Oliver Willis

Brits Under Assault By Right Wing Think Tanks

Becoming America?

Nadine Dorries won’t answer it. Lord Lawson won’t answer it. Michael Gove won’t answer it. But it’s a simple question, and if they don’t know it’s because they don’t want to. Where does the money come from? All are connected to groups whose purpose is to change the direction of public life. None will reveal who funds them.

When she attempted to restrict abortion counselling, Nadine Dorries MP was supported by a group called Right to Know. When other MPs asked her who funds it, she claimed she didn’t know. Lord Lawson is chairman of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, which casts doubt on climate science. It demands “openness and transparency” from scientists. Yet he refuses to say who pays, on the grounds that the donors “do not wish to be publicly engaged in controversy”. Michael Gove was chairman of Policy Exchange, an influential conservative thinktank. When I asked who funded Policy Exchange when he ran it, his office told me “he doesn’t have that information and he won’t be able to help you”.

We know that to understand politics and the peddling of influence we must follow the money. So it’s remarkable that the question of who funds the thinktanks has so seldom been asked.

There are dozens of groups in the UK which call themselves free-market or conservative thinktanks, but they have a remarkably consistent agenda. They tend to oppose the laws which protect us from banks and corporations; to demand the privatisation of state assets; to argue that the rich should pay less tax; and to pour scorn on global warming. What the thinktanks call free-market economics looks more like a programme for corporate power.