The governmental response to the suspend Article 50 petition isn’t the only ‘official’ document to land in my ‘inbox’ recently. One is an interesting academic paper, the other, by way of the Guardian, is an issue raised by an MP. ( Regular readers will excuse me, at this point, if this post blows the trumpet of The Story Bazaar somewhat. )
On 10th October 2016 I wrote about the Brexit vote ( Picking Over the Brexit Bones ) and concluded that austerity and its architects were in large measure to blame for the Leave vote. In part because the leaders of Remain were exactly those people who had championed and introduced austerity and couldn’t or wouldn’t blame their own policies for the reductions in income or help endured by many people, thus clearing the field for Leavers to blame the EU and migrants. Last week Thiemo Fetzner, an academic at the University of Warwick published a paper entitled ‘Did Austerity Cause Brexit?’. Sponsored by the Economic and Social Research Council, the paper makes a direct link between the policies of the Conservative led coalition from 2010 and the vote for Leave.
His findings are comprehensive. ‘The results suggest that the EU referendum could have resulted in a Remain victory had it not been for a range of austerity-induced welfare reforms. These reforms activated existing economic grievances. Further, auxiliary results suggest that the underlying economic grievances have broader origins than what the current literature on Brexit suggests. Up until 2010, the UK’s welfare state evened out growing income differences across the skill divide through transfer payments. This pattern markedly stops from 2010 onwards as austerity started to bite.‘ You can read the full paper here.
The other item is Jon Trickett MP’s call for an examination of the role of so-called ‘think tank’ the Institute of Economic Affairs in current Brexit negotiations. I wrote on 14th December 2016 about the Eminences Gris or Grey Eminences and the unrecognised influence such so-called ‘think tanks’ have on policy; and the way they are treated as independent experts, when, in fact, they have a specific political agenda and refuse to say who funds them. The Guardian article cites an investigation by Greenpeace into the iea’s relationship with US farming interests ( chlorinated chicken anyone? ) and offering access to politicians. It’s Director, Mark Littlewood, former chief press spokesman for the Liberal Democrats and an advocate of the smoking lobby ( the iea has preferred thinktank status for Big Tobacco ) was filmed as saying that his funders could get to know ministers on first name terms and that his organisation was in the ‘Brexit influencing game’. The iea is currently the subject of investigation by the Charities Commission as it has registered charity status, CC rules state that an organisation “will not be charitable if its purposes are political”. Taking away the tax breaks would be a beginning.
But there’s more. Trickett, as shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, wants to tackle the ‘small group of establishment figures, funded to the tune of millions, [who] are covertly pursuing a political campaign in favour of extreme free trade, acting in effect as lobbyists for secretive corporate interests’. He promises to propose measures at the Labour Party conference in September which will, I would guess, at least require transparency. He clearly sees this as necessary and a potential vote winner.
I rather agree with him.