Tea Party comes to London

The European Resource Bank – Europe’s largest annual meeting of free-market think tanks – convenes in London tomorrow. It is hosted by the Taxpayers Alliance (TPA), an organisation whose claims to represent ordinary taxpayers are somewhat undermined by the opulent manner in which the meeting will be carried out. Tonight is launch night, marked by

“a champagne reception at a fantastic penthouse apartment overlooking central London.”

This is all possible because the event is funded by wealthy American anti-tax lobbyists, supporters of the ascendent Tea Party movement.

Lobby groups sponsoring the event include the Cato Institute and Americans for Prosperity, both of which are funded by the billionaire Koch brothers. The Heritage Foundation, Ronald Reagan’s favourite think-tank, is also a prominent backer. Unsuprisingly, speakers include the likes of Arthur Laffer, a key economic adviser to Reagan in the 1980s.

The Tea Party is increasingly gaining a reputation as a bigoted organisation. Its Washington rally at the end of last month was headed by controversial Fox News host Glenn Beck, who has previously accused Obama of harbouring “a deep-seated hatred for white people”.

This Newsnight documentary exposed the place of racism in the movement, which is thought to partly explain its growing success in America. Analysis of the Tea Party’s demographic has found the often populist rhetoric of the organisation is not backed up in fact: the typical member tends to be a ‘white, Republican, older male with money.’

These links with the far-right, libertarian, and socially conservative Tea Party movement provide telling clues to the true ideological identity of the Taxpayers Alliance, for those who were still seeking confirmation of it. The organisation is occasionally quoted in the press as if it were a politically neutral organisation, something the BBC has been criticised for.

Most recently, various newspapers have taken up the TPA findings that some union activity is funded by the public purse. The TPA should not be treated as an impartial source of evidence. As the Trade Union Congress’s blog points out, their figures are misleadingly distorted:

“[the TPA] will gladly tell you that the cost of union facility time to Hammersmith and Fulham Council is just short of £200,000 per year – but won’t mention that this represents an incredibly small proportion of that local authority’s total expenditure, which annually is in the region of £180 million.”

The TPA have also been attacked recently for themselves wasting ‘millions‘ of taxpayers’ money, as a result of their numerous ‘spurious’ public enquiries.

The event will be seen as an opportunity for a vital boon by the nascent British Tea Party group. Since Daniel Hannan launched the party in February, to mild encouragement from the right, they have held a few events across the country, but have failed to mature as a serious political pressure group. Their most high-profile event so far was the torturously-named Devon Cream TEA Party fringe event at the UKIP conference.

So there’s no need yet for a British version of the Coffee Party – the Facebook-started American progressive group which has sprung up in opposition to their fiscally conservative rivals.

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