Let me say from the start that I have no quarrel with the editorial direction of the Taxpayers Alliance (TPA) report even though it makes sweeping and misleading claims about lobby groups being paid to lobby the government by the government. Indeed this is a big Westminster village story (the sums are pretty insignificant on any UK scale) since it simply presages the likely clearing out of left leaning think tanks when the Tories take power next year. That’s substantially the story Guido reported (though he’s not above a little bit of cutting and pasting himself). The cut and paste merchants in the MSM and Tory blogosphere simply took the TPA’s report at face value and reprinted it.
What alerted us to the reports dirty data was the mention of one of the sponsors of the Slugger Awards (which launch tomorrow btw), Stratagem as being in receipt of £900,000 from Scottish Enterprise. This was not Stratagem, the lobby group, but Strategem the events company. Someone boobed, and the Taxpayers Alliance director Matthew Sinclair has been on several blogs today insisting it was Scottish Enterprise and not them. What’s damaging though is not the ‘mistake’ as such, but that this in turn revealed that the TPA did not actually have the data stand up the headline claims in its dodgy dossier. Here’s what it said on the tin:
“The new TaxPayers Alliance report Taxpayer funded lobbying and political campaigning reveals the extent of taxpayer funded lobbying and political campaigning in the UK.”
Yet it was clear from the Scottish cock-up that they’d simply been identifying companies that have lobbying as one their core competences, and then taking the money spent on them by government and calling it lobbying. That gives us a series of lump sum payments but with absolutely no indication of what services it might have been spent on.
Otherwise how could they have mistaken a Glaswegian events company (there’s that old declared interest again) for a Belfast lobby company? At best this research is utterly useless, at worst deliberately misleading.
I’ve just completed my yearly review of the Irish blogosphere for Total Politics magazine. It is pretty clear to me that this junk research would not have last five minutes in the much less partisan, much less fevered atmosphere of the Irish blogosphere. I like to think it would have been ripped to shreds by a quorum of expert bloggers regardless of their political views of the TPA’s views.
But as we saw with the Referendum debate, the people we employ to be the gate keepers of quality are often to be found asleep at their posts (as can be seen from this list of the venerable and the good who were well and truly suckered by this decidedly dodgy dossier).
Oh, and welcome to the very silly season!
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty