament or, if unelectable, turns up in the House of Lords. Same faces reinforcing a similar message.
They – peers, top journalists, senior civil servants, senior BBC staff are among an interdependent British elite who mould our thinking and values. They inhabit their own ecosystem – feeding off each other, mutually dependent and interbred to a degree that is incestuous – and results in the neoliberal or neocon.
The growth of the neoliberal or neocon since the 1980s has been impressive. Frequently smart and well educated at private school followed by Oxbridge – or Glasgow but mainly Oxbridge – if not recruited by the intelligence services they might amble into journalism, perhaps be found a ‘position’ at the BBC, especially if a member of their family ‘puts in a word on their behalf’ (in other places this might be called nepotism but at the BBC it is coincidence) or they might go into parliament but the important thing is that they find ways to ensure the survival of their species and they are surrounded by others of their species who are there to help.
One such ‘independent’ voice given liberal access to the BBC is The Institute of Economic Affairs (set up by Antony Fisher, a habitual funder of think tanks aka pressure groups including the Fraser Institute and Adam Smith Institute as well as others in America and Canada – and the first to set up a battery chicken ‘farm’ in England but that’s by the way – his granddaughter is married to Conservative former strategist, Steve Hilton.)
This London-based rightwing lobby group has links to other similar organisations such as Atlas Economic Research Foundation and the International Policy Network. It sees itself as active in expanding the network of conservative think tanks worldwide – all of them ‘independent’.
Another, the Centre for Policy Studies was set up by Thatcherite minister Keith Joseph with Thatcher its Deputy Chairman. It’s current director is Tim Knox and its president is Lord Saatchi (Conservative). CPS was ranked as one of the four least transparent think tanks in the UK in relation to funding by Transparify. Former PM David Cameron credited the vital role played by CPS in the Conservative election victory of 1979.
In 2013 the CPS complained of the BBC’s ‘left of centre bias’ and suggestion that leftwing think tanks were ‘independent’ while flagging up the likes of theirs as rightwing. It complained in particular about the Social Market Foundation, Demos the New Economics Foundation and Institute for Public Policy Research. It will come as something of a shock to many that the Social Market Foundation is regarded by anyone as leftwing or, indeed, that the BBC could ever be accused of omitting the word, ‘leftwing’ in any of its political or economic coverage. Rightwing, now, I’ve never heard that spoken by them.
In case you are not familiar with the Social Market Foundation its purpose is to ‘”advance the education of the public in the economic, social and political sciences” and to “champion ideas that marry a pro-market orientation with concern for social justice”‘ – according to Wikipedia. Its director is Emran Mian (Cambridge), former civil servant and policy adviser in Whitehall. It was set up in 1989 by ‘Tory minded elements’ in the SDP – forerunners of Liberal Democrats. Oh, and it is ‘independent’ but you knew that. And it is based at Westminster and said to have been former Conservative PM, John Major’s ‘favourite think tank’ and associates itself with New Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.
A former director of the SMF, Rick Nye, was also a director of the Conservative Research Department and Director of Populus (a research consultancy for corporate research and analysis) as well as a journalist. Another was Daniel Finkelstein, (LSE) a Conservative peer.
Better known to you, possibly, is Evan Davis (Oxford and Harvard) a former BBC economic editor and currently a presenter of several BBC programmes who when at the Social Market Foundation was among authors of its publication Osborne’s Choice: Combining fiscal credibility and growth. He was once seconded to the Thatcher government to work on the poll tax and previously with The Institute for Fiscal Studies. Mills spends time on examining the role of economic journo and monetarist, Peter Jay, (private school/Oxford) born into illustrious Labour family, one-time son-in-law of Labour PM James Callaghan and Jay’s influence on the rise of Evan Davis.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies was founded by Will Hopper, (Glasgow), banker and later Conservative MEP, investment trust manager, Bob Buist (Dundee); Nils Taube, stockbroker; John Chown (Cambridge), monetary economist, a tax consultant and ex-chairman of Cambridge University Conservative Association. The Institute’s director is Paul Johnson (Oxford) formerly employed in the Cabinet Office, Dept for Education and Employment, HM Treasury who is aided and abetted by some 60 researchers. According to an article in The Guardian the IFS wields huge influence over economic policy in the UK – its authority has become, ‘the word of God’ according to former economics editor at the BBC, Robert Peston. Pronouncements from the IFS frequently become the main story at the BBC and other news outlets and the base line from which others should argue.
Director Johnson’s tutorial partner at university was Ed Balls (Oxford), former Labour Chancellor →IFS →Treasury→IFS and ex-journalist Financial Times. Ex-director of IFS Robert Chote, (Cambridge) was chair of the university’s Liberal and Social Democrats, a journalist at The Independent, Independent on Sunday, Financial Times, ex-director IFS, ex-Office for National Statistics; Office for Budget Responsibility. Chote’s wife is Sharon White, (Cambridge) civil servant – sometimes of the Treasury, 10 Downing Street policy unit under Blair; chief executive of Ofcom which regulates broadcasting, postal services and other communications and oversees licensing, complaints, competition etc. Ofcom’s current chair is Dame Patricia Hodgson (Cambridge) ex-BBC producer, ex- BBC Trust and a host of other posts.
“The IFS today occupies a quasi-constitutional role in British life, but without the scrutiny on management and funding that applies to formal government bodies. Its separation from government may be one of the best explanations for its success.”
Innumerate journalists have come to rely on the IFS to do the sums for them when it comes to explaining numbers – and the IFS is more than happy to oblige. It is all very incestuous and the more innumerate the journalist the more heavily is reliance on the IFS’s figures and interpretation of figures being accurate or even acceptable.
The Adam Smith Institute -“a formidable advocate of economic and personal freedom, achieving real and lasting changes in public policy” Andrey Neil (Glasgow) member of Glasgow University Conservative Club, ex-research assistant with Conservative Party, journalist and BBC broadcaster.
The ASI was founded in 1977 by three British men then living and working in the USA. One was its president, Dr Masden Pirie, (Edinburgh, St. Andrews, Cambridge) to promote free market policies including privatisation of public services. Sam Bowman:
“Our policy agenda hasn’t changed. We want low, simple, flat taxes to promote investment and growth. We want patients and parents to have choice and control over healthcare and education, through voucher systems and competition between private firms. We want to liberalise the planning system so that the private sector can build more homes, and create a free market welfare system that guarantees that work always pays. And we want free trade with the world and a liberal immigration system that people trust.”http://www.conservativehome.com/platform/2016/10/sam-bowman-why-we-at-the-adam-smith-institute-are-best-described-as-neoliberals-not-libertarians.html
It was from the ASI the poll tax originated and as we’ve seen above reconfiguring taxation is one of its principle preoccupations.
Of Masden Pirie the journalist and panellist on the BBC’s the Moral Maze and twice failed to land a seat for the Labour Party in the House of Commons, Edward Pearce wrote:
“He is a Scot of sorts, but despite education at Edinburgh and St Andrew’s Universities, he is quite unscarred in either accent or hang-ups by Scottishness.”
The Guardian, 19 April 1993.
Think we’ve got your number there, Ed. Just in case you haven’t had enough of Mr Pearce’s velvety prose try this:
“For the second time in half a decade a large body of Liverpool supporters has killed people …the shrine in the Anfield goalmouth, the cursing of the police, all the theatricals, come sweetly to a city which is already the world capital of self-pity. There are soapy politicians to make a pet of Liverpool, and Liverpool itself is always standing by to make a pet of itself. ‘Why us? Why are we treated like animals?’ To which the plain answer is that a good and sufficient minority of you behave like animals.”
the Sunday Times 23 April 1989
In Scotland as well as all of the above the BBC here often turns to the neo-liberal Fraser of Allander Institute, attached to the University of Strathclyde, for its opinions on a whole range of topics. In an article in the BBC’s website it charted the expansion of FAI in favourable terms and quoted a spokesperson:
“…the expanded institute would be able to provide decision-makers, the media and the public “with even greater leading-edge independent economic analysis than before”.
Presumably on its call to privatise Scotland’s water and such like.
Who are they? Financial sponsorship for the FoAI has come from the Hugh Fraser Foundation, BP, Shell, Scotsman Publications, Mobil North Sea Ltd, Shell UK, the Industry Department for Scotland. Fraser of Allander Institute’s director is Dr Graeme Roy (Edinburgh/Glasgow) who replaced Brian Ashcroft, husband of Wendy Alexander former leader of the Labour Party in Scotland and a former Labour MSP.
Mills in his book The BBC: Myth of a Public Service criticises the BBC for its narrow range of sources – chiefly political party press statements augmented by think tanks that form the incestuous media/government network that runs through Westminster and Whitehall in England and I will add, encircles the Clyde in Scotland. He writes of the revolving door through which the select are admitted and the links they form that bolsters their influence and allows their voices to be heard.
A mere snapshot of those who have taken a spin around that revolving door – Ben Bradshaw, (Sussex) BBC reporter, Labour MP and minister; James Purnell, (Oxford) ex-BBC Director of Radio, BBC Director of Strategy and Digital, Labour MP and minister; Don Brind, ex-BBC political correspondent, Labour press officer; Bill Bush, ex-BBC analysis and research, ex chief of staff to Labour’s Ken Livingstone, head of political research for Blair; Lorraine Davidson, ex-BBC political correspondent, Labour Party, journalist – wrote biography of ex-leader of Labour of Scotland, Jack McConnell, former partner of Labour MSP Tom McCabe, wife of Labour MEP David Martin; Michael Gove, (Oxford) Conservative MP and minister, ex-journalist, ex- BBC reporter; Patricia Hodgson BBC, Ofcom, a Thatcherite, Ruth Davidson, (Edinburgh/Glasgow) ex-BBC presenter, leader Conservative Party in Scotland; Thea Rogers, ex-BBC political producer to BBC political editor Nick Robinson, ex-adviser to Conservative Chancellor George Osborne; Nick Robinson, (Oxford), Oxford University Conservative Association, BBC presenter and journalist, who has a catalogue of controversial incidents relating to his reporting recorded for posterity. At the 2015 General Election:
“I am not, though, required to be impartial between democracy and the alternatives”
which comes down to an individual’s definition of ‘democracy”.
We can gauge a great deal about an organisation by those who run it and dominate it. To discover who sets the tone of the BBC and how reflective it is of UK society you just have to run your eyes down a list of who gets to be top dog there.
The BBC is governed by a group of appointees. Currently they include:
Rona Fairhead – (Cambridge/Harvard), former CE of Financial Times Group, non-exec director HSBC
Sir Roger Carr – Chair of BAE Systems (UK biggest arms producer)
Richard Ayre – former Deputy CE of BBC News
Mark Damazer – (Oxford/Harvard), former controller of BBC Radio 4 and Radio 7
Mark Florman, (private school, LSE), CEO of merchant banking group
Aideen McGinley former NI civil servant; Nicholas Prettejohn – senior City executive.
Lord Gainford (Joseph Pease), (Cambridge), Liberal politician, Deputy Chairman of the Durham Coal Owners Association, director of Pease and Partners Ltd and other colliery companies, Chair of Durham Coke Owners – in post at the BBC during the General strike that included miners, President of the Federation of British Industry.
George Villiers, Earl of Clarendon, Conservative, Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms;
John Whitley, Liberal MP,
Viscount Bridgeman, (Eton and Cambridge), Conservative MP,
Ronald Norman, (Cambridge), banker, his brother was governor of the Bank of England,
Sir Allan Powell, Lawyer.
Lord Inman, Labour MP,
Baron Simon Wythenshawe, (Cambridge), Labour Party then Liberal, Industrialist.
Sir Alexander Cadogan, (Eton and Oxford), Conservative MP, Director of the Suez canal company and friend of PM Anthony Eden – handy during the Suez crisis for the bias promoted by the BBC – which he defended, naturally.
Sir Arthur fforde – no mistake spelled with two lowercase fs, (Oxford), Civil Servant;
Lord Normanbrook, (Oxford), Senior Civil Servant.
Lord Hill, (Cambridge) Consrvative MP and a Liberal.
Si Michael Swann, (Cambridge and Edinburgh), appointed by Conservative PM Ted Heath following his handling of student protests at Edinburgh.
George Howard, (Eton and Oxford), owned Castle Howard in North Yorkshire where Brideshead Revisited was filmed), chair of the County Landowners Association.
Stuart Young, appointed by Thatcher to be a conservative influence – his brother of Conservative Cabinet Minister Baron Young of Graffham in Thatcher government.
Marmaduke Hussey, (Rugby and Oxford) Conservative, husband of Lady Susan Hussey, woman of the Bedchamber to Elizabeth II (sic), put into BBC to bring it ‘into line’ with her government’s policy – he was also involved in print union disputes.
Sir Christopher Bland, (Oxford), Army, Business, Conservative.
Gavyn Davies, (Cambridge), adviser to Labour Party, former Goldman Sachs partner, married to Susan Nye -former Director of Government Relations and diary secretary to Gordon Brown.
Lord Ryder of Wensum, (Cambridge), Conservative peer,
Sir Anthony Salz, Executive Vice Chairman at Rothschild
Lord Grade, Controller BBC 1, Conservative peer,
Sir Michael Lyons, Labour Party
Lord Patten, (Oxford), Conservative peer,
Sir Hugh Greene (Oxford)
Greg Dyke, (York), former Labour Party donor.
You don’t have to have attended Oxbridge or Glasgow universities to get on at the BBC but if you have it won’t be held against you. In fact, you may even have formed friendships there which could hold you in good stead to secure a position because in life it isn’t what you know so much as who you know – or who kent your father.
There are believed to be genetic risks with incest in that the genetic pool is depleted with the result that diversity is limited. But the advance of neoliberal and neocon ideologies through our newspapers and on television and radio has so far proved a boon for those species in achieving their goal of becoming the accepted authority on all things but their very success is damaging to society for it restricts and perverts the discourse on alternatives to their rightwing doctrines.